Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Bike Lane Bru-Ha-Ha

Lately, I've been reading a lot about NYC's push to install more bike lanes. Here are a few of them:

Huffington Post Article about NYC Bike Lanes
Colin Beavan's Op Ed about NYC Bike Lanes

My general response to this is that I'm seething with jealousy. Just think how different our world would be if every major thoroughfare had a bike lane. Plus, just look at the picture of the bike lane in Colin's article... it's got actual separation between the bikes and the cars! In Denver, what few bike lanes we have are about the size of the separator in this picture and right next to traffic!

But what has shocked me about these articles, has been the incredibly hostile comments written about bike lanes and bicyclists in general. The general complaint seems to be that bicycles clog up the roads and they don't follow traffic rules.

HELLO?!?!? Don't these auto-centric people realize that the problem is not the bicycles, the problem is that our current system of roadways does not take bicycles into account! I understand the frustration of drivers who feel like the bicycles take space intended for cars, but don't they get it that the way to remedy this is not to curse the cyclists, but to provide a place that is intended for them?

What was further shocking to me is that many people seem to hold the idea that anyone riding a bicycle is some how a "freeloader" or an "anarchist". Well, all I can say to that is, that if bicycles seem to operate in a state of anarchy, it is generally because the current state of affairs provides so little in terms of safety and/or space for bikes, so cyclists are often forced to take matters into their own hands.

But there's another element to this entire topic that has been on my mind lately... and that is... what, exactly, are the "proper rules" that bicycles are supposed to follow? It turns out that this is not really an easy question to answer.

When I was a kid, my parents signed me up for a bicycle safety class. Granted, this was 30-some-odd years ago, but in that class I was taught that bikes were supposed to ride either on the sidewalks or on the edge of the road facing oncoming traffic. I was taught that you are NEVER supposed to ride in the same direction as the traffic because you wouldn't be able to see cars approaching you from behind.

Well... after a few people yelled at me for going the wrong way, I did a quick check of the internet and discovered that everything I was taught is totally wrong! Basically according to this site on Colorado Bike Laws, bikes are supposed to follow the same rules as cars... except for when they're not... and when they're not can vary wildly from municipality to municipality. What?!? If bikes are supposed to act like cars, I can totally support that, but the rules can change wildly from city to city?

I guess my point is that it seems to me that what is needed is a universal set of rules governing all bicycles in the country. I mean, traffic laws don't change wildly when you cross city lines, why should bike rules? Plus, I am a fully licensed driver, and never anywhere in my training or licensing was there ever any mention of bikes and what they were supposed to be doing. How on earth can we expect drivers to know what a biker is doing when they are "taking the lane" if nobody has ever taught drivers that this is a lawful practice for a bicyclist and it's done to increase safety, not to clog traffic? Why aren't drivers, as well as bicyclists required to learn the laws governing bikes?

Speaking as someone who got hit by a car while on a bike last summer (I was actually going the right way, I had the right of way, and was hit by a driver who saw me, stopped, and waved me on before hitting me) I must say that I am not eager to resume riding on the roads under the current system. And this is a sad state of affairs. It's not only sad for me, because I love riding my bike, but it's sad because there are many, many people out there who would ride their bikes as a regular form of transportation if they felt that it was safer.

It seems to me that what is needed is an entire system overhaul that includes a massive public education initiative and fully includes bicylists in the design on any street, road or highway. The way to deal with bicycle anarchy is not to bitch about the bikes, it's to include them in a functional way in the transportation system.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Princess Update

Well, you know what they say about fairy tale endings... no such thing.

Princess had a seizure on Saturday morning. It scared the livin' begeezus out of me, but in a matter of a minute or two she seemed fine. Nevertheless, I scooped her up and brought her to the vet who did a thorough neurological exam and some bloodwork. Basically, seizures can be a sign of any of a whole host of deadly conditions, or they can be completely anomalous.

Her exam and bloodwork all were completely normal, so now it's just a game of wait and see. Other than that one episode she seems to be doing great. She's happy, and enjoys playing and cuddling, and has no other symptoms.

So for now we just have to monitor her and see what happens. Hopefully it will just be a one time thing. The vet said that if it's something terrible (like FIP) she should go downhill fairly fast.

I guess I just have to look at it like this. No matter what happens to my little Princess, I know that she's had at least a few weeks of love and safety, which is way more than she would have had otherwise. Maybe she will live for another 10 years, maybe only 10 minutes... there's no way to tell. But in reality, that's how life is, not just for Princess, but for all of us.

Perhaps she was sent here to teach me a few lessons about compassion and control. Like this one:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dispatch to the Weather Gods

Dear Zeus, Ullr, Tlaloc, Tishtrya, Imdugud, Addad, Tefnut, Yu-Tzu, Taki-Tsu-Hiko, Baiyubibi, Waruna, Sodza, Mawu, Hiro, Chipiripa, Chac, Ganymede, Thor, Khione, and anybody else who might have influence over moisture falling from the sky,

I am writing to thank you for your timely and thorough response to my requests for a mild and dry winter. The Princess Kitty greatly appreciated your restraint when it came to precipitation events over the past 6 months. I wanted to let you know that she is safely inside now, so it would be OK for the rain and snow to return.

In fact, when I submitted my request for a mild winter, I had no idea that you would respond with such fervor. I was hoping that you'd hold off on the blizzards, but I never anticipated one of the driest winters on record. I want to again thank you for your scrupulous response to my request.

I fear, however, that perhaps you may have taken my appeal a tad bit to seriously. I really hadn't intended that it should never snow or rain again, and when I asked for an early spring, I really wasn't anticipating March weather in the 70's and 80's. I don't wish to seem ungrateful, but I did want to clarify that I was only asking for a brief respite and not a permanent change. I also hadn't realized that you might send all of our snow to fall on folks elsewhere.

So, given that Princess is now safely inside, I wanted to officially rescind my plea for dry weather. I really do appreciate your granting of my request, but I think that it would be good for things to go back to normal now.

Yours Truly,
The EcoCatLady

p.s. Could you please pass this message along to the fire gods and let them know that they can back off until July or August?

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Naked Princess in a Cage

I know you've all been following the saga of the Princess Kitty, and hanging on every twist of the plot... OK, to be honest, I know that it's not exactly a big deal to anybody but me... but...
Princess has come inside!!!!

After my doomed attempt to trap her, and then when the Orange Boy tested positive for feline leukemia, I had pretty much given up all hope of trying to adopt her. But, she apparently had other ideas. A few days ago, she started coming close to me. I mean, I've been feeding this cat for 6 months and she wouldn't let me get within 10 feet of her, and suddenly this week she started approaching me.

I didn't know what to make of it, but I decided that maybe she was trying to tell me something, so I stuck my hand out and she actually came up to me and let me pet her! Well, to make a long story short, within 24 hours she had done a total 180 and decided that I was her shelter and not a threat. Once she got a taste of being petted, she couldn't get enough. She literally crawled into my lap, and curled up into a purring ball. It was a miracle!

Sooo... once that happened, I just didn't have the heart to let her stay out there under the tree, so I scooped her up and brought her to the vet. I was pretty sure she was gonna test positive for FIV/Leukemia because she'd been exposed to the Orange Boy, but I had devised a plan to build an outdoor enclosure on the detached garage and let her go in and out through the window.

But then... another miracle... she tested negative! There was much rejoicing! The poor little thing (she's only 8 pounds) was totally covered with thick mats. The vet said they'd probably have to knock her out and shave her to get them out... but then, another miracle... she actually let them shave her without being sedated! The vet and all the technicians were just beside themselves, because apparently even most house cats won't let you get near them with the clippers. I could hear them in the back room while they were shaving her exclaiming "OMG - she's actually purring!" I think she wanted those mats off of her!

She hasn't figured out the litter box yet (she's 0 for 4 so far), and she was pretty wiped out yesterday from all of the excitement and the shots, but given the way I was thinking it was gonna turn out, litter box issues seem like a trivial thing to deal with. So, she's in a training cage at the moment, with a kitty heating pad to keep her warm since she's pretty much naked after having all of the mats shaved out. And I am beside myself with joy.

Who knew?!? Well, I guess she did...

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Just a quick note to express my complete and total joy at the returning of Daylight Savings Time! The long dark winter is finally over!

Rage, Rage against the dying of the light!!!!!!!

Sun Sun Sun Here we Come!!!!!!!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Horse Puckey!

Well, spring has come early to the Mile High city this year. Not sure how we escaped the "winter from hell" that the rest of you have been enjoying, but this has been one of the mildest on record. Only 2-3 snow storms with any meaningful accumulation, and a few cold spells. The Princess Kitty is grateful, and although it seems a harbinger of bad things to come (like global warming) I am thoroughly enjoying the weather in the 70's!

To tell the truth, I'm happier than a pig in shit! Not kidding... a nice fellow with a horse ranch posted an ad on Craigslist offering to deliver for a small fee, so I called him up, and $40 later was swimming in some of the best composted horse manure I've ever seen! I'm really thankful that it was composted as advertised... no smell at all... I think my neighbors are thankful too.

However, I fear that perhaps I may have slightly underestimated how much one pickup truck's worth would be. I was hoping to get enough to fill the compost bin, but the size of the load really surprised the crap out of me. But no worries, I wanted to add a few new plots to the garden anyhow!

I was hoping that the fellow would have the kind of truck that would just dump it, but instead we had to shovel. So with that and the fact that I've spent the past few days hauling and spreading and turning, and I must say... I'm thoroughly pooped!

It was my birthday, though... so I when people ask if I got anything good, I'll just tell them that everything I got was for shit. And if you think that March is too early to start your garden, I say horse puckey!

OK... I'm gonna quit now, before this post totally goes down the crapper. All and all it's been a moving experience...

Monday, March 7, 2011

On Feral Cats and Oxygen Masks

The past few days have sucked... really sucked.

It all started on Thursday. I was happily feeding Princess, the feral cat who lives under the pine tree in my front yard, when my neighbor came running out in a total panic. Apparently she had seen a skunk that morning and had become convinced that it was living under the tree with the cat. She was terrified that the skunk would get in her house through the dog door and wanted me to call an exterminator and have the skunk "removed".

Oy Vay! Needles to say, my first concern was for Princess. I certainly didn't want her to get sprayed by the skunk, but I also knew that any efforts to remove the skunk would also end up removing her. So I managed to get my neighbor calmed down and decided that the only thing to do was to try to trap Princess and bring her inside, so that I could then call an exterminator and soothe my neighbor's worries.

I contacted various cat welfare organizations, rented a trap and set up tentative appointments with my vet to get her checked out before I brought her inside. I got the trap, and set it up. Princess, took one look at it, loaded with her very favorite $2/can Weruva brand "Paw Lickin' Chicken" cat food, and high tailed it out of there! I'm pretty sure she's been trapped before, since someone had her fixed and re-released her, and by the looks of it she has no desire to repeat the experience.

But... following the advice of the alley cat folks, I left the trap there and waited. I kept checking it every half hour or so, and with each passing minute, the knot in my stomach grew larger and larger. "What if she's run off and never comes back?" I thought. "Or what if I catch the skunk instead of the cat?" "What if she can't adjust to living inside, and lives in terror because of my other cats, she's terrified of other cats...?" "What if she can't figure out the litter box?"

After about 8 or 9 hours had passed, I went out again to check the trap and saw something rustling in there. I approached cautiously, fearful it might be the skunk, and discovered that I'd caught the neighborhood tom cat, an orange feral tabby with an attitude and a pension for fighting, and running Princess off to get her food. Getting him neutered had been on my "to do" list for some time, so I decided that as long as I had him trapped, I might as well get him fixed so he wouldn't create even more homeless cats in the neighborhood.

So... to make a long and agonizing story short, it turned out that the "Orange Boy" as I called him, was infected with feline leukemia. For those of you who aren't "cat people" feline leukemia is basically a death sentence. It's sort of like feline AIDS, and it's bad news because it's spread through biting, scratching, mating, sharing food, and similar feral cat activities. So I was left with no other choice but to make the heart wrenching decision to have him put down. It's not like he was "my cat" but I still felt absolutely horrible.

And to make matters worse, there's a chance that Princess is infected too.

So... here's where we get to the oxygen mask part of the story. Now, I haven't been on an airplane in nearly 20 years, but when I used to fly, part of the standard spiel that the flight crew would give, was that if the cabin were to depressurize, and the oxygen masks were to come down, you should always put on your own mask first before trying to help someone else. This is a lesson I have not been very good about applying to the rest of my life.

So... here I am... the choices spread out before me look grim. I can basically try to starve Princess into the trap, either that or spend a vast amount of time trying to coax her into a carrying case... neither of which seems very probable to me. Then I can find out if she's infected or not. If she's infected I can either put her down, which would be heartbreaking, or I could bring her inside and keep her separated from my other cats, and be religiously careful to be sure that nothing with Princess pee or saliva on it ever came in contact with my animals, and heaven forbid, she might get out into the rest of the house and have a fight with one of my cats. And... if she was infected, she'd need lots of medical care, which would both cost an arm and a leg, and be nearly impossible... try giving medicine to a cat that won't let you get within 5 feet of her. Basically, it would be an all consuming, nearly impossible project. And even if she's not infected, trying to tame a feral cat is a huge, and not generally successful undertaking. And all this is so that my neighbor doesn't have to freak out about the skunk.

The thing is... I just don't have it in me. Some part of me thinks that this is totally irresponsible, but I've pretty much concluded that doing nothing is probably the best course of action. Well, not nothing entirely. I've removed the bowls of dry cat food and water that I was leaving out for the Orange Boy (so he wouldn't bother Princess) and this was probably what attracted the skunk in the first place. And I see absolutely no evidence that the skunk is living under that tree... there's no skunk smell, and given how freaky Princess is about other animals, I just can't imagine that she'd be happily sleeping and playing and hanging out under there if there was a skunk living there! And I'll continue to feed Princess (being careful not to leave food unattended) and since she's taken a liking to the cat house I put under the tree for her, she now has shelter. And as long as she doesn't get run off by skunk exterminators or frightened off by traps, she never goes anywhere, so she's not likely to infect any other cats.

So there it is. It still totally sucks having to give up my little fantasy about taming the Princess Kitty, and I still feel terrible about the Orange Boy. But at least he won't be bothering Princess anymore, or infecting any more cats. And in truth, Princess has never shown the slightest interest in coming inside... it's just that I feel guilty about her being out there. And now that I know not to leave food unattended, hopefully we won't attract any more cats and/or skunks. And maybe Princess's days are numbered, but whose aren't? And at least she won't have to go through the trauma of being trapped and hauled to the vet, and brought inside and surrounded by unfamiliar everything.

I dunno... I still feel like I should be doing more... like I should be able to fix this situation somehow. But as CatMan has pointed out to me many, many, MANY times, the neighborhood is full of homeless and feral cats, and I can't adopt all of them. Plus... there have been skunks in the neighborhood for years, and really it's not my responsibility that my neighbor thought it was a good idea to cut a hole in her wall so she didn't have to get off the couch to let the dogs in and out!

In a way it's a great relief... as much as I want to help, I'm not responsible for everything and everybody... I'm just not. And I don't have the power to fix everything even if I was responsible for it all. And the main responsibility that I keep neglecting is the responsibility that I have to myself! So, maybe that's what I should focus on. And maybe I don't have to spend the bulk of my life energy trying to control uncontrollable situations. There's a fine line between lending a helping hand and throwing your body under the wheels of a hopeless cause, and it would behoove me to learn the difference. Where's my damned oxygen mask anyhow?!?!?

Maybe it's like the alcoholic's prayer...
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.
I'm still not sure whether I've done the "right" thing or not. But maybe there is no "right" thing. We can't control everything, and we also can't know how things will turn out even if we could. Maybe it's sort of like this story...
There once was a warrior who had a fine stallion. Everybody said how lucky he was to have such a horse. “Maybe,” he said. One day the stallion ran off. The people said the warrior was unlucky. “Maybe,” he said. Next day, the stallion returned, leading a string of fine ponies. The people said it was very lucky. “Maybe,” the warrior said. Later, the warrior’s son was thrown from one of the ponies and broke his leg. The people said it was unlucky. “Maybe,” the warrior said. The next week, the chief led a war party against another tribe. Many young men were killed. But, because of his broken leg, the warrior’s son was left behind, and so was spared.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Thoughts on Sustainability, Sacrifice and the Culture of Convenience

Do you have to sacrifice in order to be sustainable? It's a question that's been on my mind of late. For the past month or so I've been participating in the Show Us your Plastic Challenge over at MyPlasticFreeLife. And while I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the opportunity to bond with other like-minded folk, there is one thing that has left me feeling, well, unsettled. At the end of each week, participants in the challenge are asked a number of questions, among them is: What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic-free alternative doesn’t exist?

To be clear, I don't intend these remarks to be a criticism of Beth Terry, who totally ROCKS, it's just that I have issues with the whole notion that we must sacrifice in order to be sustainable.

You see, I come to the green movement from the world of voluntary simplicity. Most folks in the simplicity movement are people who "gave up" their spot in the rat race... me, on the other hand, I fear I never really made it to the starting line. I'm not sure if it was my youth as a hyper-achiever, or some inherent quality of my being, but for some reason I seem to lack the ability to tolerate things that most people in our society take for granted... like traffic jams, alarm clocks, pantyhose, high heels, jet engines, air fresheners, small talk, fashion rules, office politics, weed killers, cell phones, busy schedules, keeping up appearances, etc. etc. etc. Maybe I was just born in the wrong century, but I can't help but think that all of these "trappings" of modern life, really only serve the purpose of keeping us... well... trapped!

In my experience, "living with less" has never been about altruism... it's been about saving myself from the craziness that surrounds me. When people who are caught in the web of society's machinations look at my lifestyle, they often see a person who has very little money (I live comfortably on less than $20K annually) and assume that I must somehow be suffering. People see me using my hand push mower, or growing my own vegetables, or hanging laundry out to dry, or making food myself, or walking to the grocery store, or any of the other day to day parts of my existence, and say things to me like "that looks like hard work." But I really, truly don't see it that way. What sounds like hard work to me, is having to spend your life wedging yourself into some mold that society has created for you!

So, back to the concept of sacrifice... When people talk about making changes for the sake of the environment, the conversation is generally steeped in the concept of altruism. We must "do without" or "give things up" or "work harder" or do something that is somehow disagreeable or negative in order to help out the planet, or the polar bears, or the starving people in Africa, or whatever it is that we're focusing on at the moment. In general, many of the things that people are asked to "give up" are items that exist to make our lives "more convenient."

But it seems to me that so much of what makes modern life an environmental disaster is that we have constructed a world where "convenience" is required in order to survive. We have a society that imposes ridiculous requirements on people's time and energy, in order to make money, and fill our role as consumers, and "keep up appearances." So when people weigh the prospect of trying to cook their own food, or get around on foot or by bicycle, or do things by hand instead of having a machine do it for you, their first reaction is "I don't have time for that!" But the only reason people "need" SUVs, and TV dinners and blow driers and gas powered lawnmowers and bottled water, etc, etc, is because they live in a state of constant frenzy and exhaustion.

It's not that my life is completely bereft of items that make it more convenient. There are plenty of times when I'm faced with tough choices in terms of what's best for me vs. what's best for the environment, and it's also not like I lead a life of problem-free bliss. But when it comes to the big choices, I have found that usually what's good for me is also good for the environment. Having a small house means that I don't have to spend so much time with cleaning and upkeep, it also means that I don't need much money to pay the mortgage. Growing my own vegetables means that I don't have to buy them from somebody else, and I get to play in the dirt! It also means that I have much less lawn to take care of. Working from home means that I don't need a work wardrobe, and have no commute, but it also means that I control my own time. Not owning a bunch of expensive gadgets means that I don't have to make the money to pay for them, or have a house big enough to hold them all, or pay to get them fixed or replaced, or spend time cleaning them or figuring out how to use them. I could go on forever, because there are about a million examples, but what it boils down to is that living with less means I don't have to be a slave to the culture of convenience.

I guess the long and the short of it is that I think the environmental movement would be much better served if it concentrated on showing people how to get out of the trappings of modern society, and take back their lives, rather than telling people that they just need to suck it up and suffer for the sake of the planet. With just a small paradigm shift away from the culture of craziness and convenience, we'd all be able to life much happier lives in a much more sustainable way... no sacrifice required.

So, have I sacrificed for the sake of the planet? Well, I've given up alarm clocks, and uncomfortable clothing, and eating toxic garbage, and deadlines, and busy schedules, and all sorts of other disagreeable things, but I'm not sure I could really call any of it a sacrifice! Likewise, I don't think that it's accurate to talk about "giving up" chemical-laden pre-packaged foods, candy bars and disposable plastic this and that, and other "convenience items"... because it's not a sacrifice... it's a liberation! So maybe instead of talking about "giving things up" we should be talking about "freeing ourselves" from these items.

Does that mean that I lead a life free from environmental impact? Well, no... there are those pesky plastic cheese wrappers after all, not to mention the furnace and hot water heater and... well a zillion other things. But would I prefer to have cheese that doesn't come in plastic... that's locally and organically produced? Absolutely! Would I prefer to have a solar hot water heater if I could afford it? You betcha. And would these things make both economic and environmental sense if society were to adopt them? Clearly they would.

So where does that leave me? I guess I just have to keep making the best choices I can, for me and for the planet, and keep working to help the rest of the world see that living sustainably doesn't have to be a burden. After all, I can't control the rest of the world, I can only control myself.