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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Do You Honk Your Horn?

About once or twice a year or so, in Juneau, someone honks at me. It's a good thing that it happens so infrequently because I have a violent reaction to it. When a horn honks, it startles me (which is a form of fear) and then I get angry. I have fantasies of stopping my car in traffic and getting out and confronting the driver behind me. I know it would be stupid, but that's what I want to do. Horns are supposed to be used for emergencies only, not when someone behind you is impatient because you are letting pedestrians cross the street rather than run them over. Like the last time someone honked at me.  It was a "get moving" honk because I had stopped to let someone use the crosswalk...

I have heard that accidents occur more frequently in places where people honk more. Is it because it's terrible drivers who frequently resort to the horn or does the honking itself create an atmosphere that leads to accidents?

You may wonder why honking happens so rarely in Juneau. Are we better drivers? Are we more patient drivers? Do we prefer to live at a slower pace?

I don't think it's any of those; perhaps it's the absence of anonymity. With 32,000 people and no roads in or out, it's not easy to be anonymous. You could find yourself honking at your child's teacher, your minister, your client, your neighbor. Now that could be embarrassing. Are we more likely to be well-mannered in the presence of people we know?

But here is something interesting: During a recent trip, my husband and I drove in Washington DC and in Montreal where, in both, anonymity is the norm. Yet in DC, drivers honked continually, but we heard hardly any at all in Montreal, another large city. That was surprising.

What I have noticed is that honking is a form of judgment. It is used for scolding, not for emergencies. There is no compassion in it. And I sure don't have compassionate thoughts when I am being honked at. I don't have compassionate thoughts when someone else is being honked at either. I immediately sink to a lower spiritual level. Loud noises destroy public peace - and my peace. I would vote for it to be outlawed.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Important Story of Vitamin D and Alaskans

Vitamin D. Most of us who live in Alaska don't get enough of it - unless we take adequate supplements and/or get near the equator in the winter. But I am getting ahead of myself. I had the good fortune to meet state legislator Rep. Paul Seaton from Homer recently. His awareness resolution about Vitamin D was passed during this session by the Alaska State Legislature. Seaton wants everyone in Alaska to have adequate levels of Vitamin D as a prevention measure leading to a lower incidence of disease which would then equal better health for all of us. Here is the link to read all about it:

We make Vitamin D in our bodies when we expose our skin to the sun as you can see from the graphic below. The sun needs to be at the proper angle, unfettered by clouds. Folks, not only is this one chariot we can't harness, we also can't change our position on the planet.

This simple fact - the necessity for sun exposure - poses a huge problem for us. For most of the year, because of our northern latitude, the sun's rays fall on us at an angle that is far too low to provide adequate ultraviolet B exposure. The angle is wrong for SEVEN months. As a matter of fact, everyone who lives above the 37th parallel is at risk during the winter months. And we are way north of the 37th parallel. In Juneau, we are at the 58th parallel which is not even on this map below; not only that, the rest of Alaska is way north of the 58th parallel. Take a look at the map below to see which parts of the US have adequate sun during the whole year.

Can you see the scope of our problem? And here is another problem that can't be solved. Even though Juneau is in the southern part of Alaska, it is one of the cloudiest places in the entire country - #6, in fact. So even when the angle of the sun is high enough to allow proper exposure, cloud cover often prevents it for those of us who live in the rain forest. (According to weather research, Juneau is cloudy 88% of the year.)

It was disheartening to discover that Vitamin D deficiency is related to all kinds of diseases: cancers of the breast, colon and prostate; rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, diabetes, periodontal disease, SAD, and more. The long list takes my breath away. Just by living year round in Alaska, we are at risk. Wow. How can this incredible environment not support human health? A traditional diet did, but few eat that way anymore. 

It is a wonder that we are all not falling down, one after the other, from lack of Vitamin D. But I think it happens without our being really aware of it. It happens every time someone is diagnosed with cancer, with MS, with arthritis...  According to Seaton's resolution, our state has "a high incidence of preventable diseases that numerous studies indicate may be correlated with insufficient blood serum levels of Vitamin D."

I tell myself I would be bored silly living in a tropical paradise, but at least I wouldn't have to worry about Vitamin D. Until I find myself lolling about on a beach, I need to remember to take my supplements every day!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dillingham in Western Alaska

I was in Dillingham in Western Alaska recently for a conference. Like most places in the state, Dillingham can only be reached by air or water. Pen Air flies a SAAB 340 there from Anchorage. The flight attendant hands passengers a package of ear plugs upon boarding. They are called "Softies." I think it's a nice gesture.

The plane carries 30 people and on this flight, every seat was full. I think most of the people were attending the same conference I was attending. It was a little tight, especially for tall people, but the flight isn't even an hour long. It's just loud.

Dillingham is tucked up into the confluence of two rivers, the Nushagak and the Wood, that run out to Bristol Bay. And Bristol Bay is where the largest wild salmon fishery in the world is. When I arrived there over a week ago, people told me about the first king salmon being caught on the beach in a net. They were smacking their lips.

Salmon are the lifeblood of this region. These boats will be going out soon. The value of the wild salmon commercial fishing industry totals about $100 million a year here and anything that threatens it, like the Pebble Mine proposal, has strong opposition. 

I was struck by the contrasts in Dillingham. Right across the dirt street from these containers is an old graveyard.

A sense of eternity does pervade Dillingham, indeed most of Alaska. People have lived here for 10,000 years. And they are still here. That's something. 

The Rural Providers Conference (sponsored by RuralCAP and the Bristol Bay Native Association) brings all ages together from all over Alaska. During the evenings, we had a Talent Share, a Traditional Foods Potluck, an All Ages Dance. I took the photos below of the Kuspuk Contest during the dance. Although kuspuks are similar, different regions of Alaska may have different pockets or skirts (or no skirts) or trim. Men wear them too but theirs are solid instead of flowered fabric, and have a different name. That night, they gave prizes for most traditional, for most colorful, for family groups. We all clapped loudly for everyone who paraded around the elementary school gym. It made me wish that I had brought my kuspuk. At the hospital in Dillingham, every Friday is Kuspuk Day. 

Before and during every event I attended during this conference, everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY received a ticket for the chance to win a door prize. In fact, women with huge rolls of tickets walked through the groups, making sure that everyone had a ticket, even those who walked in late. The emphasis on inclusivity was so appealing. No one was left out. No one. We all were handed an equal chance to win the door prizes: some small, some big, all unexpected. We all waited breathlessly as they picked the tickets out of the bucket. And then we clapped for the person who won. 

You walk in the door, you get a ticket. Wouldn't it be something if life were like that?