Hot Spring PSA (1)

Contributed by Christine St.Pierre

Nothing stokes the urge to enjoy a soak in a natural hot spring more than mid-winter, especially when your natural hot springs are nestled beneath towering giants in the mossy, wet forests of the Pacific Northwest. Far away from blistering winter wind or the sounds of traffic in the distance, hot springs are remote havens that create spaces for ultimate relaxation, connection to nature, and, sometimes, expanding your community.

This region is gifted with a relative abundance of these phenomena due to heavy rainfall and a vast geothermic network. Narrow streams cascade to and from the springs, refreshing the typically 105–110-degree water in the springs, which are formed in different ways. In some cases, natural sources of water seep into the earth. They become heated by geothermal activity—the temperature of rock within the earth increases with depth—and recirculate to the surface as hot, mineral-rich water. In other cases, preexisting groundwater beneath the layers of underground soil and rock are geothermically heated and rise from the earth’s crust.

Rain and snow evaporate as they hit a fortress of steam emanating from the natural sulfuric pools, which can be as deep as two to four feet. Often, springs are lined with stone or fallen wood by individuals who maintain the springs either voluntarily or in connection with park and forest services. These small pools be naturally formed, but are also manipulated by human intervention to create a habitable space. Some hot springs are simply hot water rising from a small hole in the ground that requires digging and sculpting into a pool.

The surrounding centuries-old trees offer a reminder of your isolation deep in the forest. Some springs are easy to access and others much more remote, which also contributes to the quality of the pool and the water within the spring. More remote springs increase the possibility that the landscape of the area may have negatively affected the spring or the pool, and you may come upon a spring that has been washed away by a landslide or clogged by heavy rainfall and plant material. Closer access means more people, which means less privacy, serenity (and potentially nudity naysayers). All-too-often, this also means more garbage and more disrespect to the natural environment.

Recently, my partner, Conor, and I drove to Baker Lake for a dirtbag Valentine’s Day weekend of camping with our dog in the back of our converted 4-Runner and relaxing in the Baker Lake Hot Spring. This site is notorious for its sometimes contaminated water, large, rowdy crowds, and unsanitary conditions. Prior to this weekend, we had enjoyed one summer afternoon with the spring to ourselves and in wonderful condition. So, we drove to the trailhead and fell asleep to the rain pattering on the car’s roof, eager to be first to the springs the next morning.

The next day, as we meandered along the lush, green trail toward the hot spring, I could smell the sulfuric water growing nearer. As we approached, I noticed an eyesore of a “shelter” made of cheap plywood and covered in ripped plastic, meant for changing in and keeping things dry. My first reaction was Leave no trace, people, c’mon. And, besides, remote hot springs are to be enjoyed in the nude. Disappointed, I noticed in my periphery something floating in the hot spring: a plastic bag, full of bloated hot dog buns and rotten meat: hot dogs and raw bacon strips, their packaging torn open by the hands that left them there.

My eyes scanned the murky water for more garbage. Nearby, a bottle of ketchup bobbed about the water like a hot tub temperature gauge, floating above unidentifiable garbage that had settled to the bottom of the spring. I stepped closer, trying to make sense of the small, brightly colored trash, only to realize that a broken jar of dill pickles had scattered its contents across the bottom. With a long stick, I attempted to remove the broken glass and pickles from their watery tomb, with no success. Fortunately, I was able to retrieve rotting packages of sliced cheese and pre-cut salami. The spring’s sources began to bubble, releasing more hot water into the contaminated water—a torturous welcome, or maybe a plea for help.

Standing there in the pouring rain, our eyes locked and our hearts sank. Who would do this? Who would disrespect nature with such potent neglect and laziness? This was such a glaring example of the devastation humans can bring to a sacred space. Even to an ordinary space—to other humans, to other life. The length of human destruction grew in its limitlessness.

Taking a step toward the wreckage, we put our bags down to inspect the damage further. Half of a door—yes, a door, for a house—rested awkwardly across the waterfall that sourced from the hot spring. Brightly colored fireworks littered the ground, along with remnants of campfires with melted garbage, clothing items, beer bottle tops, cigarette butts and, heartbreakingly, an empty jumbo-sized garbage bag. I grabbed the bag, and we started cleaning.

We salvaged ten, twenty, thirty, one hundred bottles and hadn’t even breached the surface. Broken glass stretched across the grounds. I didn’t want to imagine how many shards had settled to the bottom of the spring, thinking of the families with little children who often visit the natural wonder. Bottles had nestled into the soft earth and tucked themselves away in the brambling bushes, deep tree roots, and nearby waterfall’s nooks and crannies. Beer, wine, champagne, liquor—you name it, its empty remains were strewn fifty feet in any direction of the sickened spring. I imagined an intoxicated mob of people launching bottles from the hot spring’s elevated mountainside pad. It made me sick to my stomach; it made me angry; it made me get to work.

Near the water, a rotting trout, still wrapped in plastic from the grocery store deli, slipped through Conor’s fingers as he struggled to dispose of it in the garbage bag, now brimming with clanking bottles, glass, and rotting food. The silvery remains of tea-light candles shimmered in all directions like tiny bits of garbage bait taunting us. We would move about in small circles to pick up the garbage that seemed only to multiply the more we cleaned. Working for more than two hours, we had to break the news to the many groups of starry-eyed nature-lovers that constantly flowed in hoping, also, to enjoy the spring that day—or any time soon.

We warned newcomers to swim at their own risk while continuing to pick up garbage, detailing the state of the spring upon our arrival. Many had driven from their homes hours away in Seattle, and beyond. One couple said they had been here in November and the spring was in great condition. Unanimously, we all decided that the temperature of the water was at prime condition for bacteria, such as E.coli, to thrive and multiply. With the added danger of meats—cured and uncured—as well as other food material, the risk was too high. We didn’t even want to touch the water. Everyone was disgusted, heartbroken, and angry. We wanted answers, but the silent forest revealed no clues.

There would be no justice for the forest that day. We cleaned for hours and considered the service our Valentine’s Day gift to the earth—the thing we love most, and the thing that gives each and every one of us life and abundance. But as the forest grew darker, we realized how cold and wet and on top of a mountain we were, and had to leave. Chances are, in the days and weeks that followed, dozens of unknowing visitors enjoyed the hot spring. Maybe they didn’t see the warning we wrote into the wooden shelter. Phone calls to the national forest made no promises of retribution or even cleanup. One disappointed ranger mentioned that the hot spring could be cleaned in the spring, its bottom dredged.

Let this be a letter of encouragement and a public service announcement to each and every one of us: we are better than this! Tell this story to your friends and family, and tell them to do the same. This drunken party became a public health risk, and the ground a minefield of broken glass in a place where bare feet are the norm. Seeing as this was not an isolated incident I encourage you not only to “pack it in, pack it out,” but also to head into the wilderness equipped with a trash bag, ready to “pack it out” for others, too

quake

Illustration by Christoph Niemann; Map by Ziggymaj / Getty

Contributed by Christine St. Pierre

Tuesday night, the south coast of British Columbia was awoken by a magnitude 4.8 earthquake. Just before midnight and over the period of only a few seconds, regions near Victoria and Vancouver experienced the area’s largest earthquake in years. This quake did little damage to people or property, but was felt clear down the coast of Canada into Washington State.

As I finished watching the Shakespeare play-turned-film Twelfth Night to teach my high school English classes that will resume on Monday, I happened toward Facebook near 12:20 AM. My feed was scrambling with Bellinghamsters posting statuses like “Did you feel that?” or “Well, that was my first earthquake!” Unfortunately for me, I was so absorbed in Shakespeare that I did not notice anything unusual.

This earthquake follows comically close to Kathryn Shulz’s article, published by The New Yorker, titled “The Really Big One,” which tells the all-too-familiar tale of a region of the world—this time, the Pacific Northwest—that is due for a huge—no, catastrophic—earthquake, certain to cause a tsunami that will wipe out the coast, if it isn’t already swallowed by the estimated six-foot slip of North America’s continental shelf. The article is as fantastic as it is believable, and uses history, science, and storytelling to paint a rather dim fate for the entire west coast.

Following the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that triggered a tsunami of 2011 that destroyed much of Japan and caused the malfunction of the still-leaking nuclear power plant in Fukoshima, seismologists and geologists began to take a closer look at the infamous San Andreas fault that runs along the coast of California. This wasn’t the only fault in question, though.

The lesser-known Cascadia subduction zone, which begins off the coast of Mendocino, California and runs clear to Vancouver Island (visible from Bellingham, WA), exists a few hundred miles off the west coast. Near the top of this subduction zone, we have the nerve-wracking convergence of the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate and the North American tectonic plate, which are moving in opposite directions and causing concern from individuals who spend their lives researching these natural events.

In layman’s summation, the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate is slipping slowly but steadily beneath the North American tectonic plate, upon which we all happily reside. This slip has been happening annually and in the most miniscule amount since the dawn of time, but scientists explain that this can’t happen forever—eventually, the plate will hit the craton mass at the center of the continent and spring back with elasticity, causing a massive earthquake and tsunami.

Potentially, only the southern half of the Cascadia subduction zone will give way during this rebound, releasing a quake between the magnitudes of 8.0–8.6. However, if the whole of the Cascadia subduction zone snaps back, we’re looking at upwards of 9.2. As Kenneth Murphy of FEMA’s Region X gracefully stated in Shulz’ article, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”

Unfortunately, there was not a single warning to citizens of British Columbia last night about the earthquake. It may have been as much a surprise to scientists as it was to folks sleeping in their beds, but if estimations prove correct, we should all hope for ample warning. Friends and family, this would be a great time to sit down with loved ones and discuss tsunami evacuation routes and earthquake protocol—find the weakest and strongest spots in your house and make a plan. Pack emergency evacuation bags, maybe even have a house-drill a few months of the year, and, of course, be safe out there.

happy

Contributed by Christine St. Pierre

New years resolutions: we make them, we break them, and then it’s Valentine’s Day. Most of them require huge life changes, like losing X amount of pounds by spring break, or eating a diet of vegan gluten-free raw foods, or being able to play Stairway to Heaven on your new guitar by summertime. Try these resolutions that cost zero dollars, require minimal time, and will definitely make you a healthier, happier person.

Wake up ten minutes early, rise, shine, and stretch. Practice the basic vinyasa flow of sunrise salutations that most yogis practice multiple times a day. You may find that, after a while, you forgo your daily coffee, or switch to yerba mate—one healthy decision is often a catalyst for many more to come.

Before bed, write a sentence that encapsulates your day. Journaling is incredibly therapeutic, but is also time-consuming. Avoid the “Dear Diary” death that many journals experience, and, instead, take a few minutes to sincerely summarize your day in one to two sentences—feelings, accomplishments, events, fears, etc. In a year, you’ll be glad you did.

Believe in the power of “yet.” One reason we don’t accomplish things is because we allow ourselves a way out. We find our own limitations and highlight them, rather than seeking out our strengths. Each time you say “I can’t do that,” or “I haven’t done that,” finish the sentence with “yet.” You may find that you actually start believing yourself. Self-love and self-empowerment are just the beginning.

At the beginning of every month, write a typically overlooked chore that takes a maximum of fifteen minutes into each week—or, if you’re feeling daring, every day—of your planner. Suddenly, you’ll find that your house is much cleaner, your yard looks healthier, and your life seems a bit more organized.

Begin your own traditions. As a child, life was made more exciting by “Taco Tuesdays,” or the smell of your mom’s banana bread baking in the oven every Christmas morning. Even if your life does not involve a constant flow of people and family, even if it’s just you and your kitty—treat yourself to companionship and be your own friend. If you find yourself going to the dog park a few times a week, let Sundays be the day you treat yourself to a grande holiday spice latte.

Replace surfing the Internet with mind-sharpening puzzles. They say that people who live long lives tend to share habits of dancing and doing crossword puzzles. Keep a book of crosswords, Sudoku, or another similar puzzle with you at all times—at your desk, in your bag, in your car (for ferry rides, of course)—and resort to playing these when you find yourself tempted to mindlessly peruse the internet for funny videos of cats sleeping in sinks. Limit your screen time, get out a pencil, and think.

Contributed by Christine St. Pierre

Conflict is woven through the fabrics of our lives, and as I’ve laid my head to rest in recent nights, thoughts swarm like mad hornets: What has the world come to? Is there no end in sight? What of the progress we had made as a human race? Was there ever progress?

Global news reflects back to us stories of our own undoing, like a mirror above the bathroom sink, revealing blemishes we wish to conceal—blemishes we wish were never there at all. Many of us have the privilege of hiding those blemishes as if they never existed, until the end of day, as we wash ourselves clean for a peaceful night’s sleep, and there they are: Syrian refugees, Putin cold war fears, struggling immigrants on U.S. soil, white-supremacist GOP trollers, Black Lives Matter opposition, ISIS terror, and the list goes on.

History repeats itself as we see heartbreaking images of young Syrian children sleeping on the streets or seeking refuge with their families, cold, wet, and with fear in their eyes and their hearts. As we, as a nation, struggled to realize and welcome Jewish refugees into our borders in the 1930s, we, again, have failed as members of the human race to once again set aside pointless political mechanisms for the sake of homeless and helpless men, women, and children, running for their lives.

Invisible borders dissolve to receive refugees in countries like Turkey and France—despite recent attacks by ISIS extremists who have been recently categorized together with all Muslims and all Syrian refugees by ill-informed refugee rejecters—while other borders, like our own in the United States, strengthen and materialize in order to keep refugees out. According to GOP candidate hopeful Mike Huckabee, the United States should “deal with” Syrian refugees the way Chipotle dealt with an E. coli outbreak: shut’m down.

Is this how we view each other? Like bad meat to be cast aside—a product on which we can or cannot, should or should not, capitalize? Or is this how many of our appointed authorities view other races—a question that runs like a red thread through the heart of our crises: Race and terror. The two go hand-in-hand, and show themselves in many forms.

Within our own borders, the Black Lives Matter campaign resurfaces in the media to reveal institutionalized forms of racism occurring, this time, on college campuses across the country. People of color recount experiences of systemic oppression, death threats, and manipulation that are seldom acknowledged, by media, by college boards, and by peers and community members. As mainstream media develops these stories, we are seeing action all the way to the roundtable—with University of Missouri president, chancellor, and head football coach resigning amidst student protests over cultures of racism.

On November 24th, in Bellingham, Washington, Western Washington University’s President Bruce Shepard suspended classes due to hate speech targeted at Western students of color. Dr. Shepard stated:

“We have mobilized to offer support and to provide protection to those specifically targeted by the hate speech.  With disturbing social media content continuing through early this morning, students of color have advised me of their very genuine, entirely understandable, and heightened fear of being on campus.

We need time to press the criminal investigation and to plan how, as a campus, we will come together to demonstrate our outrage, to listen to each other, and to support each other.  So, I have decided to cancel classes today in order to provide that time.”

On one hand, resignations and cancellation of class recognizes issues of systemic, institutionalized oppression of people of color, and, hopefully, seeks to overcome them; leftist-armchair-Internet-activism on behalf of Syrian refugees shows support for opening our borders by creating dialogic banter with opposing and supporting views; GoFundMe campaigns and volunteer opportunities are becoming available for individuals to contribute to the Syrian refugee crisis; “V for Vendetta”-esque political satire from political commentators like John Oliver help to breakdown the fear mongering tactics deployed by politicians.

On the other hand, these issues—on which no one seems to be able to agree—are still in moving throughout the sphere of social justice and political activism where things continue to circle in a whirlpool of indecision, with no end in sight. One can ask themselves, Where do we see our systems changing? The dialogue has begun, and progress, or the onward movement toward a destination, is underway, but what does our destination look like?

I urge you to take time with yourself to reflect and write. Take an hour with your significant other(s), family, friends, and talk. This is a call-to-self-reflection. Ask yourselves these two questions: What gives you pause? What gives you hope? And, from there, as Gandhi once said, aim to “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

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1. Halloween is the greatest day ever for kids.

All month, kids have been making Oreo spiders and chocolate mud with gummy worms, carving pumpkins and stretching bunches of cotton spider-webs across their front bushes. Night after night, children have been dreaming of their costumes and endless heaps of delicious, perfect, plentiful candy. So, if you’re going to participate in Halloween festivities this year, please, for the children, get into it! Make it your goal to create a Halloween as magical as yours were when you were young.

2. Choose a costume, not a culture.

There are thousands of Halloween costumes each year, which far exceed the “walking dead” theme that Halloween used to cater to when Pagans first celebrated the Holiday. Now, we dress as anything, from zombies to clowns to people in giant banana suits. Remember, though, that dressing up as another person’s race (associated with biology) or ethnicity (associated with culture) is not okay to do, as it trivializes the sacredness and importance of identity. Click here if you’re interested in learning more about this important issue.

3. Porch lights and decorations mean Trick-Or-Treaters!

If you don’t want little (or big) visitors, be sure to turn off your porch lights. It would also be kind to leave a large sign either on your door or fence that reads “Not Home!”

4. Bigger candy equals bigger success.

A lot of things have changed since we were kids, but one thing remains the same: giant candy bars are king. It’s no secret that after trick-or-treating, every kid runs home, dumps their candy, and sorts out the bogus from the major scores. Give these kids something to celebrate.

5. “Healthy” is not cool. Not tonight.

Sure, little packets of almond butter and tiny green apples are healthy and delicious ways to keep your community kids from earning more cavities this Halloween, but be sure to channel your inner child and keep the health food out of the equation—maybe the parents would love your nutritious snack while they’re out and about?

6. And neither are homemade treats.

Reason being: children have been injured by candy that was laced with drugs or had dangerous, sharp objects inserted into them. It feels unlikely that this could happen in our own community, but people are still creepy, and even though you’re not, it’s not worth the risk for parents to allow their little ones to eat homemade treats, so be sure to keep your treats individually wrapped and store-bought.

7. Halloween is a real life “The Purge” for teenage rebellion. Embrace it.

Pumpkins will be smashed. Candy will be catapulted through the sky, only to land with a splat across the sidewalk. By morning, toilet paper will adorn a few unlucky neighborhood trees, and your garden gnome will have somehow found its way to your neighbor’s door four houses down. Packs of teens, not unlike packs of unruly werewolves, will be prowling neighborhoods, acting crazy and having a great time. Have a talk with your teen about the consequences of vandalism, but give them the freedom to run around like, well, kids, and have a safe, fun time.

8. Kids still love—but hardly ever receive—Halloween riddles.

I’m not speaking from experience, because I never had to answer a riddle or a joke before receiving free candy as a child, but, apparently, a lot of lucky kids did! How fun is that? So ready yourself with an armada of jokes, riddles, and tongue-twisters, and ask your trick-or-treaters as they come to your door!

9. The ultimate challenge: “Take One” Bowls, and why they need to disappear.

Here’s the deal. If you don’t want to be “that neighbor” who doesn’t participate in Halloween, but also don’t want to put the effort in to answering the door, you need to find a better option than the infamous gigantic, tempting bowl brimming with candy with a small sign that says “Please Take ONE!” These kids are sugar-hungry, determined candy-collectors, and all it takes is one renegade to dump the whole thing in their bag and ruin the fun for others.

10. There’s a fine line between being fun scary and traumatizingly scary… walk it well.

On the other side of that coin, I do fully support a “Take One” bowl if the scenario is as follows: kids walk on porch, see a life-size mummy holding a bowl that reads “take one” and, as they reach to take one, the life-size mummy comes to life, letting out a low roar that gives the kids a gentle scare and some excitement. Sure, it’s scary, but it’s Halloween. What’s not okay is running toward kids from behind a door or bushes, or grabbing them in any way—let’s make this a FUN night to remember!

Contributed by Christine St. Pierre

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