I’m out on the Oregon coast today, conducting habitat assessments with a colleague who I quite admire. Besides being a prominent figure of conservation in the North Coast community, he is very knowledgeable about all sorts of things that I someday hope to be knowledgeable about. I hop in his truck this morning since he knows the area much better than me, and we begin to head towards our sites. As we are driving up Highway 101 on the coast, he suddenly veers to the shoulder, alongside a bloated roadkill deer. It just so happens to be lying right under the “Welcome to Seaside” sign.

“Oh, got to grab this deer”, he says. I look at him, surprised. “It’s for the land conservancy, ” he explains. Apparently, they put roadkill deer out in the pastures on this huge piece of property they own, for the eagles, cougar, and coyotes to eat. He explained that it was a huge waste otherwise because the state just throws them into the dump. This makes sense to me, but he further explains that he had permission from the Fish and Wildlife department, so what the heck- it now appears to be the most reasonable thing in the world. Also, this colleague is much older than me and very well respected, so I’m inclined to go with the flow here. But it’s raining outside, hard, and the deer is pretty gross, so I’m slightly skeptical. I look at him sidelong again. “You don’t need my help, do you?” I ask. “Oh no.” he reassures me, and hops out of the truck.

Through the side mirror I can see him wrestling with this huge bloated deer (it’s a buck) at the back of his truck bed and it is clear he is not going to get it in the truck bed himself. I try not to look too much and especially not to make any eye contact with him while he is wrestling it, with the fear that he will gesture me back there. Sooner or later though, he comes over to the passenger side and tells me he needs help, looking somewhat sheepish.

I get out of the truck and the deer is disgusting. It’s been dead for a few days and it freaking stinks. And, there is stuff coming out of it. I try not to stare too hard at the head trauma, from which fluids are currently bubbling. I feel slightly sick. I realize it is bad enough to notice a dead deer on the side of the road, but much much worse to actually stop and attempt to come into physical contact with one.

“Do you have any gloves?” I demand. “I’m not touching that without gloves.” I go on to announce. He isn’t sure, but he begins rummaging through his truck for gloves while I try not to look at the deer and take deep breaths for what I must do next. I am hoping he does not find any gloves, since at that point I will be home free. Much to my disappointment, he triumphantly finds some latex gloves. I don them and proceed to hoist the deer into the truck, holding my breath and trying not to feel the cold stiff body. Dead stuff doesn’t really bother me, I’m a pragmatic biologist after all, but it’s not necessarily something I enjoy. Add the roadkill parameter, and it’s a downright horrendous task.

The deer has rigamortis so it’s legs are sticking straight up out of the bed of the pickup truck. It looks kind of ridiculous, and it smells so bad that when we park at our next site, I dash into the woods at the first possible chance. We hike to our wetland, do our habitat assessment, and around thirty minutes later we return to the truck to find it surrounded by police.

There was three cop cars, and officers looking for us in the woods, ready to arrest us for poaching a deer. It takes us thirty minutes to explain the situation but they have already called the state police as well as Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and it appears to be a huge fiasco. They start running my ID and checking me for warrants and stuff. Hmmm, wouldn’t this be a bad time for that old marijuana charge from South Dakota to show up? Fortunately, it’s been many many years since those days, and I come through free and clear.

Nevermind that the deer clearly looks like roadkill and we clearly don’t look like hunters, the cops are downright convinced that we poached a deer. I point out how stiff it is, and I show him my business card that says “biologist”. Then I try to offer another point of view: why would anybody poaching a deer drive around in broad daylight with the legs sticking straight up like that? He replies that people around these parts are “incredibly stupid”. My colleague, for all his knowledge about the universe and for all his beaming intellect, somewhere along the lines missed the life lesson where you learn how to act around cops. He became so flustered with the whole initial cop thing, that he was acting really nervous and stammering and getting all shifty eyed, and we totally looked guilty. So I’m left to try and handle it, poor me who would’ve never chosen to become that intimate with such a large piece of roadkill… ever.

When the state police and wildlife guys finally show up, they knew my colleague and are familiar with the land conservancy, and everyone has a good laugh and off we go, deer legs sticking up and all. It was an interesting day. I hope those cougars, bobcats, coyotes, or eagles enjoy our efforts and have a really kick ass meal tonight.


Sarah Palin Pinata

I dislike Sarah Palin. That said, I should preface this entry by the fact that I, unlike most Americans, have been familiar with Mrs. Palin for quite some time, having worked in the state of Alaska every summer for the previous four years. I have witnessed her brutal environmental policies and magnificent ability to bend over backwards for the oil companies- although not much more so then many other Alaskan politicians.

I was astounded when she blew onto the national scene. Astounded and horrified, but also giddy. I’m sure other Americans that were familiar with this woman beforehand shared those emotions:

Astounded: Holy shit! They picked her?!?!

Horrified: Oh my god, what if she actually wins? What if people actually vote for her? What if the only issue people still vote on is abortion? Oh noooooo here come the evangelicals!!!

Giddy: The Republican party has really gone off the deep end now, if they think this woman is going to survive on that scene. She’ll never make it! We’re gonna win! Stock up on the champagne!

My point here is not to relive every moment of the roller coaster that was the last two months, although I do admit it was amazingly fun to watch Sarah Palin, aka the “Caribou Barbie” crash and burn. Perhaps I enjoyed it a little too much- I hunted the online news sites daily for more news of stupid things she said, exposes of her screwed up family, and ridiculous gestures. And she didn’t disappoint- almost every day I could find something she had screwed up to read about with glee, even though she surrounded herself only with supporters and granted only two interviews. But I’m not going to get into it. If you really want to know why I detest her so much, it’s been said before, particularly well here: http://margaretandhelen.wordpress.com/2008/10/03/bitch-there-i-said-it/#comments

What I’m here to tell you about is my Sarah Palin pinata.

I’m not sure where I got the idea to make a Sarah Palin pinata, it just came to me. After it occured to me, I thought- hmmmm, maybe I can just purchase a Salin Palin pinata online? I mean, this has to be something others have thought of. A quick Google search revealed that while several other people around the world had also constructed Sarah Palin pinatas and decided to blog about them, there were no Sarah Palin pinatas available for purchase, yet anyways.

I set about to make the pinata for an Election night party a friend was having. I decided to make it out of paper mache, even though I couldn’t possibly recall the last time I had actually made something out of paper mache. I discovered that paper mache is a lot like riding a bike, and it magically came back to me from the moment I began cutting out long strips of paper and affixing them to Sarah’s balloon head with the flour/water mixture.

Below, cat eats paper mache while Sarah dries.


I then painted Sarah’s head an awful flesh tone color, mixed with rejected bits of housepaint in my shed. Sarah recieved a brown beehive and glasses constructed of cardboard. I then painted Sarah’s face on, and I was dissapointed that I couldn’t quite achieve the same vacant look that exists in the real Sarah Palin’s eyes. I also couldn’t get her smile quite so ridiculous and meaningless as the real Sarah Palin’s.

Below, an eerie Sarah Palin dries with flesh colored paint.


When Sarah was complete, a hole was cut in the back of her beehive and she was stuffed with candy, little bottles of liquor, and political cartoons (that made fun of Sarah Palin of course). I brought Sarah to the party and she was hung on the wall, where she watched Barack Obama declared President Elect on CNN, and then again on Fox News, as it was especially hilarious to watch them with their long faces and inability to put any last remaining spin on the fact that he was now President Elect Obama. In the house in North Portland, we screamed and cheered and cried and began swigging champagne directly from the bottle.

Below, the Sarah Palin pinata watches us celebrate while Barack Obama gives his victory speech.


And then we took the Sarah Palin pinata outside to take her down. I’m glad the pinata ended up being a metaphor for Sarah Palin’s national political career.

Below: delirious with joy over the outcome of the election, partygoers pose with Sarah before it’s time to take her outside for destruction.


Below, one last kiss for Sarah before the pinata is destroyed.


Stay tuned for the next installment of the story: “The Sarah Palin pinata bites back”

On being a botanist

Most of the time, being a botanist and my associated botanical knowledge is viewed by the general public as being completely useless. Usually, when someone asks what I do for a living and I fill them in, they sort of smile uncomfortably and then don’t talk to me anymore. I’m not sure if it is because they don’t actually know what a botanist is, or if they find that so incredibly boring that they can’t take it. But, every now and then my unusual profession comes in handy with some everyday knowledge that really saves the day.

Like last night in the grocery store when I was approached in the floral section by a panicked looking man about my age, for instance.

“Excuse me, can you help me?” he spits out. I am taken aback. Partly because I do not like talking to strangers in the grocery store, and partly because I am near the floral section and he is male and it is 10 pm- bad combo. But I nod, hesitantly.

“What’s a tulip?” he asks. I look at him like he is completely insane. “I need to know what a tulip looks like. It’s my anniversery, and it’s my wife’s favorite flower.”

I must have been looking at him like he was from another planet, because he takes a step back.

“A TULIP?” I say. Now I can’t figure out if he is completely full of shit, and attempting to hit on my in the floral section? But he just said the word “wife” in a sentence, so that can’t be. Besides, I’m wearing my hideously tight yoga outfit which I know does not do me much justice.

He nods eagerly.

“I’m sorry, but you don’t know what a TULIP is?” I exclaim. He admits to me, that no, he doesn’t. I am extremely glad he is not my husband. For one thing, it’s 10 pm on his anniversery and he hasn’t done anything about it yet. Another thing, he doesn’t even know what his wife’s favorite flower looks like. And finally, for Christ’s sake, he doesn’t even know what a freakin’ tulip looks like. He doesn’t even know that he is currently asking a BOTANIST what a TULIP is at the current moment.

It takes him three minutes to convince me that he is not bullshitting me and No, he really doesn’t know what a Tulip is, and then I fill him in that there are no tulips located in the floral section and that it is actually totally the wrong time of year for tulips.

He shrugs at me. “Well do you think roses would be OK?”

I shrug back at him, and he thanks me for trying to help him, and rushes off with his roses. Once again, an intrepid botanist saves the day. I think he needs more help than I have to give, though.

Election anxiety

I have self diagnosed myself with “election anxiety”. My symptoms include:

-a strong burning desire to leave the country for the election, in the event that the results are not in my candidate’s favor.

-an inability to discuss anything about politics without feeling hopeless and miserable and angst ridden.

-an profound ability to sound confrontational even when discussing politics with people who agree with me wholeheartedly.

-a roller coaster of emotions depending on which way the polls swing. If the polls swing in my favor, I am flooded with a sort of tentative relief. If the polls swing the other way, I spend a lot of time threatening to move to Panama and casting dispersions on our country.

-nervousness when speaking to anyone about anything if I don’t know how they stand within the political spectrum.

-a reddening of my face when driving in the country and observing campaign signs that are not for my candidate of choice.

-an inability to listen or watch any news at all. My sole news source is the NY times, which is in favor of my candidate, or a brief scan of cnn-dot-com headlines to see if there is positive news about my candidate. I only click on the news of which the headlines seem to spin my candidate in a favorable light.

-an overwhelming hatred of Track, Trig, Bristol, and whatever other ridiculous morons were produced by a ridiculous moronic woman with a bee hive. This symptom is accompanied by a very real desire to take this said person in question and, as Chris Rock would say, “shake the shit out of her”.

-strong memory recall of the last presidential election, after which I drank too much whiskey and ran around town screaming at people that they were apathetic.

If anyone knows of any cures, I’m on the hunt. Thanks.

Why I Love the East Coast

Maybe the title of this is misleading. I do not love the east coast. But I did grow up there, and therefore a certain element of sarcastic and cynical humor has been ingrained in me, and it’s not my fault. Just last night, I was lying in bed and picked up the “Four Agreements”- which was left for me to read by a friend recently going through a new age self help phase (don’t worry- he has only been in the phase for three weeks, so not quite long enough for an intervention). I read a brief summary of the agreements and put the book down.

“I have a problem with this kind of philosophy.” I remarked to my boyfriend. He looked up from his read.

“Why?” he asked. After all, I know he has been known to subscribe to such wholesome ideas as presented in the “Four Agreements” in the past.

“It’s just not funny.” I tell him. “There is just no room for humor.”

“Hmmm, maybe things could be funny, but there doesn’t seem to be an allowance for sarcastic humor. You could still have humor though.” he offers, and turns back to his book.

In my mind: humor = sarcastic humor. There is no in between. So if there is no allowance for sarcastic humor in that life philosophy, then my logical conclusion is that the philosophy is flawed, and is not funny.

This same friend who lent me the book is very serious about it. Another mutual friend of ours (who is, incidentally, also from the East Coast) has the Four Agreements as well, but she keeps it in her bathroom and “only reads it when she’s pooping”. Our “enlightened” friend was aghast at this. This book, which seemingly changed his life and was the catalyst for “enlightenment”, is only read by her while shitting. He fails to see the humor in this. Probably because there is no room for humor here.

Anyway, all this pontificating about the East Coast was triggered the other day while riding on the Max, which is our city’s light rail system. I was on a line that was eventually destined for the airport, and there was this early 20ish looking kid on the train, clutching his luggage and looking panicked. He was very fresh faced, maybe even too much so for early 20’s, he might have dipped into late teens, as he had this look about him that said he’d never been to a bar. Eventually somebody noticed how panicked he looked, and because this is Portland and not the East Coast, this somebody asked him if he was allright.

“I may be about to miss my plane!” he stammers helplessly and looks furtively at his watch. Somebody else leaps to attention.

“What time is your flight?” this concerned human queries. It’s in an hour and fifteen minutes from now.

“No problem.” another concerned human pipes in from a few seats down. “This train will be there in about forty five minutes, you’ll have just enough time.”

“Are you checked in yet?” another extremely concerned human chimes in from a few seats in the other direction.

“No!” exclaims the panic stricken young man. I have to admit, the situation looks grim.

“It’ll be ok.” the original concerned human says, “your plane is probably delayed anyway.”

“Yeah, definitely,” someone else chimes in. “Besides you’ll be there with time to spare.”

Now I am usually one to shut out all conversation on public transportation. But I don’t know whether it was my mood, or what, but I decide to contribute to the meaningless banter and overhelpful atmosphere with a few inane comments of my own.

“Where are you flying?” I offer. The answer is Phoenix. I keep going inanely, “oh, don’t worry, my brother lives there so I fly there a lot. There are tons of flights leaving all the time, so if you miss this one, they’ll put you on another one no problem.”

He doesn’t look convinced at all. Finally, the voice of reason comes in the way of another passenger who has been formerly silent. He is a mid fiftyish man with a busy mustache and dark hair.

“Excuse me.” he says, in a thick New York accent. “Because I’m from the East Coast, I can’t help but present the other, and likely true, side of this situation. You’re going to miss the goddamn flight- that much is certain. You’re not going to get on any other flights, because they’re going to dick you around at the airport. You’ll spend four hours walking from desk to desk from gate to gate, and then you’ll sleep sitting upright in a chair that’s so goddamn uncomfortable. It will be the start of many years of recurring and incurable back problems. When you finally do get put on a flight, you will be flanked by a screaming baby on one side and an obese woman who hasn’t brushed her teeth in days.” he pauses, and I am laughing.

“Just sayin’.” he said, “Just thought I’d present another side to the story.” The panicked kid is kind of laughing at this point too, and everybody feels better. See? A little sarcastic humor goes a long way.

The next time I see my “enlightened” friend and he tries to loan me another book that will also cause me to be enlightened, I am going to tell him that if there is no sarcastic humor in enlightenment, then there is no me in enlightenment.

Over the years I have tried on numerous occasions to get in shape and lose weight. Each time was a collasal failure due to my tendency to completely overindulge in everything, and my initial overzealousness would end up doing me in right away as I rushed into an intensive boot camp style of exercise combined with overwhelming restrictions on my diet. Often, I would successfully lose 5 pounds and then feel skinny, so I would resume my normal eating habits right away. Then gain 10 pounds. You get the idea.

I would kick off each “diet” the same way. Feeling morose about my appearance, I would head to the grocery store and purchase some kind of glossy fitness magazine. You know, the kind the says “Lose 8 pounds this month!” and “Drop a dress size in 2 weeks!” on the cover. The idea is that simply by purchasing these magazines, you are being proactive about the situation. Then I would fill up my cart with what I perceived to be “health food”: almonds and veggies and brown rice and tofu and organic cheesy poofs. The latter is still cheesy poofs for all intents and purposes, disguised in more subdued packaging and with less Red # 40. Then I would stock my kitchen, eat a measly salad, and head to the gym where I went through the motions on the elliptical trainer for as long as I could possibly stand.

After a few days of this regime I would be extremely weary of being on my “diet”. I would rather hang myself than get on the elliptical trainer, and would head out to the bar, the glossy fitness mag tossed in the recycle bin or stuffed in a corner. Visits to the gym eventually tapered off completely.

Another interesting facet of this process was that I seemed to fail to grasp an important concept- eating in moderation. I assumed incorrectly that since I was eating organic cheesy poofs and almonds, that I could eat as much as possible and it wouldn’t “count”. I also gave myself a free pass to eat whatever I wanted each time I successfully completed a workout. Case in point: yoga class. For nearly a year, I attended a yoga class with my good friend Beth. Immediatly after the class, we would head across the street to a thai restaurant and consume a giant vat of Pad Thai. Then we would move our little party next door to the bar, where I would drink 5 beers. It didn’t matter, because I had “worked out”. Never mind that hatha yoga practically burns the same amount of calories as sleeping! The end result was that I became fatter and more flexible. Awesome.

An especially fond weight loss memory of mine is when I was in my mid 20’s and having just moved to a new city, was spending a lot of evenings drinking beer and socializing with new friends. I must’ve been consuming a ridiculous amount of beer throughout my escapades around town, because when I decided to switch to light beer, I lost 5 pounds within a few months with no other dietary changes. If you think about it, it makes sense, if I drank 5 beers a night, that was a caloric savings of 250 calories/day. Since you need to cut out 3500 to lose a pound- I would lose about a pound every 15 days with this “diet”.

So I’m not really sure what happened. I don’t know what clicked in my brain that suddenly gripped me with the desire to get in shape. I don’t know how I managed to educate myself about portion control. I’m still not sure how all that weight came off and who this person is that I see in the mirror lately. But here I am, thirty years of age and completely addicted to exercise.

I am so addicted to exercise, that I work out six days a week, sometimes seven. I still go to yoga class, but I also go to spin class, strength training class, play on a soccer team, play tennis, swim a mile at least once a week, run, attend pilates at 6:30 in the morning. I still buy the glossy fitness magazines, but now I actually do the suggested workouts listed inside. I can do regular push ups like a man. I can hold side plank for several minutes without collapsing. I will run 5 miles during my lunch break at work, and horseback ride bareback all evening. I treat my body like I am in boot camp. If I am hungover, I force myself to run in the hot sun and sweat out the booze. It’s as if I am a college hockey player caught drinking too much the night before, and I am also my own coach who makes me run the morning after. I answer to myself, and only myself, and somehow myself keeps insisting that I keep up this regimen. And keep it up I have, for nearly 2 years now. I am gripped by a terrifying and irrational fear that if I miss one workout, that will be it for me and all those pounds will return instantly.

I’m not trying to pat myself on the back here, I am just completely amazed by my self discipline. Every now and then it strikes me. I wonder, how long can I possibly keep this up? My new muscles are demanding. They want attention, all the time. And I can’t believe I spent the good part of my 20’s, when my youth was all aglow, overweight and sucking down way too many microbrews. Hey, better late than never.


Is it just me, or is everybody you know traveling down heartbreak alley lately?

In the past couple of months, I’ve watched from the sidelines as couples of all walks of life call it quits. I’ve seen everything from the relatively benign “going our separate ways” scenario to the tumultuous “who gets the house/dog/car” scenario. Wow. Where is all the new love springing up? How can one find inspiration in the trials and tribulations of yet another sad story?

If you’re like my neighbor, whose boyfriend up and left last week giving her less notice than he provided to his job (as it turned out), you have a huge raging party. You invite all your friends and random boys you met on the internet since the tragic departure of the man in question. You start a huge bonfire and tell stories, you blame everything on that “fucking asshole”. You show all the people at the party a particularly pathetic polaroid shot of the fucking asshole in question, standing in the nude (unaroused, I might add). You provide partygoers with ample quantities of cheap whiskey to wash down their sorrows.

At some point during the evening, someone suggested that we share the story of the worst time we ever got dumped with the group. Fueled by the cheap whiskey, we went around the circle and revealed what used to be private moments of humiliation and heartbreak with strangers. As each person exposed thier story, it became abundantly clear that everyone is getting burned, all the time. Getting burned appears to be a fairly normal experience… for everyone. Not only is it normal to get burned, but it is normal to get burned badly. I thought I would share some of the getting dumped experiences so that the people of the world can feel better about that time they came home to find their significant other packing up their shit or screwing their friend.

-Someone actually got dumped via a letter, from prison. Then it turned out he had started a relationship with her friend, also via letters from prison.

-One guy was heading home with his girlfriend to visit his parents for a week. On the very first night they were there, she dumped him while watching The Breakfast Club in the basement of his parents house. He then had to spend 7 days with his family while they pretended to still be together.

-A girl met a super hot guy in Mexico and had a passionate whirlwind romance that lasted 2 months. Later, back in the states, he was coming up to see her the same night she was having a party. He rode up on his motorcycle, with a super hot chick in black leather on the back. The chick in black leather proceeded to dance to the band provocatively all evening while motorcycle man decided to tell the brokenhearted girl he had a new girlfriend.

-Someone got pregnant and her and her boyfriend decided to plan a shotgun wedding. Before the wedding took place, she lost the baby. In the throes of her depression, her boyfriend decided to tell her about his addiction to $400/hour hookers. Needless to say, they did not end up getting married.

-Someone else got dumped during the first hour of a 16 hour plane flight to Australia. Enough said.

-Any now for yours truly. In college, my boyfriend who was living with me at the time decided to go visit his mom for the weekend. Three weeks later when he hadn’t come home and I was worried sick, I received a 4 page long “we seem to be going in different directions” letter. Then at the very end of the 4th page, it said “And I got drunk and slept with somebody else“. It was crossed out a couple of times, but not enough so that it was illegible. After drinking an entire bottle of wine to my head and crying into most of it, I dragged all of his stupid crap out into my front yard and set it on fire.

I think the moral of the story here is that inspiration can be found in heartbreak. The stories, when shared all together, became hilarious. Hilariously awful, but still hilarious. So buck up little campers, there will be more good things to come.