Nature’s Personality

When I lived in Florida, I avoided nature at all costs. For me it was a place of spiders and snakes and mosquitoes and lightning strikes and fire ants and tornadoes and floods and, increasingly, forest fires. You couldn’t even jump into a pile of leaves for the scorpions. (How does one get through childhood without jumping into at least one leaf pile?)

Status quo was heat and humidity and sweat and sunburns. Mostly, I hid indoors, and went into full-blown panic if my air conditioning broke down. In fact, life was hopping from one air-conditioned oasis to the next. All my windows were painted shut. Having that contentious relationship with the great outdoors, I kind of had the mindset that I was surviving in spite of, rather than because of, nature.

It’s amazing how quickly my attitude changed when I moved to the Pacific Northwest. Here, I don’t even own an air conditioner. During the warmer months, my windows practically stay open. I have a new-found love for fresh air. During those same months, I have dinner on my back porch every evening. I’ve yet to encounter a mosquito, let alone anything else that might bite me. I don’t even own any bug spray.

Here, I get outdoors every chance I get. I’m starting to look at the rainy, grey winter months (which I confess I’ll never get used to), as the penance I have to pay for the exquisite gifts of spring, summer, and fall. This is the first time I’ve experienced seasons in 40 years. They’re magical.

Perhaps nature is more than one entity. I like its personality much better here than I did in Florida. Here, we’re friends, not enemies. And I didn’t realize how much my life lacked for not having that friendship until it finally came along.

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The Art of Artificial Living

For much of the past 13 years I’ve worked graveyard shifts. Have I gotten used to it? No. It’s an unnatural state, and I hate it. All sorts of studies have proven that people who work graveyard shifts have a whole host of health issues and a much higher divorce rate. I read somewhere that we also have a 40% higher rate of traffic accidents as well. I know my cognition vastly improves when I get the opportunity to sleep at night like a normal person. Most of the time I’m in a mental fog, and my whole life revolves around the desperate pursuit of sleep.

So how have I survived this long? By living in a completely artificial world. To wake up, I need caffeine. To sleep, I often need Melatonin, although it gives me psychedelic dreams. In the heat of Florida, I rely on air conditioning and black out curtains. I rarely see the sun. My social life is almost entirely on line.

I try not to closely examine the prepared food that I often rely on, because I know if I ask myself when its ingredients were still alive, even the vegetables, I wouldn’t be able to say. That’s really scary if you think about it.

One day a week I work 16 hours. I have my regular Midnight to 8 am shift, then I go home and try to cram in 5 hours of sleep before going back to work from 4pm to midnight. I half expect to pass myself on the highway, rolling along in my metal and plastic and rubberized car that’s powered by a series of tiny explosions.

The day in question requires advanced planning, because I know I will be incapable of thought when it arrives. I lay out my clothes ahead of time so I can roll out of bed and right into them. I leave a huge note on my backpack that says, “Don’t forget your lunch!” because I don’t have time to eat at home, and if I forget to bring food to the drawbridge it isn’t as if I can run off on a lunch break. Heavily loaded barges might have a problem with that. I have to time my caffeine intake just perfectly so as to keep me awake when I need to be, while not preventing me from sleeping when I can. Even so, when hell day is finally over, I usually can’t sleep.

The beauty of working that day is I get the illusion of 3 days off in a row each week. Granted, it takes one of those days just to recover, but I get to sleep when it’s dark outside. What a luxury! But those days never fall on a weekend. I can’t remember the last time I had a weekend off. I’m not sure I’d know what to do with myself. If someone were trying to test me for a concussion and asked me what day it was, I’d fail miserably.

My life is so weird it could be transported to a space station and I probably wouldn’t know the difference. Artificial food, artificial air, artificial days, artificial nights. I find that extremely sad.

But maybe it makes me appreciate the things that the rest of you humans take for granted. The passage of time. Routine. Normalcy. Sunshine. Friends. Graveyard shift isn’t for sissies. But I have to admit the sunrises are spectacular.

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[Image credit: pinterest.com]

Gravity, with all the Bells and Whistles

The other day I went to see the movie Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, in IMAX 3D.

To say that this was not the movie experience of my childhood is putting it mildly. Back then, you went to a shabby little two screen theater, the kind with sticky floors, gum under the seats, and mice running around in the dim light reflected off the movie screen, and you had a perfectly grand time with your popcorn and your raisinets and your tall glass of mostly ice. And it was usually the only place you could go and sit in the air conditioning in the summertime.

Shit, but I’m old.

Anyway, contrast that with my Gravity experience and you’ll see how far we’ve come. The movie was showing at my local multiplex which has about a zillion screens and thick plush carpets and more than one concession stand serving four-course meals and video games in the lobby and… I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but then I realized. This is the sensory overload that is Las Vegas.

Gone are the days when you could shuffle in wearing flip flops and have your purse made out of a pair of jeans slung over your shoulder. No. Going to the movies these days is an event. You have to prepare for it. You have to be present. You almost feel like sending postcards to people. Well, you sort of do, because you’re tweeting and texting your fingers to the bone during the previews.

And talk about sticker shock. Between the 14 dollars just to get in and the ten thousand percent mark up on the food, you practically have to take out a bank loan just to kill two hours of time.

And when did 15 previews become the norm? I mean, previews are usually my favorite part. Previews are a movie boiled down to a thick, rich, dramatic broth. But when they go on for a half hour, you begin to feel like you’re being force fed.

But when the lights went down, rather than noticing mice scurrying in the darkness, I put on those 3D glasses and completely and utterly lost myself in the movie. I was floating in outer space, dodging catastrophes and struggling for air right along with the actors. It wasn’t until the credits began to roll that I began wondering how the heck they pulled off all those weightless special effects. During the movie it just seemed natural. And there could be no better testament than that to the overall experience.

My only gripe is that in each of the three spacecraft, there were ballpoint pens spinning through the air. Don’t you think that NASA, of all organizations, would have figured out how to go paperless by now?

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Weather, ’tis Nobler

Whenever we are at a loss for something to say or things are on the verge of getting awkward, we talk about the weather. That’s because it’s the one thing that we all have in common. All of us have experienced some form of extreme weather, whether it be storms or extreme heat or extreme cold. We all have our stories.

If you think about it, the weather is the Switzerland of all conversation topics. On this one subject, we can remain neutral. We can discuss it without regard to race, creed, or culture. The weather cares not one whit about our politics, our bank accounts or our sexual orientation. The rain falls on us all.

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The weather is also our constant companion. We can try to avoid it by staying indoors, basking in front of a roaring fire, cooling off in the air conditioning, or vacationing in a nicer climate, but it’s still there, surrounding us, taking us into its sunny or snowy or windy or wet embrace whether we like it or not. And as much effort as we put into trying to predict it, the weather still tends to surprise us on a fairly regular basis.

Many of us change our lives for the weather. People retire to Florida or the mountains for a reason. Death Valley and Antarctica are generally deserted for a reason.

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I guess the whole point of this ramble, other than the fact that I couldn’t think of anything else to write about, is that we manage to live peaceably with the weather, despite the fact that we have a love/hate relationship with it, and it looms larger than anything else in our lives. There may be a lesson in there somewhere.