Monday, May 30, 2011

Another Beautiful Light Lost

Three years ago, I was the only young-adult author I knew. I think of that time as Before: before I discovered how many other young-adult authors live here in Portland, Oregon. Amazingly talented writers who are passionate about their work. About the teens they write for. About the world of young adult fiction. And about each other.

We go to each other's book launches and readings. We celebrate successes, commiserate over writing woes, are outraged for each other when publishing doesn't treat us well. We laugh a lot. And lately, we've cried.

In February we lost one of our little community, Lisa Madigan, to pancreatic cancer. And then, last week, Bridget Zinn passed away.

Two years ago, Bridget was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. Shortly afterward, she married her longtime love in a ceremony at the hospital. Her agent sold her debut novel. Bridget went through rounds of treatment. She revised the novel. She and her husband bought a house. More treatment. More revisions. She died before her book could be published. She was only 33.

I didn't know Bridget as well as others in our little group, the Portland KidLit. But every time I saw her, I was in awe of how happy she was. She laughed so much. She seemed absolutely steeped in love. Brimming with it. Appreciative of every good in her life, no matter how small.

Her good friends and fellow Portland KidLit-ers Jone MacCulloch, Lisa Schroeder, Laini Taylor, and April Henry, and her agent, Michael Sterns, have all written about Bridget much more eloquently than I can.

I hope her book continues on to publication, so that her words live on after her, so that the world has the opportunity to discover her.

And I try to remember: Be grateful now, this moment, for all I have that is good.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Chasing Giraffes, Part I: In Which Our Heroine Sets Off on an Adventure

We are sitting in a small conference room with brick walls, blinds closed against the bright South African sun, listening as nurse Gillian Thompson describes all the possible ways we might vrek once we go out into the bush:

Puff adder bite (tissue death and gangrene).

Black mamba bite (respiratory paralysis).

Accidental exposure to etorphine, a large animal sedative (respiratory and cardiac arrest).

Animal attack (massive internal trauma).

If you've guessed that in South Africa, to vrek means to die, award yourself fifty smart points.

My first clue that this wasn't going to be your standard relaxing vacation had come months earlier, when my sweetheart sent me an email about a South African ecotourism trip. At the word ecotourism, I'd immediately pictured one of those safaris you read about in magazines: khaki-clad tourists snapping photos of wildlife from a rugged jeep, then toasting the day's sightings with champagne and chocolate eclairs. I eagerly skimmed the description:

"If you are physically fit, enjoy strenuous outdoor work and a high level of adrenaline, this is the course for you!"

Hm. Actually, I prefer lying on the couch with a glass of wine and a Jane Austen novel. Still, I kept reading.

"For safety sake, you are expected to be able to sprint short distances (100meters), run medium distances (200 meters), climb over 2 meter (6 ft.) fences, and have a great deal of endurance!"

Wait a minute. What about the jeep? The photograph-snapping? Exactly what kind of ecotourism are we talking about here?

"Depending on what captures are available...your experience may range from a nighttime lion capture to catching several hundred antelope in a day. Your participation in captures will be as extensive as possible...We will work with very dangerous wild animals in free-ranging situations."

The sprint-and-climb-fences thing was now starting to make a horrible kind of sense. But...surely there would be chocolate eclairs?

"You must be prepared to be up very early, working outside, in the sun, doing physical work most of the day. And you will have the time of your life!"

I'm going to shamelessly give myself credit here. To my sweetie's emailed question: What do you think? I did NOT shoot back, Have you EVER met me?

Next thing I knew we were in Hoedspruit, South Africa, about to embark on an intense, hands-on, 9-day course in wild animal capture. Our leader: Andre Pienaar, founder of Parawild, specialist in game management and conservation. Our companions: two friends, Dave (zookeeper) and Margot (zoo veterinary technician); Kevin (4th-year veterinary student); Brent (wildlife major and self-described professional river rat); Tanya (2nd-year veterinary student); and her boyfriend, Ferris (computer specialist).

Andre's original plan was to have us rough it in tents on the open veldt. Thanks to logistical difficulties, however, we ended up at Landela Lodge, a game ranch with private rooms, en suite baths and beautifully prepared South African cuisine. Here I am devastated at the unexpected change:

You may have noticed the decor. Something you should know about game ranches: While they welcome ecotourists, like us, their main business is providing hunters with animals to shoot.

More about that later.

We may have escaped roughing it in tents, but rising early was still part of the program. Most mornings we got up and breakfasted on the Landela patio while it was still dark, in order to be ready for a game walk at dawn.

Those were the days we got to sleep in. Otherwise, when we had someplace to be, we were up and on the road even earlier.

On our game walks we mostly saw animal tracks, which Andre taught us how to identify.

We also saw a lot of scat, which is either a style of jazz singing or wildlife poop. Ella Fitzgerald wasn't on the trip, so you can guess which one I mean.

Actual creatures spotted ranged from the very large... the very, very small. These are pants. Each teeny, tiny little dot on the pants is a pepper tick. Thankfully, these are not MY pants.

After the game walks, refreshed, wide awake, and de-vermined, we headed inside for coffee and education. Before we got the chance to round up wild creatures, we had some larnin' to do. Over the first two days, Andre taught us about the history of game management and wildlife conservation in South Africa, as well as the physiology, pharmacology, and techniques of game capture.

Then came Gillian Thompson, explaining in her pleasant, lilting voice the many ways in which we might vrek. There's no LifeFlight in the South African bush; if something went wrong, all we could rely on was each other. Under Gilly's cheerful supervision, we practiced CPR and setting IV catheters in each other. Note Margot smiling as I stab her wrist vein. Margot can smile through almost anything. Plus she's a whiz with a hypodermic. If you are going on a trip in which you might vrek, these are qualities you want in a traveling companion.

After catheter practice, Andre organized a footrace to see which of us was fastest. Brent and Kevin, the top two finishers, were awarded a massively long rope. Then they got to run some more, chasing after Andre in a kind of dress rehearsal:

The rest of us were given our assignments, and Andre led us through the plan. Our time had come: the next morning, we would be assisting in the capture and transport of three full-grown giraffes.

Coming soon, Part II: In Which Our Heroine Discovers that Acacia Bushes are Sharp & Giraffe Hide is Tough, and Her Sweetheart Almost Fricks Off the Back of a Leaping Bucky.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Rain + Naughty Dog = Waterproof + Pockets

After coming home drenched from yet another Roxie-walk (did I mention it's still raining?) I told my sweetie what I really want is a waterproof dog-walking jacket.

"What about a regular waterproof jacket?" says he. "Why does it have to be a dog-walking jacket? Does anyone even make a dog-walking jacket?"

Silly gander. As if any old Goretex will do! But in these days of specialized niche products, surely someone has heard the cry of the dog-walker in need. Talk to me, Google!

And voila! Behold: the Let's Go K-Rosco Dog-Walking Utility Jacket!

These people clearly understand dog walking. You've got the big cargo pockets to hold treats, plus a special plastic pouch for the greasier hot dogs/cheese bits. You've got the belt which not only provides a flattering fitted look, but also doubles as an extra emergency leash for any stray mutts you come across. You've got zip-off sleeves to convert to a warm-weather vest. You've got a back mesh pocket for your water bottle. In short, you have everything you could possibly want...but in the immortal words of the TV Ginsu knife guy, that's not all! Take a close look at the cargo pocket. That little gray thing poking out the grommet hole is (...wait for it...) OMG yes, that is indeed a poop bag. This thing has an automatic built-in poop bag dispenser!

I want. I wantIwantIwantIwant. How much howmuchhowmuch?


Whoa. Say again?

I remind myself that that's a pretty good price for a waterproof 4-season jacket with all those bells and whistles, plus (let us not forget) an automatic built-in poop bag dispenser. I mean, have you seen the cost of jackets at REI lately? It is to weep, truly. However. I love you, Let's Go K-Rosco Dog Walking Utility Jacket...but alas, our passion is not meant to be.

After all, I already have a dog-walking jacket. Really all I need to do is spritz it with water repellent. But still, summer is (allegedly) coming, and I'll need something a lot lighter...

You know all those anti-clutter experts, who say if you haven't worn something for a year to get rid of it? This is why I don't listen to those people. Ten years ago, my sweetie and I went on a big-game capture course in South Africa (oh, haven't I told you about that? I will. With pics. It was awesome) and anyway, we were required to bring a vest with lots of pockets. Which I did. And never wore again. But I always kept it, because even if you're not going to South Africa again to chase giraffes,* who knows when you'll need a vest with lots of pockets, right?

And so, dear readers, here it is: my four-season dog-walking jacket system. Eat your heart out, K-Rosco!You might be wondering why I carry 1) kibble, 2) hot dogs, and 3) chicken. You know those really obnoxious dogs who bark and lunge at other dogs when they're on leash? That's Roxie. Or at least, that was Roxie. Training still underway. Boatloads of food required. Hence all the pockets.

But ain't she cute?

*Actual big-game capture activity. Seriously. Pics forthcoming.