Tag Archives: Transitions

Contrasts – Isahluko 6 – Southwest versus Midwest

I had spent about five months in the Southwest, and I was beginning a roundabout meandering back to the Midwest.  A few years ago, I might have called the Midwest my stomping ground, roost, flop, backyard, or some sort of other euphemism for being settled, but now I don’t really call anywhere “home.”

That’s too big of a word.  It carries too much connotation with it.  As a dear friend put it, home has a “heart connection.” 

After being in motion for so long things become a bit disorienting, but I think that’s a good thing.  Always striving for balance and always approaching each day as if facing a totally new horizon.  You usually are.

I had been staying in a little oasis.  Multiple biomes, where desert meets water and where mountains touch the sky.  Wildlife was diverse and abundant.  Trails unending.  Floating on soft ground.  Even rocky trails seem to give way and bend with your footsteps.  Meditative dreaming.

I made a turn west and found an incredible extreme in Yuma.  Desolate.  Sand baked to concrete in 108-degree temps.  Wind farms, sun farms, RV parks, hellacious cross winds, no visible wildlife.  In stark contrast, there was deep blue water, but it was running in cement canals siphoning from the Colorado river.  All to be used for local agriculture or industry.  No longer feeding the Earth.  No longer reaching the Sea.

I continued on for a brief visit to the ocean, the absolute opposite of Yuma, and turned right this time heading back towards the center of the country.  With a slight divergence north, I was now in 40 to 60-degree temps, picturesque mountains, spring-fed streams, towering vegetation, wildlife on steroids.  Simply amazing.

Mid-world again, I find myself on an asphalt trail.  No longer the soft earth.  No longer the coating of dust on my boots.  It’s an old section of railway.  The lines defunct, the tracks were torn up and they were paved over.  There are many paths like this here and they’re all named after the railroad that used to glide down the missing rails.  The Great Western Trail, Blue River Rail Trail, Katy Trail, Rock Island Trail.  The list goes on.

They’re hard on the feet, ankles and knees, but they can wind through some beautiful countryside and trace serpentine waterways.  But they’ll also be close to civilization.

One of the first contrasts I notice upon being back is the humidity.  I had been in the high desert, north and south – clean, crisp air – warm in the south, cool in the north.  The barren desert, with no trace of moisture.  And the coastal region, where gentle sea breezes moderate the air.  Here the humidity is so thick you could cut it with a machete.  I struggle to breathe, feeling a heavy weight on my chest. 

The high desert was full of wildlife, but it largely moved in silence.  Here the air is abuzz with birds and insects.  A constant hum, chirp or chattering.  Even the squirrels have something to say – clicking and barking.  Warding you off.  An angry wren gives its warning call when I get too close to its nest. 

The vegetation is radically different.  While both parts of the country share oaks, willows and sycamores, the varieties here are much larger.  Leaves can be ten times the size of those in the southwest.  So much more rainfall here to feed their roots, nourish their trunks, spread to their leaves.  They grow 65 to 85 feet tall, not 20 to 30.  A full-grown oak here can put 200 gallons of water into the air each day.  Respiration.  Humidification.  To come down as rain again later when icy winds in the upper atmosphere collide.

Plus, there are also hickories, elms, maples, sumac, sweet gums, catalpas, walnuts, cherries, plumbs, olives, locust, hedgewood, redbuds, dogwoods, and buckeyes.  Too many to name them all.  Most are second and third generation, or younger, this area having been clear-cut by the pioneers.  But a few first generation trees still remain.  Older than your grandparents and with trunks so huge it takes four or five people holding hands to reach around their circumference.

The stream beds here aren’t pristine like those I saw out west.  They’re totally polluted.  Agricultural runoff from crops and feedlots.  Toxic algae blooms.  Industrial waste.  Discarded trash.  Plastic bags.  These waters haven’t experienced respect in a long time. Fish still survive in them, but I wouldn’t eat them.

And there is a different kind of people here too.  In the high desert I encountered fellow hikers. Luminous glows.  Shining eyes.  Happy to be in nature.  Thrilled to say hello.  Knowing you were sharing the experience.

Here there are few enjoying nature.  A couple walks their dog, but turn away as you pass.  The homeless.  Looking for a place to wait out the day, and for another to stay warm at night.  Drinking two forty-ounce beers for breakfast.

Yes, there is still staggering beauty here, but also some depression.  Weight. 

It seems harder to settle in each time I come back. 

But along comes a familiar face.  A beam of light.  I wrote about this person before.  Maybe I’ll encounter more of the radiant.

There is hope . . .

***

Photo: Along the trail that skirts both countryside and city.  With pretty streams, but of polluted waters.  Through towering trees, but on an asphalt ribbon.  Many contrasts . . .

I wrote about this town in Echoes of Home.  And I hope this piece doesn’t sound overly depressive.  After you’ve experienced other amazing places it is an adjustment to return to what you’ve become accustomed to seeing as being mundane.  But persons visiting this area for the first time will probably be amazed at the unique beauty and history here 🙂

Prior Chapters of Contrasts:

Contrasts – Kapitel 1

Contrasts – Hoofstuk 2: Which Animals Do You Watch?

Contrasts – κεφάλαιο 3 – Cabrillo National Monument

Contrasts – Chapitre 4 – Two Museums

Contrasts– 第5章 – Wild Spaces

 

Detours

I was messaging with a friend on Twitter and the conversation turned to events in our lives that dramatically changed our paths.  We started referring to these as “detours,” but we agreed, the detours can be the most fascinating parts of our lives.  The most unexpected, most challenging, and the most fun.  And they often lead us to much better places, the places where we were meant to be, even if we didn’t see it at the time.

In the early 90s, I bought my first computer.  I don’t know why, but I got it in my head that I was going write.  Of course, back then computers were nothing like they are now.  I remember the hard drive was only 250 MB, and that was considered big!  That’s laughable now.

One common bit of wisdom in the writing world you will hear is to “write what you know.”  So, I did.  I was a critical care nurse and I started writing about controversies in health care and within the profession.  I referred to my writing as “documented commentary,” and my editorials started appearing in the local press frequently.  I would go to the medical library during the week, gather up the statistics from the peer-reviewed journals, and each Saturday morning I would get in the “zone.”  I could tell if my piece was “good” when I’d look up from the keyboards and four or five hours had just vanished and it seemed that every word fit.  Fellow writers know what I’m talking about.  Your writing has a tone or feel to it when you know it’s right.

I thought this was all just going to be an interesting exchange of ideas.  Maybe there would be some discussion that followed.  Maybe there would be some published counterpoints and maybe more data might even prove me or other researchers wrong.  I welcomed that discussion.  It seemed that we, as professionals, should be having this discussion.  We fought for our patients at the bedside, why not in the public forum?

I didn’t really think the topics were all that controversial.  After all, the statistics I was using came straight from the most prominent medical journals.  I kind of looked at this as though shining a light on problems would help provoke positive change.  But, the backlash that emerged was directed at silencing me, on keeping this information away from the public, safely buried in the vaults of obtuse medical journals.

My employers, even though they were never mentioned in my articles, directly or implicitly, became quite hostile.  They harassed me, tried to isolate me from my colleagues at work, and tried to terminate my position.  But unlike the private sector, I was working for the government.  These employers were government actors and they had to tread lightly on my First Amendment rights.  They couldn’t get rid me outright for exercising free speech, but they sure put a stop to any upward mobility within the organization.  Time for a detour.  I went to law school.

Prior to this eye-poking and head-slapping, if you would have asked me if I would have diverted from a twenty-four-year career in health care at age 40 to go to law school over writing a few editorials for the local newspaper, I would have told you, “No way, that’s crazy talk.” But now, when asked why I went to law school, I just fondly reply, “I got mad.”  That path led to another detour, and to another, and to another and, somehow, I find myself freelancing again.  The circle complete.

In honor of this one of many detours, I am posting one of those past “controversial” articles in the “Health” section of my blog.  This one is from 1995 and it explores some of the transgressions of Big Pharma, and I’m sure this is still relevant today.  Of course, now this topic would not be considered so controversial.  The tragedy of unnecessary health care inflicted deaths and profiteering in the medical industry is widely known and discussed.  I’ve always said that if this was the airline industry, and they were crashing and burning three jumbo-jets full of people every day, they would shut the airlines down until the problem was fixed.  Not so with health care.

Oh, and to add a little documentation for those who like numbers, check out this peer-reviewed publication titled: “A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care,” published in the Journal of Patient Safety.  And I quote: “. . . the true number of premature deaths associated with preventable harm to patients was estimated at more than 400,000 per year.”

Let’s see, heart disease causes 633,842 deaths in the U.S. per year (CDC 2016), and cancer causes 595,930 deaths.  Next in line is chronic lower respiratory disease at 155,041 deaths, and other causes trail off after that.  So, while not on the Centers for Disease Control’s leading causes of death, it turns out that health care is the big number 3 cause in the U.S.  Now there’s a definition of irony for you, and a detour you may have not seen coming at the beginning of this post 🙂

I’m sure I’ll be visiting some of those other detours that life has taken in upcoming posts . . .