Friday, September 24, 2010

When Stress Reduction Causes Stress

In recent years I've read many articles about the miraculous health benefits of pets. I believe what those articles say, but I have a question about pet ownership as a method of stress reduction:

Should pet owners take responsibility for negative side-effects?

Here's my story of how one kind of stress reduction caused stress for an innocent party :

After weeks of dry weather, a powerful midnight storm brings reviving rain to my thirsty neighborhood. In the early hours of the morning after, I lace up my running shoes and take off toward a dirt trail along the nearby Mariposa drainage, anticipating the thrilling uplift of solitude in rejuvenated riparian splendor. But before I leave my own driveway, the neighbor's dogs pitch a fit, barking and lunging at their fence as if I'm an evil intruder about to invade their territory. Even though I should be used to it, the sudden ruckus startles me from smooth reverie to spiky adrenaline infused anxiety.

A few minutes later, I turn onto the path that follows a sandy rise above cottonwoods and Russian olive trees. My heartbeat steadies as I inhale the savory thanksgiving scent of sage and the honey fragrance of blooming chamisa. Then my nostrils flare and recoil in a tight pinch against the nasty stench of reconstituted dog turd, given new life by the same rain that coaxed perfume from the high desert plants. I exhale a four-letter word and step around the pile in my path. When I look up again my view is filled by the glistening, brand new, forest green doggy doo-doo pick up station, pristine in its virginity.

Across Montano the trail passes behind a housing development. At this hour of going-to-work or waiting-for-the-school-bus, most of the backyards are empty. I hear birds twittering and the whir of distant traffic. I relax into a meditative pace and watch a desert cottontail hopping a mere two feet ahead of me.
An explosion behind the fence on my left jerks me back to reality and propels my bunny buddy into the underbrush. A dog, someones beloved pet no doubt, is hurling his body against the wall, red-lining my heart rate in a rush of fight or flight response. While the one dog assaults the pine boards in silence, his neighbor jumps high to show his menacing grimace above the pickets and a third dog bays like a coon hound who has treed his quarry.

My mantra shifts from Sanskrit to profanity and I scramble to the opposite side of the weed choked, muddy ditch. There's no time to scuff the mud off my shoes or quiet my racing pulse before a pit bull on a twelve-foot leash lunges at my knees. His owner makes a half-hearted pull on the leash and scowls at me. I'm confused...he's mad at me for infringing on his right to relax or...?

On my way home I rant about personal responsibility until I see a young woman pushing a twin stroller while controlling two dogs on a double leash. I watch her put on a plastic bag as if it were a glove, pick up poop and then turn the glove back into a bag with a practiced twist. I continue my rant with even greater vehemence now that I have a model for the positive side of my argument.

What do you say, readers? Where do you stand?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Paper or Plastic?

What is the best way to handle newspaper delivery when we travel? Do we call the delivery boy and let him know the house will be vacant? Shall we rely on our neighbor's kindness to pick up the newspaper each morning? Maybe we should just cancel the delivery permanently.

Most, but not all, of the content of our local newspaper is available online, but still requires a subscription.  It's a couple dollars less per month than home delivery. Would I sit at my computer and read the paper as thoroughly as I do the paper version?  Probably not. I don't have an IPad or a portable device that would make reading it a bit easier.

My environmentalist daughter would argue that the amount of paper we recycle each month with a newspaper subscription warrants an electronic version.  But the same daughter, wearing her journalist hat, decries the demise and downsizing of newspapers and magazines and argues for the paper version.

I'm rapidly becoming old-fashioned, I guess, but I like the feel of the newspaper in my hand as I settle into my leather easy chair in the mornings, cup of tea steaming beside me. Reading the paper has been a part of my morning routine for a long time, and I am loath to give it up.  Reading my computer screen, even if I can read it on my laptop while sitting in my easy chair, just isn't as comfortable. And how would I work the crossword puzzle?

I bought an electronic reader recently, a Barnes and Noble Nook, and I love having the whole world of books accessible to me as I travel. But I am surprised: I miss the simple pleasure of looking at my bookmark at the edge of the book and noting how much more I have to read.  Seeing the page numbers at the bottom of my Nook screen just doesn't give me the same pleasure.

I'm a toucher: I want the feel of paper in my hand. Give me technology but leave my newspaper alone. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

How to Relax

Relaxation sounds like a good idea, doesn't it? I believe in the benefits, but I have trouble making time for it. If only my urge to rest were as persistent as my sweet-tooth (I'm thinking about Ruth's cookies in the previous blog post!)....

When I do remember to take a break, meditation is helpful. I've found several pleasant relaxation aids on YouTube. Just enter *relaxation music* or *guided meditation* in the search field; there's something there for every taste. One of my favorite guided meditations encourages writers especially. You can find it on Mark David Gerson's website.

Recently I happened to hear about an activity that caught my attention -- it's called nature-sitting. Designed as a field trip for college biology students, it offers a personal encounter with nature. Nature-sitting requires a setting like a park or open space with minimal traffic or other distractions. Students find a comfortable spot and sit quietly for an hour observing nature. They're encouraged to sketch, take photos, and write poetry or prose to record their observations (but no iPods, please). Zoology students at Miami University shared their experiences in poems, drawings, and photos that whet my appetite for relaxation.

I have an appointment with myself at 10:00 AM on Saturday, September 11. I'm going to take a camp chair, my sketchbook and writing pad down to the Rio Grande Bosque and experience my first nature-sit. You're welcome to join me there, or you could set up a parallel nature-sit in your own neighborhood or time zone. We can compare notes later.