The problem with “Everything You Need for a Girls’ Camping Trip”

Don’t you hate it when you’re just about to drift off to sweet slumberland, about to say “night night!” to social media, but then at the very last moment, you notice an infuriatingly gender-stereotyped post from an organization whose image is built on (some version of) feminism? Yeah, me too.

Yesterday’s good night’s sleep was ruined by this article from Bustle. If you don’t know Bustle, it’s a blog/website/”lifestyle brand” (because that’s a thing now) that describes itself as being “for & by women who are moving forward as fast as you are.” In the case of women rocking the outdoors, unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be very fast.

When I first saw the headline – Everything You Need for a Girls’ Camping Trip – I did a little snort-laugh. I came across the link on Facebook; it was a sponsored ad from Bustle and Barefoot Refresh Spritzers, whatever the hell that combination of words is supposed to mean. Regardless, the guffaw was because since it was from Bustle, assumed that I’d click on it and arrive at a righteous, satirical blurb saying something along the lines of “whatever any human of any sex or gender needs for any camping trip.” You know, because feminism and all.

I should have known better.

While I like to think that the article was written with the best intentions, I was sorely disappointed to find it a staunch reinforcement of the rugged outdoorsman stereotype, and of its counterpart — the YOLO-pleading, eyeliner-slinging, but-I-might-break-a-nail whining, “I’ll just stay here at camp and play board games and make you guys some sandwiches for when you get back from your hike”… girl.

First of all, why do “girls” need to have our own, separate (and most assuredly not equal) guides to enjoying the outdoors? I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are some things we need to do a little differently. For example, as an ACA-certified canoe, kayak, and stand-up paddleboard instructor, I sought a lifejacket that was practical and rugged, but would snugly and safely fit my womanly curves. Let me tell you about the many color options. (And don’t even get me started on pockets.)

But living with a pink, floral lifejacket isn’t even the start of the deep and dangerous gender divide of outdoor recreation. This post is getting long enough as it is, and plenty of more articulate (and less frustrated) people have written plenty of worthy words about it. So read up:

I’ll stick to what I came here for: that bothersome headline from Bustle. In the comments section on Facebook, one reader defended the seemingly sexist clickbait, pointing out that the article really does contain some useful information for beginner campers who might be nervous about spending their first weekend away from civilization. And that’s absolutely true.

But here’s the question: why didn’t they call the article “Everything You Need For Your First Camping Trip” or “Everything A Beginner Needs for a Beginners’ Camping Trip”? Why do we have to jump to women — sorry, not even women, but girls?

By doing this, Bustle has directly marketed to women in the outdoors, and made two very dangerous assumptions about those women before even reaching the first word of the article: that women are (A) inexperienced and unable to use the internet machine to teach themselves how to tie a knot and (B) more interested in spritzers and Instagram than forging a genuine connection with nature and making meaningful memories.

So I’ll step down off my soapbox with one final thought. Should those of us who have a bit of outdoorsy experience under our Patagonia strap-style belts be writing smart, accessible, fun articles to help acquaint people with the outdoorsy lifestyle, and to help them have a comfortable, fun, stress-free first experience in the outdoors so that they don’t run away crying and never come back? Of course.

Should we be confusing that with “LOL camping 4 girlz”? Probably definitely not.

If you’ve read the articles linked above (and beyond!) and are ready to get outdoors yourself, here are some great resources for any beginner in the outdoors — girl, boy, woman, man, none of the above, all of the above, in between or around the above, whomever:

And if you’re as self-righteously pissed as I am about using “girls” interchangeably with “helpless n00bs”, here are some organizations that are doing great things to close that outdoors gender gap, and you should totes support them:

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‘swarm.

The temperature of the bath mom drew when I was a kid always seemed somewhat like the song of a Field Sparrow — first boldly wrong, then overcorrected, then overcorrected, then overcorrected, then overcorrected, finally converging with minuscule tweaks of the H and C knobs on some ethereal point of Just Right.

How’s that, baby?

That’s hot.

How’s that?

It’s cold.

How bout now?

‘s hot.

Okay, now?

‘s chilly.

What about this?

‘swarm.

Warm is good.

‘stoowarm.

…Okay, now?

‘scool.

Cool is fine.

‘stoocoo.

‘swarm.

Too warm?

No. ‘sgood.

The song of the Field Sparrow is commonly described this way: like dropping a basketball from a moderate height, it first makes a grand gesture of bouncing, but the next bounce is a little more modest, and the next is downright meek, and then it’s down by your ankles, really just vibrating against the floor until it converges on the ‘sgood of stillness.

 

via Daily Prompt: Swarm

Chronos and kairos

A good friend taught me something earlier today. She taught me about the concept of there being two sorts of time: chronos and kairos. (If you already knew this, you may skip ahead.)

The universe is a pretty impressive metronome, when you think about it. For something so big, it’s remarkably consistent in its comings and goings and loop-de-loopings. We measure years this way, and days, and in between we’ve portioned out hours and months and all manner of organizational units. Our sundials told us, and our watches tell us, and I’m sure someday our surgically-implanted brain microchips will quietly remind us of this: chronos time.

The other sort of time, though, is not so easy to pin down and wrangle into boxes and hang numbers around. Kairos is more about the natural timing of things… or maybe, more accurately, about the happening of things. Things happen as they will, sometimes, with very little regard for our chronos-keeping devices. Certain things don’t keep a schedule… or maybe, more accurately, they sure do keep a schedule, but it’s not one that our silly little human brains could possibly hope to decode. It’s more, like, the time of the universe, man.

Maybe there’s never really a “perfect moment” to do anything. But if there is, kairos knows when it will be, and where it will be, and how it will happen, and it won’t allow you to do anything to rush it any closer, no matter how hard you try.

This is part of the problem I have with writing. Like many people, and perhaps especially artists, I have a lot of ideas rattling around in my head. This would make a good novel, maybe. Or this would be a cool idea for a podcast series. That there is interesting, but not for a novel, maybe more for a short story. And all the rest, well, pretty much anything can pass as poetry, right?

I get overwhelmed by all these ideas, all these startings. I desperately want to organize them, to make chronos out of them; to make sure they each have their own proper folder on my Google Drive and their own special notebook for jotting ideas and their own structure and medium fully decided upon and committed to well in advance of actually making any progress.

All those startings stack up and form an intimidating wall. I see the wall, and I kick my toe in the dirt and say “aw, shucks, I must not really be a writer.” And that’s why there are no finishings.

My friend – the one who told me about chronos and kairos – said that she has another friend who is a writer, and that one of the most important things that writer has done is to commit to just writing, for some set amount of time, every day. No matter what. Just pick one of the many startings and run with it. After all, when you’re poised at the start of a marathon, you can’t see the finish line – but you run like hell when the gun goes off, trusting that you’ll see it eventually.

This is a definitively kairos approach to writing. You can’t wave a stopwatch in the face of creativity, menacing your unwritten words with the threat of a time limit.

So here I am, just writing. There’s not really a finish line. Or, oh, wait, I guess, this is it, huh?  So I found it after all. Huh. How ’bout that.

A list of things I bought on December 31st, 2016:

  1. This domain name, again, somewhat reluctantly.
  2. A beautiful new journal from the Art Supply Depo, pages lined on one side and unlined on the opposite side, all empty so far.
  3. A heavily used, well-loved drum set, found on craigslist and haggled over via awkward text messages.

I know that typing “it’s been a particularly tough year” has become more or less a cliche by now, but it’s as true for me as it is for anyone. Even though I’m more of a solstice gal myself, the 31st of December is as good a time as any to reflect on the challenges and changes life has thrown my way over the past 365 days.

Early this year, I got an exciting job opportunity. Without thinking twice, I packed it in, left my home, my family, my friends, and my job with the Metroparks to join Taylor Studios in Illinois. Winter was beautifully splayed across 432 miles of the Midwest.

Then, one day, I broke.

I spent the spring season grappling with panic disorder, major depression, inadvertent addiction to medication that was inappropriately prescribed to me, and ultimately having to make the toughest decision of my life so far: that I needed to hit the “pause” button on everything, so that I could focus on my mental health.

In April, for the second time in 2016, I left a job, a house, a city, a state. But this time, there was nothing exciting or brag-worthy on the other side of the leap — just my old bedroom in my parents’ basement, and a whole lot of time to heal.

And that’s how summer passed. I took many tiny steps forward, and plenty of tumbles back. I learned to cope with unprovoked panic, energy-sapping melancholy, and even some symptoms of PTSD from my tough time in Illinois. I was humbled by the incredible support offered by my parents, my sister, my romantic partner, and countless other close friends. Just as I appreciated the extra couple minutes of light every day, I gradually learned to once again appreciate what life and the universe gave me.

I got stronger. I moved back to Toledo, lucky enough to be taken in by the sweetest little family anyone could ever ask to be a part of. Craving a purpose and needing money, but still afraid to commit to a “real job,” I started freelance writing — and surprised myself when I found modest success. I picked up a couple shifts a week at the Black Kite, a bright oasis of love (and coffee) in the middle of our neighborhood.

Autumn reminded me not to get comfortable or attached. When I awoke to a different world on November 9th, I was gripped by shock, disappointment, fear, grief, and despair. A lot of the things I had struggled with all year were triggered all over again. The election prompted conversations with my partner that ultimately led us to realize that our romantic relationship wasn’t working. There was a breakup. There was loss. There was change.

But I rolled with the punches; I knew that I had no choice but to. I loved and cared for myself well. I surrounded myself with friends and supportive communities. I got back to therapy, like every human being probably should. I steadily picked up more shifts and responsibilities at the Black Kite.

Before I knew it, the snow was snowing yet again. I worked my ass off because I wanted to have enough money to buy a few small Christmas gifts for my friends and family. Even though materialism isn’t the true spirit of Christmas etc. etc., it felt really wonderful to be able to do so. I finally got brave and started applying to some more jobs in my field of ecology and conservation, as well as spending quite a bit of time volunteering. Finally, just a couple weeks ago, a dear friend and mentor invited me to join her in doing whatever we can to help birds — you know, those tiny sky-dinosaurs who constantly remind me that we all have battles to fight, and that we can all still be beautiful despite that fact.

And now the year is done.

In 365 days, I’ve experienced a cushy salary, unemployment, under-employment, re-employment, moving out, moving in, moving home, 2 states, countless panic attacks with no discernible trigger, 3 mental illness diagnoses, trying and rejecting 4 different medications to help control them, camping, backpacking, skinny dipping, yoga, love, heartbreak, long-distance cycling, a 5-month battle with addiction to a medicine I took exactly as prescribed, making coffee with friends, dating again, birds and the geeks who love them, breaking and putting myself back together, falling and getting back up… in short, I’ve been human.


 

So back to the three things I purchased today.

Spending a lot of time writing for others — while very rewarding and oddly exhilarating — has unfortunately sapped some of my enthusiasm for writing for myself. I spent most of my working time in 2016 click-clacking away behind a computer screen, so I wasn’t going to spend my dawn and dusk hours doing the same.

But that’s not what I want. I miss my little blog. Even though I’ve never won, entering short fiction contests brought me joy. And I can’t even remember the last time I wrote a silly limerick.

So that’s what brought me to New Year’s Eve Purchase #1. I was planning to let this domain expire, but I figured I’d give it another year before pulling the plug. We’ll see what comes out of it.

The second New Year’s Eve Purchase goes along with the first. It’s about writing for myself, for reflection and peace, for goal-setting and gratituding.

And the third and final purchase? Well, I’ve just had this strangely specific feeling lately like I’d really like to be able to beat the shit out of something and call it self-care. I wavered between drums and punching bag, but the loud option finally won out. As it does.

Here’s to a 2017 full of writing, reflecting, and making terrible, terrible sounds in the basement until my roommate throws me out.

This post is about getting rid of plantar warts!

Yup. For real. This post is not about love, or birding, or self-discovery, or mental illness, or playing outside (wait, it is a little bit about playing outside), or Lake Erie, or my tragic relationship stories. It’s about warts. I’m serious. You probably don’t want to read this. Turn back now.

But there are some people out there who need to hear my words about warts! This post is for them.

Really, this is your last chance to turn back if you don’t care about warts.

Okay, you’ve been… WARTned… ok that didn’t really work.

Basically, I have had been plagued by the cursed little beasties known as plantar (or plantar’s, or Plantar’s, I don’t really care) warts for years and years now. They first appeared in high school. I remember sitting in the bathroom with my first girlfriend nervously opening one of those Dr. Scholl’s freeze-a-way kits and trying to… well… freeze them away. Spoiler alert: warts (or my warts, at least) are not afraid of the cold.

Ever since then, I’ve tried everything to get rid of these angry harbingers of ugliness and slight discomfort. I’ve tried everything over the counter. I’ve tried duct tape and other means of “suffocating” them. I’ve been taking vitamins A and D for a couple years to try to kill the virus itself. I’ve tried castor oil, garlic, vinegar, the rest of the kitchen cabinet. I’ve tried manually removing them at home (ouch) and at a podiatrist’s office (double ouch). I’ve tried everything short of surgery. And they always come back. Always. I finally gave up and decided that the universe just wants me to have warty feet.

So imagine my utter surprise when I noticed a couple weeks ago that my foot was actually looking better. Yesterday I looked again, and lo and behold, each wart is slowly getting smaller and less ugly. What the heck?! What’s changed in the past couple months?

The seasons, that’s what! Pete Seeger was right: there’s a season for everything, and apparently summer is not the season for warts.I put two and two together and realized that I’ve been walking around barefoot for the past couple months.

Now, I go around barefoot every summer, but never as much as I have been this summer. (I’ve been at my parents’ house in the suburbs where there are fewer shattered liquor bottles decorating the sidewalk.) My warts have been getting intimate with concrete, dirt, and rocks–and they don’t get along well.

And as any good wild child knows, going around barefoot makes your feet a little Mowgli-ish. My soles have gotten a little thicker and rougher, with some callouses. But I can definitely tell that it’s not just callouses covering up the warts. The warts themselves are absolutely getting smaller. I’d say they’re about half the size they were a month ago.

So that’s it! Dr. Lauren’s* prescription for banishing plantar warts for good: go around barefoot. Go play in the forest. Go walk in the river. Go climb a tree. And don’t wear shoes! You’ll thank me.

*I am very obviously not a doctor. This blog post is not a substitute for medical advice. If you have severe warts or whatever, go to a real doctor. I cannot be held liable for any unfortunate thing that happens to you while you are walking around barefoot. Shit happens.

On Purpose

Here’s my response to WordPress’ daily prompt: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/purpose/

Purpose is something I’ve struggled a lot with lately. It’s queer how such an abstract noun can affect such concrete consequences in one’s life.

We speak often about our lives “having Purpose.” What does this actually mean? Is Purpose a little slip of paper with a short checklist of tasks to be accomplished, passed out by someone on your first day of adulthood? Did I miss that day?

Is Purpose a vocation — firefighter, accountant, kayak guide — that I was supposed to choose based upon that multiple-choice test they had us take in high school? I think I was under the bleachers kissing my first girlfriend when they went over the results.

Is Purpose finding a thing that you love to do, and doing it all the time? I’ve seen written: “do what you love and the money will follow.” So I spend an afternoon birdwatching, and when I return to my car and go to put my binoculars back in their case, I am shocked to find that no currency of any sort has materialized in there.

Is Purpose a prize you stumble across while sweeping the sand of some great beach with a device designed to detect destiny? Am I to simply keep walking, plotting a methodical course, waving my arms steadily back and forth in front of me, waiting to hear a beep? How do I know I’m even on the right beach?

A couple months ago, I was offered an incredible opportunity to work as an Interpretive Planner with Taylor Studios, Inc., one of the nation’s premiere exhibit design firms. I was over the moon. I pulled myself up by my roots and found myself trying to replant them in Champaign, IL.

Obviously, this opportunity was a Big Deal for my Life Purpose. A full-time job! A salary! Moving On Up! Finding My Way! Lots of capital letters, and all.

And it was, sure. It was a great job, working with great people, doing important things. TSI is an incredible company. I loved it there.

But things happened. Things I didn’t expect and couldn’t have foreseen even with the best pair of optics on the market. A latent depression that, cicada-like, returns to stretch its legs and see what’s new. Anxiety that I’ve always carried around abruptly getting much heavier, and commencing a curious ticking sound. A longing for my family and friends and homeland so profound that it must surely be some evolutionary remnant of a migratory urge.

I had found Great Purpose in my Great Move and Great Job and Great Growing Up. So why was I suffering to the tune of unbearable?

I think it’s largely because I thought I knew more about Purpose than I really did. I find this is a great causer of problems in many different arenas, this gap between what we think we know and what we really do, and then between those two and what we can ever actually really know.

So here I am, just giving you a gentle reminder that maybe you don’t know all that much about your Purpose, even if you think you do. Don’t be surprised if Things Happen and quietly, almost tenderly tear your theory to shreds. Don’t be surprised, and don’t despair. You’re on the same beach I’m on. You can keep searching frantically for Purpose if you want, but I’ve decided to just sit back and watch the tide for awhile, and I’m doing just fine.

New things!

Hello! I hope you’re enjoying this rainy (or not, depending on your particular sky’s mood) Sunday as much as I am. I just wanted to share some upcoming ch-ch-changes to this blog.

This may come as a shock, but I can be wordy. My feverish love affair with language sometimes bogs me down. But I know that brevity is (usually) good for blogging, and (always) good for my job.

So in an effort to hone my skills of concision, I’m going to try to start posting some “micro” content, a la the great Seth Godin (and many others). I’ve never written this way before. I may be utterly miserable at it. Hopefully I won’t scare too many people away.

The second tidbit of newness is that I’m going to start porting my content over to Medium. I’ve enjoyed the platform passively for awhile, and I’d like to try it out. For the time being, I’ll post to both locations. If Medium seems like a nice place to settle down and raise a family, Love and Birding might end up living there permanently.

For now, you can follow me on Medium! You’ll find last week’s post there soon, followed closely by my first “micro-post.” In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this bathroom wall quote that made me wrinkle my face in a not unpleasant way:

 

A quote on the wall of Caffe Paradiso in Champaign, IL:

“The fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of futurism.”

 

As gay as a four-leafed clover

A couple weeks ago, I got a kick out of a great Autostraddle post called “The Impossible Math of Gay Soul Mates.” It examines a great episode of This American Life through the lesbian lens. If you haven’t yet read it, please go do so. I’ll be here when you get back.

Are you properly dejected yet? If not, don’t worry! Just keep reading. We’ll get you there.

Jokes aside, I found myself nodding along as Erin slogged through the tragic equation that I knew from the start would only spit out a coefficient of hopelessness. I appreciated her insight, because it’s something I’ve tried to explain many, many times. More on that later.

I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow, though, when I saw that Erin lived in Portland. Ah, Portland. The mythical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of queerness. The Eden about which we all whisper in hushed, reverent tones. More or less Narnia.

I decided to try out Erin’s math on my new home of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. It’s a city (okay, two cities, but not really) that’s far smaller than Portland, and probably less gay. Oh, and if you’re double-checking my math, I’m rounding down. Because I’m a horribly jaded pessimist when it comes to love. Horribly jaded pessimists always round down.

125,176 — The number of people living in Champaign or Urbana.

62,588 — Half of those people have ladyparts.

31,294 — We’ll assume that half of the ladies are single. Aaaaall the single ladies.

5,476 — I used Erin’s age range factor, assuming 17.5% of CU’s bachelorettes are within my age range.

1,369 — The attraction scale. Maybe it’s naive, but I like to think I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to physical attraction. Instead of the 20% taken by Erin and Kestenbaum, I used a round 25%.

1,026 — Now the trickier ones. Like Erin, I’m not gonna make a lady furnish her diploma, but I do value education, self-improvement, career development, motivation, and a solid lady pantsuit. I’ll stick with Erin’s assumption that 75% of lesbos feel the same way.

853 — Here’s something Erin and Kestenbaum both left out: non-smokers. In 2014, that was 83.2%.

419 — You got to move it, move it. According to the CDC, 49.2% of adults met the official Physical Activity Guidelines for aerobic physical activity in 2014. Those guidelines seem pretty reasonable to me, so I factored in 49.2%.

139 — Now, of course, there are a host of factors that are impossible to quantify. Sense of humor. Sensitivity factor. Common interests. I think a good way to judge this is to reflect on dates I’ve had in the past. Of all the women who have ever piqued my interest, what portion did I ultimately end up really attracted to? If I had to guess, I’d say about a third of the women who I’ve gone on a first date with really captivated me, enough to request a second date and seek a relationship.

92 — And finally, the factor that Erin brought up: are the feelings mutual? Again, I’ll base this on my past experiences in the dating world. I think I’ve been pretty lucky (or perceptive?) in not getting rejected too terribly often. Of all the ladies I have sought to build a relationship with, I’d say about two-thirds of them reciprocate, and agree to go steady with me.

So there you go: at this point in my life, in the city I live in, about 92 single ladies who meet a lot of my important standards are maybe interested in me too. Hey, that’s not bad!

Oh, wait. Did you forget why we were here?

That’s right! IT’S TIME FOR THE DRAMATIC EFFECT!! I haven’t yet added in the queer factor. And while I wasn’t able to find any statistics on the LGBT rate in Champaign-Urbana, I think it’s safe to assume it’s on par with the Illinois average. 3.8% it is.

Drum roll, please…

Three.

I’ve moved to a hip and happening new city, single and ready to mingle, thrilled to see what my new home has to offer. I plan to stay here for at least a couple years–say, till I’m 27 or so. I know that it’s silly to get attached to plans, and I’m not, but I’ll admit that part of my Grand Life Vision for the celebratory milestone of Age 30 includes settling in to start a family. So I think it’s reasonable to hope to have met the other half of that family equation by age 27.

All this to say: in a perfect world, this is the city where I’ll find my Person. And I’ve only got three options.

But of course, it’s not a perfect world. I might not find my Person by the date I’ve marked with cute little pink stars in my Lisa Frank trapper-keeper.

Photo of notorious trapper-keeper artist Lisa Frank

Sidebar: Have you seen Lisa Frank?

In fact, I might never find my Person at all–or I might find three of them. (This isn’t the time for me to digress about soul mates vs. life partners, but here’s an article I highly recommend.) And it’s obviously kinda goofy to try to fit anything as rich and complex and mercurial as love into a mathematical equation.

But on the other hand… it’s real. This is reality for lesbians, and for anyone else whose dating pool is constrained for any reason. It’s real, and it’s frightening, and it brings me to my Soapbox Moment for this post: it’s a really good reason to stop judging lesbians (or anyone) for “U-Hauling.”

Some time ago, I was talking to a friend after a particularly hard breakup. Conversation rolled around to the classic lesbian stereotype of moving in together way too soon, and she asked why I had done it (again). As Erin points out, it’s this impossible math. It’s the fact that as a queer person, the odds of love are stacked so against you from the outset that if you find someone who seems even the littlest bit like Life Partner Material, it’s only natural to want to plant your flag and set up shop. Because if that person gets away, you never know when or where another match might be found.

It’s also why we settle. It’s why my last relationship ended not long after a painful conversation in which it was revealed that my partner had never felt the same way about me as I did about her–and had never actually felt that strongly for anyone she had ever been with. Even if we find a person who we like a lot or maybe even love, but we know that it’s not that crazy-in-love that we’ve always been told to wait for… we settle. Because we’re afraid that it might be the closest we ever get, and we don’t want to pass up a “pretty great” because we’re waiting for a “truly incredible” that we might never bump into.

So sure, keep kidding about what a lesbian brings on the second date. But when you hear that your queer friend is looking for a new apartment again, don’t immediately jump to eye-rolls and tsk-tsks and “shouldn’t she know better by now?”s. First, pull out your trusty TI-83+ and crunch some numbers for yourself. Think about how it must feel to be single in a world where finding a match is like finding a four-leafed clover. And save your judgment. And offer to help your lesbian friend move because she’ll probably provide some really good snacks.

Photo of root beer and ice cream

Seriously, such good snacks.

 

An open letter from a Park Desert

It was a warm and sunny weekend in the Midwest. Having moved to Champaign mid-February, I had anticipated being cooped up indoors for awhile. So when thoughtful Global Climate Change gifted us with a high of 70 this Saturday, I jumped at the chance to get outside. A bit of internet research led me to a disappointing conclusion. I had two options for a Saturday Afternoon Adventure here in central Illinois.

One option was to stroll the abundant, cute little city parks. These parks are refreshing, breaking up the urban landscape with freckles of green. But their recreational potential is really limited to (a) exercising your Yorkie or iguana (b) swinging on swings (not complaining) or (c) admiring the lovely sculptures (again, not complaining; I rode a bronze horse the other day, and it was delightful). Not exactly worthy of busting out my binocular harness.

I chose the second option, which was to take a drive to one of the handful of state parks that form an unfortunately girthy halo around Chambana. At just under an hour’s drive, the closest was Moraine View State Park. The pictures I saw online… well… they didn’t thrill me. The park’s website left a lot to be desired, too. The impression I got from the internet would ultimately echo my feelings about the park itself.

Sure, it was a place to roam. I saw a couple interesting birds and some pleasant scenery. But there were no oak savannas, no mighty mighty river, no wet prairies. There were no trails longer than a mile. In fact, there were no trailheads or maps to help us find the three sad trails that did exist; we drove around for quite awhile before finally spotting a decrepit wooden post marked “nature trail.” That description was a bit inflated, to say the least.

Moraine View State Park lake

Bright colors and cheery atmosphere brought to you by Instagram.

Without getting too melancholy, I’ll just say that I felt a pretty profound homesickness yesterday. What’s that phrase that you always hear, regarding divorce? “I’ve grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle…” Some of my fondest memories of my time in Toledo are from weekend jaunts at Oak Openings Preserve or Maumee Bay State Park or Wildwood or some other lush oasis of green. I could hop on my bike or in my car, and within minutes, be lost among towering oaks or cactus-dotted sand dunes.

You’ve heard of Food Deserts, I’m sure. While not quite so grave, there’s another kind of desert that exists in our society: the Park Desert. And after many years in a metropolis blessed with a truly world-class park district, it is truly, deeply saddening to find myself living in one.

So this Letter from a Park Desert is my humble request of the people of the greater Toledo area, and of anyone who lives in a region with similarly amazing parks:

Please, please don’t take your green space for granted.

Especially for those who have lived in Toledo for years, it’s all too easy to grow accustomed to that “certain lifestyle,” to forget (or not even realize at all) that there are places out there without parks like yours. It’s easy for an after-work jog at Swan Creek or a weekend hike at Oak Openings to become so second-nature that you don’t even consider what it would be like to not have places like these.

(If you couldn’t see it coming: I am now going to climb up on my soapbox for a minute.)

Just as it’s easy to take these parks for granted, it’s easy to take their creation, their upkeep, their quality for granted. When I tell people that my new job involves writing copy for exhibits in museums and zoos and the like, the most common response I get is this: “Oh! I never actually thought about how there has to be someone who does that.” It makes sense. Grow accustomed to a certain lifestyle, and you don’t stop to think about how it got to be that way, who made it, for what reasons.

But parks don’t just appear. (Obviously – or I wouldn’t be here bemoaning Park Deserts.) Parks don’t clean themselves up, they don’t mark their own trails, they don’t give potential visitors information to attract them there. Parks don’t select their own rare and interesting wildlife out of a mail-order catalog. Parks don’t have the ability to maintain their own unique and beautiful habitats (thanks largely to our handiwork as humans).

Parks are the work of nature, sure. But they’re also the work of people. Of very learned, very dedicated, very professional people. People who work diligently, tirelessly, and nearly always thanklessly, behind the scenes to make those parks as wonderful as they are. People who have to make important decisions that will result in their parks either flourishing or fading.

So here’s the corollary to my first request that you don’t take your parks for granted:

Trust in the people who make these decisions.

They are in their respective positions for a reason. They did not walk in off the street, I can assure you. They know what they’re doing. And, perhaps more importantly, they care. They care deeply. They want, ultimately, one thing: they want for you to not have to live in a Park Desert.

So if those people believe that the deer herd must be thinned, carefully and safely, to keep your park beautiful and wild and healthy? Trust them.

If they believe that a marketing campaign will improve user experience, solve costly customer service issues, and attract more visitors and residents (and their money) to your city? Trust them.

If they feel that in order to keep one of these learned professionals – these people who care deeply about their parks and the health and happiness of the public – around and dedicated to their agency, they need to offer him or her a higher salary? Trust them.

These are the people who have offered up the incredible banquet of green (and red and orange and indigo and sienna and brilliant yellow and deep brown…) you find spread before you, yours to enjoy. They’ve kept you out of the Park Desert, and they will continue to do so, if you let them – if you trust them, if you support them and the decisions they make. As a new resident of a Park Desert, trust me when I say you’ll be glad you did.

 

You may not need education, but I wouldn’t kayak without it

This is a response to Tim Shuff’s article We Don’t Need No Education: Credential Overproduction in the Kayaking World, which appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine.

Full disclosure: I’m a millennial. I’m of the demographic Tim Shuff characterizes as “busy paying off the student loans for the PhDs on their Starbucks resumes.” I may not have a “Starbucks resume” (and isn’t entirely certain what that is) but I’m trying my hardest in a world where the generational divide can seem downright cavernous. And over the past year or so, I’ve become a kayaker. I’m writing this not to argue, but simply to share my viewpoint. Still reading? Good on you for your willingness to listen to a millennial!

Shuff makes a lot of excellent points, and his overall message (as I understand it) is valid. Kayakers, especially those new to the community, get bogged down by all the training and certification hoops they’re asked to jump through. The wall of intimidating acronyms (ACA, IDW, IT, SEIC, and on) is large and stands prominently in the newcomer’s path down to the water.

Veterans of the sport understand that it’s not the only path. That there’s another route to becoming a kayaker: the “caveman” route. The figure-it-out-as-you-go route. The option to quietly side-step officiality and simply trot down to the surf. So why don’t we millennials take this simpler, nobler path?

The thicket of acronyms is so unavoidable that newcomers might not even see that other route. Maybe that thought has genuinely never occurred to them. Or maybe it has. Maybe they know that the “caveman” route exists. But here’s the thing: that path isn’t free of barriers, either. It comprises lots of obstacles that exist in the lives of us youngsters. There are emotional barriers. There are social barriers. There are financial barriers. We didn’t choose to put those hurdles there, but there they are.

Let’s address the helicopter in the room. Yes, I am one of the earlier products of “helicopter parenting.” My parents were concerned for my safety, and wanted me to know that they were proud of me. And yes, I’m now rather insecure. I’m anxious, I’m timid, I’m nervous. I don’t blame my parents; I had a great childhood and I love the person I’m growing to be. Being helicoptered made me sensitive, thoughtful, and honest. It also made me too terrified to buy a boat, drag it down to Lake Erie, and hop in. What may sound like an adventure to some sounds like a cold and watery grave to this helicoptee. Blame my upbringing, blame my generation, blame whatever you want – still, I could never do it.

Certifications give me something I value above thrill: peace of mind. They give me confidence in my ability to be safe, to live to paddle another day. The confidence they afford me allows me to actually relax and have fun while paddling, rather than worry with each stroke. At the end of the class, the instructor gives me the pat on the back that I need to feel secure. If it weren’t for a class, an instructor, a credential, I’d never have the gumption to get out on the water. Credentials empower the Meek of Heart to conquer the intimidating emotional barrier to paddling.

Classes help with the social barrier, too. You may be thinking that I don’t need an acronymed instructor for that – I should just go out and find some kayaking buddies! Well, maybe that’s feasible in mystical places like The West Coast, where there’s a kayak shop on every corner and paddlers on every pond. I live in Toledo, Ohio. There’s a paddling shop an hour away. There’s one small livery just out of town, but they offer no instruction. There is a relatively new kayaking club, which is a haven and a blessing.

I wouldn’t have found that club, though, if it weren’t for my ACA class. The class was a gateway to meeting the very few fellow kayakers in my area. And given what I’ve already told you about being helicoptered, you can probably guess that I’d prefer not to paddle alone. For people who live in places like I do, the social barrier is a real obstacle to paddling. It’s classes and instructors that welcome us into the sport with open arms.

But even if I could find paddling buds on my own, I’d still be up a creek without… well, you know. When Shuff said that my ilk are busy paying off student loans, he was absolutely right. I was ushered directly off the high school graduation stage and into an expensive 4-year program at a big, impressive (and credentialed!) university. I graduated with a little over $33,000 of debt. I make about $23,000 per year. I live in one of the most affordable cities in the nation, and my monthly bills total about $1000 (that’s with minimum payments). All told, if I want to make meaningful progress toward getting out of debt, there’s not much left over for buying ‘yaks.

So I’m left looking for a boat to borrow. The most economical option is to rent from a livery, but as we already discussed, there’s only one in the area (and that one stretch of river will get old pretty quick), and I’m nervous to just head out on my own. Once again, credentials are my answer. I can go out with a certified instructor for a fraction of the cost of buying my own gear. I can take an ACA class, which is a bit more expensive, but still within my means, and ultimately empowers me to explore other options. Of course I want to buy my own gear someday. But for now, these options are the only ones that make financial sense to this debt-saddled millennial.

So yes, there are two routes to the water: taking the path through the certification jungle, or hurdling the emotional, social, and financial barriers that exist in the lives of people my age. So what’s a girl to choose? Sure, the certification route is time-consuming and bureaucratic and not right for everyone. But the other obstacles can be bigger, badder, and real-er. Certification isn’t the only way, but for some, it might be the best way.

Should we be admonished by the elders of the sport for choosing the route that makes the most sense for us? I think not. After all, no matter what route we take, we’re getting ourselves down to the water. Whether it’s the fast and furious dash of Shuff’s generation, or the slow, methodical crawl of mine – new people are paddling. Isn’t that what we all want?