Eating ourselves to death

“Despite recent trends in obesity rates,” Huang explained, “we anticipate that the population will reach an equilibrium in obesity levels, since we cannot all become obese.”

From Science Daily, Diabetes Cases to Double and Costs to Triple by 2034

I’m still trying to figure this out. Why can’t we all become obese?

For starters, we are each not eating about 1400 calories a day of the food we produce – it is thrown away.  If the two-thirds of Americans who are not yet obese ate up what is wasted, at 3500 excess calories per pound of weight gained, we would be able to gain almost a pound every other day, and reach obesity (roughly 30 pounds overweight)  in less than three weeks (even those of us who are near the bottom of the normal range).

Easier Said Than Done

I charge thee, fling away ambition:

By that sin fell the angels; how can man then,

The image of his Maker, hope to win by’t?

Love thyself last: cherish those hearts that hate thee;

Corruption wins not more than honesty.

Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace,

To silence envious tongues: be just, and fear not.

Let all the ends thou aim’st at be thy country’s,

Thy God’s, and truth’s; then if thou fall’st,

Thou fall’st a blessed martyr.


– Shakespeare, King Henry VIII. Act iii. Sc. 2.

Autumn Frogs

Thinking about winter bees made me think of “autumn frogs” and Shelby Young, who died recently.  Once long ago, in his column in the Roane County Reporter, he told how his father had called autumn leaves skittering across the road “autumn frogs.” I often think of that when I see leaves at night in the headlights.  I wonder if it means anything now to most people.  When Shelby and I were young, crowds of tiny frogs on the road on damp spring nights or in summer rains were not uncommon.

My mother would often say that when she was young in Elkins, their front walk would be covered with thumbnail-sized frogs every time it rained, and wondered what happened to them.  I always thought it must have been a wonderful sight, and was sorry that they no longer came.  Still we often heard and sometimes saw tree frogs. Walking by any pond, pool in a creek, or the town reservoir would prompt a series of plops as the frogs along the bank jumped in.  Spring peepers were heard everywhere, even in town.  I haven’t seen a frog in the headlights for decades, nor heard a tree frog.   Last spring, just once, driving in the country in the evening, we heard a very small patch of spring peepers.

I haven’t heard a whippoorwill either, as much a part of spring and summer evenings in my childhood as the sunset. Forty-five years after Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, and thirty-five after DDT was banned, we have still managed to create enough pollution and destroy enough land that even here, in our country’s most rural state, the days and nights are going silent.

Hate and Ignorance

I have tried to stop reading the comments in on-line news, and stopped reading many blogs, because of the relentless hate and ignorance. I am compiling a new list of inspiring blogs (see the sidebar) to reassure myself that there are those working for peace and beauty.

Then I came across this quote from John Amos Comenius (1592–1670), which at least demonstrates that people have not gotten worse, even if they have not improved.

We are all citizens of one world, we are all of one blood. To hate a man because he was born in another country, because he speaks a different language, or because he takes a different view on this subject or that, is a great folly. Desist, I implore you, for we are all equally human…. Let us have but one end in view, the welfare of humanity.


The Stars Look On

The day will come
When the sight of this earth will be lost
I will take my leave in silence
As the stars look on

I know the sun will rise again
The hours will still bring pleasure and pain
In heaving waves.

When I think of the end, time crumbles
I see by the light of death
That the lowliest existence is rare
And the worst moments are precious

What I longed for will be set aside
The things I pursued in vain —
Let them pass
Let me turn
To things I overlooked
And carelessly threw away
To possess them truly until they are mine

As the stars look on.

– Rabindranath Tagore

What is mindfulness but to be truly  grateful in each moment?

Down to the Bone

or maybe just the bare skin.  Since we made the decision to move to West Virginia (and in some ways before that, while we were contemplating), we had been stripping things away.

The summer before we retired, once we knew we were selling our house, we packed away all the knick-knacks.  We have tried not to accumulate things.  We try to get local and useful things to take home from a trip rather than souvenirs.  But we like having visual reminders of family, friends, places, history, so there were fossils, shells, sticks, driftwood, rocks and pebbles, knick-knacks from our parents and grandparents, art by friends and our children now grown.  We packed them all away.  We went through everything else and made many trips to Goodwill.

When we first came to the new old house, we brought a minimum of stuff.  A table, four chairs (the kids were coming for Thanksgiving), sheets, towels, and old wool comforter, a few old pots, an iron skillet, a set of dishes and a few glasses.  I mixed the buckwheat pancakes in a mug.  We slept on the floor for two months while we pulled up the carpet and had the floors stripped and refinished.   Since we moved the furniture and books in January, we haven’t unpacked the art or the knick-knacks.  The windows and the floors are still  mostly bare.

We spent the winter stripping the wallpaper in the library (6 layers) down to the plaster so we could put up the bookshelves and unpack the books.   Now we have a multi-media closet in the 1920s room, with the stereo, file server, albums and CDs.  Only the television is visible.

Last spring, the writing and most everything else gave way to pulling English ivy and garlic mustard.  Robert spent weeks picking up sticks and trash and consolidating the brush and log piles from everywhere on our half-acre. We uncovered an ornamental pond surrounding by a stone path.  I found and uncovered a three-foot bluestone path at the bottom of the yard, along the retaining wall.  The yard felt like The Day of the Triffids but we kept it beaten back.  The city yard trash pickup guys honked every time they went by – we must be the only ones keeping them in business.

By July, I had tendonitis in both hands, and was saying “There are not enough hours in the day, and I need a vacation ;-)”

So we rested.  Having  stripped away our old stuff, and taken the house and garden down to the skin, we have been stripping way some old thoughts, too.  We spent the summer with visitors and with ourselves, enjoying the mountains and our new home, not doing much, but contemplating the possibilities.

Being There

Our house is the last on the street before it starts downhill toward the West Fork River.  The ground slopes away all around the back, so we look down on the roofs on the next street.  Our grown children, raised on the flat in Texas, arriving at night when they first saw it, said “You didn’t tell us it was on a cliff.”

In the summer, the maples, elms, sycamore, redbuds, black walnut, and other trees yet unidentified join the Norway spruces, hemlocks, and pines in screening the view.  The line of hills across the valley is just a shadow against the sky behind the curtain of the trees.  The river can be seen only as a glimmer of light on water, if you know where to look.

Now, with the leaves gone, there is a wide view through the lacier curtain of the evergreens and bare branches, of the hills across the valley, misty purple, blue, and brown, with the bare white arms of sycamores in the mid-distance.  From the patio, a long stretch of the West Fork curving along the bottom of the hill is visible, gray green most days.  I can see half the sky, the sunrise and the sunset, and the weather coming in from the west.

At night, the Veterans complex rises from the valley across the river like an Italian hill town, all terracotta brick and blue tile roof, lights reflected in the river.  The moon shines behind the shaggy silhouettes of the spruces. It is wilderness with the friendly twinkling of distant town lights.

Words or photographs can’t capture the feeling of being on a hill. You have to be there.

Hill Home

During the years we were looking for a place to live in West Virginia, we looked at many places, in the country and in town.  It became a running joke with my brother that all of them were too close to the road.  And then we bought this place, with just 25 feet or so between the front door and US Route 19 (although it is a two-lane street, with sidewalks, in town).

Once we were living here, I came to realize that it was not that all those places were too close to the road.  The only other one that appealed at all was on a mountainside in Clay County (a lovely spot, but the ceilings were too low).  I grew up on a ridge outside Spencer, before we moved downtown when I was 9.  The chemistry classrooms at Glenville State, high on the hill, looked west and we could see the weather coming in.  When I was just past 20, I bought my great-grandparent’s house, on a hill in town, looking out over Tanner’s Run to Rumpus Ridge.  My favorite spots in Texas were Devil’s Backbone, the top of Enchanted Rock, and the Gulf Coast beaches, and in West Virginia, any boulder on the side of a mountain, but especially one at Dolly Sods looking out to the Allegheny Front.

I wanted a far view.  All the other places weren’t too close to the road – they were in the valley.

A Previous Lack of Crows

When we were in Texas, I missed the crows.  Cawing in the distance had always seemed as integral to early morning as the dawn, until it was gone. I was pleased to hear one occasionally, especially early morning on our camping trips. I thought it was just that they didn’t come in to town.  But now, in our house on the edge, but still surrounded by town, they are often in the yard, especially in the spruce trees behind the house.

Today, following up a mistaken story about crow migration (they flock, and may move south up to a few hundred miles, but don’t really migrate), I found a map which explains why they seemed so few.  We grew up in some of the darkest areas on the map, I in West Virginia, my husband, in corn (and asparagus and pea) country in northern Illinois. We lived on the thin pink edge in central Texas.

Map of American Crow summer range

American Crow Summer Range, courtesy of Crowbusters

Map of American Crow Winter Range

American Crow Winter Range, courtesy of Crowbusters