Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sea monsters

"Prehistoric Planet" has ranked the top 10 dinosaurs, and #1 was a sea monster. I watched this ancient creature leap up and grab a raptor for dinner. Yes, it was an animated replication based on scientific research, but it looked like stuff they hang on the ceiling of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History -- just moving (and devouring a fierce creature).

The next time someone tells me I shouldn't fear what doesn't exist, I will think of that creature and remember how vast and unexplored are the seas. Once these naysayers prove to me beyond a reasonable doubt that such a creature does not exist even in the murkiest depths of the ocean, I will take their word.

Until then, I will remain convinced they are hanging out with giant squid (which was found off the coast of New Zealand earlier this year) and partying in the deep, reaching up for a meal when needed. I shan't be that meal.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

How small a footprint?

I read an inspiring story today in the New York Times about a family trying to live with "no impact" in Manhattan ("The Year Without Toilet Paper"). This family of three limited use of all transportation using carbon-based fuel, including mass transit; reduced to nothing their trash output; composted all organic refuse; eschewed elevators; and more.

While I'm not inclined to go quite to the extent they went — I'm not giving up toilet paper — I had to ask myself, "How could I do better?"

What am I doing now and how could I be doing more? I'm nearly pathological about recycling, but could I reduce the amount I am recycling by reducing items I purchase in disposable containers? I use plastic grocery bags multiple times, but should I reduce the number of bags I accept from the store? I drive a hybrid, but could I walk more? (Once weather cooperates, which means getting warmer, I'm all over that.) I keep my thermostat lower in the winter and higher in the summer than my neighbors, but is it low or high enough? I try to turn off lights when I leave the room — but should I continue to put my computer on "sleep" rather than turn it off at the end of the day? (It is purely for the convenience of checking the temperature in the morning before my run). I take the stairs except when my arms are too full — should I carry my lunch bag and books more efficiently?

Every little bit makes a difference. Every trip on the elevator at the office counts. Every time I turn on my space heater so my fingers are warm enough to feel the keyboard costs. It's like eating candy from the dish every time I walk past and wondering how the extra pounds wind up on my fanny. I want to make a difference, and I want to be good to Mother Earth. I want to do right, and I will keep trying as best I can.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Weeeeeeee're veryverybusy

Everyone is in a hurry these days. I’m just as guilty as the next driver — for the love of Pete, don’t put along in the left lane of I-95 — but I instinctively drive more cautiously in residential areas, parking lots and other tricky areas.

This didn’t make a difference to three drivers within the last 24 hours.

On a clear sunny afternoon, I braked suddenly on a wide 2-lane road. By habit, I glanced at my rear-view mirror to confirm that mine was the only car on the road. As I began accelerating five seconds later (after the squirrel made it back to the sidewalk), I saw a car advancing quickly behind me. Without slowing down, the driver passed me on the right. Ahead were two lanes, and I hoped he was turning right. When he turned on his left blinker and cut in front of me to the left lane, I honked and raised my hands in question. He could not have seen a child or animal in front of my car, and yet my brake lights were not enough of a warning.

At dawn the next morning, as I drove on a 2-lane road in a residential area, a car behind me was not pleased at my rate of acceleration from the stoplight. He zoomed up behind me close enough to where I couldn’t see his front grille and, as soon as a second lane became available, he cut over and took off.

Finally, at the same intersection later the same day, another vehicle did the same thing soon after I merged into traffic. I accelerated to five miles over the speed limit in response to her tailgating, and within seconds she passed me in the left lane like I was standing still.

I’m no innocent. I’ve spent my time on Washington roads. I’ve commuted on the Beltway. I've been in the "parking lots" known as Route 50 and Route 236. I’ve done my share of short merges, cutoffs, accelerated passing, blocking “the box” and even once, to my horror, passed a stopped school bus. I’ve left late and tried to make up the time with creative weaving through traffic. I know the difference a few minutes can make — the road outside my house at 8:25 am turns into a different world five minutes later.

However, I also know how long it takes to wait for a police officer to arrive on the scene after my car is hit by a speeding driver, an inattentive driver, a harried driver who thought his car could “make it.” I have helped a friend find out how long it takes for a child to come out after surgery due to an auto accident.

When I drive, I try very hard to remember that for every bonehead thing I’ve done, there’s someone out there not only trying to do the same thing, but possibly with a bigger car and very likely with less driving experience. I am not perfect, but I try to be cautious because I know how precious the other drivers or their passengers are to someone else — and possibly even to me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Daylight Saving Time

Let me say this right up front: I am not a fan of daylight saving time (DST). I truly think it adds to the confusion my family faces when calling me cross-country. Virginia follows DST, but Arizona does not. (Or maybe it’s just Phoenix.) At any rate, my uncle in Phoenix was always out of sync, and as a result, my family truly believes that no state but California follows DST. This leads to the inevitable question: "So, what time is it there?"

Once we get that straightened out, it’s time to change the clocks again.

I should be grateful my uncle finally moved from Arizona, and that he did not move to the Navajo nation, which is the only part of Arizona that uses DST.

Now Congress has extended DST. It used to be the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October. Now it’s the second Sunday in March through the first Sunday in November. Apparently President Bush signed the change into law a couple of years ago and gave us until 2007 to get ready for the change.

Does Congress have any idea the amount of energy that goes into every phone call with my family? If I added up the hours I spent telling them what time it was in Virginia, I could feed a power plant for the rest of my life.

Then there’s the fact that every other nation on the planet manages their energy consumption without changing their clocks. How in the world does the rest of the world manage? Can we try it their way for a while?

Truth be told, it’s not the lack of logic that sticks in my craw. I wish I could make it sound more noble than it is, but I must be honest. I do not like DST because I am chronologically challenged. I was born early and, I believe, I have spent the rest of my life making up for that fact. I am late. Period. My mom did her best with me, but I am beyond help. (Mom also tried to make me an omnivore, but in my adult years I reverted to vegetarianism. She did her best.)

I know a half-hour is 30 minutes. I know that if I drive at 15 miles an hour, it is supposed to take me an hour to travel 15 miles. I can watch a digital readout or a second hand sweep around a clock face and know that is 60 seconds. And yet…. if it takes me one minute to walk downstairs to get a glass of water from the kitchen, I think if I am thirstier, it should take less time. If it takes 20 minutes to get to the airport but I have only 15, it should take only that amount of time I have to spend. Every time a task takes as long (or longer) than its allotted time, I am surprised and dismayed.

Given the fact that I am convinced that time moves differently for me than it does for the rest of the world, any clock adjustment tries on my circadian rhythm. I am exhausted for a week after I spring ahead. I am off-kilter when I fall back. I can travel west and function perfectly fine on Pacific time, but send me back east and returning to Eastern time takes me a week of adjustment.

I have lived in Virginia nearly as long as I lived in California, so I can’t blame the pull of the Pacific Ocean for the imbalance. I guess I could blame insanity, but I’d have to get in line behind someone with bigger problems than me, like the person who thinks she was Cleopatra in a previous life (but never a scullery maid, or a pig farmer, or a turkey inseminator). (That last one is not a fabrication. A relative had that job. Didn’t make a career out of it, not that I blame him, but it helped put him through school.)

So, as a chronologically challenged American, I object to DST, and I strenuously object to the new dates for the silly imposition. It didn’t work for Demi Moore in A Few Good Men, so I doubt it will work for me — but if we try the Alice’s Restaurant approach, maybe we’ll start that revolution after all.