Archive for March, 2012

Welch-Dickey’s Free Health Spa

March 23, 2012

We’re lucky to have free health spas in or adjacent to every town in Northern New Hampshire. Every mountain is a potential spa, depending on whether you choose to check in and get with the program. Welch Mountain is usually one of the first in NH to be clear of snow in spring and this year’s balmy opening week must have claimed a record!

 Health spas, the paid ones, usually include massage, saunas, hot tubs, swimming, and some sort of calming practice like meditation or yoga. The main goal is to cleanse and relax the body from the inside out as well as from the outside in. That means keeping hydrated with plenty of water. Think 2 liters.

Sweat is the body’s most natural way of cleansing. Sweat heats up and massages all of our systems and uses sweat glands to wring them out so every system has a fresh start. Every joint gets well oiled. It was already 65 degrees F. when I started up Welch and my back was wet under my pack by the time I reached the Welch Ledge, a popular destination for folks who want a short hike on a well maintained trail alongside a lively brook.

Hiking on a balmy March day practically guarantees a successful spa treatment, especially on a day when the summit is 80 degrees F. There are no black flies and the trails are so well groomed that you can avoid ticks by walking in the center of the trail and steering clear of branches. (Yes, ticks are here year round and so are the deer and four-leggeds that carry them.)

The walk itself can be a meditation, even if there’s some chatting going on. Conversation tends to be a sorting out, rethinking, brain cleanse, with the last leg of the hike to each peak often being in silence to better access fresh air.

Blueberries calmly covered the Welch and Dickey summits and open cliffs with red buds, just waiting to pop out and provide us with lush berries this summer.  A few Jack Pines greeted me; they’re the ones that benefit from forest fires because the heat pops open their seeds. They are only found in four places here in NH, this mountain loop being one of them. Mounds of slivery blue reindeer lichen perked up and showed off fresh sage-green tufted offspring. A new generation of deep green partridge berry leaves peeped out from under leaves. It’s a time of year when every hike seems like a new adventure.

Hiking poles make the hike kinder to your knees and hips by spreading the weight bearing load to include the shoulders and arms as well, while still allowing you to build up a good sweat. They also encourage a good upper body workout and help to maintain balance around muddy areas or the occasional ice remnants.

If you want to hike in a truly relaxed state, breathing 2:1 is the way to go. Just make your exhalations twice as long as your inhalations. The easiest way to practice this breath is to count your paces. You may start out breathing 6:3, then shift gears to 4:2 and 2:1 as you gain elevation. If you cannot exhale for 2 paces to every 1 inhalation pace, it’s time to stop and rest. This practice develops the habit of deeper breathing regularly.

So, your free health spa takes care of your cleansing sweat massage and by the time you pass the summits, you may be lucky enough to be fully soaked.  As you cool down in that delicious breeze (if there is one) you may even need to put on that extra layer in your pack while you enjoy lunch, the view, your friends, and maybe even a little siesta.

The trip down via the Dickey end of the loop did have some remaining stretches of ice in areas shaded by spruce trees but they were negotiable with tree help.

Depending on the day and the temperature, you may need the extra layer as you cool down, hike out, go home and take a salt bath or shower to complete your free spa treatment.

PS: In cooler weather, I carry at least 2 liters of water, a wind/rain shell, light fleece, hat, first aid sack, high protein sandwich, nuts, and an orange to assure the full treatment!


Whoever controls water, food, and energy, controls the people consuming it.

March 11, 2012

Wow! Have I opened a Pandora’s Box with regard to Dams! The dams that I am opposed to are the 3000 MW generating dams in Quebec. These large dams have wreaked havoc on the James Bay area, displacing Cree Indians, eliminating their fishing livelihood, ruining back country tourism, and destroying the wildlife that depended on the rivers. There’s nothing renewable about that. No rains will replace those loses.

 The Canadian government acted in violation of treaties with 5,000 Cree and 3500 Inuit in a pressured deal with them.  I don’t want to support that project, even as a line through NH to supply CT and MA, not only because it’s had such a lethal effect on Canada and Canadians; it has the long range potential to put our small dams out of business and discourage our exploration of other forms of renewable energy. 

I appreciate Jeremy Rifkin’s book, The Third Industrial Revolution. In it, he talks about autonomous municipalities of the future, which is what we essentially have in the NH small dam configurations. Most generate between 1-18 MW. Fifteen Mile Falls Dam, at the head of the Connecticut river, the largest dam in NH, generates 192 MW and is owned by TransCanada Hydro Northeast.

 Hydro-Quebec’s Plan Nord is an example of a huge monopoly designed to control large areas. Whoever controls the water, food and energy, controls the people consuming it. Think about that. If the NP goes through, what do you think Hydro-Quebec’s long range plan is for the Androscoggin River in NH? Or, TransCanada Hydro’s plan for the Connecticut River?

 Whether building a new dam, maintaining an existing dam, dredging or selectively dismantling a dam that has outlived it’s usefulness, several factors need to be considered. Smaller dams in NH provide fire protection, flood control, hydropower and water supply.

Many have been in place for over 30 years and wildlife has evolved over time that is compatible with changes caused by the dam.

 NH Dept. of Environmental Services (DES) notes that some dams that are old, unsafe and uneconomical, may be good candidates for removal. DES refers to studies that show repairing such a dam can often cost three times more than removing the dam and that there are many more potential funding sources both private and public, that can help offset the removal costs and river restoration projects than are available for repair.

 I continue to oppose construction of new large dams without consideration for the effect such a dam will have on our future water supply, the nutrients rivers need to thrive, the relocation of residents, their livelihoods, wildlife habitat, and recreation.

 If we want to keep each other well, we need to take care of our water. We are only one of nature’s species, and our decisions will have immediate effects for us all. Like it or not, we can’t afford to turn a blind eye on any aspect of our water supply.

What’s gotten into us?

March 11, 2012

Miracles happen to people. We  call them miracles because they can’t be replicated on someone else. That’s what happened to McKay Jenkins, an English professor at  he wrote a book about it entitled, What’s gotten into us? 

As a runner, Jenkins was having trouble with his left leg and thought he had some orthopedic problem. Diagnostic tests showed that he had an orange-sized tumor in his abdomen that was pressing on his femoral nerve and there was a chance that it might be cancerous.

 The miracle is that it was not cancerous, had not spread to or damaged other organs, was isolated and surgically removed. But what caused the tumor in the first place? His was growing out of a nerve cell and the surgeon was able to peel it off the femoral nerve (which runs down the leg from the spinal cord.)

 Jenkins became obsessed with figuring out what caused the tumor in the first place. That quest took him to the 1918 birth of synthetic chemicals when a German scientist, Fritz Haber, figured out how to make synthetic nitrogen. Since then, petrochemicals have been used to make plastics, fertilizers, pesticides, clothes, personal care products, cars, bedding, cooking utensils, home cleaning products, and more. As they ushered in the Synthetic Century, products have proliferated faster than our ability to monitor their effects on our bodies or our environment.

 The good news is that our bodies come equipped with an immune system organized to get rid of any foreign matter. Hence the orange-sized tumor, a benign collection of stuff the body needed to get rid of. Sometimes, a powerful immune system will actually break the unwanted growth up and get rid of it. The bad news is that sometimes the tumor has damaged a vital organ beyond repair or become invasive elsewhere. In Jenkins case, the fact that his body warned him with pain, and his surgeon’s timely skill was able to remove it safely, gave him a miracle.

 However, Jenkins wanted to know the root causes, why this century spawned so many deaths whose roots related to insecticide and pesticide exposure. Tumors previously related to old age now are being found increasingly in children.

 Rachel Carson’s question was, “Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for life?”

 Just as Michael Pollan has advised us not to buy any food with more than 5 ingredients listed on the label, we need to also check ANY product we buy and realize that the synthetics we’ve become so dependent on may be contributing to our health problems. Skin products are easily absorbed: lipstick, skin creams, toothpaste, sun block, soaps. Cleaning products like detergents, furniture polish, tile cleaners, car wash. Toys like rattles made of plastic, teething rings, and small plastic animals, stuffed animals made of synthetic material and stuffed with more synthetics. Clothes for active sport and work breathability. Fabrics for drapes and stuffing for furniture and pillows. Building supplies like insulation, paints, plastic woods and blowing sawdust.

 Compound this responsibility with the fact that labeling often only includes an “active ingredient” and may or may not include all the chemicals in the product. In theUS, corporations control what is allowed on labels. Unless we buy organically grown foods, we have no guarantee that the food is synthetic free. Plastic containers have taken over most cooking oils and products. Even a can of organic food my be lined with bisphenol A, a plasticizer known to cause hormone imbalances that can then lead to breast and other cancers.

 So, what’s the bottom line? To reduce medical bills and the inconvenience of health problems, we need to begin taking small steps and consciously simplify our food, clothing and shelter needs, monitor our water supply, and push for clear labeling in English with appropriate warnings as needed. We need to shop smarter and vote better. Every small step counts.

California Crops and New England Energy

March 11, 2012

This week (2/26), I learned that the California grapes I enjoy likely grew at great cost to the farm workers who picked them. According to Elizabeth Royte ( , pure river water irrigates the farm crops in the San Joaquinvalley of Southern CA. Canals, ditches and headgates divert the waters of the Kings, Kaweah, Kern and Tule rivers to turn a CA desert into a bread basket.

 However, 90% of the residents in the valley must rely on groundwater for domestic use due to laws that allocate mountain fed river water to agriculture and other municipalities. Over the years, heavily fertilized soil nitrates have seeped into the groundwater and wells, some of which is over the federal limit of 45 mcg/liter for nitrates. Residents of the San Joaquin valley pay twice as much for this contaminated water as San Francisco households pay for pristine water pumped fromYosemite National Park. In addition, valley residents must buy bottled water to drink and cook with, thereby giving them less to spend on food.

 Nitrates remain in the groundwater for decades. Isotope testing documents fertilizer nitrates back to the 1950s. Exposure to high levels of nitrate is linked to respiratory tract infections, dysfunction of kidneys, spleen and pancreas, cancer of the digestive tract, bladder and thyroid, pregnancy complications, premature birth, and birth defects. 

Needed in our Bill of Rights are the rights to safe water, organic food, and renewable energy. In 1938, our government approved the use of chemical fertilizers for agriculture. Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (NPK) fertilizers have been widely used since then. Long-term overuse of such fertilizers raises havoc with the earth’s ecosystems.

 Since 1938, concerned people have questioned the long range effect of chemical additives on the environment.  Lines continue to be drawn between those who favor the use of chemicals and those who choose more environmentally compatible means of enriching our soil. Our government clearly supports the chemical industry while our increasing health problems generated by overuse of chemicals continue to challenge us all. Strange conditions pop up daily.

 We need to be mindful of the results of monkeying with rivers to change nature’s patterns, whether in the Northeast or Southwest. Planting and over-fertilizing thirsty crops on desert lands needing intensive irrigation instead of composted, drought resistant crops compromises the Southwest. Using energy from dammed up rivers instead of dreaming up ways to access available sun and wind power compromises the Northeast. Both practices threaten the future health and well being of us all.

 Town meetings give us an opportunity to vote for healthful initiatives that keep each other well. Here’s a chance to make your vote count.