Summer Solstice

21 06 2017

Lately I’ve felt like I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, constantly finding myself at the end of the night with an unfinished list and chatter on my mind. The world continues to get more chaotic, and respites seem fewer and farther between. The need for self-care is far greater now than ever before, yet we struggle to disconnect ourselves long enough to truly recover from the daily atrocities that surround us. To be indifferent is not the answer, but sometimes we need to ignore and forget, if only for a little while.

Or maybe the answer is not dis-connecting, but re-connecting.

Nature often reminds us of our insignificance. Despite all the human-related news and technologies, we are still struck down by flash floods and volcanoes. We are still stuck on this never-ending rotational orb, through darkness, and light, day in and day out.

When I feel overwhelmed, I shift my scale. Instead of focusing on the immensity of it all, stop to look closer to your own two feet. While I may not take enough stock in the little things that bring us joy and beauty every day, today is a big opportunity.

Today is the tipping point. The longest day of the year. Make it count. I rose to the sunrise and was inspired to write. Thank you, universe, for reminding me of what is important.

 

“Summer Solstice”

She  tiptoed through the night

Mottled with inky darkness and human light,

Languidly climbing to the precipice

Of spring and summer.

For 6 long months, she traversed.

She focused on this moment,

When she would find equilibrium

For one brief but beautiful second.

She paused there, at the top,

Darkness all around her,

As a pinpoint of light begins to appear.

It rapidly explodes into a scene

Rivaling Tambora in Indonesia.

Epic eruption, decimating the weight of

A thousand hours of struggle.

Silhouettes of trees, dappled with flames,

Sunlight strewn through them like lava.

She inhales deeply,

Absorbing the dawn,

Filling her lungs with vermillion blaze.

Hovering under ominous clouds,

Foreboding of nebulous worries,

She knows the climb back down will still be difficult.

She takes one drousy, prolonged blink,

Opens her bleary eyes,

And begins her journey.

~KRW

6.21.17

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Disappearing Countries (and what you can do about it)

3 12 2016

This December, I will be standing in a country that is expected to disappear. Why? It is at severe risk due to climate change. The entire country of the Maldives– a chain of 1,200 islands no more than 4 feet above sea level- is expected to vanish beneath the ocean in my lifetime. One of the most photographed places in the world, I want to see it before it’s literally gone.

baros-maldives

As a sustainability specialist, I’ve been reading about ‘global warming’ since the 1990s, in middle school science class (when it was still a highly debated topic). Today 97% of all scientists are in agreement that climate change IS happening, and IS caused by human actions (according to NASA, and every renowned expert). The effects are evident in the steep rise of extreme weather events, acidification of the oceans, melting glaciers, and globally rising ocean temperatures, which are leading to higher sea levels. NOAA tracks and records the weather events each year, and in 2015 alone, we can see how the weather events are increasingly dramatic, with records being broken all over the globe. And this is only a partial list.

extreme-weather

 

350-maldives-cabinet-thumb-436x292-3236The Maldives aren’t alone in this risk. While sea level rise does not increase uniformly around the world, changes are happening everywhere at varying rates. It’s not just about melting glaciers, either. If you think back to middle school science class, you learned how temperature can cause molecules to either shrink together or expand. When the oceans heat up, they expand. The only place to expand is up, and onto land.

 

Everything close to the water is at risk. This includes Micronesia. And the sensitive Florida Everglades. And NYC. Basically the entire eastern coast of the U.S. (National Geographic has an interactive map but you have to have a paid subscription of $1/month). Will they disappear next year? No. But governments are already working on climate change mitigation plans to deal with the harsh reality that is clearly heading their way. The Maldives have been on my radar for about 8 years, and seeing this beautiful country in person- before doing so requires scuba gear-  will be checked off my bucket list in 2016. By 2050, it’s expected that the entire population of the Maldives will have been relocated to either Sri Lanka or Australia, which will certainly be a very different experience. sea level rise map.png

 

So, what’s the point here? Go travel? No. Well, yes, if that’s your thing, but be sure to purchase carbon offsets for that jet plane.

indianoceanarea

The point is that there are THOUSANDS of treasured places at risk due to climate change. Sea level is just ONE example of how climate change negatively impacts millions of people. But the solutions are plentiful.

  1. Talk to Trump. Of course, tell Trump that the head of the EPA should not be a person who chooses to ignore scientific facts, and an overwhelming consensus on this extensively researched topic. A climate change denier has no place heading the EPA.
  2. Paris Climate Treaty. This decades-long culmination resulted from extensive negotiations between 196 countries to try to find a way to slow down this globally destructive process. If Trump pulls out of this treaty, it will have a domino effect, and the whole thing will fall apart. This means things will only get worse even faster.Sign the petition to voice your concerns.
  3. Do Something Different! Every single day, we make choices and take actions that emit greenhouse gases (GHG). Even the most saintly environmentalist has a carbon footprint, so don’t feel guilty and throw your hands up in despair. Learn more about where GHG comes from. Any action will make a difference. Choose to avoid styrofoam by carrying your own reusable container to the restaurant for leftovers. Walk or bike instead of driving. When you do drive, plan your trips to run errands as efficiently as possible, and invite a friend to join you for a fun carpool! Insulate your house and buy LED bulbs to save money and reduce coal burning. Learn to cook plant-based meals, or start growing your own herbs or veggies. Buy secondhand whenever possible, saving money and giving new life to a product instead of extracting raw materials to manufacture more stuff!
  4. Spread the Word. Talk about it. Make it fun! Invite friends to a challenge together, to learn new behaviors, to become informed. Being an active part of saving our planet is a rewarding feeling, and particularly powerful today.

 

dusit-thani-maldives-1





Trump: Is it not the ‘End of the World’?

12 11 2016

Half of America is reeling from a gut punch. A quarter is celebrating what they hope will mean positive economic change. The remainder is ripping off their hoods in joyous devolution to a segregated America.
Many, many of my friends, allies, and acquaintances are scared. This is not, “oh shit, how did Bush get re-elected?” scared. This is far deeper than politics. This is, “will I be safe walking home now?” scared.
racists-trump-followers

What’s terrifying is the sheer volume of very real and probable actions that the president-elect claims to enact “on day one.” Add to that the immediate physical threats from some violent and hateful Trump followers (no, not all Trump followers are violent or hateful, but some are, and that’s enough to change my life), with horrific stories pouring in daily. It’s overwhelming, trying to comprehend all the ways that this might negatively impact my life. I could write an entirely separate post on risks to dark-skinned people, women, non-Christians, LGBTQ folks, etc. But I’m also scared for us all, globally, and you should read on to understand why.

 

We don’t really know what will happen once Trump steps into the white house. He can change his mind and do the opposite of what he proposed (which, in many cases, was very vague). I believe that this former democrat was actually much more liberal than he purported himself to be in order to get elected. With zero record of any public office, we have absolutely nothing to go on other than his own words- which contradicted themselves countless times depending on his audience.

 

Much of what will happen over the next four years will, indeed, be infuriating.We will fight. We will march. We won’t sit idly by and watch our rights flushed down the toilet. But with so many fights, how do we prioritize our efforts?

Global Detriment

Many things that Trump has threatened to do can be undone in four years. Many cannot be effectively undone. Most of them will impact America directly, and foremost. But there is another concern that, for me, as a sustainability expert, I find the most troubling.

What Trump plans to do to our planet will be devastatingly irreversible.

If this next president manages to royally fuck up our country, I can always move, because I’m lucky enough to have a college education, relatively little debt, and diverse skill sets. The rest of you struggling to make ends meet are stuck here, suckas! However, if his actions reflect his rhetoric, Trump is slated to make several bold, disastrous moves for the planet. Last time I checked, we don’t have a Planet B, so…. FUUUUCK.

What am I talking about? Let me tell you. For the sake of brevity, I won’t regurgitate the countless pages written by experts on these matters, but a quick google search should fill you in if you doubt any of my facts. And if you’re pretty sure it’s all a hoax by the Chinese government… well… you’re probably qualified to hold a position in Trump’s cabinet, so congrats!

 

#1- Paris Climate Treaty

paris-climateTrump has promised to back out of this multilateral agreement- involving 196 countries- in which the U.S. committed to carbon emissions reductions in order to curb climate change. This type of agreement takes decades to get all the right players at the table. There’s a very delicate balance, as industrialized nations point the finger at third world countries that are growing ans aspiring to be like us. “Why do we have to cut emissions so much but they are worse polluters than us?!” (Answer: because we’ve been polluting like this for over a hundred years already, we are better equipped to make changes, and it’s our fault that we are in this climate mess to begin with).

We are the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas polluter, after China.

Once the U.S. backs out, it’s likely that countries like Venezuela and India will have a fervor of fresh debate over what their commitments should be. This will stall the progress further, which will delay emissions reductions, and we will progress even more rapidly towards the climate cliff- the point at which our atmospheric CO2 equivalent levels hit a point of no return. We are already dangerously teetering on this edge as we speak. We have no more time to debate this, as summers keep warming, oceans keep rising, coral reefs keep dying, floods and droughts keep devastating farmers, and our costs continue to rise from rapidly increasing insurance claims.

This year is on track to be the hottest on record, blasting past the previous records set in 2015 and 2014.

paris-agreement-evaluation-perspectives-v2181215-2-638

#2- Federal Oversight

child-laborRemember when the industrial revolution started? Ah, those glory days! There were no regulations back then, and companies prospered! Workers came home coated in soot, inside their lungs too, which is why they commonly died in their 50s and 60s. But government kept out of American lives! Back at home, the kids played outside in fields leaching chemicals from the factory downtown, frolicking in the polluted river next to mysteriously dying fish and frog carcasses. This was before we had a word for cancer, so many people just died of “unknown causes.” Once Trump comes to power, he is expected to appoint a new head of the EPA who chooses to ignore 98% of all scientists warning about climate change. Trump has vowed to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency “in almost every form.” He would need congress approval to completely abolish the EPA.

At least we’ll still have a Department of Energy, right? With a darling of the industry- McKenna- at that helm, there surely is zero risk for corruption, of course. Thank goodness we elected someone who has no personal business interests that would conflict with U.S. policy moves. We don’t need check and balances anyway, right? Companies always have our best interest at heart, always do the right thing, never focus solely on profits, and don’t require any oversight, ever.

 

#3- Clean Power Plan

Fortune magazine is also concerned about Trump’s plans for the world. Trump vows to repeal ALL executive orders made by President Obama. All of them, regardless of which ones are actually successfully improving our lives. Among those, is the Clean Power Plan.

trump-coalThe plan is projected to cut United States power plant emissions 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. “If Trump steps back from that, it makes it much less likely that the world will ever meet that target, and essentially ensures we will head into the danger zone,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which produces global reports on the state of climate science. (By the way, if you’re really concerned about American energy & the economy, you might want to better understand the negative implications of Trump’s Mexican wall & NAFTA threats)

According to the New York Times, he “could target the rules by appointing an industry-friendly justice to the Supreme Court and then refusing to defend the plan when it goes before the court.

He could also direct the E.P.A. to reissue the plan to be extremely friendly to industry. Such a move would also be subject to lawsuits by environmental advocates, which would further drag out the process. And in concert with congressional Republicans, he could decimate the E.P.A.’s budget, crippling its rule-making capacity.”

What about the coal miners? I hate to tell you this, but, much like VHS tape manufacturers, your job is becoming obsolete. Coal has been declining consistently due to market pressures, so if you’re pissed about layoffs, blame the free market. coal_employment_1985_to_2014

#4- Federal Lands

Trump has promised to open up federally protected lands to oil drilling, and pretty much anything else that will make a buck. He probably has no idea what a “proven reserve” is, or the fact that nobody actually knows how much oil is really beneath the snow in Alaska. But he’s willing to sell it to the highest bidder. If that runs dry, he’ll look elsewhere. Big Bend National Park in Texas is 801,163 acres, surely there must be some oil in there somewhere, right? Oil drilling won’t possibly leach into the Rio Grande, will it? No? Let’s try Glacier National Park in Montana next then. What endangered species?

alaskagallery-mendenhall2015So if you ever thought you’d enjoy seeing these expansive parcels of pristine wilderness, you better get there quick. Between melting glaciers and massive oil rigs waiting in the wings to move in, change is upon us. You might want to tell the caribou too.

There is good news. It’s not the end of the world.

Or at least, not the planet. Even the worst case scenario of climate change will only make the planet uninhabitable, so humans could die off, much like dinosaurs did, but not for a hundred years or so. Earth will still keep spinning, with or without us.

The good news? All international companies will continue to reduce their emissions. Most American companies that are already reducing their emissions through energy efficiency projects have realized that emissions reductions = cost savings, and will continue to pursue reductions.

And the shift away from coal has already happened. Low natural gas prices mean that electricity production from coal is cost prohibitive, and power companies are already planning their 5 year transitions to alternative energy sources including natural gas.Killing the Clean Power Plan won’t stop the business trends, but it will slow some of them.

What can we do?

First, self-care. You cannot fight without internal strength, which comes from rest, healthy habits, and love. Then, donate time or money to action groups with legal recourse. ACLU, Hoosier Environmental Council, etc.

Stay tuned in. Sign petitions. March in peaceful protests. Raise awareness.

The challenge is that there are so many alarming changes coming, it’s likely that some will simply get swept under the rug, missed by media while many larger stories dominate the news. Know these 4, pay attention, and fight like hell. We only have one planet, and if we fuck this up, there is no back up plan.earth





Heaven in Havasupai

18 10 2014

Canyon hiking in the desert is not like other hiking. It means that you are prone to unique weather patterns, and while significant rainfall is rare, flash flood potential is very real. Before we enter into any slot canyons or wash hikes, we seek updates on flash flood warnings. Up until this point on our trip, we have been extremely lucky with blue skies and dry trails. This morning, however, I awoke in our motel room to the soothing sounds of rumbling thunder. This is not a good thing when you are about to embark on a 10 mile hike down into, and through, a rural canyon, with nothing around but a remote tribal village at the end of the 10 mile hike.

 

We still have a 2 hour drive ahead of us to get to the Havasupai Hilltop, where the trail head starts. grand canyon sunset 1We barely made it this far last night, after leaving Antelope Canyon and following the detour around the major road closure. The detour led us past the Grand Canyon, where we paused briefly at sunset for a quick kiss goodnight. We drove on. Through the inky blackness of the desert sky, we finally found the neon glow of our charmingly renovated Route 66 motel.

 

Information about today’s hike is sparse. The Supai tribe is very negligent when it comes to providing useful information for visitors, so I still didn’t REALLY know what to expect. My mom kept asking me about the hike, and whether there were going to be any more steep, narrow cliffs. I couldn’t exactly answer, and I was hesitant to look too hard, for fear that the answer would be yes.

 

We packed up before dawn and hit the road, stopping for coffee along the way. I searched on my phone for more details. I found another online review, and learned that we had to hike down 2,000 feet in the first mile. Is that too steep? Hmmm. My mom was getting nervous about whether or not she would be willing to do this hike. We agreed that, if she felt uneasy once we got there, she could take the rental car and drive back to civilization, picking us up two days later.

 

As we eat breakfast, the rain pours against the diner’s wavy glass windows. I pull up the radar map on my phone, between bites of potatoes and sparse cell phone reception. I gulp. The system is HUGE, and extends all the way up from Route 66 to the Havasupai canyon and over the entire Grand Canyon, down to Flagstaff. I begin to get nervous about whether or not we will even be able to start our hike down into the canyon, let alone make it safely to the Supai village.

 

If the trail is flooded, I know, we will be totally out of luck. Our reservation at the Supai ‘lodge’ had been made months earlier, and they were absolutely unwilling to allow changes or cancellations. I had no idea what to do. Bethany pulled up the phone number for the Supai lodge and called. Nobody answered (which is normal). I began to imagine the worst case scenario- we drive another 2 hours only to find the canyon flooded, with no way to cancel our 2 night reservation at the remote village, and no idea what to do. As we sit there in the diner, sipping coffee refills, Bethany keeps calling, and finally gets through. The woman who answered the phone in the village said, “It’s only light rain here. There’s no problem with flooding.” I look down at the radar on my phone again and, although I am still doubtful, I chirp, “okay, let’s go do this!” Off we went.

 

HIKING DOWN INTO THE VILLAGE

supai hilltop 2Remarkably, after driving over an hour through the downpour, we got to the hilltop and the rain had stopped. The skies were still dark and impending, but mostly off to the east. The hilltop is about 2,000 feet up, with an amazing panoramic view of the canyon. Before we do anything else, we walk over to the edge so my mom can peer down and make her decision.  The trail is a good 6 feet in width- wide enough to accommodate two passing strings of horses and pack mules. It switches back and forth above itself, so that even if you fell over, you would only fall down one layer. My mom agrees to go down.

 

We load everything we needed on our backs for 3 days, extend our hiking poles, and begin hiking down. The path is rocky, but mostly worn down to a thick layer of sand that drifts between my toes. (Yes, I hike in Chacos). It is a beautiful hike, with the same view seeming like countless new views with every leg of the switchback. We slowly dip deep into the canyon over the first hour. The landscape continually transforms as we hike further, unfolding around us with each bend in the dry wash floor. The first five miles felt pretty good, and I am grateful for the cloudy skies. We stop occasionally to take photos, but I’m surprised we don’t see more hikers. Maybe 10 others? By mile 9, my shoulders are aching from the weight of my backpack (my mom’s backpack, actually), my back is sweaty, and my feet are pale with dust. Eventually, the canyon comes to an end. I walk up to the first sign I’ve seen so far, which reads “Supai Village,” with a hand painted arrow pointing left down the intersecting canyon. We have been hiking for 5 hours, and we are all ready to be done.

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Inside the village, the roads are still sandy, meandering, and mostly used by horses carrying down the packs of visitors. There are no cars, or bikes, but there is a helicopter pad used by locals and tourists. Buildings here are a mix of trailers, shacks, and some wood framed homes with multiple, custom additions. Things are dusty, and in disrepair, with dogs running wild throughout  the canyon. It is about what I expected. Despite the $35 per person daily charge to just BE on their land, and the expensive cost of the motel room, there are no signs of the Supai people getting rich off of tourism.

 

As my mom and Bethany putz behind me, I walk ahead to try to figure out where the lodge is in the tangle of unnamed roads and paths, I’m afraid that we missed a turn. I ask a villager for directions, only to turn around and discover that I have lost my two companions. After waiting a few minutes for them to appear, I walk past the store, the school, the church, and see the lodge. There’s a white guy sitting at a table on the front porch. He looks even more tired than I feel. “Checking in?” I ask of his large pack. “Yep. They said she went to the store and will be back soon,” he says, pointing at the closed door and teasingly lit up ‘open’ sign. I laugh, and sit down to wait.

 

Once we get checked in, we walk through the courtyard to our second floor room. The three of us collapse on the two full beds, shoes and all. Laying down for 10 minutes felt amazing! I recover quickly, and, although my hiking mates are done for the day, I decide to go out to explore. I want to see what the big waterfall hike will look like for the next day, since getting to the village was only the beginning! The real reason we are here is to hike even further down the canyon to see some of the amazing waterfalls. Most people don’t see all four, but I am hopeful we will have time.

 

In the pale, waning light of dusk, I make it out to the second falls- Havasu Falls- and am pleased to find that the visitor reviews of this portion are fairly accurate. I don’t go any further, knowing that it will be dark soon. When I return to the hotel room, I share my snapshots of inspiration to get Bethany and my mom excited about what we get to see tomorrow. Even after turning my 10 mile day into a 14 mile day, I can hardly wait!!

 

navajo fallsThe next morning, after a restful night of sleep, we pack plenty of chia bars and soy jerky, water, and band-aids, and head out for a fun day of exploration. The named falls, in order of distance from the village, are Navajo Falls, Havasu Falls, Mooney Falls, and Beaver Falls. I suspect that my mom might not make it to Beaver Falls. I have heard that the last one was hard to get to, involving some wooden ladders and some steep climbs, but it’s a little unclear exactly where those are, or how many miles it really is to Beaver Falls. Some people have complained that the hand-drawn map was not correct, and it’s an additional 1-2 miles more than the map leads you to believe. We will see!

 

Our game plan is to head to the farthest falls first, then slowly make our way back and enjoy each spot with the time we have left. It’s supposed to be 5 miles out to Beaver Falls, so we expect to make it there in a couple hours. The elevation of the canyon floor continued to fall lower as we head out from the village, with a pretty gradual grade the first 2 miles. The trail meanders past Navajo Falls, a multi-tier cascading set of falls, the highest at 15 feet.

 

havasu fallsHavasu Falls is just a bit further, and as we crest over the hill, it suddenly appears off to the right, a roaring mirage below us. The trail splits in two, and we can either wander down to the bottom of Havasu Falls, where the flowing, turquoise pools are speckled with people in colorful swimsuits, or we can continue on toward the campground. We march on.

 

We walk through the area designated for camping, which is basically anywhere that isn’t riverbed. The pattern of water flow diverges, and weaves its way through in an army of little, babbling brooks. It is nearly 4 miles until we come upon the third waterfall, Mooney Falls. Much like Havasu Falls, the promenade is from above, and the falls plummet down from the clifftop on our right. Mooney falls is much taller, and we can hear the falls as they echo off the cliff walls. Unlike the last one, the trail does not split up, nor is there an obvious, easy path to continue on. We walk over to the edge, and I am in awe. The water falls a tremendous height, roaring with power as it carves out the rock at its base. This is the one where people used to cliff dive, because the pool below is deeper than you can ever imagine.

 

mooney falls b topThe cliff wraps around, and our easy path suddenly morphs into a rocky outcropping of steps. My mom bravely decides to try it, but warns me that she might have to turn back. Within the first 12 feet, the path folds back under itself, and there is barely a trepidatious foot of width left to the path. “Well, Mom,” I smile back at her, “I totally understand if you want to stop here.”

“Yeah…,” she laughs nervously, “I think I’ll head back. See you girls back at the hotel!”

 

Bethany and I continue, unsure of what to expect. I use my left hand to grip the rock wall, my right on my hiking pole. The trail begins to feel more like a multiple choice test, with spray painted arrows on rocks showing different ways you can climb down to the next level. In just 10 minutes, I snake my way back around to the point where I can once again see the falls, obscured now by the trees. The trail stops, with a sign that warns of the potential hazards. I turn to my right and see an orange arrow pointing at a large black hole in the wall. This is my only choice.

 

mooney falls descend riskThe second that I duck my head into the cave, the sound of the waterfall dulls to a dim echo. I pull out my cell phone to light my way, advancing down onto subtle steps that had been carved into the stone. I can see the light from the exit up ahead, and as I erupt back into daylight, I can clearly see the falls. The path is now framed with a heavy metal chain bolted into the rock wall, acting as a rail to prevent an accidental fall over the edge. There is nothing below me now but sheer cliff, and air.

 

In just a couple more strides, another tunnel immediately takes me back into the dark, but this time when I emerge, there is no trail. There is no guardrail. Instead, it goes down. Thick, heavily worn wood is formed into a ladder, likely a dozen years old, which is chained to the rock at my feet. Shit just got real. Mist from the falls, still  a few hundred feet away, settles lightly on the chains. I pull the straps for my poles over my wrists, letting them swing loosely at my sides. I take a deep breath, look back to be sure I haven’t lost Bethany, and I begin to climb.

 

kelly mooney falls climbAs I descend, I can’t see more than a few feet to anticipate what is coming up next. How far will it go on like this? My hands are wet from the cold metal, and my knuckles are pale from my tight grip. I find myself recalling my basic ladder safety tips. Three points of contact at all times! Release left hand- grab wooden rung- release right hand- grab- release left foot- feel for next secure footing- repeat.  I realize how tight my muscles are and try to tell myself to relax. Then I laugh at myself inside my head. “Relax?!?! Yeah, right!” The rungs are slippery, and I am climbing down blind. If I mis-step, it could be disastrous. I look up periodically to check on Bethany. She is slowly following me, and I can tell that she is equally fear-stricken.

 

It felt like forever for my legs to finally reach solid ground. My quads tremble with relief, and I take a minute to just look up at what I have accomplished. For a split second, I feel myself filling with dread, knowing that, “we still have to get out the same way.” It is like rock climbing, except we have no harnesses or safety gear.

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Bethany is still 30 feet above my head, moving very slowly and deliberately. A logjam of people have accrued behind her, waiting, because there is no place to pass. Her large backpack makes her top heavy, and the uneven load is definitely slowing her down. I am grateful she didn’t lean back too much and lose her balance.

 

When she finally reaches the canyon floor, we both sigh a breath of sweet relief. “Holy shit that was intense!!” “I can’t believe we just did that!” Had I known how treacherous the hike would become, I likely would have turned back too. Thankfully, I didn’t.

 

Money Falls is breathtaking, and worth the ‘hike.’ The force of the water is so strong, that groups of young men are taking turns swimming at full speed towards the frothy white rapids, only to be pushed right back to where they started. The group of adventurers who made it this far is small, and only gets smaller as we look on. Despite our plan to hike to the end and then make stops on the way back, we agree that we have totally just earned a break! We spot a picnic table sitting empty in the middle of the river, with a foot of clear blue water rushing beneath it. We sit down, resting, eating, in awe of what stands before us. It is so powerful!bk mooney picnic
The last leg of the hike is the part that remains least known. Most people never make it this far. The trail is easily an extra 1-2 miles further. When we get up to head out, I can’t even tell where the trail is, as water flows everywhere I look. A young woman guides me, “Just follow the river, you can’t get lost.” Great. Can’t get lost. That sounds like a challenge to me! And with that, we walk ahead, through the shallow river.

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Snowmageddon, Indy style

10 01 2014

When I moved 5 hours southwest from Ypsilanti, Michigan to Indianapolis, Indiana, people told me I would be enjoying milder winters. What a bunch of hooey! You may have been able to fool people twenty years ago with the power of persuasion, but this is the age of information. It’s the same darn weather. Period.

In this modern era, I am armed with information at my fingertips. I hold in my pocket the wonders of NetAtmo, which feeds me real time weather readings both inside and outside of my home, which I contrast with iPhone weather apps for any city I choose to virtually explore, and, finally, the coup de gras, I got myself the Nest. No, this is not for the birds. It’s a high-tech thermostat that reads your daily patterns and adjusts the temperature automatically in anticipation of your next move. It programs itself, so even dummies with big pocketbooks can reap the energy savings. You might say I’m in a constant game of chess with my house.

photo 2 photo

When the forecast first showed glints of a one foot snowfall on the way, I was prepared. I noticed that this recently purchased house was nowhere near as well insulated as our beloved home in Ypsi. The furnace is electric- it still makes me cringe to say this out loud- and can barely keep up once the temps dip into the single digits.

photo 5Bethany and I battened down the hatches- almost literally. We geared up, headlamps at the ready, climbed below the wooden floor joists, and disappeared into the nether regions of our crawl space. Bethany tediously wrapped the main trunks of our ductwork, which was exposed to the un-insulated crawl space air. While great for the feral cat community, heating our crawl space was not in our budget. I maneuvered 4×8 sheets of rigid insulation at $20 a pop, cutting and trimming with a tetris’d efficiency so as to make the most of each sheet. I lined the furnace room with the pink sheets, and used foil tape and spray foam to seal up the rim joists and furnace air leaks. As we both grew weary, I passed the last sheets of insulation into the crawl space, where Bethany placed them carefully against the cold exterior knee walls. It wasn’t much, but better than nothing.

Above ground, we still had work to do. In an attempt to prevent too much of our precious heat from escaping, I cut the remaining rigid insulation to fit the windows. Slowly, one by one, the house grew dark as the ample daylight disappeared behind the pink sheets. It felt like we were really hunkering down for the storm of the century. It was too cold to apply further measures, like adding more weatherstripping around doors, so we stuffed towels into cracks along the floor. I had already finished caulking around all the doors and windows to ensure no air came in around the wood trim. We dug out the candles, got the faucets on a slow drip to prevent the pipes from freezing, and then we sat down and waited.photo 4

It wasn’t the 12 inches of snow that was the big deal. We actually went out and had a long, stunning, albeit wet, walk in the storm on Sunday. It was a heavy, wet snow, that required three rounds of shoveling to keep up. That night, however, the snow tapered off and the winds picked up. The polar vortex had arrived.

Temperatures plummeted to negative digits faster than I would have imagined possible. It was a high of -6F on Monday, and a low of -16F, with wind chills nearing forty degrees below zero. The news spoke of nothing else, but the treacherous risk of venturing out in temps that could lead to frostbite in just ten minutes.

I watched from my phone as the Nest reported the house temperature creeping lower and lower with each hour. We had oil filled space heaters in our bedrooms, but everything else was at the mercy of the measly electric furnace. The city banned all non-emergency travel, and businesses were closed everywhere. My work sent out an email clarifying that, we too, were not allowed to come to the office, and must work from home to be safe.

photo 2photo 3I am an energy efficiency specialist, which means I have access to fantastic gadgets via work! Monday morning, energy toys at my ready, I wasted no time seeing what the real situation was. I pointed my temperature gun at the tiled kitchen floor. There is one corner where I swear they placed the cabinets directly over a gaping hole to the crawl space, such is the rush of cold air when you open the corner cupboard. The digital readout stimulated my scientific mind with real data, and I couldn’t help but keep checking to see the cold creeping into the kitchen. It was like watching a train wreck. What started out as 54 degrees Fahrenheit the night before was down to 39 by the morning. It kept declining, until I could almost see my breath in there. The overall house temperature declined less rapidly, but never left its nadir of 48 degrees until Wednesday morning.

photo 3For three days we were trapped in this frigid frame of a house. I can only imagine what would have happened if we had lost power. We baked everything we could think of, in an effort to fill the kitchen with warm, sweet, electric oven air. We drank tea nonstop, and then recoiled into our bedrooms to recover from standing on the cold kitchen floor.  Only one window remained exposed, in an otherwise dark and dreary place without time. Occasionally, I moved the sheet of foam from our bedroom window to peak out into the world and make sure it was still there. The white snow blinded me, and I retreated back into the darkness like a creature from a late night novel.

When the forecast finally gave birth to a small respite from the arctic blast, the entire Midwest cheered at the beautiful sight of a large black oval on our temperature gauges. Zero degrees has never looked so good.

photo 1As Wednesday arrived, and zero degrees came and went, we were more than ready to be rid of our cabin fever. The pipes, two of which had frozen, took another day to thaw out and flow once more. We could finally wash dishes in the kitchen sink again! The toilet flushed without pans of water! The little things that we take for granted were appreciated immensely on that day. The roads were still treacherous, but people ventured back into work.

So, Indiana, you thought you could scare a Michigan girl. This may have been the coldest, snowiest storm since before I was born, but you can’t keep a Michigander down. I’ve taken road trips to northern Michigan in February. In a Honda Insight Hybrid. You’ll never win this one, Indiana, so just can the tough talk and show me what you’ve got in store for spring.





Licking Up the Late Summer Sun

7 09 2013

It’s a week after Labor Day, and the temperatures are rising. It’s going to be in the 90s this week in Indianapolis, and you’d better believe that folks here are out and about this weekend, soaking up the last of the summer sun. sunbathers

As we experience this September heat wave, I cannot help but smile at how differently we embrace the heat here in the Midwest.

Summer is a precious commodity here. It’s something that I, personally, clutch close to my chest to get me through those frigid days in February. it fades, like an ephemeral dream, almost disappearing, until the cycle brings it once again closer, and my ground thaws once more.

This time of year, I, and others whom I witness, are well aware that these days are numbered. we pack our days with outdoor activities, knowing that the fall chill will soon be here.

Picnic-DressYoung folk try to see how many more miles they can get on their flip-flops, while I air up the tires on my bike each week and hit the pavement. We bask in the glorious sunshine, and search for excuses to have a picnic in the grass. College kids lay out in swim trunks, although the beaches all closed two weeks ago. What I wouldn’t give for one more plunge into a lake!

Yet, this year, I see it a little differently. I think about our son back in Thailand. I see him dodging in and out of shadows, avoiding the relentless sun, fearful of it licking his skin and developing deeper pigment. Most people wait until the sun has set to go out to shop, which explains the prevalence of the Night Markets throughout southeast Asia. In his little town, people cover themselves with long sleeves and pants, while we bare as much skin as possible before our season is really over.night-market

Does this knowledge change what I shall do this weekend? Probably not. But it’s still fun to contrast our cultures, and know that one woman’s trash is another one’s treasure.

9.7.13





The Climate of Art Fairs

20 07 2013

art fair stormIt’s Art Fair week in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This can mean only one thing… ridiculously hot, humid weather with no overnight relief, and at least one torrential thunderstorm. Thousands of people from across the country flock to this city every year to display and explore the many arts and crafts that fill the streets for four days. You might not find the art-on-a-stick you were searching for, but one thing is certain. The unpredictable weather is the only predictable thing about this climate!

 

art fairDespite the cold winters and stunning springs, summer here never ceases to amaze me with its dripping humidity, rivaling Houston. We either get comfortable 70s for highs, or 95 and humid. There’s little in between, it seems. Meanwhile, denizens of the mitten are battling to maintain their Midwestern niceties after 6 days in a row of excessive heat warnings. We’ve lost our cool.

While folks love to live here because of the ever-changing seasons, it also makes it harder to adapt. They say that if you don’t like the weather in Michigan, just wait 5 minutes. It’s true, it is highly variable. This also means that by the time you’ve figured out how to live in one set of conditions, the rules change. How are people supposed to be expected to know the precise conditions in which it makes sense to open your windows to allow a cool breeze in, or when to close them to keep out the heat?

This is where some other climates have an advantage. When you live in Texas or Thailand, you have a pretty good idea of what conditions you will face each and every day, with a slow and gradual transition between summer and ‘winter.’ There are tried and true methods to beat the heat, including a plunge into the icy cold spring-fed waters of Barton Springs. Just a quick dip in this conveniently dammed-up river will cool you to your core, and leave you feeling refreshed for the next several hours.

climate fan

In most northern states, you can depend on a warm summer, but rarely does the humidity slap you in the face the way it does once it’s crossed the great lakes. So, we crank up the A/C, suffer through power outages, and complain on Facebook. Within a week- two at the absolute max- it will be over. And we will have learned nothing about living in extreme weather.

One of the predominate conversations currently taking place in the sustainability realm is talk about adaptation. Our global conditions are warming, permanent changes are happening to our climates as we know them. Hardiness zones are creeping, with warmer weather plants thriving where they never used to grow. And if we don’t learn to adapt to our new reality, we face a very rough future. We can no longer simply say, “Turn off your A/C” and expect the world to go back to ‘normal.’ No, now we must both mitigate the conditions AND adapt our own designs to reflect our climate change conditions.

climate heatSo, as sweat rolls down my back, I learn to walk on the shady side of the street instead of the sunny side, and instead of getting in my hybrid car and driving half a mile to get breakfast. I wear lighter, more casual clothing at work to moderate my own body temperature instead of wearing a suit and cranking down the thermostat. As a planning commissioner, I learn to demand more shady trees lining sidewalks in my community. As an architect, I suggest that new developments incorporate rain gardens into their site plans to buffer the severe rain events that are growing ever more common and overloading our cities’ infrastructures.

I may not be able to teach the world, but we can teach each other. Go move your temperature from 72 to 78 and sit under a ceiling fan. You’ll be amazed how comfortable you can be, and how much electricity you will save when you take the time to learn, and adapt, to our changing climate.