Ghost Shrimp Still Haunting the Shellfish Industry on Willapa Bay

Neotrypaea_californiensisDLC2007-01sIn the world of toxics use reduction – which was my world in the 1990s and early 2000s as an environmental engineer at the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) – it’s a common trick to substitute one chemical for another when the one you were using is either heavily regulated, becomes illegal to use, or too expensive (or all three). Well, such was the case for the shellfish industry on Willapa Bay, that used a neurotoxin called carbaryl from the 1960s up until 2003 to control a small, native shrimp called ghost shrimp, which has the unfortunate tendency to burrow through the sand bars in the bay and suffocate the poor little oysters that are growing up there.

Problem is, carbaryl is not only deadly to ghost shrimp, but toxic to other crustaceans, fish (esp. salmon), small insects (e.g. bees), cats, and even humans. The EPA considers carbaryl “likely to be carcinogenic in humans” due to increased tumor production in mice.

According to Larry Warnberg, a former oyster grower in Nahcotta, “the emergence of burrowing shrimp as a pest coincided with the development of dredge-harvesting oysters at high tide, dragging a large basket to scoop up the oysters, ripping out submerged aquatic vegetation and oyster shell, leaving behind sand/mud, a perfect habitat for an invasion of burrowing shrimp.”

After telling me about his non-chemical methods of raising and harvesting oysters, Warnberg added, “In 1989 Fritzi and Edward [Cohen] purchased the idle and deteriorating Moby Dick Hotel, along with a few acres of adjacent tideland, which I helped them develop for off-bottom oyster culture, supplying their in-house restaurant. They became strong allies in the struggle to keep toxins out of the bay; we formed the Ad Hoc Coalition for Willapa Bay, which is still working on new pesticide issues. In 2003 we reached a Settlement Agreement with the Growers, after appealing their NPDES [National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System] carbaryl pesticide permit at the State Pollution Control Hearings Board [PCHB]. As a result, carbaryl was scheduled to be phased out over nine years, ending in 2012. The Agreement stipulates that the Growers would only pursue non-chemical growing methods, but they immediately obtained USDA funding to hire Kim Patten [Washington State University Extension agent] and others to find a pesticide alternative to carbaryl, resulting in the permitting of a neonicotinoid, imidicloprid. [Ecology] gave the Growers what they applied for on April 16 of this year, a 5-year NPDES permit.”

Now you might be familiar with this new chemical that the shellfish growers were going to switch to, or if not, to the general category of pesticides that the new chemical belongs to – the neonics, or neonicotinoids. These are the chemicals implicated in colony collapse disorder that has been decimating honeybee populations around the world. Banned in Europe, but still used in the U.S. as a general purpose pesticide in homes & gardens and on crops, imidacloprid has never been used in aquatic environments before, and the permit the shellfish growers in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor got was heavily dependent on monitoring. Growers worried the allowed doses would not be sufficient to kill the ghost shrimp, but they were hoping the new chemical would be as close to a “drop-in substitute” as possible for the old standby, carbaryl.

Well, in what can only be described as a series of unlikely events, the new permit regulating the use of imidacloprid on oyster beds in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor was revoked by Ecology at the suggestion of the Willapa-Grays Harbor Shellfish Growers Association (WGHSGA) on May 3, less than a month after the permit was approved. Spraying was due to begin in mid-May. This is after a multi-year research effort costing the industry and taxpayers lots of money, a multi-year permitting process led by Ecology, including many public hearings and the processing of hundreds of comments, and untold efforts of many environmental groups and individuals fighting the proposed permit before approval.

We may never know the whole story, but here’s a short summary of the more obvious and known events and press:

April 16: Ecology gives final approval to the permit.

April 24: Bloomberg Mazagine publishes a story titled Washington State Turns to Neurotoxins to Save Its Oysters – A pesticide from the group of chemicals linked to colony collapse disorder will now be sprayed in US waters. What could go wrong?

April 28: Danny Westneat’s column in the Seattle Times is published, titled (borrowing a little from the Bloomberg article) Disbelief over state plan to spray neurotoxin into oyster beds – The state has approved plans to spray in Willapa Bay a neurotoxic pesticide that has a warning right on the bottle: “Do not apply directly to water.” What could go wrong?

May 1: Respected Seattle weatherman Cliff Mass’ blog entry, titled Oyster victory: But there is more left to do, talks about the sudden reversal and Taylor Shellfish’s statement that they would not spray imidacloprid on their oyster beds in Willapa Bay after hearing loud and clear from their customers. Later that day, the WGHSGA released a statement that they would request the permit be revoked. (Also check out Mass’ blog entry, Oysters and Pesticides: The Washington State Department of Ecology Stumbles, published April 29.)

May 3: A story in the Seattle Times, State, growers scrap pesticide permit for oyster beds after outcry, tells of the delivery of a letter to Ecology from WGHSGA withdrawing their permit application, and of Ecology’s intention of withdrawing the permit the next day.

So, what the heck happened? It’s very rare for a NPDES permit to be withdrawn without a PCHB hearing and/or lawsuit, and the industry (and Ecology) had spent all that time and money to put together the permit. Well, according to some of the articles I read (including those above), it seems that some pretty important restauranteurs in the Puget Sound area were not amused to learn that their local oysters were soon to be sprayed with bee killer, and basically told the growers that they would stop buying their oysters if this spraying occurred.

I also learned from some closer to home sources that efforts were made locally to contact these very customers of the shellfish growers, the growers themselves, and Ecology, letting them know of the permit and its implications. Even local legislators were brought in to put pressure on Ecology.

It worked.

Which is the more amazing because most previous efforts to combat the shellfish industry here have been either unsuccessful or costly, or both. The most prominent example is the eradication of Spartina alterniflora, a cordgrass that proliferated in Willapa Bay (and all over the west coast) after being used to ship oyster seed in the early 1900s from the east coast. Warnberg tells the story from his perspective:

In ‘89 Monsanto launched a marketing program targeting Spartina, trying to sell its herbicide glyphosate for aquatic plants. It is known as Round-Up in agriculture; they renamed it Rodeo for aquatic use. They used some local scientists and The Nature Conservancy to demonize the grass, successfully getting it on the State Noxious Weed List, claiming it would cover all the tideflats eventually if unchecked. The oystermen signed on to their program, not because they felt threatened by Spartina, but because they were already using carbaryl for shrimp control, and didn’t want any enviros challenging pesticide use in their domain. So the Ad Hoc Coalition mounted a legal challenge of the herbicide permit at the PCHB. We went up against a gang of their lawyers, and lost our appeal. They sprayed some Rodeo, but it didn’t work very well. Turns out Spartina has a waxy cuticle, and the herbicide wasn’t absorbed enough to kill the grass. Monsanto lost that round – their product was ineffective.

A more potent herbicide was brought in, we challenged again, lost again, but delayed widespread spraying for eight years until 1998 when a major eradication effort was mounted. Over the next four years crews worked diligently to kill about 10,000 acres of Spartina. It was painful to watch, seemed like ripping the scab off a wound. Spartina was helping the bay heal from a century of abuse. In a few years the negative effects began to show: mud trapped by the Spartina meadows was released by storm waves, increasing turbidity, and covering clam and oyster beds. The decaying root mat, often two feet deep, rotted anaerobically, releasing toxic hydrogen sulfide gas, killing wild oyster larvae.

Continuing our chemistry lesson, you might have heard about this ubiquitous herbicide glyphosate recently, as it was classified last month by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Studies of its effects on aquatic organisms have been mixed. The controversy over glyphosate continues, as do the remnants of the Spartina eradication program in Willapa Bay and elsewhere.

The future of the local shellfish industry is uncertain, given the withdrawal of the imidaclopid permit, the effects of climate change, local opposition to their farming methods, and a stubborn reluctance to embrace new methods. Local groups are still stunned but happy about the latest developments, but this reporter is shocked by customers of the growers and others who say they didn’t know about the permit, the carbaryl and glyphosate spraying programs, or much of anything about the history of shellfish farming in Willapa Bay before May 2015. Which means they probably don’t know about the use of imazamox on clam beds in Willapa Bay to eradicate Japanese eelgrass (Zostera japonica), regulated by yet another 5-year NPDES permit that was approved by Ecology in 2014 (see the April 2014 issue of HIPFiSHmonthly for more).

Warnberg feels the tide is turning (pardon the pun) for the Willapa Bay ecosystem and its human inhabitants. “Please give the growers some credit, they had the foresight to see that the oyster-loving public is no longer willing to tolerate aquatic pesticide use. By relinquishing the NPDES permit they shifted course significantly, bolstering their frequent claim to be stewards of the Bay. Finally we can work together improving water quality and strengthening biodiversity in the estuary.” He added, “Times are a-changin’.” Indeed.

Note: In June, Oysterville Sea Farms (OSF) and its owner, Dan Driscoll, has a date in Pacific County court, where two of the main protagonists for spraying pesticides to rid oyster harvesting operations of pests, Dick and Brian Sheldon (featured in the Bloomberg article cited above, and the estranged uncle and cousin of Driscoll, respectively), will be testifying for the county. At stake, according to Driscoll, is the only publicly accessible restaurant on Willapa Bay, which serves oysters that Driscoll harvests, without spraying, from his beds on the bay. It should be good entertainment! Check it out: June 16 at 9 am in the South District Courtroom of the Pacific County Courthouse at 7013 Sandridge Road in Long Beach. You can read the story of OSF in the November 2013 issue of HIPFiSHmonthly, and we will carry the exciting result of the hearing in the next installment of this series on the shellfish industry on Willapa Bay.



Eating Aliens

Nutria: tastes like chicken.

In the January 2012 edition of Weed Wars, titled Goats, Beavers & Carp, Oh My, I talked about the rebranding of Asian carp into silverfin, served as a delicacy in fancy restaurants as part of a campaign to cull their numbers. You see, the carp had escaped their original use – to eat algae at wastewater treatment plants – and gotten into the Mississippi River watershed, and all the way to the Great Lakes, and were causing all sorts of havoc. One of the poster children of invasive species.

Well, in the book Eating Aliens, by Jackson Landers, which I just finished reading, the author takes us on a tour of southeastern America, including some islands offshore, as he attempts to hunt, kill, butcher, prepare and eat several invasive species – including Asian carp. Overall, the message of the book is that many animal species that have become nuisances or worse actually taste pretty good, and with marketing, could join Asian carp – oops, silverfin – on your dinner table. Umm!

Many of the species Landers hunts in the book became invasive after being released by pet owners who couldn’t handle them anymore. That was the case with the spiny-tailed iguana, which now munches gardens on Gasparilla Island in Florida, in addition to the eggs of the native gopher tortoise, a keystone species of this area. Landers brings us with him as he navigates a maze of permits, local home owners, and laws to bring down some spiny-tails in a residential neighborhood, and then cook the meat of several with a marinade of lime, cilantro, tequila and some spices. A local hired on to help eradicate the spiny-tails described the taste as “like chicken with the texture of crab.” Umm, umm, iguana tacos!!

Next, Landers is on the hunt for green iguanas, cousins to the spiny-tails, in the Florida Keys. This species unfortunately likes the nicker nut, a plant that also happens to be the primary food source of the endangered Miami blue butterfly. The last Miami blue was seen a few years ago, on Bahia Honda Key, where the green iguana runs rampant. After taking down a few, Landers skins them (he says the hide would be a great material for making belts, books, knife sheaths and more), and sautéed the meat (“all in the tail and legs”) in olive oil and garlic into a ragout sauce. Verdict – “like its spiny-tailed cousin, green iguana turns out to taste pretty much like chicken.”

Landers next takes on wild pigs, “one of the most widespread invasive species in the world.” Brought along as a food source by colonists the world over, many of them either escaped captivity, or were allowed to go, and of course, they eat like pigs, and are quite a problem in many areas of the world. The bureaucratic hassles he encounters in trying to hunt pigs near his Virginia home are interesting, and this theme is carried over into other adventures Landers takes in the book. The insinuation is that if we’re to really take on these invaders, we will have to loosen the rules and allow hunters to do their job. Interestingly, Landers encounters nine-banded armadillos in this same area, and talks about their origin in the wild from a private zoo in Florida in 1924. 95% of the predation of sea turtle eggs in Florida is by this cute little critter. The taste – well, according to Landers, “it’s like a cross between chicken and pork.” As for the pigs, Landers says, “as food, wild pigs are superb.”

Lion Fish: the lionfish has it all – flavor, texture, environmental responsibility, and a dash of romance.

Lionfish are next. These poisonous-spined, hardy, aptly-named sea creatures have few predators, and are really tough to hunt (you have to spear them!). Landers does get some, but almost drowns in the process. Lionfish got into the wild by being blown away from a Florida home by Hurricane Andrew. Landers goes to Eleuthera in the Bahamas to find them, and has a great time. Cooked with a little olive oil and lemon pepper, these babies tasted good. “The lionfish has it all: flavor, texture, environmental responsibility, and a dash of romance,” says the author. I’ve got to get some!!!

On to Louisiana and nutria – beaver-like rodents that are a big problem there. After a maze of problems with the bureaucrats and difficult hunting conditions, Landers and friends bag a few nutria, cook them up with some Cajun spices, and voila, “it was indistinguishable from chicken.”

I’ll leave you with a large and small animal from the book’s menu – the giant Canada goose, and the Chinese mystery snail. Canada geese are a problem in the Pacific Northwest as well as the east coast, where Landers was hunting them. They have stopped migrating, and do a number on the grass of lawns, parkland and open areas by water. In Seattle, where I used to live, they were at least talking about gassing them in parks to get rid of them. Well, contrary to popular belief, according to Landers, Canada goose meat is delicious, when prepared correctly, and could be a great way to keep their numbers in check in cities and elsewhere. And there’s a bonus to hunting geese – their down is excellent for pillows and parkas!

The book ends with a chapter on Chinese mystery snails. These little critters were introduced into the wild as forage for flathead catfish, a non-native also, who decided they didn’t like the snails. These Asian invaders outperform the native snails and are wiping them out in their native habitats across America. “They remind me a lot of slightly rubbery New England-style fried clams or of fake scallops. These snails aren’t going to be 4-star cuisine, but after being tenderized, fried, and served with tartar sauce, they’re quite good,” is Landers’ review of the taste. Snails and chips!

I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for some of the invasive species discussed in Eating Aliens. The book has more, and it’s all part of the growing invasivore movement. If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em!

COLUMNS Stephen Berk

Apocalypse Now?

I write this before the election, but I believe that if the extremist party Mitt Romney represents takes office, we are in for a boatload of horrors. Far from the pragmatic Republican Party of earlier decades, which often worked with the Democrats to craft foreign and domestic policy for the good of the country, this one is composed of ideologues, given to continuous war abroad and privatization of nearly all public services at home. They set out, in the words of their chief propagandist, Rush Limbaugh, to “make Barack Obama fail,” hardly a patriotic agenda in time of national economic meltdown. This crisis had been engineered by 1920s style deregulated markets, reestablished in a cooperative effort of both parties.

But now Republicans refused to participate in stabilizing a plummeting stock market by helping to reinstate even the most basic regulation of banking.

During the largely prosperous second half of the twentieth century, the Glass Steagall Act, which kept commercial banks from engaging in speculative market investments on the order of brokerage houses, prevented the US from sliding into the boom/bust cycles which began in the early 1800’s and culminated in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Glass Steagall passed during FDR’s presidency with bipartisan support. But the Obama administration’s much less rigorous Dodd-Frank bill passed without a single Republican vote. To Romney and Ryan, it is a stifling encumbrance on business investment. They want, as do the Wall Street money barons who fill their campaign coffers, to return to the complete deregulation of markets and derivatives that triggered the wild subprime loan speculation which caused the 2008 crash.

But return to unregulated markets is only a part of the extremist Republican agenda. The billionaires who fund the Romney campaign share a mania for privatization. Following anti-tax ideologue, Grover Norquist, they would privatize Social Security, placing earned senior retirements in an unstable, deregulated stock market, and they would also privatize Medicare, opening the door to more costly and restrictive treatments. Present insurance company “managed care” is the most expensive and inefficient in the world, largely because it is run for profits reaped by insurance executives. Privatization of Medicare, the one element of medical service delivery that is partially publicly funded and regulated, would produce huge new profits for insurance companies, but higher costs and reduced availability of care for seniors. Today’s Republicans, who cater to America’s wealthiest while claiming to stand for all families, also aim to repeal Obamacare, which they have convinced many naïve citizens will cost them more, when in fact it delivers care to over thirty million Americans who previously could not afford our high priced private insurance with its many exclusions.

But the worst aspect of Republican extremism is its massive militarism. Here Republicans violate their own supposedly small government principles. Romney repeats endlessly in debates, ads and speeches the neocon mantra that it is a very dangerous world and we must have even more than the present half to three quarters of a trillion dollar “defense” allotments per year to counter our “enemies,” among whom, for the first time since the Cold War ended, he numbers Russia. He continuously mouths the neocon line that the prospect of Iran getting a nuclear weapon is a grave threat to peace. Why? Pakistan, which harbors more terrorists than Iran, got them, and we did not bomb them. In fact, we retained them as an ally, even though they gave nuclear secrets to the familial rogue dictatorship, North Korea, which they now use to threaten our ally, South Korea. During the Cold War, deterrence worked between the Soviet Union and the United States. And it is so far working between arch rivals India and Pakistan. Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons, surely a deterrent to Iran. Yet Romney endorses Israeli leader Netanyahu’s intent to preemptively bomb Iran. Iran borders Russia and partners economically with Russia, China, Venezuela and Brazil. An Israeli/American attack on it would cause a major regional war, raising oil prices out of sight and triggering another recession. Such a war could set the great powers in conflict in what could escalate to a third world war. Should Obama be reelected, all these things would be less likely, but you can bet the Republicans would devote their full energies to “making him fail again.”

The Bike Madame

The Comforts and Controversies of Ergonomic Bike Seats

The first time you cycle farther than the corner store, you learn how a comfortable seat makes the difference between an exhilarating and an excruciating journey. The seat has always been the first bike component I’ve modified, as I have less than fond memories of the hard plastic banana seat of my otherwise cool first bike.

Exactly what makes a seat “ergonomic” is a matter of debate. Does the comfort factor come from extra padding, suspension, a special shape, or the angle of the rider (upright, leaning forward, or recumbent)? To me, the only rule of bike-seat nirvana is that our very individuality of form and preference require you to test what’s available rather than relying solely on others’ advice and claims from manufacturers.

Some riders appreciate extra padding in the form of either a thicker seat or a gel cover. However, others find the padding as aggravating as too-soft couches that cause you to sink down into the seat, where you get overly familiar with the harder structural components. (Hence, some long-distance riders actually prefer a hard but anatomically correct seat.) Some seats feature central channels that purportedly take pressure off sensitive parts of the anatomy. Unfortunately, for some riders, these channels can trap soft tissue and decrease rather than increase ventilation. That’s why the relationship between the bumps and recesses of the seat and your individual shape is more important than whether or not the seat is padded or channeled. Is the seat wide enough to support your “sit bones”? Does any part pinch or squash a part of you? Does the seat force you to pedal like a cowboy to keep pressure off sensitive areas (risking injury to your knees)? Do the seams leave imprints on your tush? It may take a few miles of riding for these problems to appear, so don’t hesitate to take your potential new seat for a test ride.

Don’t overlook the possibility of the seat being set too low or high for you. I’ve encountered many a rider who could wear his/her knees as earrings because of a seat that’s too low. Have a friend hold your handlebars steady so you can put both feet on the pedals and spin backward. At the lowest point of the pedal’s arc, your knee should be just about straight, but not locked, without having to point your toe. Novice cyclists may set their seats too low because they want to stay seated when they come to a stop and are afraid of falling over. This is where practice, rather than a fancy new seat, comes in.

Adequate suspension is important for those who ride on rough roads, and not just gravel or dirt roads. Many paved roads have sketchy pavement on the shoulders, plus potholes and gravel and other debris. If your travels take you through a velo-minefield, consider a mountain bike or hybrid to give you some bounce as you navigate the craters.

Recumbent cycles have the ultimate in comfort: a chair-like seat that supports your back and puts you into a reclined position. Once you get used to the new demands on your leg muscles from this angle, you may never go back. Just make sure the seat is far enough forward or back for near-full leg extension and absence of torque on the knees (a potential problem with models where your buttocks is below your feet).

When it comes to being in the (bike) saddle, what’s beneath your posterior should not be beneath your notice!

Sonja Grace: Predictions

The Root of Trust

MANY PARENTS have told their children over the ages trust is something you earn. With the karmic history each one of us is here to work through, trust is also something we must first identify within ourselves.

As souls in bodies, trust is a big part of our existence here on Earth. We trust others as we drive on a roadway, we trust our doctor to tell us what is wrong and we trust the news to report what has happened around the world. If you found yourself scoffing over other drivers, doctors and world news then your mental process of discernment and critical thinking is at work. How do we trust in a world that seemly has many realities? How do we get to the bottom of what we are feeling in order to assess to trust or not trust a person or situation?

It all starts deep within the soul level. Our connection to the Divine is constant and never changes. The alteration on one’s trust is the experience of the soul incarnating into physical form. Lifetime after lifetime we are challenged with the ego, emotions, mental and physical realm, all of which are engaging and creating karmic history. Trust requires that you understand the journey of the soul and that the Universe has your back. We often experience emotional woundings from childhood that reflect a deeper issue of trust. Healing these threads to the past gives way to healing our karmic history and connecting with original consciousness. It is from here that we can access a deeper trust. There are many layers to this process that lead us directly to our relationship with the Divine. The process of reincarnation creates karma each time we come back. We experience our feelings lifetime after lifetime attaching to events that leave us emotionally wounded. The history of your past lives is often visible in your current life from accidents to meeting people you feel you have known before.

When we have a break in the trust, someone leaves us, we are forced, manipulated or lied to it reverberates throughout our lifetimes stimulating that very wounding from the past. Take heart and forgive, release the emotional response so you are not attaching to yet another wounding that leaves threads that keep you karmically engaged. Move forward by feeling your feelings and releasing them. Forgive at every turn in the road and connect with a deeper level of trust within you.

Author of Angels in the 21st Century, Sonja Grace is a mystic healer and spiritual intuitive who provides guidance to people all over the world. She works with her clients over the phone providing immediate stability, clarity and guidance through her readings, counseling and processing work.

Sonja Grace sees and receives messages from loved ones who have crossed over and offers a venue for healing in this world and the spirit world.

COLUMNS Sonja Grace: Predictions

Creating Balance

AS HuMaNity leans towards one side of the duality or the other, pressing for peace and love or hating another culture and acting out in violence; there is a lack of understanding as to how the duality works and the very nature of keeping the balance. We know what feels good but the fact remains we live in the duality so no matter how high the frequencies and how connected you are to love and light, there is always going to be representation of the other side.

Standing in the middle of these two sides of good and bad, pain and joy, light and dark, happy and sad allows for you to see they must both exist in this world where the duality is a natural part of the Universe. We do not transcend the duality but simply step back and observe it. This is what keeps our Universe in balance. Everything in the Universe is about balance. We are simply moving into a higher vibration that is the fifth dimension. This is not going to be void of the duality. These next few months are an opportunity for people to find where they need to balance within their own lives and create peace within.

Peace exists within us and is a state of being that is obtained through meditation and a deep inner practice that is dedicated to one’s self discovery. Inner peace comes from loving yourself at the deepest level of your being and healing the emotional woundings from the past. There is a common thread throughout our lifetime that reflects our unresolved karma of the past. When we clear our karmic past we create an opening for our original consciousness to connect with our source the Divine. It is through this work that one can start to feel that inner peace that allows you to observe the duality. The hard part in being human is we all want to get in a situation and engage our energy. The homework is to feel your feelings and release them. That way you do not engage your energy by diving into the deep end of the karmic pool creating more karma for yourself by investing in the duality.

Paying attention to what you are feeling is one of the most important aspects of being human. Letting those feelings rule you without being conscious of your energy and where you are allowing your energy to go will create more karma. This human experience needs a better handbook for we are capable of so much more with the proper understanding of the energy field and body. We will improve the state of things on planet Earth if we take a look within and get ourselves balanced and in a state of inner peace.

Author Sonja Grace is a mystic healer and spiritual intuitive who provides guidance to people all over the world. She works with her clients over the phone providing immediate stability, clarity and guidance through her readings, counseling and processing work.

Sonja Grace sees and receives messages from loved ones who have crossed over and offers a venue for healing in this world and the spirit world. Her new book Earth Ways: Healing Medicine for the Soul is available at:

Bodies In Balance COLUMNS

Healthy Aging

AS WE embrace fall and the bounty of summer begins to wilt and wither it makes me think of the aging process normal and natural to all living things. It is not a fact of life many of us enjoy exploring but being prepared for the course of aging can benefit our quality and quantity of life. Understanding that there are too many specific health challenges to cover in this article, I hope I can touch on some basics, which I expect will apply to most.

Digestion…I will repeat what I’ve said before…this is the cornerstone of health. As we age so does this valuable system. The release of stomach acid decreases and with it the cues to pancreatic and gall bladder function begin to weaken as well. Individuals may have a lessening appetite, eat fewer and smaller meals, clearly this varies but is not uncommon. As digestion starts to deteriorate a vERY common symptom that arises is heartburn, for which acid-reducing medication is regularly prescribed. Sadly this quick fix is not a healthy long-term solution as the acid is required for essential vitamin and mineral absorption as well as overall digestive flow. Instead I would suggest a strong lemon or lime and water mix, or apple cider vinegar before or with your meals. This naturally acidic solution will instead strengthen the innate digestive function creating better health.

Inflammation…This is the root of disease, it’s really that simple. So logically if we can support the inflammatory pathways in a healthy and beneficial manner we can reduce the progression of diseases that deteriorate our health. The theory is simple it’s the practice that is a challenge, and again as individual lifestyles, genetics, etc vary there is no one simple way to assist this. One no brainer, however, is to reduce your stress or at least learn techniques to manage it. Stress is pro-inflammatory, but when managed can lessen its impact on your overall health.

I think as our world has become more stressful we see activities like Yoga, Tai Chi and meditation gaining popularity because they offer natural stress reduction. Really any kind of exercise will count here, but if you are a go-go-go, anxious, or putting others before yourself type personality then a high impact workout would not necessarily be as nourishing as a slow-down, self-reflective one. Food choices are another must in this category. Quality fresh foods will be less inflammatory than highly processed foods…seems obvious. Foods that may be affecting our gut health and immune health are also worth avoiding or at least eating as conscientiously as possible. Other wise known as food allergies or intolerances these foods are an irritant to the system, and constant irritation can over time cause inflammation. There are a variety of ways to discover what these foods may be if not obvious already, a great reason to seek the attention of your local naturopath or health care provider. Anti-inflammatory nutrients come from fish oils, turmeric, bromelain, alpha-lipoid acid and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Cognition…For many memory, thinking and speaking clearly are extremely important indicators of the aging process. Without touching on any one condition I think there are some terrific everyday tools, and nutrients that can support good cognition.

variety is not only important but also more fun. New foods, books, games, puzzles, routes to work, exercises, all increase the pathways in the brain. Doing some activity in your life where you are moving with your eyes closed is also great for the brain and your balance too. Learning in any way, like a language, artistic skill, craft or hobby can improve both the quality of your life and your brain function. One nutrient essential to brain function is B-12, remember to compliment any one B vitamin with a B complex to assure you are not creating deficiency elsewhere.

I know you’ve likely all heard about Gingko, wonderful for helping to open and access those small blood vessels and capillaries throughout the body, especially prevalent in the brain. Ginger is another circulatory tonic that I would combine for brain function, along with Gotu Kola an herb full of antioxidants to assist in blood vessel damage and repair. A basic multivitamin would cover many of the nutrients discussed here, in addition a sublingual B-12; the herbs can be added if this is an area of special concern.

Appearance…the way we look can create much apprehension for many aging adults. This is not only our skin, and hair, but the way we move and carry ourselves. For both men and women it is extremely valuable to build muscle mass before our 50’s; this means performing weight bearing exercise in addition to cardiovascular or the more stress alleviating exercises discussed above. After menopause women have a more profound shift in their physiology which includes muscle and bone loss. This occurs in men too, just not a dramatically. Keeping our musculoskeletal systems well nourished and flexible helps with ease of movement and long-lasting strength.

Our skin is not so unlike this system as it is made of many of the same basic building blocks, namely collagen and muscles. Since the skin is such a rapidly growing organ, it shows the signs of aging more readily. The skin as a whole benefits greatly from the use of antioxidants… vitamins C,D,E, bioflavonoids like rutin, quercitin, resveratrol, and foods like blueberries, acai berries, pomegranate, dark leafy greens and green tea. These antioxidants are a valuable toolbox which enhance the health of our aging bodies, they are incidentally also useful anti-inflammatory agents.

This month I am turning 40 and feel as healthy as ever! I’m sure as I continue to age my opinions may shift, but for now I am not in the anti-aging camp, as with all things naturopathic I believe in supporting the natural processes of the body…of which aging is part. I certainly do support any efforts to age in a healthy and vital way and hope these simple reminders can help you to achieve a bounty of health throughout your life.

DO something you love, BE with someone you love, EAT your vegetables, DRINK clean water, BREAThE deeply and MOvE your body EvERY- DAY!

COLUMNS Free Will Astology


ARIES (March 21-April 19): “In a full heart there is room for everything,” said poet Antonio Porchia, “and in an empty heart there is room for nothing.” That’s an important idea for you to meditate on right now, Aries. The universe is conspiring for you to be visited by a tide of revelations about intimacy. And yet you won’t be available to get the full benefit of that tide unless your heart is as full as possible. Wouldn’t you love to be taught more about love and togetherness and collaboration?

TAURUS (April 20-May 20): As I turn inward and call forth psychic impressions of what’s ahead for you, I’m seeing mythic symbols like whoopie cushions, rubber chickens, and pools of fake plastic vomit. I’m seeing popcorn shells that are stuck in your teeth and a dog that’s eating your homework and an alarm clock that doesn’t go off when it’s supposed to. But as I push further into the not-too-distant future, exploring the deeper archetypal levels, I’m also tuning into a vision of fireflies in an underground cavern. They’re lighting your way and leading you to a stash of treasure in a dusty corner.

GEMINI (May 21-June 20): “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That’s the opening sentence of Charles Dickens’ bestselling novel A Tale of Two Cities. The author was describing the period of the French Revolution in the late 18th century, but he could just as well have been talking about our time — or any other time, for that matter. Of course many modern cynics reject the idea that our era is the best of times. They obsess on the idea that ours is the worst of all the worst times that have ever been. When your worried mind is in control of you, you may even think that thought yourself, Gemini. But in accordance with the current astrological omens, I challenge you to be a fiery rebel: Come up with at least five reasons why this is the best of times for you personally.

CANCER (June 21-July 22): “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” said Pablo Picasso. That’s certainly true for me. I can purify my system either by creating art myself or being in the presence of great art. How about you, Cancerian? What kinds of experiences cleanse you of the congested emotions that just naturally build up in all of us? What influences can you draw on to purge the repetitive thoughts that sometimes torment you? How do you go about making your imagination as fresh and free as a warm breeze on a sunny day? I urge you to make a study of all the things that work for you, and then use them to the max in the coming weeks.

LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): “Our culture peculiarly honors the act of blaming, which it takes as the sign of virtue and intellect.” So said literary critic Lionel Trilling. Now I’m passing his idea on to you, Leo, just in time for the No-Blaming Season. Would you like to conjure up a surge of good karma for yourself? In the coming days, refrain from the urge to find fault. And do your best to politely neutralize that reflex in other people who are sharing your space, even if they love to hate the same political party or idiot fringe that you do. P.S.: For extra credit, engage in speech and activity that are antidotes to the blaming epidemic. (Hint: praise, exaltation, thanks.)

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): One of the reasons platinum is regarded as a precious metal is that it is so infrequently found in the Earth’s crust. A second reason is that there are difficulties in extracting it from the other metals it’s embedded in. You typically need ten tons of ore to obtain one ounce of platinum. That’s a good metaphor for the work you have ahead of you, Virgo. The valuable resource you’re dreaming of is definitely worth your hard work, persistence, and attention to detail. But to procure it, you’ll probably need the equivalent of several tons of those fine qualities.

LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): While doing research in South America four decades ago, anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss found an indigenous tribe whose people claimed they could see the planet Venus in the daytime. This seemed impossible to him. But he later consulted astronomers who told him that in fact Venus does emit enough light to be visible by day to a highly trained human eye. My prediction for you, Libra, is that in the coming months you will make a metaphorically equivalent leap: You will become aware of and develop a relationship with some major presence that has been virtually undetectable. And I bet the first glimpse will come this week.

SCORPIO (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): Whether or not anyone has ever called you an “old soul” before, that term will suit you well in the coming months. A whole lot of wisdom will be ripening in you all at once. Past events that never quite made sense before will more clearly reveal the role they have played in your life’s master plan. Relatively unimportant desires you’ve harbored for a long time will fade away, while others that have been in the background — and more crucial to your ultimate happiness — will rise to prominence.

SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22-Dec. 21): In most of my horoscopes I tell you what you can do to make yourself feel good. I advise you on how can act with the highest integrity and get in touch with what you need to learn about. Now and then, though, I like to focus on how you can help other people feel good. I direct your attention to how you can inspire them to align with their highest integrity and get in touch with what they need to learn about. This is one of those times, Sagittarius. I’m hoping you have your own ideas about how to perform these services. Here are a few of my suggestions: Listen with compassionate receptivity to the people you care for. Describe to them what they’re like when they are at their best. Give them gifts they can use to activate their dormant potential.

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): If you’ve ever watched tennis matches, you know that some players grunt when they smack the ball. Does that help them summon greater power? Maybe. But the more important issue is that it can mask the sound of the ball striking the racket, thereby making it harder for their opponents to guess the force and spin of the ball that will be headed toward them. The coming weeks would be an excellent time for you to hunt down a competitive advantage that’s comparable to this in your own field of endeavor.

AQUARIUS (Jan. 20-Feb. 18): Many people seem to believe that all of America’s Christians are and have always been fundamentalists. But the truth is that at most 35 percent of the total are fundies, and their movement has only gotten cultural traction in the last 30 years. So then why do their bizarre interpretations of the nature of reality get so much play? One reason is that they shout so loud and act so mean. Your upcoming assignment, Aquarius, is to do what you can to shift the focus from smallminded bullies to big-hearted visionaries, whether that applies to the Christians in your sphere or any other influences. It’s time to shrink any tendency you might have to get involved with energy vampires. Instead, give your full attention and lend your vigorous clout to life-affirming intelligence.

PISCES (Feb. 19-March 20): [WARNING: The following horoscope contains more than the usual dose of poetry.] Mirthful agitation! Surprising deliverance! I predict you will expose the effects of the smoke and mirrors, then find your way out of the labyrinth. Lucid irrationality! Deathless visions! I predict you will discover a secret you’d been hiding from yourself, then escape a dilemma you no longer need to struggle with. Mysterious blessings arriving from the frontiers! Refreshed fertility roused by a reborn dream! I predict you will begin to prepare a new power spot for your future use.

Homework: Comment on this line from a poem by Daniel Higgs: “Truth obscured by the symbols of truth.”

The Bike Madame

The Pregnant Lady Express: The Final Frontier…Um, Trimester

The group of touring cyclists passes me at the bottom of my favorite three- mile hill. As the hill steepens, I expect to catch up, as I usually do, for I know this hill well. It’s tempting to put a sign on my back saying, “You’ve just been passed by the pregnant lady express,”  but such pride could invite disaster, such as getting passed en masse by rac- ers in gorilla suits.

The decision of whether or not to keep riding into late pregnancy is an individual one and should be made on the basis of how you feel and what your health-care provider recommends, neither of which a newspaper column can predict. In the third trimester, your passenger is more exposed to the world than ever, and that includes your handlebars, the road surface, and anything else you’d hit in case you had an accident. Risks you’re willing to take under other circumstances should be reevaluated in light of the safety of your offspring, which is why I wouldn’t be rid- ing at this time if I lived in a city and had to mingle with traffic.

Equipment makes a difference too. My folding bike gives me an upright seating position, like a cruiser, so my belly doesn’t get in the way of pedal- ing. This is even less of an issue on our recumbent tandem. Neither of these setups compromises my balance. If you want to keep riding but find yourself getting in your own way, consider switching to a steed with a more relaxed seating posture and that does not compromise your balance (definitely not a racing-style bike). With the added weight of your little one, what was once slight exertion can cause shortness of breath. I stick with the rule that if I can talk to my husband  and co-rider, I’m not working too hard. You might also notice practice (Braxton-Hicks) contractions while exercising (cycling or otherwise). For me, if they persist, I rest, drink water, and wait for them to subside.

They can appear from exertion or dehydration (to which mothers-to-be are susceptible), as well as from the uterus’ efforts to stay toned before birth, but you don’t want them to develop into early labor. Again, please talk with your healthcare provider about your unique circumstances; mine go away after a short rest, but yours could behave differently. It’s essential to stay aware of what your body’s doing so you know when to take a break. If you’ve been active before pregnancy, you probably have a good idea of your limits, but you’ll need to adjust your expectations to your changing state, with your provider as guide and sounding board. If you and your provider decide you should put your bike away for now, don’t worry: walking is a superb form of exercise you can continue until you’re ready to give birth, as long as your provider agrees that this is safe.

Staying active (even if you can’t do it throughout the pregnancy) has been demonstrated to lead to shorter labor times, reduced discomfort in labor, and fewer interventions—as well as babies who are more easily soothed and more interested in their environment (and hence learn more readily). When you’re ready to return to physical activity after the birth, you may end up becoming fitter than you were before pregnancy—hauling that extra weight can turn you into IronMom, and folks trying to pass you on a three-mile hill had better beware.


An Ode to Alder

An Ode to Alder

It has been brought to my attention that there was recently a massive alder kill near Naselle, caused by the application of herbicide to eradicate knotweed near the banks of a stream. To add insult to injury, evidently tansy ragwort, another so-called noxious weed, replaced the some of the knotweed killed in the attack. And most of the knotweed survived.

Now some of you are probably saying “good riddance” to the alders that were sacrificed in the name of invasive species destruction. Alders are considered noxious weeds themselves by many in the area, though they are not on any official lists that would doom them to oblivion. They certainly have some of the characteristics of invasive species, such as the ability to take over a field or garden, but they are native to the Pacific Northwest, so they can’t be invasive, by definition.

My son brought home a red alder (Alnus rubra) sapling 6 years ago that he got at school from Weyerhaeuser. I planted it in our backyard, which I was converting from a lawn with a treed border to a (mostly) native forest. This 10-inch twig is now a 30-foot (give or take a few) tree, dwarfing most of the other trees in the yard.

Not only did this tree grow amazingly fast, but it seems to have spawned a small forest of alders. Now it could be that the younger alders now growing in my yard came from neighboring properties, or just from birds, but I think our original alder is probably the proud mama and papa. So I can vouch for the alder’s ability to grow and spread quickly.

But I don’t have a plan for eradication of my alders.

In fact, I love alders. They seem to me the perfect deciduous tree for the garden. They require almost no care, grow quickly, have beautiful leaves and structure, and most importantly, fix nitrogen in the soil, supplying fertilizer not only to themselves, but to neighboring plants.

A quick look at the Wikipedia entry for alders gave me more reasons to love them. The catkins (fruit) of some alder species are edible (though bitter), and rich in protein. The wood of certain alder species is often used to smoke various food items, especially salmon and other seafood (I still fondly remember eating my son’s catch from a fishing trip some years back after it was prepared by a neighbor and cooked over alder planks).

It turns out most of the pilings that form the foundation of Venice were made from alder trees.

Alder bark contains the anti-inflammatory salicin, which is metabolized into salicylic acid in the body. Native Americans accordingly used red alder bark to treat poison oak, insect bites, and skin irritations. Blackfeet Indians used an infusion made from the bark of red alder to treat lymphatic disorders and tuberculosis. Recent clinical studies have verified that red alder contains betulin and lupeol, compounds shown to be effective against a variety of tumors.

(I particularly like this one.) Electric guitars, most notably the Fender Stratocaster and Fender Telecaster, have been built with alder bodies since the 1950s.

And of course, alder is used in making furniture and cabinets and other woodworking products.

Red alder is harvested in Oregon as a commercial hardwood, and according to the OSU Wood Innovation Center, is about 60% of the hardwood inventory in the state. So others see the value of this amazing tree too.

On my weekday walks to and from work, I get to first pass a lot down the street that is being colonized by alder (with some Scotch broom), and then the woods that line Irving Avenue on the east side of town. These woods seem to be predominantly alder, after logging in the 90s and the recent Great Gale of 2007. You can see conifers growing up in between the alders, biding their time until the fast-growing deciduous trees die off and allow them to dominate once again (if we let them). It’s a beautiful place, born of the landslides of the 1950s, and I hope we have the foresight to let it evolve in peace.

Well, our amazing Indian summer is bound to come to a close sometime soon, and I promised my wife that I will prune the alders in our back yard when their leaves are gone. I won’t have anything big enough for a Stratocaster or a chair, but maybe I can use some of the wood to smoke some salmon. Alder – the gift that keeps on giving!


There’s A Journal For Everything

“Invasive species – plants, animals, and microbes introduced to regions beyond their native range – carry a global price tag of $1.4 trillion dollars. They are responsible for the loss of natural resources and biodiversity, damages to infrastructure, and an uptick in infectious diseases.”

The above paragraph comes from an article in the Columbia Basin Bulletin, entitled Ability Weakening To Prevent Invasive Species And Predict Impacts to Ecosystems, Infrastructure, posted to the bulletin’s website on August 24. The article is a review of research into the efficacy of invasion biology hypotheses, published in the on-line journal NeoBiota (, under the title Support for major hypotheses in invasion biology is uneven and declining, authored by Jonathan M. Jeschke, Lorena Gómez Aparicio, Sylvia Haider, Tina Heger, Christopher J. Lortie, Petr Py ek and David L. Strayer (the Bulletin article had no attributed author, so we’ll assume their editorial staff wrote it). I didn’t see any mention of $1.4 trillion in the NeoBiota article, and a casual look at a reference that purported to know the economic damage in the U.S. of invasive species put the price tag at $120 billion a year here.

We are entering the election silly season, where ridiculous statistics are quoted as fact all the time, so maybe the Bulletin quote comes from one of the candidates for office somewhere. But it seems completely arbitrary to me, and since there is no reference, I’m not sure how I’m supposed to find out if they’re right or not. It certainly sounds like a lot of money, and the effects of these creatures sound really bad.

So, words of caution – don’t take everything you read, hear or see for granted. Do your research, and try to find the sources that are responsible for all these assertions.

Anyway, back to NeoBiota. As readers of this column know, I have featured the work of David Theodoropolous, who argues in his book, Invasion Biology – Critique of a Pseudoscience, that many of the tenets of invasion biology are not backed up by data. Well, along comes an article in a journal – which supposedly means that serious people with PhDs are studying and obtaining grants from scientific institutions to further the science, because that’s what journals are for – that is, according to its website, “advancing research on alien species and biological invasions,” that argues that the tenets of invasion biology, yes, you guessed it, are not backed up by the data!

Now reading the other articles in NeoBiota, you’d never get the impression that invasion biology was a pseudoscience.

The articles are well-written, heavily referenced, and use technology very well to enable readers to instantly see and go to on-line references. The authors are legitimate scientists, and the journal follows all the conventions that I’ve seen in other scholarly journals. Which usually means that the science the journal is talking about is real.

With the proliferation of publishing that electronic tools allow, we’ve seen an amazing diversity of journals for just about any topic you can think of. One of my favorites is the Journal of Irreproducible Results, founded by two scientists in Israel in the 1950s, which according to its website ( “offers spoofs, parodies, whimsies, burlesques, lampoons, and satires. JIR appeals to scientists, doctors, science teachers, and word-lovers.

JIR targets hypocrisy, arrogance, and ostentatious sesquipedalian circumlocution. We’re a friendly escape from the harsh and the hassle. JIR makes you feel good :-).” This journal was launched by scientists for scientists, and obviously has a following.

NeoBiota was also launched by scientists for scientists. “Pensoft Publishers [publisher of NeoBiota] was conceived during the Christmas/New Year festivities of 1993-94, when we, Penev and Golovatch, with families, were enjoying Bulgarian wine and food at the southern Bulgarian resort Ognyanovo. It was then that the idea came to us, that we should cooperate in a publishing venture – active scientists publishing for other active scientists! It occurred to us that, in the publishing area of environmental/life sciences wherein lay our expertise, there was clearly an empty niche begging occupation.” (from the NeoBiota website) Well, a few years down the line, this Bulgarian enterprise is very much alive and growing. “In less than 10 years, Pensoft has become the leading Publisher and Bookseller of natural science books in Eastern Europe and Russia. As booksellers and agents, we have expanded our areas of interest from Zoology, Botany, Earth and Environmental Sciences, to encompass also Mathematics, Physics, History, Archaeology, Linguistics, Business, Finance, etc. Hence, much of the very often, mostly unwillingly, neglected treasure represented by Russian or Bulgarian, or other East European/Balkan literature in various branches of natural, medical and humanitarian sciences, has been opened to the western reader and has become accessible due to our efforts.” (again, from the website) Well, it’s free, and is willing to publish an article that calls into question the whole basis for the journal. I don’t know about you, but I’m subscribing today. Happy reading!

COLUMNS Word & Wisdom

The Tribal Instinct… our need for others

When I was in grad school for my counseling degree, I remember a professor talking about how it is a human need to be “known.” We, as humans, have an innate desire to bond with others, share our stories, and express ourselves. To be known and appreciated for what we think makes us unique. (This also is the basis for many religions, but that’s a different column altogether.) This idea stands out for me because I see evidence of it in so many arenas. Art, literature, dance, music….all personal expressions of who we are. And then there’s FaceBook. FaceBook is a prime example of people putting stuff out there for others to approve (“like”) or  “share” with others.

Clients often come to counseling to seek relief from loneliness. Loneliness within a marriage… loneliness from death of a loved one… loneliness from some form of separation from others. All are a reflection of this need, a desire, to be known and cared for by others – or even by just one other human life form. Not just known but appreciated for our finest qualities but forgiven for our less desirable traits. Why is it so important? Where did this need come from? Since I’m fairly religious, I’m going to throw in the short version which goes like this:  Because that’s the way God made us. The long version is that it is a trait that probably once served our need for survival. My guess is that when people were utilized to their strengths, the survival of the group structure was maximized. Sort of like this – John is really good at shooting arrows, let’s make him leader of the hunting crew.  John feels happy that his innate skill is recognized by those he lives with, cares about and depends upon. Since he can’t do things like maybe make leather shoes, he’s grateful to do his part for group survival and in return he reaps love, acceptance, and maybe…. shoes.

Loneliness. It could be the sense that no one really knows or appreciates the “real” you. It could be a physical distance from others. The bigger and deeper primitive need  – subconscious, of course – is that we  (the human species) once depended upon approval and love within our group for physical survival. To be ostracized or abandoned by the group was tantamount to death by starvation or some other solitary fatality. We need each other, in other words. While these are not the days of rustic survival, the need for shared identity is ingrained as a remnant of survival skills.

I’m going to suggest that, like everything else we get handed in this life, loneliness has a place and purpose. It is a symptom that we are somewhat separated from sources of love (giving and getting). We live in a culture that values independence. People are quite well equipped to live solitary lives. Our primitive minds and bodies, though, have not totally weaned out the survival part that says:   “I am sure to die if I live alone.”

Maybe that’s why FaceBook is so successful It satisfies that part of our tribal-loving human nature. We get to shine our little light on a daily basis, if we so desire. We get mostly positive feedback- 5 likes, 2 comments, for example.  Our friend count is specific. Our feedback is nearly immediate. We connect.

Counselor’s words:  Being part of a tribe or group feels good and right on a certain level, but  being alone, feeling lonely,  is not the life-threatening event it once was.  It is a symptom of needing more appreciative connections with others. If lonely within a marriage, get counseling. Communication is key. If lonely in life, make efforts to connect with others. Share coffee or join a group that interests you. The connections will occur naturally.

COLUMNS Sonja Grace: Predictions

The Big Buzz

WE ARE gathering information for a higher consciousness like a comet racing towards Earth.  As we examine and try on all of the spiritual fast food made available on line remember to have some discernment in what you read.  Watching videos tend to take us into a reality that is believable because it is moving before our eyes and yet this is an area humanity has blindly put their trust into.  Critical thinking is something of the past with the generation that is now retired and spends more time in the garden.    We are complex beings with souls that span centuries of lifetimes with a built in subscription to the Divine.

Your subscription has not run out, you are experiencing the shift in vibration that moves the DNA to recalibrate with the Universe. As we change our perspective on a spiritual plane it is important for everyone to take a deep breath and realize it is from a spiritual path that we will continue our lives here on Earth.  This spiritual path is one of consciousness; in that each step you take is done so with awareness to your inner guide and the Earth.

As we continue to move towards the fifth dimension we will also have the responsibility to a much greater cause: the Earth.   This fourth world we have enjoyed includes a self-indulgent, self-centered, it’s all about me menu that allowed us to discover all of the details of our souls’ journey.    Many have not done their homework thus the fast track to enlightenment.

These last gasps of drama will fizzle out as we move into a new era.  Our planet will demand our attention.  For we have created what we must now deal with here on Earth.   This is the collective karmic path humanity will be called to take responsibility for.  When you find yourself blaming others and demanding for the truth remember the very fibers of your soul are connected to the Divine.  We can connect with a deeper truth and accountability that allows you to embrace the world community in an effort to help heal the Earth.  It is her time now.

Bodies In Balance COLUMNS

Adrenals…The Stress Responders

Ever been in a near accident on your bike, in your car, or just tripping over the curb? You feel a rush of ‘adrenaline’ your heart rate increases and you may feel flushed or sweaty…that’s your adrenals at work. The adrenal glands, which sit above each kidney, are responsible for the output of hormones that are active throughout the body and help modulate our response to stress. We all have stress in our lives from our jobs, our families, our finances; you name it. But other areas that create stress are less recognized; things like allergies, poor quality sleep, chronic pain, anxiety and depression. All these factors can add up, affecting our adrenal health.

When stress continues long-term the adrenals begin to tire out and make inappropriate levels of hormones which can negatively affect our overall health. Although these glands produce a whole list of hormones the two I am focusing on are cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). In a stressful situation cortisol is released to enhance our alertness and ability to deal with the situation. Once the stressful situation abates DHEA comes in to calm the waters and reset the body back to equilibrium. These two hormones like to be in balance, but under chronic stress DHEA becomes outweighed by cortisol. Long-term, high cortisol levels cause unwanted symptoms including weight gain, water retention, suppressed immune function, poor blood sugar control, weakened skin and bones, and altered moods and behavior. High cortisol levels also decrease the active form of thyroid hormone (T3) and therefore may be another treatment option for those with little relief from conventional thyroid replacement.

I think the best type of testing for adrenal health is salivary testing. It is used less frequently by the medical community but is an invaluable tool for looking at adrenal function. Blood testing is another option but blood levels of adrenal hormones tend not to show the subtleties of adrenal health until disease is very advanced. The salivary test looks at cortisol release throughout a day as well as it and DHEA’s total output. I will mention again that salivary testing is not readily available through most medical professionals BUT if there is significant adrenal disease conventional blood, urine or other standard tests may be more suitable.

So what are the treatment options? The most obvious are to decrease or eliminate as many stressors as possible. Sometimes this may mean re-evaluating a job, asking for more responsibility sharing from the family, getting some time alone, taking a vacation, etc. Identifying more subtle stressors like poor sleep or allergies, and treating them is also a necessary addition to the treatment plan. But as with all things easier said than done we cannot always quit our job or find a better family. So then the discussion turns not so much to eliminating stressors but how you manage stress.

Stress management is an art unto itself and in our hustle bustle world it is a challenge to many. The adrenals love routine which makes sense since they are one of the key players in helping the body to maintain balance. I encourage my patients to get routine in the following ways. Eat regularly this ensures that the body is being consistently nourished and able to handle blood sugar challenges appropriately. Sleep between the hours of 10pm and 4am, again easier said than done for some but if you are at least attempting to do something relaxing and restful in those hours your adrenals will thank you. Exercise regularly, not only will this assist with energy and fitness it is also a terrific way to recharge the adrenals. Lastly do something relaxing everyday, I love the evening bath, others enjoy crafting, music, a good book, journaling; whatever it is it should be something that gets you out of that hustle bustle mentality.

After proper evaluation your health care provider may opt to supplement with DHEA. This is a hormone that should not be taken unless it has been determined that you are deficient; and although it is widely available does not mean it is appropriate for everyone. There are other supplements that support adrenal function, which may be safer options for those who have not been evaluated and are under chronic stress. Vitamin C is highly concentrated in the adrenals; taking 2-3 grams a day in divided doses may improve function. Vit. C at this dosage could be aggravating to the stomach causing gurgling and looser stools however, so take to your tolerance, even smaller amounts will be beneficial. B vitamins are essential for the metabolic pathways of many hormones the adrenals produce. Especially important are B5 and B6, but as always, take a B complex when taking any one B vitamin therapeutically. B vitamins are water-soluble and should be taken in divided doses throughout the day with food. Minerals such as Zinc, Potassium and Magnesium are also necessary for the adrenal’s metabolic pathway.

There are some terrific herbs for adrenal health. They work on a variety of levels from enhancing the life of adrenal hormones to nourishing the glands themselves. My top picks for adrenal health are Ginseng and Rhodiola. Ginseng has a variety of types there is American and Korean and really either/any of them are going to be fantastically helpful for adrenal health. Rhodiola is a Siberian herb which I like for use in stressful situations. I find it well suited to someone who is going through a particularly challenging time as opposed to Ginseng which is a more broadly useful herb for general adrenal health all the time…they work well together!!

Stress is a reality of living in our modern world. Remember to nourish your adrenal glands by taking time to relax and work on your stress management techniques, it will contribute to a body in balance.

DO something you LOVE, BE with someone you LOVE, EAT your vegetables, DRINK clean water, BREATHE deeply, and MOVE your body EVERYDAY!!

COLUMNS The Bike Madame

In Search of a Pedal-Powered Camping Trailer

Camping trailers enchanted me as a child. On my family’s annual tent-camping trip to Lake Ontario in central New York, I rode around the campground on my ten-speed and stopped to visit with elders in the electric-hookup area. Their life of year-round travel in their cleverly designed miniature houses (bus-sized RVs had not been invented) enthralled me with the promise of carefree adventure.

Now RVs the size of Imperial Star Destroyers whiz past me on the road. Their presence prompts me to wonder if a pedal-powered alternative exists: a pull-behind sleeping place. A visit to the Internet revealed a variety of designs to make travel more comfortable for people for whom packing a tent isn’t an option. Most were individual creations on the part of handy individuals rather than the work of commercial producers.

Tina Gallagher’s Yahoo! Voices article “Bicycle Travel Trailers Are Becoming Reality” provides links to You Tube videos where inventors show their designs in action. A video called “A biketrailer” shows an elderly gentleman pulling a tube-shaped trailer behind his recumbent bike that’s just large enough to sleep inside. He has equipped it with two support stands and can close its mailbox-like door from inside or out. Artist Kevin Cyr, a jaunty older fellow, has designed a pull-behind trailer that looks more like a miniature fifth wheel than a launch tube for a spaceship. His video presents the trailer in several settings; it’s evident from the riding scene, though, that the additional space comes at the cost of a heavier load. (The looks on the faces of cyclists he passes on the road are priceless.) Ms. Gallagher offers her own design ideas at the end of the article.

Alternatively, one may be able to adapt a commercially available small pull-behind model to cycle towing. A website dedicated to pint-sized travel trailers (Teardrops and Tiny Travel Trailers or has entries depicting the trailers’ owners hauling them by bike or trike.

British cyclists can purchase the QTVan, specially made to be towed by cyclists or motorized scooter users. This compact craft fits a bed, cooking kettle and drinks area, wall-mounted flat-screen TV, and a radio. Manufactured by the Environmental Transport Association, this nifty device is not currently being marketed in the U.S. You can see it at the company’s website, (accompanied by a young fellow lounging under a quilt with an eye-searing pattern). It was marketed to elders wanting to secure an overnight spot for viewing the royal wedding procession without sleeping on concrete.

Hauling such a massive load requires specialized, durable connectors (imagine one of these things tipping over in traffic) and a custom gearing system. While all of the riders appeared comfortable pulling their trailers, none of the films I saw showed them going up or down a hill. If you want to try cycle-caravanning, make sure you practice in a safe place (like a parking lot early in the morning) to learn your new tolerances for braking and steering. I’ve hauled as much as 100 pounds with a bike trailer specially made for such loads, and I discovered the hard way just how much clearance you need to stop safely—and how easily you can tip over on turning.

Carbon-neutral trailers would be great projects for handy people…or a scout troop. (However, trying to fit the whole troop inside will require changes in the laws of physics that would challenge Star Trek’s Scotty.) For the less mechanically inclined, we can hope the QTVan soon crosses the water (on its own pontoons).

COLUMNS Free Will Astology

Free Will Astrology – August 2012

ARIES (March 21-April 19): The astrological omens suggest that you now have a lot in common with the legendary Most Interesting Man in the World — adventurous, unpredictable, interesting, lucky, one-of-a-kind. To create your horoscope, I have therefore borrowed a few selected details from his ad campaign’s descriptions of him. Here we go: In the coming weeks, you will be the life of parties you don’t even attend. Astronauts will be able to see your charisma from outer space. Up to one-third of your body weight will be gravitas. Your cell phone will always have good reception, even in a subway 100 feet underground. Panhandlers will give you money. You could challenge your reflection to a staring contest — and win. You’ll be able to keep one eye on the past while looking into the future. When you sneeze, God will say “God bless you.”

TAURUS (April 20-May 20): Psychologist Bruno Bettelheim said the dreams we have at night are “the result of inner pressures which have found no relief, of problems which beset a person to which he knows no solution and to which the dream finds none.” That sounds bleak, doesn’t it? If it’s true, why even bother to remember our dreams? Well, because we are often not consciously aware of the feelings they reveal to us. By portraying our buried psychic material in story form, dreams give us insight into what we’ve been missing. So even though they may not provide a solution, they educate us. Take heed, Taurus! Your upcoming dreams will provide useful information you can use to fix one of your longstanding dilemmas.

GEMINI (May 21-June 20): When French composer Georges Auric scored the soundtrack for Jean Cocteau’s movie Blood of a Poet, he produced “love music for love scenes, game music for game scenes, and funeral music for funeral scenes.” But Cocteau himself had a different idea about how to use Auric’s work. For the love scenes he decided to use the funeral music, for the game scenes the love music, and for the funeral scenes the game music. In accordance with the current astrological omens, Gemini, I recommend that you experiment with that style of mixing and matching. Have fun! (Source: A Ned Rorem Reader, by Ned Rorem.)

CANCER (June 21-July 22): “Piglet was so excited at the idea of being useful that he forgot to be frightened any more,” wrote A. A. Milne in his kids’ story Winnie-the-Pooh. That’s my prescription for how to evade the worrisome fantasies that are nipping at you, Cancerian. If no one has invited you to do some engaging and important labor of love, invite yourself. You need to be needed — even more than usual. P.S. Here’s what Rumi advises: “Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.”

LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): You’ve been making pretty good progress in the School of Life. By my estimates, you’re now the equivalent of a sophomore. You’ve mastered enough lessons so that you can no longer be considered a freshman, and yet you’ve got a lot more to learn. Are you familiar with the etymology of the word “sophomore”? It comes from two Greek words meaning “wise” and “fool.” That’ll be a healthy way to think about yourself in the coming weeks. Be smart enough to know what you don’t know. Cultivate the voracious curiosity necessary to lead you to the next rich teachings.

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): A few years ago, a Malaysian man named Lim Boon Hwa arranged to have himself “cooked.” For 30 minutes, he sat on a board covering a pan full of simmering dumplings and corn. The fact that no harm came to him was proof, he said, that Taoist devotees like him are protected by their religion’s deities. I advise you not to try a stunt like that, Virgo — including metaphorical versions. This is no time to stew in your own juices. Or boil in your tormented fantasies. Or broil in your nagging doubts. Or be grilled in your self-accusations. You need to be free from the parts of your mind that try to cook you.

LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): On a spring day in 1973, an engineer named Martin Cooper debuted the world’s first cell phone. He placed a call as he walked along a New York City street. The phone weighed two and half pounds and resembled a brick. Later he joked that no one would be able to talk very long on his invention, since it took a lot of strength to hold it against one’s ear. Think of how far that amazing device has come since then, Libra. Now imagine some important aspect of your own life that is in a rather primitive state at this moment but could one day be as natural and fully developed as cell phones have become. Are you willing to work hard to make that happen? Now’s a good time to intensify your commitment.

SCORPIO (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): In the coming weeks, you will lose some clout and self-command if you’re too hungry for power. Likewise, if you act too brazenly intelligent, you may alienate potential helpers who are not as mentally well-endowed as you. One other warning, Scorpio: Don’t be so fiercely reasonable that you miss the emotional richness that’s available. In saying these things, I don’t mean to sound as if I’m advising you to dumb yourself down and downplay your strengths. Not at all. Rather, I’m trying to let you know that the best way to get what you really need is to tailor your self-expression to the unique circumstances you find yourself in.

SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22-Dec. 21): For a while, French writer Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) was very poor. He lived in a place that had no heat and almost no furniture. To enhance his environment, he resorted to the use of fantasy. On one of his bare walls, he wrote the words, “rosewood paneling with ornamental cabinet.” On another, he wrote “Gobelin tapestry with Venetian mirror.” Over the empty fireplace he declared, “Picture by Raphael.” That’s the level of imaginative power I encourage you to summon in the coming weeks, Sagittarius. So much of what you’ll need will come from that simple magic.

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): It’s an excellent time to overthrow false gods and topple small-minded authorities and expose fraudulent claims. Anyone and anything in your environment that do not fully deserve the power they claim should get the brunt of your exuberant skepticism. When you’re done cleaning up those messes, turn your attention to your own inner realms. There might be some good work to be done there. Can you think of any hypocrisy that needs fixing? Any excessive self-importance that could use some tamping down? Any pretending that would benefit from a counter dose of authenticity?

AQUARIUS (Jan. 20-Feb. 18): In old China, people used to cool themselves by sipping hot drinks. After taking a bath, they buffed the excess water from their skin by using a wet towel. When greeting a friend, they shook their own hand instead of the friend’s. To erect a new house, they built the roof first. You’re currently in a phase of your astrological cycle when this kind of behavior makes sense. In fact, I suspect you’re most likely to have a successful week if you’re ready to reverse your usual way of doing things on a regular basis.

PISCES (Feb. 19-March 20): I’m really tired of you not getting all of the appreciation and acknowledgment and rewards you deserve. Is there even a small possibility that you might be harboring some resistance to that good stuff? Could you be giving off a vibe that subtly influences people to withhold the full blessings they might otherwise confer upon you? According to my analysis of the astrological omens, the coming weeks will be an excellent time for you to work on correcting this problem. Do everything you can to make it easy for people to offer you their love and gifts.

Homework: Send news of your favorite mystery — an enigma that is both maddening and delightful.


Are We Just LAZY?

The cacophony started a little after 8 o’clock this morning. A lone weed whacker, or hedge trimmer, or some other power tool, got me out of bed to do my gardening chores a little earlier than I had planned.

On my way to the community garden plot a few blocks from my house, the chorus grew louder, with basses and tenors singing different grinding tunes. The soprano bird songs came through only at times.

Having watered my little vegetable plot, I headed home to deal with the garden there. On the way, I saw one neighbor mowing his lawn (which I think he mowed just the other day) and heard several weed whackers singing their tunes in other yards that were just out of sight. As I approached the road to my house, I heard the dual sounds of a weed whacker and the ultimate in power tools for the lazy, the leaf blower. Yes, a couple of guys from the city were completing the job that the Blue Monster (what I call the giant lawn mower that shaves the roadsides in Astoria a few times each summer) started yesterday. Talk about overkill. This oversized killing machine mows down everything in its path, but can’t really cut the grass, especially on hillsides. So it is trailed by mere mortals wielding those much better-sized power tools to finish the job.

As I watched these guys tidy up the steep roadside leading to my house, I wondered why they, or the Blue Monster, for that matter, were there in the first place. At the very least, the leaf blower, the most polluting (including noise) of any power tool on earth, could have been replaced with a broom. The capital cost savings alone would make the couple minutes extra time to sweep the grass cuttings well worth it. The city worker wouldn’t have to wear headphones, wouldn’t be subjected to nasty pollution, and wouldn’t have to carry the heavy blower on his back. I can see a savings in health care costs for the worker and the city.

A friend recently sent me a video of a contest between a lawn mower and a scythe-wielding guy, who beat the mechanized grass cutter by a hair (or is that a blade?) in cutting down a rectangular patch of grass of equal size to his competitor. I’ve seen my friend scythe his field in near silence with spectacular results. Yes, it’s hard work, but it keeps him in shape, gets great results, doesn’t contribute to global warming, and most importantly, doesn’t wake up the neighbors or upset his animals.

Our society has advanced much in the last few centuries, led by the use of fossil fuels to power our tools, transportation and houses. But I look at the drive to destroy vegetation as one arena where the use of power tools and chemical poisons (based on fossil fuels) may be viewed as ridiculous overkill, literally.

Every spring and summer, tons of chemicals are applied by the sides of roads in most places in an effort to kill grass or other “invasive species”, in the guise of fire aversion. If chemicals aren’t used, typically the roadsides are ridded of fuel by mechanical means. Not much in the way of science can be used to justify these activities. It’s just the way we’ve always done it (really?). I’d like to see a study that shows that this huge expenditure of time, effort and fossil fuels really does prevent fires any more than either nothing or better planning of roads and their surroundings.

The epitome of this sort of thinking is what I’ve also seen recently on my way to the community garden. A neighbor in a mask was spraying pesticide on the concrete by his house to rid the cracks of grass. As I’ve commented before in this column, all it would take to rid his cracks of their green inhabitants would be bending down and picking them out.

Recently logged forests are sprayed by plane to rid them of every possible plant before replanting the one species that makes the logging company (and the local government) money. Groundskeeping companies carry rakes, shovels and brooms, but never use them. Grass is cut with a riding lawn mower as soon as it gets above a half an inch.

Is it a love of power tools (or just power), or are we just lazy?

The weather has really been nice in the area the last few weeks. If there is some plant or insect in your garden that you can’t live with, there are so many tools that will make the job easy and don’t require electrical or gas power. Use them or your own hands and muscle to get the job done, or if you’re really lazy, just sit back on the lawn chair, drink of choice in hand, and let nature do its thing.

I kind of like that last choice. Go nature!

COLUMNS Stephen Berk

The Road to Oblivion

In the previous column, I discussed Mitt Romney’s closeness to the imperialist neocons and the likelihood that should he become president, the US and Israel would attack Iran. We might remember that when George W. Bush committed us to war, he simultaneously handed massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. And huge subsidies continued for such industries as big oil, which reaps many hundreds of billions in profits per year. Trillions to fight two wars were borrowed, thus bringing back the huge deficits erased during the Clinton administration. But Vice President Cheney reassured us that Ronald Reagan had taught us that deficits don’t matter. All that changed, of course, when a Democrat took over the White House, and then Republicans took the House after the Supreme Court handed control of our government to billionaires. Then Republicans, who had plunged the country into unparalleled war debt, suddenly became alarmed at Obama’s “wild spending.”

Romney takes his approach to domestic fiscal policy directly from the radical playbook of House Budget Committee chair, Paul Ryan. Ryan wants to privatize Medicare, an extreme move that would upend the medical care of many millions of seniors. Medicare is broadly acknowledged to be the most successful, fiscally efficient program we have in medical service delivery. But the Medicare drug benefit package recently added during the Bush administration has made it much more expensive. A boon to the pharmaceutical industry, a major player in congressional campaign financing, it eliminates competitive bidding, making prescription drugs far more expensive in the US than in neighboring Canada and in much of the world. There are many ways of streamlining Medicare, one of which is to eliminate the degree of expensive, mandated unnecessary tests, such as many MRI’s, but the medical services industry stands in the way of that. In addition, much of the cost of American medical service delivery goes to pay for executives who run the drug companies, hospitals and other care facilities. All this would get much worse under Ryan’s privatization of Medicare.

Ryan also wants to partially privatize Social Security, thereby handing trillions more dollars to big investment banks, which will securitize and sell them as derivatives, as they did with mortgages, thus conducting wild speculation with retirement incomes paid into by workers over the course of their entire career lives. Thus we will witness the Social Security bubble and bust, as we did the savings and loan, dotcom and subprime debacles, wreaking havoc with the economy and ultimately destroying the incomes of seniors throughout the country. Ryan’s plans of course take nothing from the bloated defense budget, which is greater than that of the rest of the world. Who is this terrible enemy that we have to spend so much “defending” ourselves against? It would seem to be those who would stand in the way of our plans to corner the world’s remaining oil supplies. And there are all those hungry defense contractors.

Ryan has been sharply criticized by the American Bishops Conference of his own Roman Catholic Church, as well as the faculty and administration of the Catholic Georgetown University in Washington, D. C. They accuse Ryan of seeking to “dismantle government programs and abandon the poor to their own devices.” Ryan’s budget plans also call for sharp cuts in the remaining programs that benefit the most at-risk populations. But Ryan doesn’t get his Social Darwinist ideas from any Catholic or other religious teaching. He gets them from the late novelist and erstwhile libertarian philosopher, Ayn Rand, requiring all his office staff to read her Atlas Shrugged. Rand admittedly romanticized the role of individual entrepreneurs in making America great, while disparaging unions and any government move to aid the poor and spur upward mobility. But Rand, an atheist who encouraged selfishness as a virtue, was idealizing inventors like Edison and Ford. Her fictional John Galt had invented a perpetual motion machine, the solution to all energy problems. Ryan’s capitalists are merely speculators with other people’s money, Wall Street casino gamblers. He would have us believe they are the “makers,” and the folks who paid into and are receiving Medicare and Social Security are the “takers.” Romney’s implementation of Ryan’s plan would further impoverish most Americans.

COLUMNS The Bike Madame

Cycling For Two, Part One: Internal Passengers

Lest the subtitle “internal passengers” conjure up visions of beneficial intestinal bacteria pushing microscopic pedals with their cilia, let me clarify: I mean human offspring who have not yet emerged from the cushy safety of the womb. For the past four and a half months, I have experienced the ups and downs of cycling for two and am ready to share my wisdom-in-progress with anybody considering a partnership of bike and baby-to-come.

Please do not take my ideas for medical advice. The decision whether to continue cycling while pregnant is a joint one between you and your health-care provider. If you’re uncomfortable, fatigued, or otherwise feel worse from riding, don’t force yourself even if your provider has given you the green light. The third trimester is particularly concerning, as your front-heaviness can unbalance you and the baby’s less protected in case of a fall. That’s why some providers suggest you stop riding as you approach your due date.

Fatigue is a common concern, particularly the in first trimester. If you’re a competitive cyclist or just like to challenge your physiological limits, you’ll have some adjusting to do. You want to find a level of intensity where you can hold a conversation with a fellow rider and don’t get out of breath. This may feel like a casual weekend amble, but burning calories isn’t in your best interests or the baby’s. Take your time with hill-climbing. Does your steed have a good “granny gear”? This is a good time to swap the fixie—temporarily—for a multi-gear ride.

As you get heavier in front, you may develop discomfort in the abdominal muscles (which are stretching to accommodate your girth), and pedaling can aggravate this. Now in the second trimester, I find my recumbent bike more comfortable than my upright bike, as I’m in a relaxed position with my back supported and I don’t have to hike my legs so high. You may have to adjust your seat and headset to find a comfortable position. If you’re finding it difficult to stay balanced, consider an adult tricycle. Recumbent tricycles look cool and don’t shout “old lady.”

While fatigue, increased bulkiness, and difficulty balancing are common concerns, miscellaneous peculiar symptoms may also provide you with unexpected hurdles. Most expectant mothers develop a keen sense of smell early in the pregnancy (this might even be your “giveaway” of your condition prior to the missed period). This transforms the flatulence of smelly trucks from an annoyance to a struggle against revisiting the contents of one’s stomach, and I won’t even mention other stinky objects one encounters on the road. Temperature-regulation weirdness can cause you to swim in sweat one moment and freeze the next, so bring layers. Some of us experience a decline in visual acuity. If you’ve noticed a change in your vision, get an eye exam and possibly new glasses or contacts. It’s even more essential now to glimpse upcoming road hazards and avoid falls and collisions.

For as long as you’re comfortable and you and your offspring are safe doing it, cycling is a superb way to retain the stamina, strength, and flexibility you’ll need for giving birth. Just don’t start riding while pregnant if you haven’t hopped on a bike since you were twelve. Wait until after your little passenger is out in the world before you try riding off that post-pregnancy paunch—when your health-care provider (and your own comfort) gives you the “okay.”

COLUMNS Free Will Astology

FREE WILL ASTROLOGY: June 28 – July 18

ARIES (March 21-April 19): If you play solitaire, your luck will be crazy strong in the coming weeks. If you have candid, wide-ranging talks with yourself in the mirror, the revelations are likely to be as interesting as if you had spoken directly with the river god or the angel of the sunrise. Taking long walks alone could lead to useful surprises, and so would crafting a new declaration of independence for yourself. It’ll also be an excellent time to expand your skills at giving yourself pleasure. Please understand that I’m not advising you to be isolated and lonely. I merely want to emphasize the point that you’re due for some breakthroughs in your relationship with yourself.

TAURUS (April 20-May 20): Are you in possession of a talent or interest or inclination or desire that no one else has? Is there some unique way you express what it means to be human? According to my understanding of the long-term astrological omens, the coming months will be your time to cultivate this specialty with unprecedented intensity; it’ll be a window of opportunity to be more practical than ever before in making your signature mark on the world. Between now and your next birthday, I urge you to be persistent in celebrating the one-of-a-kind truth that is your individuality.

GEMINI (May 21-June 20): “Message in a bottle” is not just a pirate movie cliche. It’s a form of communication that has been used throughout history for serious purposes. England’s Queen Elizabeth I even appointed an official “Uncorker of Ocean Bottles.” And as recently as 2005, a message in a bottle saved the lives of 88 refugees adrift in the Caribbean Sea on a damaged boat. Glass, it turns out, is an excellent container for carrying sea-born dispatches. It lasts a long time and can even survive hurricanes. In accordance with the astrological omens, I nominate “message in a bottle” to be your metaphor for the rest of 2012. Here’s one way to apply this theme: Create a message you’d like to send to the person you will be in five years, perhaps a declaration of what your highest aspirations will be between now and then. Write it on paper and stash it in a bottle. Store this time capsule in a place you won’t forget, and open it in 2017.

CANCER (June 21-July 22): Every 10,000 years or so, reports the Weekly World News, hell actually does freeze over. A rare storm brings a massive amount of snow and ice to the infernal regions, and even the Lake of Fire looks like a glacier. “Satan himself was seen wearing earmuffs and making a snowman,” the story says about the last time it happened. I foresee a hell-freezes-over type of event happening for you in the coming months, Cancerian — and I mean that in a good way. The seemingly impossible will become possible; what’s lost will be found and what’s bent will be made straight; the lion will lie down not only with the lamb but also with the sasquatch. For best results, be ready to shed your expectations at a moment’s notice.

LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): “In purely spiritual matters, God grants all desires,” said philosopher and activist Simone Weil. “Those who have less have asked for less.” I think this is a worthy hypothesis for you to try out in the next nine months, Leo. To be clear: It doesn’t necessarily mean you will get a dream job and perfect lover and ten million dollars. (Although I’m not ruling that out.) What it does suggest is this: You can have any relationship with the Divine Wow that you dare to imagine; you can get all the grace you need to understand why your life is the way it is; you can make tremendous progress as you do the life-long work of liberating yourself from your suffering.

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): A plain old ordinary leap of faith might not be ambitious enough for you in the coming months, Virgo. I suspect your potential is more robust than that, more primed for audacity. How would you feel about attempting a quantum leap of faith? Here’s what I mean by that: a soaring pirouette that sends you flying over the nagging obstacle and up onto higher ground, where the views are breathtakingly vast instead of gruntingly half-vast.

LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): “The dream which is not fed with dream disappears,” said writer Antonio Porchia. Ain’t that the truth! Especially for you right now. These last few months, you’ve been pretty good at attending to the details of your big dreams. You’ve taken the practical approach and done the hard work. But beginning any moment, it will be time for you to refresh your big dreams with an infusion of fantasies and brainstorms. You need to return to the source of your excitement and feed it and feed it and feed it.

SCORPIO (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): A Chinese businessman named Hu Xilin is the champion fly-killer of the world. Ever since one of the buzzing pests offended him at the dinner table back in 1997, he has made it his mission to fight back. He says he has exterminated more than ten million of the enemy with his patented “Fly Slayer” machine. And oh by the way, his obsession has made him a millionaire. It’s possible, Scorpio, that your story during the second half of 2012 will have elements in common with Hu Xilin’s. Is there any bad influence you could work to minimize or undo in such a way that it might ultimately earn you perks and prizes — or at least deep satisfaction?

SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22-Dec. 21): From the 14th through the 18th centuries, many towns in England observed a curious custom. If a couple could prove that they had gone a year and a day without ever once being sorry they got married, the two of them would receive an award: a side of cured pork, known as a flitch of bacon. Alas, the prize was rarely claimed. If this practice were still in effect, you Sagittarians would have an elevated chance of bringing home the bacon in the coming months. Your ability to create harmony and mutual respect in an intimate relationship will be much higher than usual.

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): “If I had my life to live over,” said Nadine Stair at age 85, “I would perhaps have more actual problems, but I’d have fewer imaginary ones.” I suggest you write out that quote, Capricorn, and keep it close to you for the next six months. Your task, as I see it, will be to train yourself so you can expertly distinguish actual problems from imaginary ones. Part of your work, of course, will be to get in the habit of immediately ejecting any of the imaginary kind the moment you notice them creeping up on you.

AQUARIUS (Jan. 20-Feb. 18): Astronomer Percival Lowell (1855-1916) was instrumental in laying the groundwork that led to the discovery of Pluto. He was a visionary pioneer who helped change our conception of the solar system. But he also put forth a wacky notion or two. Among the most notable: He declared, against a great deal of contrary evidence, that the planet Mars was laced with canals. You have the potential be a bit like him in the coming months, Aquarius: mostly a wellspring of innovation but sometimes a source of errant theories. What can you do to ensure that the errant theories have minimal effect? Be humble and ask for feedback.

PISCES (Feb. 19-March 20): Throughout the 16th century and even beyond, European explorers trekked through the New World hunting for the mythical land of El Dorado: the Lost City of Gold. The precious metal was supposedly so abundant there that it was even used to make children’s toys. The quest was ultimately futile, although it led the explorers to stumble upon lesser treasures of practical value — the potato, for example. After being brought over to Europe from South America, it became a staple food. I’m foreseeing a comparable progression in your own world during the coming months: You may not locate the gold, but you’ll find the equivalent of the potato.

Homework: Make a prediction about where you’ll be and what you’ll be doing on January 1, 2013. Testify at