Friday, July 24, 2009

Wag Bags

Somehow, I don't imagine that the landscape of the Torngat Mountains National Park in northern Labrador is dotted with outhouses. One is left to one's own devices. While I'm game to try anything, I confess that I'm enamoured of outhouses. Several come to mind.

There's the outhouse on the northwest side of Mt. Katahdin at the David Pond campsite. Situated back from the shores of the pond on a rise in the Northwest Basin, from this wilderness seat one gazes across the water to the steep north wall of the basin. I can't recall if this outhouse has a door. If it does, it's a superfluous appendage, best left propped open to afford one an unobstructed view of the spectacular scenery.

Then there's the outhouse (again in Baxter State Park, this one at the Katahdin Stream campground) into the hole of which I dropped a perfectly good flashlight. Otherwise very comfortable, we were warned that black bears occasionally foraged in the belly of these outhouses and that it's best to scope out the area before taking a seat. Annoyed, I gazed into the pit, the dull yellowish glow of the flashlight still emanating from the muck and mire. I wondered how I might retrieve it. Nope, I said to myself, I don't think I'll go fishing for that one.

Ah, yes, and then there's the gerry built lobster trap rig that I set up one winter in the woods by Nat's cabin on Little Cranberry Island. We unbolted the seat from the cabin's toilet (no water in the winter) and propped it up in the hatch door of the old wooden lobster trap. Very comfortable, excepting the frigid temperatures.

Lacking outhouses in Labrador, I've been told that we will be using wag bags. Say what? I'm of the old school of camping: either you used an outhouse or you took a dump in the woods and did your best to bury your leavings. So here's some information about wag bags, the high-tech way to dispose of poop:

For anyone who enjoys spending weekends in the great outdoors, taking along a WAG bag® or two is an excellent idea. More properly known as a waste alleviation and gelling bag, the purpose of the device is to provide a sanitary way to dispose of human waste when there is not a running toilet available. Here is some information about how the WAG bag® works, and how the bags can be used in a number of travel and outdoor settings.

The WAG bag® functions with a double bag system. All the components of the WAG bag® are constructed of high quality puncture resistant materials. The outer bag has a secure zip top that creates an airtight seal when in the closed position. The inner WAG bag® contains a gelling powder that is usually referred to as Pooh Powder. This powder immediately begins to gel the waste while neutralizing the odor. The components of Pooh Powder are not toxic and are highly biodegradable. One of the advantages of using a WAG bag® containing this powder is that the decay process is accelerated, with both the bag and the waste being completely decayed in a matter of months. Perfectly hygienic, the neither the powder or the WAG bag® contains any type of perfumes, so persons with allergies can use the bags with confidence

So, how does one use these waste alleviation and gelling bags with Pooh Powder? One squats over the bag. (I can hear the chorus of protestations from my women readers about ALWAYS having to squat in the woods...) I've never been particularly proficient at squatting. There's some consolation in knowing that I've been strengthening my quads at the gym. Maybe that will help. Anyway, one imagines that no matter where one squats in the Torngat Mountains National Park, there will be a good view.

There will be no posts on Distant Temple Bell for the next week or so. I'm looking forward to posting journal entries with my own photographs when I return. Maybe there will be some nice wag-bag shots...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Intimate Alternative at the End-of-Life

A couple of folks sent me this link to an article in yesterday's New York Times about home burials--the "intimate alternative" to going the funeral home route. I was particularly interested in the woodworking of Chuck Lakin, who crafts coffins here in Maine that are utilitarian in more ways than one. I especially like his bookshelf coffin, although his coffee table and entertainment center creations are nice too. Chuck also has lots of information on his website "Last Things" about the "how to" aspect of home funerals, with links to other resources. Enjoy!

Image Source: Colby College Bookcase Coffin

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Polar Bears Are An Extreme Hazard

The title of this post comes from a Parks Canada guide to the Torngat Mountains National Park under the "Wildlife Encounters" section. (See my previous post for details about my forthcoming trip.) The pamphlet states: "Wildlife can be dangerous under certain conditions...When you register to enter the Torngat Mountains, we will show you a safety video about polar bears...We will also provide a copy of Parks Canada's Safety in Polar Bear Country pamphlet...Polar bears are true carnivores and can be a significant risk to human beings. Visitors traveling and camping in the park are in polar bear country and are at high risk of encounters."

In the "Handling an Encounter" section of the Safety in Polar Bear Country pamphlet various scenarios are reviewed, such as:

If the bear does not know you're there (do such and so)...

If the bear knows you are there and shows signs of being curious (do such and so)...

If the bear has been surprised at close range or shows signs of being agitated or threatened (do such and so)...

Here's the one I like:

If the bear shows signs of stalking or hunting you, such as:
-following you or circling you,
-approaching directly, intently and unafraid,
-returning after being scared away, or
-appears wounded, old or thin [i.e, is PISSED OFF!]


-fight back! [or, GET THE F---- OUT OF THERE!] Use any potential weapon,
group together and make loud noises.
-DO NOT RUN. [Hmmh..don't know about that one...]
-be prepared to use deterrents.

If a bear charges:

-stand your ground and be prepared to fight! [Like I'm actually going to do that?]
Bluff charges are rare. [I pray the Lord my soul to keep...]

I confess to having felt relieved when I learned that we will have an Inuit guide accompanying us on this trip (who will be carrying a firearm at all times,i.e, a deterrent.) In addition, an electric fence will be set-up around our camp at night. (What if I need to take a leak?!?)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Happy Birthday, Jack! (one day late...)

He was born to Stanley Heald and Marjorie McBride Heald on July 14, 1920 in South Weymouth, Massachusetts.

And this is why I love my father (in random order...):

He liked to eat and drink, liberally, and with great gusto.
He had a daily practice of prayer and meditation.
He was a devoted follower of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.
He loved the pipe organ, especially when played by E. Power Biggs.
He was a keen observer of politics and world events.
He served on a destroyer, the USS Converse, during World War 2.
He loved to sing in church (and elsewhere).
He handed out presents to his children on Christmas Day.
He became more liberal and politically progressive as he aged.
He loved Sukie and Bekah and Anna.
He loved the outdoors.
He felt that how one behaved was more important than what one believed.
He was inept as a handyman and adept at jerry-rigging of all kinds.
He went for a long walk every day.
He was a lay leader in the Congregational Church.
He sang "Lord Jeffrey Amherst" under a bed with his best friend, Alvin Bicknell.
He fed the birds in his backyard.
He was a master carver of roast beef and other bloody red meats.
He ate half the meat in the act of carving it.
He said: "Just be yourself. You'll be fine."
He collected fine Christmas music.
He played King's College Choir, Cambridge, records.
He fried fish balls on Christmas morning.
He largely ignored my teenage excesses.
He loved Johnny Most and the Boston Celtics and took me to the Boston Garden.
He forgave my children for dumping hot chocolate on the back seat of his car.
He would fart and belch with abandon, much to the consternation of my mother.
He jumped up and went wild while watching football on TV.
He loved to drink beer and eat cheese.
He blasted Bach Toccata and Fugue on Sunday mornings.
He loved super gross-burgers--cheese, bacon, letttuce, and tomato.
He was a friend to humanity.
He was a true gentleman--a fast dying-out breed.
He was a fine vegetable gardener.
He was one of the first mediators in the state of Maine.
He carried on the family tradition of making fine shoes.
He was proud that I became an Episcopal priest.
He voted for Bill Clinton.
He wore red suspenders when he worked outdoors in winter.
He loved to build fires.
He set-off fireworks illegally.
He was a master clambake chef.
He loved my friends, especially Nat Bowditch.

He died and yet he lives on...

Image Source: DSH Photo Jack Rowing in Newagen Harbor

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Call of the Wild

My friend Steve called me a couple of weeks ago and asked if I might like to go to Labrador. For the last three years, Steve has gone to the Torngat Mountains National Park in northern Labrador for a week of rugged and remote wilderness camping with none of the amenities. Air Inuit offers charter flights into the Park--otherwise, as the saying goes, you can't get there from here.

The only problem being that the dates of the trip corresponded exactly with my annual week-long sesshin with Boundless Way Zen. I posed the problem to Steve (who is himself a Zen priest): "For me, this trip is a pilgrimage. It is itself a means to experience that 'original mind' that we experience on retreat." The word sesshin means "to touch the heart/mind." Is not stepping out into unknown territory--a true wilderness--a kind of sesshin, with all the challenge, struggle, and moments of awakening that such entails? I was sold.

And this is what I read about the Torngats on the Parks Canada website:

From the Inuktitut word Torngait , meaning “place of spirits”, the Torngat Mountains have been home to Inuit and their predecessors for thousands of years. The spectacular wilderness of this National Park comprises 9,700 km2 of the Northern Labrador Mountains natural region. The park extends from Saglek Fjord in the south, including all islands and islets, to the very northern tip of Labrador; and from the provincial boundary with Quebec in the west, to the iceberg-choked waters of the Labrador Sea in the east. The mountain peaks along the border with Quebec are the highest in mainland Canada east of the Rockies, and are dotted with remnant glaciers. Polar bears hunt seals along the coast, and both the Torngat Mountains and George River caribou herds cross paths as they migrate to and from their calving grounds. Today, Inuit continue to use this area for hunting, fishing, and travelling throughout the year.

Place of spirits. That works for me.

So now I'm engaged in the task of getting organized--begging, borrowing, and stealing (actually, purchasing) what I need for the trip. Layers of clothing mostly, a few hiking accessories, and enough insect repellant to keep the mosquitoes and black flies at bay. A week from Saturday, we drive to Montreal, then fly to Kuujjiak, an Inuit community in northern Quebec and, finally, take an Air Inuit charter into Saglek Bay. When that plane takes off, we'll be quite alone--just us and the caribou, polar bears and golden eagles, among other wildlife...

Stay tuned.

Image Source: Saglek Bay and Fjord. Photographer unknown. From the album of photographs furnished to the Newfoundland Royal Commission, August 1933. Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives (Coll-207), Memorial University of Newfoundland Library, St. John's, Newfoundland.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Facing Death With Dignity and Reverence

A friend emailed me a link to an article in today's New York Times Health section about a convent that promotes excellence in end-of -life care.

"A convent is a world apart, unduplicable. But the Sisters of St. Joseph, a congregation in this Rochester suburb, animate many factors that studies say contribute to successful aging and a gentle death — none of which require this special setting. These include a large social network, intellectual stimulation, continued engagement in life and spiritual beliefs, as well as health care guided by the less-is-more principles of palliative and hospice care — trends that are moving from the fringes to the mainstream."

Also, in a related New York Times blog "The New Old Age: Caring and Coping" there is a fine post about the costs--both financial and physical-- of denial at the end-of-life.

Image Source: New York Times

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth of July!

Twenty-one years ago, Morning Edition launched what has become an Independence Day tradition: hosts, reporters, newscasters and commentators reading the Declaration of Independence. Click on the link above and enjoy the reading!

Declaration Of Independence

Below is the original text of the Declaration of Independence, along with contributors who performed the reading.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it,
and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
— Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.
The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.
A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us.
We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence.
They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved;
And that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Two-hundred and thirty-three years ago Saturday, church bells rang out over Philadelphia as the Continental Congress adopted Thomas Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I Am Not the Person You're Looking For

In an attempt to expand the readership of my new blog "My Morbid Obsession," I've been networking with some of the big-wigs in the Civil War blogosphere. The other day I sent an email to one of the "Top 10 Civil War" bloggers, a woman who is a Ph.d candidate in military history. After telling her how much I enjoyed her posts, I asked her to review my blog. And, if she likes what she's reads, would she please make mention of it in her blog? Two days later I received this reply:

Hi David:
Unfortunately, I am not the person you're looking for...I get this quite a bit.
Suzanne *

I shot off a reply, trying to disguise how miffed I was:

Thanks for getting back. So who might be the person I'm looking for? Any thoughts?

You dork! (actually, I didn't add that last bit...)

Wow, I fumed. This big-shot blogger can't be bothered to take a minute or two out of her day to read my blog. So much for social networking. Who does she think she is, anyway? What a geek! Too self-involved, I guess. This whole Civil War blogosphere thing is a joke. What narrow-minded nerds! I guess I'm never gonna make the Big League. Maybe I'll drop "My Morbid Obsession." OMG, what a STUPID idea that blog was to begin with! Nobody reads it anyway.

And, then, after I settled down a bit, I became more philosophical. Wow! Look at you! This really pushed your button big time. What's up with that? I guess you need external validation to feel good about yourself. "I am not the person you're looking for." Well, who is? God? Some other "expert" out there who will tell you what a good job you did? How about finding validation within yourself? How about trusting what you love and going with it? Isn't that enough? Who cares what anybody else thinks. Boy, you need to slow down and meditate more. You're a lousy Zen student. What a wreck!

This morning, I got another reply:

David -
All I know is that there is another "Suzanne" -- who writes about civil wars. :)
Are you looking for that person?
I get emails quite frequently with requests etc. around that topic....
That is what I know..

OMG, I said to myself, did I just make that whole damn thing up in my head? That email never even made it to that big-wig Civil War blogosphere woman! I totally had her pegged as a selfish prig and myself as an utterly worthless human being! And I imagined the whole thing..

The stories that my mind spin out that have no basis whatsoever in REALITY are astounding. Anyone else ever experience this?

Please comment. (Maybe I'll feel better about myself...)

* For those of you who are astounded that I didn't figure out immediately that I had the wrong "Suzanne," my wife Sukie agrees with you. Add utterly "clueless" to my list of faults!