Let it be released from the mind

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

enjoying spring

It's been raining a lot (thank goodness our rain barrel is up and filling), but there have still been plenty of absolutely gorgeous days recently. This past Saturday was one of them, and Laika and I enjoyed the whole morning at the arboretum. It's a hidden city jewel that I'd like to keep that way. There's so much available open space there, that picnicking is ideal, and walks are enjoyable. I particularly love the Fern Valley trails, which each year fill with wild purple phlox on this one section. You can get cover from the hot unending sun there, and there aren't usually many people on the paths.

The obvious draw of the gardens are the azaleas though. They are in their full splendor, and are breathtaking to walk through, even when you're sneezing a lot. There are so many old trees there that you feel removed from DC altogether. And it also has the highest point in the city. I'll bet the azaleas will still be spectacular this weekend--you should go!

Monday, April 28, 2008


The race went very well yesterday morning. It was quite chilly and misty rain fell on us as our feet pounded the pavement in Alexandria. The 5K for me lasted 33:12, which was pretty much exactly what I was running when practicing the weeks before. I placed #507 out of 879, put I was very happy to have run the whole time, and despite two hills finished it out strong in a full sprint.

Standing on my feet for the rest of the day and volunteering at the zoo didn't make the rest of my body feel great. However, returning home to take-out chinese, a solid hour of Guitar Hero rocking, and a hot bath made the evening drizzle away just as it had begun.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Did it!

I was able to complete the 5K yesterday as a practice run, and didn't fall down at the end. And, to top it off, a pileated woodpecker met me at the "finish line". 33 minutes and change.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

instantaneous happiness

As I sit listening to my Ray Lamontagne Pandora station, a weird one popped on and I was instantaneously happy. Amongst the sometimes drone of sad Indie music, which has its place in my heart, the Beatles "I Will" popped on from the White album.

The White album is by far my favorite album of all time. It was the first Beatles music I was ever formally introduced to, besides the boppy poppy early stuff they worked on like "I want to hold your hand" or "Roll over Beethoven". The White album was comical genius, and I was loopy in love with it.

My favorites have to be "Blackbird"--and no, this was well before I started to actually like the grandparent sport of birding--and "Rocky Raccoon" for its twangy sensuality.

Here here to the eternal rockers. Ringo, you can kiss it...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Running update day 5

Laika gave up on me early on Wednesday, and ended up hurting her leg a little bit. So we only made it 2 miles before returning home. I was happy to stop at 2, though, which continues to show my resistance past my comfort zone.

Yesterday, D & I played what we like to call tennis, but what truly consists of just hitting the ball back and forth with no apparent rules. Occasionally in anger we will aim the ball far across the opposite side of the court to watch the other sprint. It was a good time, and I think I might be better than I was last year. There's a reason I never played softball as a girl :)

Today I'm game to run 3 miles before going to stuff myself at Meg & Pall's Thai New year celebration. I'm not sure what games this will entail, but I'm anxious to learn more about this holiday and also remember what a thai rooster sounds like. One fine evening we had a hilariously long conversation about roosters of the world.

Check out my new Mexico posts below!! Two more posts still to come

Yucatan, Day 3 driving to Campeche

The next morning we went birding on the access road to the Tulum ruins. Coming in from the rear side, and before the tourist buses arrived promptly at 8:00 AM, we scoured the forest edges for brilliant birds. I captured a Great Kiskadee and Tropical Kingbird perched together in a tree. I barely glimpsed a Scarlet Tanager as it flew by, and we found our first parrot of the trip just as we were stepping back into the car. We didn’t have to walk far to see outstanding beauty in small packages.

This day was a long drive along the coast of the Yucatan, making stops along the way to interior Mexico. We were in the state of Quintana Roo for the majority of our trip, and barely crossed into Campeche. The whole time we were driving south there was very little development along the coast. The reason—Sian Ka’an existed to the west. On our previous days’ visit to the canals and to catch crocodiles we had scarcely entered the northernmost part of the preserve. There was so much more waterfront, and forested barrier that we had not even witnessed.

Before turning to the interior we stopped at Bacalar to visit a sawmill factory. This operation had been set up since last October, when a hurricane devastated the area leaving many downed trees and plenty of work. The loud machinery and generators churned as we entered, and the fresh smell and gritty feel of sawdust was everywhere. We had a discussion for nearly an hour on the importance of offering small communities like this one new and improved logging machinery better equipped to handle the size of trees that now exist in this area. By supplying local people with the knowledge of this new machinery, and presenting markets where they can sell their wood, we are able to influence their use of their own forests. While TNC’s investment is very little in their operations, we are able to talk to them about what trees to be cutting, how to properly rotate through a forest when harvesting, and supply and demand to make it the most economically viable as possible.

This directly related to our next visit of the day at a small ejido community in the interior forests. Their community has been there for about 40 years and traditionally made its money off their local resources—logging and agriculture. Their interesting location around several small Mayan ruins as well as directly between two protected areas
(Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and Sian Ka’an) made it an influential community for conservation. TNC began working with the landowners to assist them in developing their logging business. Traditionally very poor, they were not making enough money off of either of their industries. With our partnership, they began to develop a small ecotourism business to guide visitors around the local ruins and help with bird-watching and plan identification. Those working as guides went through an intensive training process with partner ProNatura Yucatan to learn ornithology and a bit of botany, as well as English to communicate with tourists. For many this was their first experience outside of their small community and it would forever change their livelihoods. Just three months earlier they had started a small woodshop there to make use of the abundant downed twigs and branches they found in their forests. Women and men learned to use small tools to carve and smooth pieces of wood into spoons and bowls, candleholders and even chopsticks. Some were very traditional Mayan pieces, while some were perfect for the tourists who would buy them.

The women cleared their home of furniture and set up small tables for us to share lunch at. Stewed chicken with rice, homemade vegetable tamales with a local green and fresh watermelon juice made us feel like their honored guests. As I witnessed the poverty of the village, and the hundreds of chickens, roosters and turkeys that freely roamed the grounds, I wondered what a lunch to feed 30 people cost their village. How many chickens had we just used for this one meal? How difficult was it to prepare so many meals for us despite their other daily chores and activities to support their family?

Yucatan, Day 1 in Tulum and Day 2 in Sian Ka'an

We arrived at the Cancun international airport with plenty of other full flights of people. It was spring break, and college kids, young adults and families were excitedly departing the plane in search of white sand beaches and Mexican culture. Little did I know that the person holding the TNC sign would be one that would impress me the most during my first trip to Mexico.

We began our drive south along the main highway in a van full of people I didn’t know at all. I would spend the next 4 days with these people for more than 16 hours a day. Eduardo Galacia, from Pronatura Yucatan accompanied us south to Tulum where we would stay for the night. He graciously offered local snacks bought from Walmart and other groceries, and answered any first questions we had about the local environment, the road systems, etc. I wondered if I would be able to answer the same questions if they were posed to me…the population of Maryland? I dunno.

Our lodging in Tulum was located right off the beach. The main highway was about 3 or 4 miles from the coast, so we traveled inland passing a few small shops and other beachfront lodges. At one point the road was not more than 30 feet from the churning ocean. It isn’t hard to believe that this location could get demolished by hurricanes and tropical storms. We opened the windows and took in the salty ocean air. I could already feel the texture of my hair changing as the ocean air hit me.

We rose bright and early to the surf lapping at the quiet beach. Sandpipers were already busy combing the beach and the sunrise turned into many pastel colors behind the clouds. We began bird watching on the road with Eduardo and Mark Willuhn (Emerald Planet guide and former TNC employee) and were amazed at the number of birds we witnessed despite being so close to development. But Tulum was small and isolated compared to its northern tourist destinations. We saw orioles and kingbirds, and were most excited to spot a ferruginous pygmy owl and its partner inside a full tree. We left that morning to drive to Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve, just a few miles south of Tulum.

There we met Ismael, a local tourist guide and one of the founders of Amigos de Sian Ka’an. Ismael never realized when his father began giving eco-tours (then just a boat ride on the water with no real information exchange) twenty years ago that he would be encouraging and building a community enterprise for tourists. Tied with his Mayan culture, he found it important to protect his local land and resources for his ejido community. He worked with his council of community members to enlighten them about the benefits of building business around the booming ecotourism and offered them knowledge and markets for their local products or to help support the guides he was already leading. With TNC’s help, he taught local men and women to become ecotourism guides by spotting local flora and fauna, and stressing the importance of the ecology of mangroves and tidal wetlands to visitors. He tried to educate his peers that agriculture would no longer bring them the money they needed to survive, but ecotourism and protection of land would provide them with a long future of sustainable funds.

At Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve they are handling about 6,000 visitors a year. Add to that the other access points where guides are, and about 11,000 people are visiting the reserve a year. They are currently conducting research surveys to determine how many people the park can sustainably hold in a year, and will base their growth on that number. We then took a boat trip through the canal systems developed by the mayans, stopping at a very small ruin site right on a piece of land in the middle of the wetland system which might have been used as a trading post. After a lazy float by current down the canals, occasionally feeling the mucky mangrove river bottom squish through our toes, we boarded the boat again and traveled to Pez Maya.

Pez Maya is an island that TNC and Amigos de sian Ka’an acquired to stop any threats of future development from occurring at this picturesque and delicate spot. It is located at a gateway for the SK reserve, and provides critical habitat and reefs for many fish and bird species. It is a nesting ground for the threatened least tern and other species of birds, and osprey and pelicans thrive on fish there. While we bought this property for $2.7 million, 5 years later it is now valued at over $16 million. The only development—local landowners who will hopefully serve as future conservation buyers, a high-end resort that features catch and release fishing, and some military installments. This area harbors a large section of Mexico’s Meso-American reef, and a variety of coral and fish species. Groups of young adults train here for weeks to become knowledgeable about reef species and then identify and catalogue what’s occurring at these local reef systems for the first time. We are hoping to establish a coral reef research station here, with a focus on climate change research. Pez Maya’s position on the second-longest coral reef makes it ideal for studying coral reef resiliency to sea level rise and temperature change, as wells as effects of storms.
The threats to Mexico are greatest with population growth, which is at a world record pace! All of these people need natural resources like energy and water. ASK is working on environmental education and social participation among those areas which affect the Sian Ka’an reserve (22 hotels are working in conjunction with them now).

At the end of this very long day we returned after dark to the canals to hunt for crocodiles. Hunt, of course, is a relative term. In three motor boats set on idle, we slowly maneuvered along the edge of the marsh. The lead boat contained a rapidly scanning floodlight and the Crocodile Hunter. We aimlessly stared at the stars and fended off suicidal fish jumping into our dark boat as we awaited the signal from the lead boat. Suddenly they had it, and they called us forward. In his hands was a 3 meter crocodile, mouth fully tied shut. The teeth pierced through his jaw, ensuring that when he caught prey he could completely lock his jaws shut. We each were given the awesome opportunity to touch and hold the crocodile. I couldn’t wait for this chance and anxiously stretched my arm to touch his armor-like tail as we listened to his measurements and weight. I was astounded at his skin, which was not slimy but soft and smooth. Despite the scaly appearance, it was truly luscious to touch. The edges of this tail, which appeared to be rigid and boney were actually bendable although still impenetrable. My heart racing, I held his throat tightly and his tail proudly in the air as they shot my picture.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

..."and I ran, I ran so far away...."

I ran both night and day. Well, not exactly. My overweight and lumpy body began the training on Sunday for my first ever race. Perhaps you could call it a race. I'll call it an organized run with a few thousand people in an unlikely place. Now, I never several in-shape look at this blog, so understand that this is not easy to admit. I have this love/hate relationship with running. I do it because walking isn't good enough, and because I eat meals that are too large. I tried it for one shameful year in high school during the winter season and joined the sprinting team (no doubt the easiest workouts.) Stair climb after stair climb, short sprint after short sprint, I was probably the thinnest I've ever been, sweating it out in the halls of high school. I spent a lot of time even at a younger age running from boys, always smiling deep down that I waas being chased so fervently.

Now I run for the next two weeks solidly to try to make sure I can sustain through a 5K. Yep, you heard me right. 3.11 miles to be exact. Pitiful I know. But still an attainable goal for said Wii player and cooking enthusiast. Those two characteristics don't necessarily make Calista Flockhart.

I'll keep you updated on the progress. So far, Sunday had a 2.6 mile run with relative ease, making instantly overconfident. Monday held a drastic decline in momentum, and although I made it 3 miles, I had to stop twice for about a minute or so each time.

...then I played Super Smash Brothers and ate Grilled Jerk chicken and a caesar salad.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sushi night cooking club

My work cooking club pulled together a fabulous sushi cooking club theme. Hosted by the illustrious DB, equipped with yard sale Japanese serving ware, we had a feast unparalleled. We used an entire village's ration of rice.
In the foreground was smoked salmon & asparagus, fresh salmon and avocado rolls. Further back you notice the brownish looking dish on the right which was tamago (sweet rolled egg) done expertly by someone who would certainly not call herself a chef. All the way in the back, our vegan counterparts made a dill, cucumber and avocado roll. We started the meal off with homemade miso soup, which I have only had a few times but it tasted fairly similar to what I remember.
The dessert continued in the same fashion, with green tea ice cream and cherry mochi balls (pink rice wrapped around a sweet bean paste and then steamed). Despite looking like salmon cakes, these were surprisingly excellent.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Coke in a can is waaaaay better than Coke in a bottle. Hands down. No contest.