Screams chased me down the hall from the living room. I retreated to the bathroom. The door absorbed the vibrations of my parents’ fight that flew through the air, and I turned on the shower to cover up their voices.
Water washed over my head, cleansing my body, but the evil of the house still lingered in my soul, and only a baptism of salty tears could truly purify me.
Through streaked vision, a smudge of black flickered along the shower wall. The black dot sprawled its eight stringy appendages on the slippery, yellowed walls as it struggled to get out of the mist that had ripped through its intricately weaved home. I watched, cheering on the small creature in its inevitable journey. It had nearly reached the ledge of the tub. Two spindly arms tapped the ledge, trying to get some grip, but a drop of condensation rolled down the wall and knocked its legs out from under it. Crumbled, tumbling, sucked toward a vortex of death.
I snatched the spider before it landed in the pounding spray of the shower. His two beady black eyes looked up into my wet, streaked face. “I know you’re not supposed to be inside, but you’ll die outside in the snow.” I raised the frail frame up to the top of the shower wall, a safe distance from the water. Slowly, it uncrinkled its legs and scaled the putrid, pink wall into the corner shadowed by the blacked out lightbulb. “If you stay hidden, they won’t find you,” I whispered. They ruined everything they found.
I stepped into the bathroom and was overwhelmed by the aerosols of Febreeze that barely covered the sour, acidic smell still emanating from the toilet. It was too soon after dinner, and the scent of my sister’s daily visit hadn’t had time to fade. I looked into the mirror at myself. My baggy clothes covered my pale skin, my bruises, my lumps and curves. I turned away from my reflection and shed off my layers of clothes until I stood completely open before the two beady eyes in the corner. Those two eyes did not judge as I washed away the day’s insecurities.
Every day, I found refuge from the chaos by locking myself in the bathroom. Drowning out the screams, the crying, and the bitter silence with hot, pounding water. Whispering secrets to my spider. The more I fed the tiny creature my pain and sorrow and love, the bigger it grew. The stringy, spindly legs stretched. The bouncing, black dot swelled. The two, beady eyes opened wide.
Then, one day, I heard the sound of a vacuum cleaner in my bathroom.
Clinging desperately to the crumbling foundations you so carefully constructed. Falling, spiraling into a dark abyss that sucks the life out of you. The inevitable fate that everything you made will be destroyed. There isn’t even hope for the little, round gems of the future that you so dutifully protected. Everything is swept away.
Tears rolled down my cheeks, but there was no one to see.
Where do you get your best ideas? Where do you go to make sense of the world? Where do you find inspiration? Maybe you’re traveling some place beautiful in nature or to a new city or landmark. Maybe you’re completely alone or maybe there’s lots of people around. But no matter where your place is, there is a commonality among all people’s “thinking” places. These are places where thoughts come freely, where creativity speaks to us.
For me, I’m lying in my cozy bed, the lights are off, I have nothing left to do for the day except sleep, my body relaxes and my mind races. Images from my day flash before my eyes, I start to linger on memories of things that happened, and then, as these subconscious thoughts rise to the surface, I drift into a land of dreams where imagining comes freely. I’ve heard that dreaming is your subconscious processing everything that happened during your day that you didn’t give yourself time to think about. I have really busy days and lots of strange dreams, so maybe there is something to this myth.
My sister has her best ideas while she’s showering. She often ends up writing lists and ideas on the shower walls with her daughter’s bath crayons.
I also do a lot of thinking in the shower, during car rides, and during church services. What’s in common with falling asleep and listening to a sermon and scrubbing shampoo into your hair? You’re trapped in a place with a simple task.
It’s true that some places can be very inspiring or relaxing, but does your creative thoughts flow there? I have more ideas taking a shower on a busy day than I do during a week of leisurely camping. For the mind to be active, the body must be active. I have to experience and learn new things in order to imagine and create my own ideas. But, there is a balance. Busy people often get stressed out because they don’t take the time to listen to their own thoughts and process what is happening around them. When there’s too much to do and too much happening, it becomes nearly impossible to pause and think about one thing for a while.
For busy people, it’s hard to find or make time to sit and meditate. People often think that they need to get away from everything in order to let their mind be free, but I don’t think it is absolutely necessary to leave. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has tried to escape from stress by going for a walk only to come back with less time and no less stress. Meditation and allowing yourself time to think is an important part of relieving stress, but trying to schedule time to do so goes against the very point of doing it in the first place. Listening to your thoughts should be a part of how you live. Self-awareness should be integrated in everything you do. If you process life as it comes, you can prevent it from building up and overwhelming you.
You should take time to think about what needs to be done, but you shouldn’t be repeatedly stressing yourself out about the future. If you focus your thoughts in the moment rather than in the past or the future, you can think about so many other interesting things. That’s the difference between lying awake at night because you’re thinking about what you didn’t get done that day and everything that needs to be done when you wake up versus thinking calmly about whatever comes to mind because all you’re really focused on at the moment is going to sleep. Creative ideas come from the subconscious, so you can’t actively think; you must listen to your underlying thoughts.
My advice is to find parts in your day where your attention is unnecessarily diverted in too many directions and try to focus more on your inner self. When you’re riding or driving in the car, a simple thing like turning the radio off can help you hear your own thoughts. You might notice that the corn is getting higher or that a new store is opening, and at the same time, you can reflect on how you are feeling without blocking it all out with whatever is on the radio. I’ve heard of people listening to books or language lessons in the car, and while it is good information to learn, I think it further proves that people are trying to cram too much into their days.
You don’t have to leave to escape from the business of life, and even if you go somewhere else, you won’t find peace until you learn to listen to your thoughts.
Eeeeeee—BANG! Eeeee—POP! Crackle, crackle, crackle. Momentous firework displays occur annually on the 4th of July all around the United States of America created by artisans of design and explosives. Crowds gather around grills as they chow down on the most Americana food: hotdogs and hamburgers. The sizzling grease and charred lines of the grill add to the authentic taste of beef mingling with a zesty mustard and pickle, blended with the sweet tang of ketchup and tomato, topped off with a creamy cheese and the crunch of iceberg lettuce. Stomachs sloshing with watermelon and beer, fingers picking strings from corn on the cob out from between teeth, people ooo and ahhh at the flashing fireworks until their ears go numb from the explosions. Then, when the last explosive has lit, ascended, and dissipated into smoke, everyone packs up under the sulfuric air and waits in a line of car exhaust as police direct traffic out of parking lots and through four-way stops.
Few people pay attention to the dark clouds that drift away after firework displays when RED, WHITE, and BLUE, PINK, PURPLE, GREEN, ORANGE are lighting up their eyes, and POPS and BANGS numb their ears. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy fireworks as much as any other person, but I cannot block out the amount of pollution they create.
It’s hard to give an exact amount for the pollution created as displays and individual fireworks vary and atmospheric conditions also play a large part in the amount of pollution fireworks create. But, it is not hard to agree with NOAA’s 2015 study that showed 42% more air pollution on July 4th in given locations.
Ideally, someone should invent a firework that can create colors and patterns without releasing fine metals and CO2 into the atmosphere; however, there are real alternatives to firework displays that could be more environmentally friendly.
I remember being blown away the first time I saw a musical fountain lights display. The Grand Haven Music Fountain in Michigan has numerous displays every summer. Colored lights illuminate the sprays of water that dance through the night synchronized to music. Such displays can also be found in locations such as Las Vegas.
Now, you may be saying, “Yes, it gets rid of the air pollution, but what about all of that water and the energy for the lights?” Water displacement and pollution is as big an issue as air pollution, so precautions should be taken to make sure that water is not soiled or displaced. The Grand Haven display is built right on the Grand River and pumps water out of the river and back in. The water stays nearby its source and although part of it evaporates in the air, most of the water is returned immediately after the display without pollution. As for energy, as long as production is made with the least energy use possible and that electricity comes from a renewable source, there’s not much more we can ask for anything that involves a lot of lights.
Laser light displays and other types of celebrations and shows are alternative to fireworks, but personally, I think the Musical Fountains are the most magical option.
Glasses of water and wine circled the table, laughter and conversation drifting over the rims. I was sitting with my friends, talking, enjoying the evening, when I noticed a girl across the restaurant staring at us.
She looked lonely, a desire to join us flashed behind her eyes. I smiled at her, and she smiled back but it was the type of smile that comes out looking more like a cringe. We locked eyes, until finally I looked away.
I tried to forget her and enjoy the time with my friends, but I couldn’t help occasionally glancing over just to check if she was still watching, and inevitably, unfailing, she was always there. Her eyes locked on us with a jealous longing and a look of misery and pain consuming her face. The sight of her was nearly revolting, and I found myself becoming angry that my pleasant evening was being ruined by some creep in a back corner booth.
As our spaghetti arrived, so did hers, and we slurped up noodles at the same time, though we sat separated by the expanse of the room. The conversation at my table quieted as people filled their mouths and stomachs. The girl across the room looked slightly pleased, perhaps she had just been hungry. But every time I glanced her way, she still had one eye on our table.
The dishes were taken and replaced with conversation once more as we waited for the little chocolate mints that would accompany the bills. And again, that girl sat staring at us, mulling and brooding over some dark, depressing thought it seemed. Her looks alone bothered me, but whatever she was thinking about was enough to deeply disturb me. Her stare crept under my skin, behind my ears, and to the tips of my fingernails. I realized my nails were digging into the bottom of the table.
When, finally, my party was ready to leave, I stood up—maybe with too much haste. I needed to be rid of the stare of that creepy girl. She looked like she wanted something, something from the world, something from me. But what could I give her?
But as we stood and adorned our coats, she too stood and put on her coat. As my group walked toward the door, she crossed the room and walked directly towards me.
I turned to meet her, unsure if I should greet her or confront her. As she approached me, she stopped.
She said nothing. I said nothing. We each stood there staring at each other.
Then, her face began to change into an expression of confusion? Anger?
I started to say something but she opened her mouth, so I stopped. No sound came out.
She lifted her hand as I reached out mine, and our fingertips met in the air. Her skin was smooth and hard and cold.
Then, the girl’s face reddened in embarrassment as I realized I had been looking in a mirror the whole time.
Thousands of bombs are launched. They spin through the atmosphere, twisting around the whole Earth. Then, they explode! Toxic material rains down into the oceans. Animals become mutilated. They suffocate or starve. Many die.
This catastrophe may sound apocalyptic, but it is already happening. Such a simple thing as a balloon release in celebration or mourning can cause detrimental effects on wildlife and ecosystem health.
There’s a lot to say on packaging designs and pollution, but I’m going to focus on four plastic products and their effects on ocean species.
Plastic as a light-weight material is easily picked up by winds and blown up into the atmosphere where it can fly around the world before coming back down. Plastics also float which allows them to be transported by water currents through stream systems and eventually end up in the ocean or larger lakes. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is where a lot of our plastic waste gathers in the ocean. But plastic can float in water or air anywhere around the world and endanger animals everywhere.
Balloon releases are one thing that upsets me immensely. Any time a balloon floats up into the atmosphere, I see the soul of an animal floating up with it. While some balloons say that they are biodegradable, that only means that they break down. That plastic is still around and can get into an animal’s systems. Many balloons are not biodegradable. If I’m walking around a forest or floating down a river, it’s disgusting to find a shriveled plastic balloon or bag snagged in a tree branch.
A major problem in today’s culture is that we don’t think about the end results of what we do. If everyone thought about where those balloons and plastic bags end up, they’d be less likely to let them fly away so easily. Now, I think balloon releases do have a happy energy to them—a bunch of colorful dots floating up into the sky. But, we can find alternatives or at least make sure that the balloons are biodegradable. It’s easy to just change our personal choices and not buy balloons or plastic bags. Personally, I think bubbles are a beautiful option.
Plastic rings are another big culprit that kills many animals. Surely, you’ve seen a sea turtle with a six-pack ring around their neck or back fins in a picture or commercial. Entrapment can be prevented by cutting the rings apart, which is what I do whenever I end up with plastic rings. I recycle all of my plastic, but you never know what might fall out of the truck on the way to the recycling facility. Although, even if the rings are cut, animals may still try to eat the plastic. This video shows another alternative that uses waste-product from beer processing to create an edible and biodegradable packaging material: Edible Beer Packaging.
Lastly, microbeads. Many hand soaps, face scrubs, etcetera use tiny plastic beads as an exfoliating agent. But when you wash the bubbles down the drain, those tiny plastic beads spiral down the pipes and slip through filters and into water sources. These tiny plastic beads don’t break down. Fish end up with the beads inside their gills just by breathing in the water. The plastic can clog up their gills and suffocate them. There are plenty of cleansing products that do not use microbeads or that use natural particles such as sand or shell particles that accomplish the same exfoliating effect.
There are many other products that need redesigned and plastic is used more often than necessary, but balloons, plastic bags, packaging rings, and microbeads are a few of the destructive products that we see every day and can find easy alternatives with our personal choices.
Camping on all sorts of soils, hiking winding wildernesses, and exploring the National Parks are some of my best and earliest memories. The parks that I’ve visited have become a part of my identity. An image or mention of one of the parks brings back memories or bestows dreams of future travel. This is not just my experience, but the experience of many families, explores, hikers, campers, and people of all sorts who have visited these beautiful parks over the past 100 years.
August 25, 2016 is exactly 100 years after President Woodrow Wilson penned his authority creating the National Park Service. The NPS is calling this year the “Centennial Summer,” and many parks are incorporating special programing for the occasion.
In celebration, here are some interesting facts about the National Parks.
Yellowstone was the first National Park.
America has over 400+ National Parks.
Several parks were established before the 1916 Act, including Yellowstone, Yosemite, and a few others which have been protected and managed as early as 1872 and 1890.
Delaware was the last of the 50 States to get a National Park with the establishment of the First State National Monument in 2013.
The land of Acadia National Park in Maine was almost entirely donated by private residents and some private property still exists within boundaries of the park’s circumference.
307,247,252 people visited the National Parks in 2015.
President Ulysses S. Grant and President Woodrow Wilson:
Both signed acts that started the preservation of land for National Parks.
President Theodore Roosevelt:
Being a big hunter, President Roosevelt grew concerned about the decreasing amount of game animals and other species. During his time as president in the early 1900s, he created the Forest Service, established new National Parks, and preserved many other locations and signed acts for conservation and management. During his time in office, Roosevelt protected around 230,000,000 acres of land.
The late 1800s writer, naturalist, and scientist spent significant time in the Sierra Mountain wilderness that is now Yosemite National Park. Muir’s inspired words drew attention to the beauty of the landscape and encouraged the preservation of the land. The Sierra Club is a remnant that continues Muir’s dreams of protecting the environment.
Frederick Law Olmsted and Olmsted Jr.:
While the Presidents passed the legislation to protect the land and Muir admired and shared the natural beauty, the Olmsteds shaped the land of many of the parks. As two of the major figures in the field of landscape architecture, the Olmsteds shaped the roads and trails of several famous parks: Yosemite, Acadia, Everglades, and the Great Smoky Mountains.
John D. Rockefeller Jr.:
The Rockefeller family enjoyed their cottage on Mount Desert Island and contributed a lot of land to Acadia National Park, including 57 miles of carriage roads and 16 stone bridges constructed of local granite. These carriage roads prevented much of the island from getting cut up with roads. Motor vehicles are prohibited on the carriage roads, providing vast, safe spaces for hikers, bicycles, and horseback riding without the sound and air pollution cars create.
I love all thinks National Parks, but I also enjoy coin collecting. The convergence of my passion with my hobby has me maybe spending more money than I should.
National Parks Quarters
While USA coins have traditionally featured past presidents, political figures, and historic figures and places, they have been branching out more. The series of State Quarters were very popular among the population, but many people have yet to hear about the National Parks quarter series, entitled “America the Beautiful.” The National Parks quarters can be distinguished from the State quarters by a ring border around the picture on the tails side of the coin with the name of the National Park along the top and the State and Year of print along the edges of the border.
Starting in 2010, the mints release five quarter designs—featuring a National Park, Memorial, Forest, Lakeshore, etc.—each year until 2021. The America’s Beautiful National Parks Quarter Dollar Coin Act of 2008 determined one National Park from each state to be featured on the coins. U.S. House Representative, Michael Castle, introduced the idea for the State Quarter series and the National Parks Quarters.
2016 holds the release of: Shawnee National Forest (Illinois), Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (Kentucky), Harpers Ferry National Historic Park (West Virginia), Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota), Fort Moultrie/Sumter National Monument (South Carolina).
100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Set
Congress determined that the US Mints should produce $5 gold coins, $1 silver coins, and half-dollar coins featuring images in honor of the National Parks for 2016. The surcharges for purchase of these coins goes to the National Park Foundation to continue protecting and improving the parks we love.
Both sides of each coin feature iconic images of the Parks’ history. John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt look out from the gold $5 coin. Old Faithful bursts her timely geyser blast from the silver $1. A hiker explores a mountainous landscape and a child discovers a frog on the half-dollar. The National Park Service emblem is engraved on the reverse sides of the coins. And you may wonder who the woman is on the back of the silver dollar. She is a Latina Folklorico dancer, chosen to depict the many cultural experiences one discovers in America’s National Parks. More descriptions can be found on the usmint.gov website.
You’re walking in the mall, admiring the window displays, when a voice from nearby addresses you.
“Ah, Ludington. It’s beautiful there. You from there?” the stranger asks.
“Oh, no, but I visit there pretty often,” you reply.
When you wear souvenir t-shirts, or a t-shirt with anything of interest on it, you’re sure to get some comments. I have a few articles of clothing that unfailingly draw comments and small conversations.
My Michigan Upper Peninsula hat is a simple brown hat with a white outline of the upper peninsula on the side. When in Michigan, I’ve gotten calls of “Upper!”, “UP?”, “I love that Mackinac Island fudge,” and always— “You from there?” or “You been up there?” If the person who’s taken notice of my hat is not from Michigan, they stare at the design, turn their head sideways, and eventually ask, “What’s on your hat?”
T-shirts and bumper stickers featuring state outlines have grown in popularity for souvenirs. The “LOVE,” where the V
is actually the state of Michigan turned sideways, has become extraordinarily popular. When driving in Michigan, you could easily see every other car with a window decal that incorporates the shape of Michigan. Other states have picked up on this trend as well. Because people identify themselves with places, they find pride in their geography and advertise it as a way of identifying themselves to others. In the same way, clothing functions as a way of showing how we identify ourselves and what we find pride in.
Wolf t-shirts are another big fan drawer. I have about five t-shirts that feature large prints of wolves in fantastical scenes with waterfalls, mountains, dreamcatchers, and moons.No matter where I go, no matter what time of year, I will always get at least one, if not a handful of comments, about these shirts. Comments range from as simple as, “I like your shirt,” to desperate interest in how to find such a shirt down to the brand name of the designer. Wolves, tigers, lighthouses, castles, and dragons are just a few iconic images that spark interest in people. Icons are often exotic or fantasy images that arouse a sense of adventure in people and reflect their imaginations and dreams.
Then, of course, we have the souvenir t-shirts. “YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK” stretched across a backdrop of picturesque mountains with a bald eagle soaring up the shoulder and a bison standing on your hip. It’s no surprise that shirts like these will draw attention, and isn’t that the point. You buy souvenirs for yourself, to have something tangible to represent all of your good memories, but you buy souvenir t-shirts to show other people what you’ve done. If you didn’t enjoy the place or are not proud of having been there, you wouldn’t buy the shirt. With tourists, certain places become ways of ranking you as a traveler. Yellowstone is a very popular park, most people have heard of it, and you’re considered privileged to have been able to go there. Disneyland—no major fan would pass up getting a t-shirt and wearing it proudly to show that they’ve been to the “Happiest Place on Earth.” I’ve heard many people who go to a popular place say determinedly that they must get a t-shirt before they leave because they’re seen other people wear them, and now that they’ve been, they want one, too.
I have a lot of t-shirts from places that I’ve been to all over the United States, but what surprises me most about the comments that I get is the lack of introduction to the topic. I wear t-shirts almost every day, so I don’t always remember which shirt I’m wearing at a given time, yet people start right into a conversation without mentioning my shirt, and sometimes without mentioning the place. I’ve had people randomly say to me, “Did you like it there?” and I glance around to affirm that they’re talking to me and then wonder what on Earth they’re talking about. It happens so often, that I’ve stopped asking, “Where?” and just glance down at my shirt. I think this happens because people are so visual in their experiences of life. If I can see something, you can see it, is their mindset. Some people are often so caught up in their own thoughts, that they forget that the person they’re addressing was probably not thinking about their shirt at that moment. Sometimes, I have been proud of a particular shirt and know exactly what the person is talking about when they address me and can go the whole short conversation without glancing at my shirt. Then, a friend I’m walking with will say something like, “Did you know that person?” or “What was that all about?” and I reply, “I don’t know them. They were talking about my shirt.”
I get comments from strangers passing along the sidewalk, the cashier at the store, the lunch-lady serving food, and people who I wouldn’t have even noticed if they didn’t start talking to me. It’s these friendly, little, surprise conversations that lighten a day and keep me aware of the people around me. Besides proudly advertising the places I love and liking the designs, I like wearing these t-shirts for the community they create and the conversations that would never happen without them.