Moderation in all things is a phrase attributable to the Greek poet Hesiod (circa 700 b.c.), the Roman comic dramatist Plautus (c. 250–184 bc), Buddhism generally, and I’m sure a majority of everyone’s grandparents. Even the Bible talks about moderation in Philippians 4:4-8 Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
Okay, that last one is a little obtuse, but the point is, moderation allows you to eliminate the screechy, shaky extremes — like anger, hysteria, anxiety — from your day and assures, to the extent possible, a certain measured living that allows for optimal performance, i.e, it’s not only the key to a good and productive life, but probably happiness. That doesn’t mean that you have to drive your life down the middle lane at all times, never experiencing either euphoria or sadness because, how dull, eh? Better to live as Oscar Wilde said: Everything in moderation, including moderation.
This Thanksgiving, and for the foreseeable future, I’m trying to live more moderately in my emotional space, more purposefully, and with a loving-kindness mindset toward my fellow man, even the ones that drive me completely round the bend. I don’t have to look to far to find those people so anyone who thinks this is going to be easy hasn’t had a convo with me in a while.
How does one incorporate moderation? Well, I guess I would start with gratitude which not only has been known to have some positive emotional affects like lifting one’s spirits, helping our perspectives, reducing stress, providing a positive outlook and lowering anxiety, but it also reduces blood pressure, inflammation in the body, and even helps with stress eating!
Regardless of how extremely polarized we have become, and regardless of all the yelling across the aisles (it’s not as many people as you think), things are changing out there. We may not reign in climate change this year or even next, but FINALLY, almost everyone agrees it’s a game-changer and one we have to tackle in order to survive; ten years ago that was not the case. And we may not solve all our water problems this year, but we are working toward fixing more of them each day. So for our kids and our kids’ kids, we’ll keep at these intrinsic and seemingly interminable issues front and center until we’ve moderated them all into oblivion.
To that end, here are a few feel good stories I’ve been meaning to write about. Enjoy the hard won victories!
When we think about winter storms, we don’t think much about the deicers the states and municipalities put down to keep us all from driving our cars off the road, but use them we do, and as a result, salt levels can increase in freshwater streams to ocean levels during the winter months. Thankfully, there’s help. Congratulations to Philadelphia for taking the Green Infrastructure thinking up to new levels.
We’ve heard about using goats to mow lawns as a way to reduce the carbon footprint, but have you heard of using goats to prevent wildfires? In 2020, Lani Malmberg started the trailblazing (pun intended) Goatapelli Foundation to train people in using goats, something she’d been doing on her own, but saw the vision in expanding to a larger community. Not only do the goats reduce brush from the vegetative floor to as high as nine feet — which is how high a goat can stand on its hind legs — but after digesting the brush, their waste increases the organic matter in the soil, thereby improving soil quality and helping the soil to hold more moisture. Wow, goats are the GOAT!
3D Printed Houses:
As we can tell from the red hot housing market, housing has become a bit of a crisis globally. People can’t find a home, can’t afford the home, or have been priced into homelessness which may as well be oblivion. Enter 3D printing and Africa where 14Trees made the first 3D printed house in Africa in12 hours with 70% less carbon emissions! Go 14Trees!!
A Lightsaber for Water Pollution:
When Ross Gillanders won 15,000 pounds for Lightwater Sensors, it was originally technology built to detect landmines, but while it worked well in the lab for that purpose, it didn’t perform as well in the field. Where did it perform well? In water. Mr. Gillanders technology acts like a laser beam for locating pesticides in water. Fantastique! Can we get a home version?
The Chesapeake Bay:
The Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the country, is a national treasure, garnering the attention of the six bordering states — Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, New York, and Delaware — but if you know anything about the Bay, you’ll know that nutrients like nitrates and phosphates from farming runoff as well as developmental pressures in the surrounding areas are killing its vibe. But, good news. In 2022, the Bay experienced fewer dead zones — those areas where algae have blotted out the oxygen and killed the SAV, submerged aquatic vegetation — the 10th smallest since 1985. Okay, not the resounding victory we’d all like to see for the Bay at this point, but still pretty darn good.
So celebrate the forward thinkers, maybe even become one of them yourself, and let’s moderate ourselves to happiness.
Speaking of, Happy Thanksgiving, friends! We have much to be grateful for. May we all live long and sustainably, and prosper along the way.
If you live in Central Pennsylvania, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Started by the Lancaster County Community Foundation in 2012, the Extraordinary Give has raised over $82 million to date and the names of organizations to which you can donate keeps on growing.
One of my personal favorite charities participating in the Extraordinary Give is Off The Streets, an organization dedicated to getting persons experiencing homelessness off the street and into affordable housing. Every Saturday despite rain, snow, heat, or holidays, Off The Streets does two moves, helping single persons and families into long-term housing by supplying the first and last month’s security deposit and the furniture needed to start a new life. And they do it all without a paid staff and very little overhead.
Much of Off The Streets’ equipment like the moving van and the warehouse space where donated furniture is stored has been gifted to Off The Streets. This assures cash donations can be used where needed — to pay the start up costs for the landlord, and to get additional products like toiletries so the newly housed can get the best start possible.
Headed by founder Deacon Mike Oles who started the first chapter of Off The Streets in Danbury, Connecticut, Deacon Mike and OTS have gotten an additional 4,000 people into long-term, affordable housing since moving to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 2014. OTS works with local organizations who serve the homeless and it depends on those organizations to do the initial screening of applicants, assuring, among other things, that the applicant has sufficient funds to pay the rent going forward. A little know fact is that many people experiencing homeless are actually working homeless.
Off The Streets is an incredible organization, demonstrating what can be done in any community to eradicate homelessness. So why don’t you give today?
If you are interested in starting a chapter in your area, contact Deacon Mike at at 203-482-1460, or at email@example.com.
Isn’t it amazing what a small group of dedicated volunteers can do to change the world.
Today is Election Day in the U.S. where democracy is on the ballot. It’s not hard to see how we tacked so far to crazy town, yet the seeds of discontent planted in prior decades are not only sprouting but trying to overtake the healthy ones.
In biology, a diverse culture is necessary for the health of the whole species, but there are many in the U.S. hellbent on a homogenous culture where the invasive species takes over, a death knell for the long-term health of the plant community as any good gardener knows. Maybe if we all just took a breath for a moment and found our commonalities we could get to yes?
So, check you weapons at the door and join me for a moment in this little prayer today for peace at the polls; a just and wise outcome in races across the country; for a more verdant and less polarized society; for people who believe in the rule of law as that is the only way a democracy stands; and for elected politicians who believe in solutions for clean water, climate change, and taking care of the environment as if we lived there — because at the end of the day, if you don’t have a livable planet, all the rest of this is b.s.
I’m going to leave you with this one from 2020 and while we’re not voting for a president this year, all the same issues are still in play and with all the election denying going on, we could be in for a way more bumpy ride. So vote y’all!
The world is faced with problems And many illusions Love is the man overstanding It’s the only solution — Peter Tosh, Where You Gonna Run
Alt-Facts. Doesn’t it roll off the tongue? It feels like too much fried food sitting in the belly, a big blob of grease and fat you thought you wanted but discovered too late it came with a price — one our entire country is now paying, all gunked up on so many alt-facts and disinformation that we may collectively vomit.
I think Kellyanne Conway coined the term alternative facts, but she didn’t start the mess. Alt-facts have always been with us, but with her PR skills, she transmogrified them and now we live in a world where alt-facts are perceived as the norm. How about a few of the highlights:
– The most extensive and arguable successful democratic experiment ever undertaken, America, the spirit of liberty and self-rule, a government by the people and for the people, is about to go tits up;
– School shootings that have become the norm — so much so that when 19 school children lost their lives (in a way that makes Al Capone’s antics look like a day at the beach) and their dignity, their faces so mangled by bullet fire that the forensics team had to look at their clothing to identify them — and the conservatives’ only answer to such unbridled violence is more violence in the form of good guys with guns;
– The overturning of Roe v. Wade resulting in a lack of abortion rights in at least half the states in the country and which may soon morph into a lack of access to the most mundane of family planning tools — birth control — meaning that at their age, I officially had more rights over my own body than my daughters do today, and if conservatives have their way, rather soon now women will be forced back into the home to mind the children while men go out to earn the daily bread, a quaint, Norman Rockwell notion of America that wasn’t true in Rockwell’s time and certainly isn’t true today;
– The possible reversal of a hard won right to gay marriage with Clarence Thomas’ targeting such rights with his dubious and shaky legal arguments. I mean, if Ginni is allowed to run around claiming election fraud, riling up the masses rather than stay home and washing Clarence’s dirty underwear, why should the rest of America’s women be any different? BTDubs, Thomas is the best argument for impeaching a Supreme Court Justice that I’ve heard yet. Just ask Anita Hill;
– Stunts like DeSantis pulled recently spending $12 million to send Texan (i.e., not Florida) migrants to Martha’s vineyard just to pull a snarky political stunt in the run up to the November elections while simultaneously busting on the feds every chance he gets but holding his hand out, strong and steady, to ask for FEMA money when hurricane Ian came barreling through. Just imagine if Trump were in office right now and it was a blue state asking for money. He’d do everything he could not to deliver;
– Fox News — really it should have it’s own award category, something like, “Most Likely to Sow Discord and Divisiveness in a Nation” and who, with the likes of Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson have made bald-faced lies and the nah-ah and I know I am but what are? you defenses de rigueur —which refused to stream the first night of the January 6th hearings for fear their followers would hear the truth and move on to other channels. Fox blatantly and with nary a care for Truth continues to lie on national television on a nightly basis, meaning none of their loyal followers know what the hell is really going on in the world as they’ve been lied to since the beginning, to wit, millions of people still think Trump won the 2020 election, including Ginni.
Moreover, does anyone actually believe we are going to solve the tandem climate and water crises with any kind of expeditiousness if we are barely paying attention to them? If your house was on fire you’d stop what you were doing and put it out, right? Otherwise you wouldn’t have a place to live. Well, every year, over 70,000 wildfires rage across the country and the world, but unless you are there and breathing in the smoke, you aren’t thinking much about it — and that’s exactly what’s happening with our national environmental policy. It will get worse, mind you, if the Supreme Court rules against water and wetlands in the Sackett case, the latest in the battle against environmental protection. Here’s another one. If someone tells you there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by the year 2050 would you be upset or would you shrug and say, “alt-facts, we have plenty of fish”. If so my friend, have been gaslit by any number of sources, but my money is on Fox News. Yo, it’s not too late to turn the channel, but time is getting exceedingly tight, just sayin’.
Look, I get that traveling across the plains of universality to try and see the other guy’s point of view is an impossibility for some people, but if the uber-conservatives would be so kind as to listen up because time is short and there will not be enough gold in the world for you to claw back any of the myriad gifts this country has been blessed with and squandered in our short history: if you consider your life to be so inconsequential that you’d label it a throw away one just to be right, I respectfully request that you step aside and let others who actually care about our future, our planet, and the future of humanity to step up and get to work.
There is virtually no problem on earth that can’t be solved by honest communication. Can we start please? Let’s show the alt-factioneers to the door so the rest of us can focus on fixing what’s broken. And if you suspect your news outlets of being less than truthful — change the channel, or better yet, just turn off the the TV.
A TRIBUTE TO USEPA REGION 3 EMPLOYEES PROTECTING WATER QUALITY FOR 50 YEARS!
by Stan Laskowski
In the early 1970s the waters of the Middle Atlantic States were polluted to the extent that swimming and fishing were often very limited. Fish kills were not uncommon and migratory fish were constrained from reaching their spawning areas due to lack of dissolved oxygen cause by excessive pollution. Major industrial and municipal wastewater treatment plants often only had the most basic treatment and, in some cases, the sludge from these plants was dumped in the Atlantic Ocean. The public found these conditions to be unacceptable, and environmental protection often ranked as one of the top issues in public opinion polls. The public made their dissatisfaction known in various ways, including public demonstrations. Our political leaders responded by creating the US Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) in late 1970, and in 1972 passed the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, commonly known as the Clean Water Act, giving EPA and its state partners broad powers to address these water pollution problems.
This article is a “shout out” to the hundreds of Region 3 employees who have protected the waters of the Middle Atlantic States during the past 50 years since the passage of the 1972 law. These employees came from many disciplines — engineering, science, law, administration, public relations — and were employed in numerous roles in Region 3. Included in the joint team efforts to protect water quality were inspectors, lab personnel, quality assurance experts, grant writers, permits and enforcement case developers, lawyers for negotiations, stream monitoring and modeling experts, and administrative support staff.
The water quality problems that the Region 3 staff have addressed over the years have been extremely diverse. Some examples of these problems include protecting the nation’s largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay; controlling acid drainage from coal mines; creatively processing construction grants to wastewater treatment plants; protecting wetlands; responding to emergencies; ending ocean dumping; ensuring environmental justice; finding ways to predict emerging water quality problems and developing methods to measure water quality progress.
Of course, EPA Region 3 had plenty of partners in this quest: state agencies, EPA Headquarters, other federal agencies, consultants, the regulated community, and leadership from politicians at all levels. Through much teamwork and hard work, these Region 3 employees and their partners have created an environmental legacy of which they can be very proud. The public can enjoy cleaner water for drinking, fishing, and contact recreation as a result of their fine efforts. Current and future EPA employees will build on this legacy as they maintain water improvements and address emerging and future challenges. I wish them well.
Stan Laskowski has had a very fulfilling 54-year career in the water field. A sampling of his roles includes: hydrologist for the USGS (1968-1972); NPDES permits/enforcement (1972-1980); Superfund Director (1980-1982), Deputy Regional Administrator (1982-1997); lecturer/advisor at the University of Pennsylvania [2001-2017]; Global Water Alliance founder and current VP (2006-present).
If there is one over-arching human condition, it is that on some level we’re all broken. A positive way to spin it would be to say we’ve arrived here on this planet at this time in history to work on our Souls, using our physicality as the means to learn lessons that will help us evolve to the next level. If we accept that premise, life can become perhaps not easier, but somewhat more manageable. Yet what do we do when the going gets tough? What can we grab onto to pull us through?
Well, if you are Nina Blaicher, you’d say we need to do our best to see the upside of all life’s ills. See the Upside is the title of Nina’s podcast, an experiment sprung from heartache and doubt and, because of Nina’s drive and determination, ultimately an adventure of spirit benefiting not only the creator of the experiment but everyone who wants to listen.
I had the serendipity to sit next to Nina on a flight to Salt Lake City and she shared a bit about her journey with me. I’m always fascinated by the things that draw people up and out of their negative spaces. Talking with Nina I could see her gifts on full display so I asked her to join me on Green Life Blue Water for a look into how See the Upside got started.
Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us your origin story. How did you go from being married in a happy relationship to a divorced mother of two trying to make sense of her life, and how did starting your own podcast become an escape pod in a time of crisis?
As with many things, it was a gradual process over time, and then an incredible awakening/turning point which led me to realizing that the marriage not only couldn’t be repaired, but that it wasn’t healthy for anyone in our family. It really is incredible how we can see things so clearly in hindsight but when we are experiencing them, they can be so difficult to realize. We get there when we get there, right?
We are all active participants in what we allow and how we choose to live. Yes, we had very challenging circumstances in our lives that created incredible stress on our marriage and family, but it was clear to me that our dynamic was not one of respect and love and it simply wasn’t going to work anymore. I think most divorce is heartbreaking and hard. This was no different. But sometimes we realize that things simply aren’t going to turn out the way we expected, and that acceptance can be a really hard thing — but it does come.
I began my podcast March of 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic and also when my divorce was finalized. I actually started writing on Instagram first, writing about what I was feeling and how I was healing. It wasn’t anything I had ever planned to do, but it just kind of flowed out of me and turned out to be incredibly cathartic. Then, as I was exploring my own healing, stepping fully into my own personal growth and expanding my reach into exploring various modalities, I started meeting these incredible people that I wanted to share with others in a way that only something like a podcast would allow. I was always talking on the phone with my dear friend Kerry Degenhardt, a life coach, incredible friend, mother and daily inspiration and sounding board in life and in my own personal journey. We would have these wonderful conversations for hours about divorce, healing, growth and life, and manifesting and relationships, and we realized our convos were too good not to share so she agreed to be my very first guest and it just took off from there.
That’s a totally organic beginning! So Kerry agrees to sit down for a chat. Then what happened?
Kerry and I had been exploring life after divorce and all the growth and challenge that comes along with it. Our conversations on the phone were so incredible. I wish I had recorded those! We could talk for hours about how we were hurting, where we were struggling, our hopes and dreams and how we were navigating recreating our lives in this unexpected life pivot. Our friendship gave me the platform to finally communicate, opening up about my feelings and feeling understood and heard in all of my messiness — just the open platform to dream, grieve, laugh and express. In many ways our friendship cracked open the real me. It taught me how to be authentic and vulnerable. Something I really didn’t know how to do and maybe didn’t even know existed. Now I can’t imagine being any other way and I’m cultivating this in my relationships.
And you had no formal training or any background in podcasting?
No. I figured out most of the logistics on my own. I did have graphic design background and I’ve always loved writing. But honestly, this whole thing has been a huge, beautiful surprise for me as much as for anyone else. I was never seen as being creative. No one ever said “you’re great at writing” or “you should do something like this”. It literally called to me and just flowed out of me. It drew me in in the most incredibly natural way that I can’t even fully describe and opened me up right when I needed it the most.
What a wild ride life is and how incredible the gifts can be if you let go of what you expect things to look like, become open to infinite possibilities and allow yourself to simply follow your heart. I never followed my heart like this before in my life. But something was calling and now I listen to that inner voice. I trust that voice so much more. And it’s brought me to so many incredible places and helped me make really difficult choices. I can’t imagine a life not following that true north anymore.
I’m a big fan of following the lodestar and one’s own intuition, and listening to your show, it seems as though your guests feel the same. How do you secure your guests?
My guests primarily come to me in the same way that you and I met – through my life and just being out in the world living and connecting with incredible people. The universe has really dropped the perfect people at the perfect time, always aligned with something personally that I’m working to expand into as well. It really is magical.
I’m SO committed to exploring doing life better, and I’m incredibly curious about how we can expand what’s possible, improve our life experience, become better people, live happier and fuller lives. In that exploration you just meet people who are experts in their fields that I am inspired to share with the world. I often feel like EVERYONE needs to know about this person. Let’s get this out there! This practice could change the world! Let’s go change lives! It’s so soul filling and fun.
So you are following your bliss! Other than a few basic questions to get started, do you let your guests lead, or do you prompt them with your ideas of how the interview should go?
I take quite a bit of preparation time before my interviews. I spend 30 minutes getting to know them before we even record and we decide together the theme of the interview. I always want to KNOW the person who I’m talking to and usually, by the time we record, the guest is a friend and we’re connected for life! I make a list of questions around the topic and we agree together what direction we’ll go. Ironically, we almost never need the list and the convo flows in the very best organic way possible, but it gives us a road map. Each interview is unique, and you really have to be intuitive and go with how that person is to bring out their truth. So leading or allowing, whatever the connection calls for, that’s what I do!
The ideas really come from the guests themselves! Every single person on this earth has a purpose and a gift. And most of the guests have stepped into their calling and are embodying their truth and knowledge in the most magical way. They bring the inspiration to the table and it flows effortlessly. It’s so incredibly beautiful.
I’ll also say that a lot of the ideas come from something I personally am working on in that moment and in area that I’m curious about and where I want to grow. When the student is ready, the teacher arrives, right?
Right! It’s an adage for a reason. So you are 40+ podcasts in. Do you have a favorite guest?
Oh wow, I can’t imagine one, no. I love every single guest who’s been gracious enough to be on the show. Every single one has contributed something unique, special, valuable and life changing. Not only to the show, but to me personally.
I do have a few repeat guests though, including Kerry who has been so pivotal in my life and Melanie who is my energy healer whom I adore and has healed me in so so many ways and Julie Kern who is an incredible person who helps women financially. I want everyone to work with these three women and experience the freedom and transformation I have experienced. It really has been incredibly healing.
Being a physical embodiment of the things you teach always seems to be the most authentic way to live. To that end, do you think talk radio is a form of therapy and, if so, has it helped you work through anything in particular?
Oh yes! I love love love podcasts and audio books. Every time I listen to something I get a new perspective, new motivation to change or uplevel or even just a new way to understand or reflect on life. I love learning and growing. When we share these conversations, we realize we aren’t alone on our journey and we find ways to navigate the hard, or become more compassionate, to connect more, or to just embrace a little more beauty in our lives. It’s all about constantly growing. By having these open conversations, we can inspire each other to do that and really just help make the world a more loving, compassionate, kind open place. We’re all in the same boat and when we are open about our struggles, healing can happen.
That’s lovely and so true, Nina. By the way, what’s your daily routine look like?
Ha! I’m a Virgo and a first born, so routines are my jam. Although I will say that I love being inspired (or pushed!) to get out of my routine and try new things, it’s just not my natural way of being.
I start my morning with Penny McAlpin’s 5:30 a.m. hot HOT Yoga. Every single flow is a spiritual and physical experience that I soak in and gets me aligned from the start. I have a full-time day job so depending on if I have the kids, I’m driving them to school and activities, meeting with my customers and business partners, fitting in a pod interview in the evening, and if it’s a really good day – some heart-filling time with my boyfriend to wrap it all up. I’m busy and have a full agenda, but I prioritize my time and make the things that fill my soul happen.
I also work for an incredible company with the most amazing manager ever. It wasn’t always that way. I had a long hard journey to get here and I’m so grateful for this place I’m in now. So good.
What has been your greatest podcasting lesson?
When you let go, trust in your dreams and allow yourself to see the light within you, and listen to and follow your heart – real magic can happen. Podcasting itself was out of reach for me, yet here I am. Trust that we are here for something incredibly important and purposeful and know the light within you is there, is real, and is just waiting for you to embody it and share it with the world.
How has podcasting held up a mirror to your life and what does the mirror say?
For so many years I was living life at 30%. I did all the right things. I was perfect in so many ways, but it was a shell. You can’t live a full, connected deep life without vulnerability. Without honesty. Without sharing your truth. Truth is never perfect. It’s raw, messy and complicated, but it’s SO much more beautiful than what we were thinking the perfect version is.
When we share that messy truth, that’s REAL beauty. I had to really dig that out of myself. To figure out how to let go of this perfect, curated, one dimensional version of myself and trust that what I truly am in my soul was going to be not only ok, but is how I’m supposed to live. And where I could find the very best relationships and life experience.
That is my mirror to podcasting. I jumped in and trusted it, and I’m so incredibly grateful that I did. I love being messy. I love being real. I love sharing our heartache and struggles. That is real life, and that’s how we connect and get through. That’s how we love each other deeper and truer.
I love that. I think we all live at 30%, maybe even less during this digital age. We’re so distracted all the time by our devices and it’s hard to stay present, but it seems you’ve managed that nicely with this platform. From where do you pull your inspiration?
I pull inspiration from my life and relationships. Whatever I’m working through or someone I care about is working through is a topic that I want to explore. If we’re struggling with it, we can be sure someone else is, too, and having that conversation is important to share.
What’s your perfect day look like?
Wake up, coffee, meditation, yoga, podcast interviews, lunch with my kids, podcasting and meetings with lightworkers, tennis and dinner with my boyfriend evening at the beach with friends, Good wine. Ideally. I’m in Vero Beach, FL.
What do your children think of their mom’s podcasting?
Hmmm. Not sure they quite get it. Lol.
And to turn the tables with something you always ask your guests, what are you reading right now?
I always have SO many books going! But these are in my audible shuffle mix at the moment:
I also recently downloaded Rich Dad Poor Dad recommended to me by a podcast guest. Love love expanding my knowledge of investing and finances.
What kind of music are you listening to right now?
Oh wow. I’m having a country music moment and the Zac Brown band is just the best. So uplifting, positive, about life, love, family and gratitude. I just makes me feel GOOD. Homegrown, Chicken Fried are my favorites. I also love Great Day to Be Alive by Travis Tritt.
Thank you so much for sharing your time with us today, Nina. I trust you will keep up the amazing work of spreading positive vibes for years to come.
If you want to stay in touch with Nina, here are a few links:
Wallace Price is a dick, a calculating, ruthless, yet brilliant lawyer, A partner at his law firm, Wallace Price is otherwise friendless, joyless, and utterly without compassion, not even for his former wife whom he so carelessly ignored in favor of his job until she couldn’t take it anymore and divorced him.
In T. J. Klune’s brilliant novel, Under the Whispering Door, all of Wallace’s faults are on display, but rather than be embarrassed by them, Wallace brandishes them like a sword of victory, smiling (sardonically, of course) upon them as if they were his birth rite, that is until a heart attack claims him and a Reaper, Mei, does the same, coming to collect his soul at his sparsely attended funeral and taking him to Charon’s Crossing, ostensibly a tea shop but more of a weigh station where recently departed souls get some much needed prep, along with three cups of specially made tea, before crossing to the other side.
If some of this sounds familiar, that’s because the ferryman premise is pulled directly from Greek mythology. Charon, the ferryman from hell (Hades) was tasked with carting the souls of the dead across the River Styx (Acheron) to their ultimate resting place. Relatives of the dead placed a coin in their loved ones’ mouths prior to burial so they could pay the fare, and if you didn’t have the coin, you were destined to walk the shores for a hundred years (purgatory, perhaps?). In Under the Whispering Door, the job of ferryman falls to Hugo Freeman, a young black man who has been a ferryman since his own parents died, and like Mei, he sees dead people. Hugo and Mei live with Hugo’s dead grandfather, Nelson, and Nelson’s dead dog, Apollo at Charon’s Crossing, a tea shop that serves living people tea and scones while also helping dead souls cross over into the afterlife.
There are other colorful characters filling these pages — not just colorful character traits but people of color and diverse sexual orientation which was one of the best parts of this book: the way Klune paints diversity as a backdrop to life, never front and center or something worthy of controversy, anger, or any of the other emotions that so often intrude on LGBTQ conversations, but as an essential part of life’s fabric and in the same way nature Herself expresses diversity — effortlessly and without judgment or rancor. While the characters sometimes discuss queer issues, it’s not supercharged the way living people discuss those same issues; rather the message is we should all just get on with living our lives the way each of us wants to; the rest is no one else’s damn business.
I refuse to spoil this tremendous read by giving away any more plot points. I will say that I was often moved to tears, and more often laughing out loud. Under the Whispering Door is a mesmerizing work, a treatise on living and dying. Granted you’ll still be left with questions about what’s on the other side — Klune doesn’t go there because how could he? he’s still alive — but he does leave you with a sense of joy and relief that you may not have had before you picked up the book. I will definitely read this book again. In-joy.
If the universe speaks in riddles and the key to a happy life is to decipher the meaning of the universe, then Everything Everywhere All at Once is the owner’s manual. Written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, before embarking on this inimitable journey to the many verses, I suggest you buckle up for safety.
Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) and Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) run a laundromat in California. Evelyn lives a life of stress and worry, running the laundromat, caring for her aging father, Gong Gong (James Hong), and rebellious daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), and ignoring her husband, Waymond, all in an effort to stay sane and afloat.
Waymond thinks life should be experienced through random acts of kindness — he puts goggley eyes on all the bags of washed clothes — something Evelyn hates thinking it puerile, not because she’s a mean person, but because of her hyper-stressed condition. She’s either yelling at Waymond or ignoring him; she never laughs.
Their daughter Joy, aimless and disillusioned, has come out to her parents as gay, but Evelyn refuses to introduce Joy’s girlfriend Becky to Gong Gong and instead introduces Becky as Joy’s very good friend which angers Joy. Becky who is more like Waymond, let’s the slight pass unacknowledged.
There is an Everything Bagel of Life — I’ve long suspected that an everything bagel might be the key to life, actually — and the world, left dangling on the precipice as it so often is these days, unless Evelyn does something to stop the great evil spreading across the many verses.
There is a lot of time travel.
There are so many laughs that you may need to watch it again to catch all the things you missed from laughing.
And there is so much wisdom traded in laughter that you will come away sated on a hundred different levels.
In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity, according to the old adage, attributable to both Sun Tzu and Albert Einstein, respectively, and in Everything Everywhere All at Once chaos permeates every scene to brilliant hilarity.
The most prophetic and useful moral of the movie comes from Evelyn’s husband(s) Waymond Wang when he is trying to recruit her to the cause, and it applies to each and every one of us no matter what we do, where we are, or where we are planning to go in this multiverse we call life:
Every rejection, every disappointment, has led you here to this moment. Don’t let anything distract you from it.
I keep getting glimpses of little moments: my daughter, Morgan, filling the plastic bag with water which she will then hang on a tree branch, allowing the gravity-fed system to drip water through the hose and carbon filter and into another plastic bag, providing a few liters of suitable drinking water for us; me bent over the creek to catch water in the black metal/ceramic coffee pot which we will then boil for five minutes to kill the germs; the multitudes hiking the trails alongside us in the Grand Tetons in Wyoming — so many people we often had to step off the trail, allowing them room to jockey about, take photos, and grab children’s hands, while others queued up to take boat rides across Jenny Lake; riding down the road in my son, Ian’s vintage Jeep, the girls in a much newer model following behind, as the road curved and bent through the mountains, following the Salmon River in Idaho — one of the deepest gorges on the continent — the dust clinging to the cream-colored vehicle like it was part of the paint job; my daughter, Arianna, singing, always singing, as we hiked up into the clouds or sat admiring a waterfall; Ian, all arms and legs and height, leading our little group up the mountain where we would eventually wade into an alpine lake so cold it took your breath away; the Sunbeam Cafe in Sunbeam, Idaho where two sisters and their mom served the most amazing food while other family members ran the outfitter, providing river tours and gear, boats, kayaks, whitewater rafts, an oasis of sustenance and conviviality for adventure-seeking travelers; so many small snapshots against the backdrop in my mind’s eye of mountains rising up to kiss the bluest of skies, all now part of my soul.
The campground was special, tucked away from the thousands of people who visit the Grand Tetons each year, and while we were amazed by the magnificence of those mountains, I was grateful to have done that leg of the trip first because the throngs were, at times, overwhelming.
Contrast Jackson Hole with the Idaho wilderness which is synonymous with isolation, and you might reach the same conclusion. Over the next five days spent camping in Idaho, we met barely a handful of people who had chosen, like us, to transport themselves across the rugged terrain of Salmon-Challis National Forest and call it a vacation. I’ve not witnessed such quiet in a place since camping in Canyonlands National Park in Utah over 25 years ago — and I have no idea if Canyonlands is still as cloistered or has been, like most places on earth, overrun by humans — but I revel in the fact that some places like Salmon-Challis National Forest remain as too remote for people to cast an appraising eye in its direction.
There’s something magnificent about having such a place to yourself. We hiked in the day then swam in a lake or rinsed off in the stream in the evening. The Forest Service has built bathroom accommodations here and there in this vast wilderness and the three different ones we camped near were clean and well-stocked, not with running water, but with toilet paper and hand-sanitizer. The luxury of having fresh water — even if you had to filter it — and a place to use the bathroom while camping cannot, IMO, be overstated.
The trail to the Moose Lake, the alpine lake atop Wildhorse Creek Canyon that feeds the gorgeous Fall Creek waterfall where we camped for two nights was over the river and through the woods and meadows. Abundant wildflowers clamored for attention while a glimpse of a wild moose in the woods sent a momentary ripple of panic through our group. The moose we had seen at Moose Lake in the Grand Tetons eating seaweed off the bottom of the lake was practically domesticated in comparison. There, dozen humans sat along the banks, watching him eat and speaking, if at all, in hushed tones as if we were all sitting in church.
The wild moose we saw in Salmon-Challis was but a movement and a rack strutting along through the sunlit trees, a few moments and then gone, enough time for Ian to move the bear spray from the back pocket of his pack to the front. Morgan had brought a bag of jingle bells to ward off bear, but none of us knew what to do about a moose other than “look big and stand your ground,” as Ian advised. He said moose don’t scare too easily and “will trample you just because they can.” They also don’t respond to noise like bears. It’s good he saved the part about trampling until we got back to camp because as it was, Morgan stayed close on Ian’s heels for at least a mile or more after that sighting. Coincidentally, the lake in the Grand Tetons was also called Moose Lake. Apparently, the namers of these fine specimens didn’t think too much beyond the obvious when considering nomenclature since so many of the names for things were repetitive.
The trip up to Moose Lake was about 4.5 hours. I’ve no doubt my son could have done it without us in three, but he’d been here before and we tourists love our photos; plus, when we got into the higher elevations, we needed to stop just to catch our breath.
Wildflowers dotted every meadow and even some gravelly places where nothing so beautiful could have grown, but there, impossibly, they were, vibrant and vivacious. The blossoms I will eventually learn the names of now that we’ve been introduced, as well as the rivers and tributaries that snaked and braided and climbed and fell in their never-ending journey to return to the source, and I will definitely go back and call them each by name. Hello lupine. Hello Indian paintbrush.
In the ghost town of Custer, an old gold-mining town founded circa 1880 and ghosted by 1910, mining tailings lined the banks of the Yankee Fork, a major tributary to the Salmon River, along the roadway into town, a terrible blight on the landscape. The tailings were not pretty and neither what was left of the town, a sad sore on what was probably once a wild and beautiful part of the river, but from a historical perspective it was very interesting and the conditions that the miners and their wives lived under were grueling and precarious.
My lackluster response after so many days in the wilderness was directly related to the tailings, I know, but I couldn’t put it out of my mind. So much of our country’s land has been bullied into submission for the resources it holds, and once coerced into giving up its treasure, the remains are left sitting, like mining tailings aside a river, unsightly, unattractive, and definitely out of place.
An entire camping vacation and we never made a single fire. The smoke filling the air in Salmon, Idaho was enough to stifle any desire for one. The Moose Fire had started July 17th, a few days before we were leaving to go to Idaho and see Indianola, a Ranger Station where Ian lived when he wasn’t on a hitch, but they had been evacuated from the site before we arrived and firefighters were still battling the fire, so much that a tent city for firefighters had been set up in a parking lot just off the main street in Salmon. In a place so dry it seemed capable of spontaneous combustion, the carelessness of a few humans put over 1,000 firefighters’ lives at stake.
Bringing me back to where I always go which is — water. Luckily, all of our campsites but the last one included a water feature and even that one was near the Yankee Fork, much prettier away from the tailings piles, but we had to cross the road and scramble down a craggy little hill to get to it which I did once, but didn’t repeat the effort since we were going out to dinner that night, to celebrate Ian’s birthday and mark the end of our lovely family vacation. I can’t imagine constantly counting how many gallons of water I would need to have available for use each day for a family and then filtering enough to meet those needs as even with a stream nearby on most days, the arid nature of the West never leaves you, drying you out from the inside, and once home, it took a week for the inside of my nose to recover.
It takes a lot of water to put out a fire, substantially less to quench your daily thirst, but that’s only the start. We need water to cook, bathe, luxuriate and recreate, and we have water a-plenty in the U.S. — unless you are one of the 2.2 million people here that don’t have access to clean, safe water — so we don’t pay close attention to how much we use, how we acquire it, and how utterly lucky we are to have it delivered safely to our tap.
Water sustains life, there is no question — literally creating its own ecosystems and habitats since virtually everything else relies upon it. What other element can claim such jurisdiction? Slowly, I am resolving to be more like water: flowing, with less insistence on knowing where I’m going, and a mind to just enjoying the journey, a tough thing in minute-to-minute world.
If you worry about how much water you unconsciously use every day and want to to cure yourself of that bit of wastefulness, may I suggest camping? It’s the best kind of reset around.
You can’t take it with you, they say, and while this is true, the smart ones among us know that you can take the feeling, that sense of place with you everywhere you go. I feel Idaho in my bones now. The endless slope of trees unto rock unto dust unto sagebrush which doesn’t just dot the land but consumes it, miles and miles of it abiding along open roads and plains, enveloping it like a mother with her newborn, holding the parched earth to her, sustaining life despite the lack of rain, the endless sun, the mountains climbing ever higher into the unbounded sky as if the world itself were infinite.