On the heels of a generous fall of light and color, when bright pumpkins and squash signaled the coming Thanksgiving Feast, the plight of Parisians, of Syrians fleeing their country and our complicity in the chain of world events jolts us. We are no longer simply New Englanders; we are all world citizens who need to figure out how we can share this bountiful, beautiful Earth.
How can the spirit of Thanksgiving help us? Fortunately, several academic studies of the health effects of grateful people are freely available by googling ‘gratitude researchers’.
Lisa Aspinwall (University of Utah), and Robert Emmons (UC Davis) both study the health effects of giving thanks. In separate studies they found that grateful people have higher levels of alertness, determinism, optimism, and energy; they take better care of themselves, have less stress, exercise more, are happier, have stronger immune systems, and hold a brighter view of the future. Their academic studies and more are on the internet (google ‘gratitude researchers’). The health effects Aspinwall and Emmons found are attributes we need if we are to bring a healthful spirit of cooperation to the world and end our relentless competitive streak.
So, what do people do to build the habit of giving thanks? Options are wide open! Everything, every person, and every interaction is fair game.
One option is to keep a daily list of whatever makes us feel grateful. We begin to notice and observe more. At the end of the first day, we may jot down a special tree or path, a kind person, bubbly children, and a sunset. Day 2 might include the veto of the Tar Sands Project, a family gathering, a mentor, a bird that seemed to connect with us, lunch full of laughter with friends, a good day’s work. Day 3 might include a good night’s sleep, a warm jacket, a gentle snow, a call from a friend, fresh eggs, a raise in pay, snow tires, a great mechanic, and an awesome concert. My experience with this list keeping is that the list keeps getting longer each day as I ‘see’ more.
This habit gradually shapes us to be on the lookout in all our ordinary experiences, lets us see how much we do have to be thankful for and to acknowledge! Our expressions of thanks relax us and give us the energy to come up with positive possibilities for life here on Earth.
May we use our energies to figure out ways to share the earth’s bountiful resources so that we and the rest of the world can join in the spirit of Thanksgiving.
Where do we go from here? Is our land use spinning out of control? What do we need to do to reclaim a once-healthy planet? Why do we need so much health care? How evolved are we as humans? Given the wide array of eco-prophets, who should we believe? “Diversity” seems to be the persistent buzz-word today. Do we even grasp what is meant by diversity? What or who is included?
On the morning news, we hear a Portugese woman lamenting the fact that the forest around her is disappearing, turned into a monoculture by some corporation. We read that Montreal is dumping sewage in the St. Lawrence River. Even on a temporary basis, this makes no sense. In NH, forests are being cut up in wide swaths for power lines, windmills, and natural gas lines. Our consciousness is being tweaked around our interference with wildlife by trophy hunting for bobcats or other wildlife, just for fun, not for sustenance. Why do we take pleasure in such action? We would be considered bizarre to value human trophies.
Who or what is included in the necessary diversity to keep a healthy balance on Earth? In our fetish with cleaning products and dishwashers, what are we eliminating that would probably keep us healthy? How are we contributing to the genocide of the very species that have protected or nourished us in the past? Why do we need evidence that we are wiping out a species as crucial to our food supply as bees to begin to reign in our use of pesticides? What can we do to change this scenario?
It is clear to us now that we do not have dominion over the other species, which, with us, share the Earth. Something as invisible as bacteria could wipe us out, no problem. Monoculture farming with GMO seeds and their pesticides ruin our soil and wipe out healthful nematodes and other beneficial organisms that supported our produce in the past, all of which puts us on a downward spiral for health.
We know that nature will survive. In the area around Chernobyl, uninhabitable by humans since the 1986 nuclear disaster, wildlife and plant life are making adjustments and thriving.
The point is: how interested are we, as humans, in surviving? How willing are we to recognize our dependence on the whole caboodle of life on Earth? At this season of Thanksgiving, how can we reach out and give thanks to all the beings that naturally act to keep the web of life we share healthy? How can we do our share?
Whether we have chosen to have a Flu Shot or not, it’s time to fortify our immune systems for whatever comes down the pike. If you have already had a flu shot, know that it takes a couple of weeks to build the antibodies needed for the three strains included in your flu shot. If strain number 4 hits, your body may be too busy to build the antibodies needed against strain 4. Here are some general precautions we all can take to develop needed immune support for whatever comes down the pike.
Drink plenty of tap water.
Eat bright fruits and vegetables, powerful antibody builders: fresh oranges, kiwi, frozen berries, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, peppers, and the whole rainbow out there. Probiotic food builds friendly bacteria in our digestive tracts: plain yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, pickles. Whatever your cultural background, there’s a probiotic you have probably enjoyed on special occasions.
Zinc helps to maintain a healthy immune system. Turkey, crab, mushrooms and legumes are all high in zinc. Plenty of garlic helps white blood cells to reproduce and strengthens antibodies. Wild Salmon and flax seed oil are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. They bump up antibody protection by multiplying phagocytes and white blood cells, our body’s main line of protection that engulfs unwelcome invaders.
Beware the routes Flu Viruses use to enter our bodies. Watch the number of times you touch your hands to your face each minute, maybe 20+; check it out. Combine that observation with a card game in which cards are shuffled and dealt for a few hours, or a soccer ball, basket ball, or tennis ball, handled and passed through many hands, or a handshake. Suddenly, regular handwashing makes sense.
Choose some form of exercise: walking, stairs, morning bicycle pumps in bed, swimming, birdwalks, anything you can dream up that stimulates your heart to pump those antibodies freely throughout your body. Get out in the sun as often as possible and soak up free Vitamin D. Socialize, keep engaging the people you meet or work with, friends you can laugh or sing with, all essential to building a strong immune system. And get enough sleep to keep antibodies strong and prolific.
This is kitchen table talk, time to figure out what combinations work best for you, time to enjoy the magical coming winter snow season, the spellbinding mornings, and, as we move full circle, time to claim another year in robust health.
A recent misprint of my column passively titled, “Keeping well with each other”, triggered my need to emphasize why I chose the more active title, KEEPING EACH OTHER WELL, as my springboard for the last five years.
Whether we tick off Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs, or Aldo Leopold’s, “Thinking Like a Mountain,” both approaches recognize that Keeping Well is a community project, not something we can do on our own. Everything we do impacts everything else alive in connections we may only begin to recognize.
Maslow’s list has to do mainly with human needs: physiological, safety, love and belonging, self esteem and self actualization (some form of enlightenment). Leopold adds a much deeper need or recognition that we are connected to every living thing, including animals we kill. I’d add birds, chipmunks, frogs, cabbage worms, trees, and the infinite more that are out there breathing along with us.
Today, Thoreau’s dictum, “In wildness is the salvation of the world,” continues to gain in relevance. Whether we stand on the Sugarloaf Mts. in full view of the Presidentials atop a huge valley of fall foliage brilliant among the evergreens, or the nearest maple in our neighborhood, we can see the tree’s transition from live leaves that drop, yet leave spring buds behind to wait out the winter.
Something softens like a healing balm when a natural panorama presents itself, whether it is a valley, a couple of fawns crossing the road or a cub rambling back into the woods, a surprise waterfall, or the sight of a few rainbow trout in a stream, all possible because we or people before us saved the wilderness. What kind of legacy are we actively pursuing that will keep our people healthy in the future?
Bill McKibben says we need to learn how to fit in rather than dominate the planet. Will we figure out how to fit in?
How keen an eye are we keeping on our water supply, our soil, our air, the safety of our power lines? Do our laws reflect how much we value available health care and education for everyone, and a living wage for work done? Are we committed to Keeping Each Other Well?
The last two weeks in September are guaranteed to bring a string of changes. A gentle, friendly, fall wind woke me one morning and I heard the flutter of leaves that are beginning to change their song to the fall tune. Chipmunks are chattering up a storm as they chase around putting food by for winter.
The rare pair of yellow warblers I saw a couple of weeks ago have headed south but chicadees still buzz me. Mice are checking out my attic. I don’t like to kill them and found a neat way to turn them off a few years ago. I was doing a grandma stint with my daughter’s cat, Mack, who refused to leave the house for the duration of his visit. But he did make use of the litter box I set out. When it was time to change the box, minus the feces but fragrant with urine, I sprinkled the contents outside along the wall of the house where the mice usually enter. For two years, with Mack’s regular visits and litter deposits, no mice elected to visit. I missed visit time with him this year and definitely need to invite him back for another symbiotic adventure.
We continue to need to take precautions when cleaning out sheds, attics. Rodents are typically drawn to our storage spaces. Be aware that rodents are carriers of viruses, some of which are deadly, and if we inhale dust from their saliva, urine or scat that they leave behind, we can contract a virus. While some rodents, like the white-footed mouse, have been identified as carriers here in the Northeast, they are all potential carriers of viruses and bacteria.
A few precautions are in order. Wear rubber gloves or cover hands with plastic bags to avoid touching what we clean up, and double bag it for the dump. Avoid touching dead rodents or birds. Special attention must be given to children who are often fascinated by dead wildlife and need to be forewarned as they explore the wonders of our area.
Be aware that most of us normally touch our hands to our faces several times an hour (check it out!) Thus, depending on our attention to hand-washing, we risk inhaling organisms that spell trouble.
On a brighter side, fall is also a time to put the gardens to bed for winter, spread that last layer of mulch to keep the worms warm, time to gather seeds, plant cover crops, set out the bulbs, make hearty soups and apple everything. It’s a time to enjoy the flood of color that fills our mountains with our friends and families, a time to give thanks.
I ran into Dr. Seuss’s Lorax up on Garfield Ridge just as I reached the Skoocumchuck Trail sign. As usual, he bellowed at me to get my attention, “What’s this I hear about Eversource still trying to put that powerline down through towns that haven’t stood up and shouted, “NO!” with community protests!”
“Listen!” he hissed. “PSNH has stopped spraying their rights of way with pesticides, but they’ve got a new way of attacking the Earth like they own it! Surely, you’ve seen the 120 foot wide rows under their lines that they are pulverizing with their monster track hoes, complete with an articulated brush at the end of the arm.”
“Blueberry bushes and every kind of browse will be gone and the line through forest and towns will look like a giant snowmobile superhighway with the powerline down the middle! Right now, they are going through wetlands, chewing up steep slopes for future landslides, and they leave everything in a broken, tangled mess. If they fell a tree adjacent to a row because it overhangs the row, it gets cut and left where it falls. Farmers lose several acres and get nothing in return. And what about all the hush money Eversource is paying snowmobile clubs? They seem to want to continue Hydro-Quebec’s example of provincial carnage.”
Sheepishly, I admitted, “ I’ve been reading up on Gaia, you know, the idea that Earth is a self-regulating living organism of which we humans are simply a part. We’re definitely not running the show and unless we shape up and take our place instead of trying to dominate everything on Earth, we’re in trouble. I’m reading ecologist/philosopher David Abram’s work about how everything is connected and has been trying to connect with us.”
“Good! You’re beginning to get the big picture. It’s not just about having rights; it’s about connecting with all the sentient beings on Earth, not just humans! And step one is to quit messing Earth up! Tell the Northern Pass people that UNLESS they’re willing to BURY THE LINE ALL THE WAY from the Canadian border to Massachusetts, there will be No Northern Pass.”
Governor Hassan needs continued reminders at GovernorHassen@nh.gov, or at 603-271-2121.
Clinton Ober, a pioneer in the cable TV industry, discovered real health benefits for what he calls Earthing, his term to describe going barefoot outside or having bare-skin contact with special conductive mats or sheets indoors that are connected to the ground (via an outlet or wire). His book, Earthing, explores this simple remedy that relieves conditions, sometimes deadly, that are created by various kinds of inflammation.
Inflammation – that is the buzzword alive on the internet. A variety of providers are in on the act with expensive diagnostics and products. However, to explore Earthing, we don’t have to buy lots of products that help to ground us to the earth; anyone can try going barefoot for free and keep track of the changes.
Natural energy from the earth may be the ultimate anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging medicine. Those of us who grew up going barefoot from the time school let out in June until our feet stretched out to the next size by September, know something about how good that felt and how strong and healthy we were by summer’s end.
I realize that chores to help with the gardening, putting food by for winter, building huts in the woods, swimming, and more, were all part of summer, but those activities all kept us in close contact with the earth’s energy.
We wore leather-soled shoes to school, great conductors that have been replaced by synthetic soles that insulate us from the earth’s energy by means of an outsole, midsole, insole, footbed, cushioning, and sock liner. A guaranteed energy blockout.
It took us a while to toughen up the soles of our feet as kids. This week, I tried toughening up my foot soles for a few days and then decided to hike around the Smart’s Brook loop barefooted. Hardly into the hike along the Pine Brook Trail, I stepped on some dog pooh. I knew immediately what I had stepped on! It was not mud and definitely not the soft pine needles I had in mind. With the help of a nearby sapling stump and a root that conformed to my foot arch, the pooh was eliminated and any remains swiped out in the next mudhole. Nature does provide.
Half way up the trail, I decided to call it for round one and headed back to my car. We do need to reconnect to nature, to the earth, and I will continue to explore Earthing. I will also continue to oppose power lines that threaten our possibilities to connect with the earth, that threaten to wipe out the wildlife we need to keep our ecosystem in balance.
My only advice at this point is that if you decide to try Earthing, watch your step!
For 5,000 yrs., India’s Ayurvedic Medical System has claimed the digestive tract as the seat of all illness. Now, our Allopathic System has research that backs up that claim.
Neurologist, David Perlmutter’s most recent book, Brain Maker, cites his research and others who find that a combination of Probiotics and Diet are now relieving many health conditions, not just digestive complaints, and scientific research reveals that “90 percent of all known human illness can be traced back to an unhealthy gut.” The good news is that health and vitality also begins in the gut. That’s something we can do about.
While our problems did not begin with antibiotics, they have certainly been aggravated by routine antibiotic use that kills both helpful and harmful bacteria, hence the term ‘pro-biotics’ which are actually a diverse collection of friendly bacteria. After any round of antibiotic to treat specific infections, we need to reseed our digestive tract with friendly bacteria.
Here’s what probiotic bacteria do for us: they help us digest and absorb nutrients; create a physical barrier to harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites; neutralize toxins we take in with our food; prevent infections; support our immune system; produce enzymes, vitamins, and neurotransmitters; help us handle stress; and control the body’s inflammatory pathways, for starters. The list seems endless.
Not just any old probiotics will do. Lactobacillus strains are needed in the small intestine and Bifidobacterium strains in the colon. Perlmutter offers his protocol but your health practitioner can help you choose an appropriate preparation if you are interested in exploring the benefits. Probiotics don’t require prescription but they are pricey and some question the reliability of claims for what is in a capsule.
Dietary changes are less costly but require more thought and effort. Family lore includes stories about preparing fermented foods such as what Perlmutter recommends: plenty that provide us with natural probiotics: organic, plain yogurt, kimshi, sauerkraut, kombucha, pickled fish and vegetables, all of which can be prepared at home in large batches and stored.
Carbohydrates, not fats are the primary cause of weight gain. Since fat, not glucose, is the brain’s main food, he suggests our main food choices: butter, meat, cheese, eggs, abundant above ground vegetables and greens, and cooking with olive or coconut oil. Healthy, monounsaturated fats are in avocado, olives, nuts, wild fish, and some plants (flax seed oil). We also need good saturated fats like butter and coconut oil to recognize and destroy invading germs and to fight tumors.
The problem I have with considering coconut oil is that this new craze depends on the destruction of rain forest trees to supply coconuts. The problem with probiotic capsules is that they are financially out of reach for too many people.
The good news is that we all know what the food ‘hit list’ is: all that boxed, packaged, and bottled food, which is also pricey and can be replaced right now by overconsumption of peas, berries, asparagus, kohlrabi, zucchini, summer squash, greens, tomatoes, and more. We can take a leaf from the animals, load up on what is in season where we live, store some for later, drink plenty of water, and keep every muscle moving.
News that Whole Foods overcharged customers by mislabeling product weights brought groans from folks who thought they could shop with confidence at Whole Foods Markets. Over 20 years ago, I had a brief stint working the cash register at a Bread and Circus recently converted to a Whole Foods Market. Even then, I found that I was better off shopping the perimeter. Foods in the center aisles of the store: cereals, soups, salad dressings, canned goods, frozen foods, etc. all contained multiple forms of sugar, guaranteed to stimulate an appetite for more food, bigger servings, and insatiable appetites. Such foods reliably create health problems when consumed regularly.
When health food stores first opened, they offered mostly whole foods stored in bins. Produce came from local sources. Co-ops weekly sent a truck to the nearest bulk supplier. As demand rose for quality foods, suppliers began to deliver directly to health food stores and co-ops. At the same time, boxed, bottled and canned foods made their entrance with over 30 different forms of sugar added.
As a cashier, I noticed that many people came through with a cart full of junk food, sometimes not one whole food, just lots of boxes, cans and bottles. Invariably they would beam gratitude that they could shop at such a wonderful place for their family, even though they had to struggle financially to do it. Everything on the shelves at Whole Foods was the best food money could buy. I was in no position to advise them otherwise.
Today, wherever we shop, we must check labels. This week, I realized that the delicious peanut butter I have trustingly bought at natural food stores and snacked on by the spoonful for years, contains sugar. Sleuthing, I found only one brand that is just made of ground peanuts.
Food guru, Michael Pollan, cautions us to avoid packaged foods with more than 5 ingredients listed on their labels. Chances are, anything more will include extra sugars and chemicals we don’t need. This year, supermarkets rearranged their shelves to sandwich organic foods in with everything else. This means that people must slowly shop over the whole store and may, on impulse, buy foods they normally avoid. Stores try to market eye level products more heavily. Better choices are on top and bottom shelves.
The good news is that Farmers Markets and farm stands are in full swing. We now have many opportunities to enjoy the flavor of fresh berries, a mess o’ peas, and a choice array of vegetables and home grown produce free of additives. Best of all, the farmer will be there to field our questions.