I read a hefty share of travel memoirs every year. I used to travel quite extensively prior to having kids but my pursuit of greener living and also the cost of travel with family has essentially grounded me. Reading travel books is my mental getaway to exotic places where adventure is just around the corner. I especially like to read books about extended travel with families because it is a dream of mine. When I agreed to review Michael Lanza’s book Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks, it seemed to be the perfect marriage between my love of travel books and my love of green living books. I also thought it would be good for me to stretch my mental muscles and read about a topic that I tend to stay away from, climate change. It’s not that I don’t think climate change is a serious problem it is just one of those subjects that I don’t know a whole lot about sadly. I tend to stick with issues surrounding the home, food sustainability, and immediate dangers to our health and wellness.
This book was a very important read for me though because it made the issue of climate change very personal and easy to understand. I love to travel and I would love for my kids and I to see all our wondrous National Parks and yet some of them are in very real danger of becoming impassable to hikers and travelers. Climate change is melting the glaciers that make an appearance in some, which not only affects the beauty of these areas it also means less water is making its way down to lower areas. Plants and animal life that rely on this water start to become endangered or extinct. Water sources that hikers need to survive start to dry up, making the area inhospitable. Scenic waterfalls dry up earlier and earlier and may eventually be gone for good. Can you even imagine Yosemite without its grand waterfalls???
The melting glaciers create mud slides and rock slides which make the area too dangerous for hikers and campers. The warmer weather also creates wicked storms the likes of which have rarely been seen before and they happen more and more often. This destroys some of the most scenic areas of the parks and also makes it too dangerous for people to go exploring. Hiking trails that once saw many thousands of hikers each and every year steadily become less grand and less hospitable to all manners of life from humans, to animals, to native plants and trees. The trees are also being devastated by insects that are not being killed off in annual frosts anymore. The pest population is permitted to go crazy and the overwhelmed trees are dying off by the thousands. The are some very real problems facing our parks that get worse and worse each year. Many of the park officials and scientists who have worked in these parks for decades feel that they may be shadows of themselves before long.
This is why Michael Lanza decided that his kids needed to see the most endangered parks NOW and they embarked on the year long adventure contained within the pages of Before They’re Gone. Lanza is a veteran freelance outdoors writer and photographer. He is the northwest editor of Backpacker magazine, where his articles about the impacts of climate change on Montana’s Glacier National Park and other wild lands helped Backpacker win a National Magazine Award. He also runs the website TheBigOutside.
I was invited to participate in the blog tour for his wonderful book and I decided to ask him a few questions about it. His answers are amazing and insightful…a must read for nature lovers! Below is the interview. Enjoy!
1. How did your work as an outdoors writer position you uniquely to see the effects of climate change on our National Parks?
For years, I’ve observed how much natural landscapes are changing. The evidence is recorded on maps, many of which are based on decades-old USGS data. I’ve seen dried, cracked earth in places where my map showed an alpine lake, and new lakes or barren talus in places where my map showed a glacier. I was making an off-trail traverse of the Bailey Range in Olympic National Park one September several years ago and ran into a family (parents with their grown kids in their late teens and early 20s) going in the other direction—the only people we saw out there. As it happened, the father was one of the authors of the Olympic Mountains climbers guide; he knew the mountains very well from decades of hiking and climbing. He pointed to a north-facing mountainside above the lake where we were camped, a slope that had just a few small patches of snow and mostly bare ground, and told me with a tone of disbelief, “I’ve never seen that slope not entirely covered with snow in summer.”
It’s disorienting on a couple of levels when a place does not look like what is shown on your map. I’ve puzzled over my exact location more than once. But then, realizing that I was actually standing where I thought I was standing, I’ve felt sadness and awe, and felt deeply disturbed over the idea that our lifestyles are actually altering the face of the planet. I can’t help but fear where this is leading us.
In April 2007, while researching stories for Backpacker about the impacts of climate change on national parks and wilderness, I skied into the Northern Rockies in Glacier National Park with a leading federal scientist there, Dan Fagre, who was predicting that the glaciers in the park would disappear by 2030. On a return visit to backpack for six days in Glacier in September 2009, I met up with Dan again. He told me they had revised that previous forecast because warming and glacial recession had speeded up faster than anticipated: the projected year for no more glaciers in Glacier National Park was now 2020. I thought, Wow, my kids will be just 19 and 17 then. This is not far off in the future—it’s right around the corner. Changes have been underway for years and are happening quickly, within the lifespans of people.
2. What was your biggest motivator for planning this trip and do you hope to do it again in the future?
Dan Fagre’s revised forecast about Glacier National Park’s glaciers and other research I was doing made me realize that many parks could be very different places by the time Nate and Alex are my age. But we also cleared a big hurdle in 2009 in terms of our ability as a family to make these trips. Our son, Nate, who turned nine that September, had been backpacking with me for a few years. But our daughter, Alex, who was six that summer, showed for the first time that she could handle adult-scale backpacking trips. That summer and early fall, we took a rugged, three-day hike in Grand Teton National Park, and a four-day hike in Zion National Park.
Now that we could take trips like this all together, I started thinking more and more in the fall of 2009 about just cramming in as many trips as we could in a year without the kids missing too much school. As I write in my book’s prologue, it’s easy to get caught up in life and not achieve the goals you set or see the places you want to see. I’ve long believed that you just have to get out and do things, because you never know what’s in store for the future. You can’t wait for opportunity to shake you awake—it’s not going to.
Do I hope to do it again? I’m constantly thinking about the next adventure we can take as a family; in fact, I’m usually planning at least three or four simultaneously, thinking about trips appropriate for their ages and abilities. This summer, as a family we’ll go rock climbing and backpacking or rafting in Idaho, hiking in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and take a nine-day, hut-to-hut trek in Norway. On my tick list for a summer soon: a multi-week Western road trip, a big international trek, and a multi-week backpacking trip on a long trail.
3. After speaking with so many park experts and seeing the effects of climate change yourself, are you pessimistic for the future of our parks or are you optimistic that we can change our current direction?
As I wrote in my book, I choose optimism in part because I think it offers the only hope for the world our kids will inherit. But also, one consistent thread that ran through many of the interviews I did with scientists was the optimism they shared that the parks will always inspire us as much as they did our forefathers who decided to preserve these places. As Dan Fagre told me about Glacier, “It’s still going to be a beautiful park. The notion that it’s being changed ultimately by human activities is something people have to take responsibility for. These are really good things for people to be thinking about.”
I am optimistic that we can change. While there is great resistance to change, there is also great momentum in the right direction. My hope is that increased understanding of what we’re doing to the world our children will inherit, and how our cherished national parks are being affected, will help motivate society to summon the honesty required to do what is necessary and right.
4. What important lesson(s) do you hope that readers of this book will glean from it and what action if any do you hope they will take?
I wrote this book on two levels. On the surface, it’s about my family and the wonderful experiences we shared, which I know have already benefited all of us in many ways—and especially Nate and Alex, because they’re so young. I hope other families will be inspired to take similar adventures that are within their abilities and comfort zones. We too often think our kids can’t do something that’s physically challenging, or we worry that it’s unsafe. Kids are resilient and endlessly curious. Nate and Alex constantly surprise and impress me with how much they can do and how enthusiastic they are about our adventures.
I also hope the deeper message in my book, about climate change, helps motivate people to take action. We aren’t complacent about making sure our kids get a good education or teaching them to make smart, safe decisions. If we’re concerned for their future, we have to be equally engaged in this critical issue of climate. On a personal level, there are many choices we can make to reduce our energy consumption, from walking and biking local errands instead of driving whenever possible, to turning off lights in empty rooms, driving more efficient vehicles, insulating our homes better—there is a wealth of information out there on that subject.
Beyond that, we have to insist that our elected leaders take aggressive action to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels at a societal level. We have to write letters and vote for people who understand how important this is. That’s the kind of change that is really needed to bring emissions down to a level that avoids catastrophic climate change.
To understand what the slow movement is and what it could mean in our lives, we first need to take a look at what life is currently like for most of us today. We have schedules that are generally jam-packed full of things to do ranging from work, to errands, to chauffeuring kids to after school activities. Often times our schedules are so full during the week that it is often hard for some of us to plan meals and cook a decent dinner… which of course can mean purchasing take-out foods several times a week. Proper nutrition and the connection we have with family at meal times should be one of our biggest priorities and yet we are so busy that they get sidelined for faster and easier.
The slow movement is a completely opposite lifestyle. Instead of cramming as much as can be crammed into the schedule, slow movement advocates are purposely slowing things down so they can pause and enjoy life. The slow movement is a cultural shift that touches on a number of areas in life, including:
• Food – As mentioned above, a lot of folks are eating fast-food several times throughout the week. I used to be one of them. The slow movement though emphasizes mindful eating, which is not compatible with the fast-food culture prevalent today. Advocates of slow food believe in eating the right foods, carefully picked, at a slower rate so they are thoroughly able to enjoy their food and relish in the nutrients that are bringing health and wellness to their bodies. This is why many slow food fans enjoy artisan fare, local markets, and foods celebrating various cultures and heritages.
• Travel – Even our vacations seem rushed and not relaxing enough. We try to pack in as much adventure as we can and end up feeling anything but refreshed and relaxed by the end of our “vacation”. Slow travel advocates focus on slowing down when they travel. Instead of rushing from location to location while on vacation, slow travelers often choose destinations where they are able to mingle with the local residents and connect with the community there in a meaningful way.
• City Life – Believe it or not, entire cities are considered “slow.” The concept of “slow cities” originated in Italy. These communities generally have no more than 50,000 people who all agree on meeting certain principles and “slow criteria.” Often, these cities have a slower feel to them as they have less noise and traffic. I actually love to read about living in countries that value this slower lifestyle so I can see how to incorporate some of that into my day to day life. Good books that come to mind are Go Slow Italy, Under the Tuscan Sun, and The Olive Farm: A Memoir of Life, Love, and Olive Oil in the South of France. I have an entire shelf in my bedroom of books like these.
• Education – Advocates of slow schooling place more emphasis on teaching children how to connect with the world than the information found in text books and test scores. Slow educational practices focus more on discovering how individual children learn best, finding out what they love, and combining these with real life experiences and adventures to enhance learning.
• Investing – Advocates of the slow movement believe in shopping local and investing their money in the communities where they live, work, and play. They believe that by investing in small enterprises and businesses within the local community, they will be able to better stimulate the local economy, which helps everyone. It also makes them more mindful of where their money goes and what it goes to support.
• Reading – Yes, believe it or not, the slow movement even touches literacy. Today, there are a number of reading aids available to people… tablets, e-books, e-readers, blogs, etc., which is making the traditional book rare. The world is becoming so wrapped up in the “do-it-now, do-it-fast” mentality that we are losing the simple pleasures in life… such as reading physical books. There is nothing wrong with reading e-books on your tablet or e-reader, but it is helpful to unplug and pick up a real book on a regular basis. Reading helps reduce stress, improve motivation, and start inspiration.
Even though I am always taking steps to go slower I frequently have moments where I know I could be doing more. This past weekend I went to see a new release movie and I ended up taking my seat 35 minutes before the start time. I brought a book but it was too dark to read so I played on my smart phone until it went dead. The realization that I was uncomfortable to just sit and do nothing for 15 minutes without something to occupy me and entertain me, really bothered me. I made a conscious decision to embrace that time and be content with having nothing better to do than people watch and be with my own thoughts. It was refreshing. Why is it so hard to be mindful of this all the time?
Now it’s your turn. What steps have you taken to “go slow”? Do you struggle with it?
Yesterday I read an article on NaturalNews.com that really raised my eyebrows. The article claims that 40% of American meals are now purchased and consumed outside the home. This is very scary for the future health and wellness of this country and for generations of children. I myself used to be a big fast food eater so I totally get why it has become so addicting. My first child used to have McDonald’s 5 days a week while I was working. Then I got cancer and had a big revelation about my health and my diet. I would like to think that most fast foodies know somewhere inside themselves that they need to change and start making healthy meals at home. Finding out as I did, that you may never live to make those changes, can really shake you up. Someday cannot be put off even one more day.
Nowadays we rarely eat out. Once a month hubby and I hit the sushi bar for date night and occasionally we hit up Chipotle for a “primal” salad bowl. On special occasions, like birthdays, we may go to a restaurant as a family. That is about the extent of our eating outside of the home. We don’t ever order pizza. I think my kids did have McDonald’s around Halloween time because they really wanted the trick or treat bucket. I didn’t feel badly about it though because it is so rare. Pretty much every night we know that our food needs to be cooked and eaten at home. Once you make that commitment it just become normal. Here are some ways to bring the family back to the table…
1. Stock the Kitchen with Tried and True Favorites
You know what you like to eat and you know what your kids like to eat so stock up and make it easy on yourself by making certain meals each week. Monday can be meatloaf night, Tuesday can be almond crusted chicken wings night, Wednesday can be soup night, etc. Knowing what you need at the store and exactly what you will make, means cooking is so much easier!
2. Keep Some “Fast” Home Cooked Meal Ideas on File
Most of our meals require some planning on my part and often some advance preparation but it helps to have ideas when you need to cook it fast. When I am looking for a fast dinner option I go with egg salad, cauliflower soup, egg drop soup, or coconut flour pancakes. All of these can be made in 20 to 30 minutes and we usually have all the stuff to make them on hand. I am always on the lookout for quick and easy recipes that I can file away mentally for nights when I didn’t plan well or I am short on time.
3. Shop Smart for Home Cooked Goodness on a Budget
There are all sorts of ways to eat healthy real foods on a budget. Some of my favorites include:
Buying in bulk
Using free shipping online or online deals and coupons
Shopping after the meat dept closes when all the grass fed beef and lamb are marked down
Buying from the Farmer’s Market just before close
Buying the raw ingredients for processed foods and making my own (kefir, yogurt, kombucha, etc)
The money savings you experience while eating very well at home may be the incentive you need to keep it up! For more info I like the book Wildly Affordable Organic.
4. Menu Planning
Okay, I am terrible at meal planning beyond a couple days out so that is why I go with tip #1 most of the time but if you are a planner you can really hit home cooked meals out of the park. If you know exactly what you need to make and you have shopped in advance so that you have everything, you have no excuse to eat out. My menu planning usually consists of picking 3 to 4 slow cooker meals, 1 to 2 quickie staple meals, and then shopping for one week. At least one meal will be up in the air and decided when we get a good deal on something at the grocery.
5. Travel with Snacks
Many times the reason we decide to eat out is because we are on the move, we are tired, we are hungry, and we want something fast. To prevent this make sure to bring healthy snacks whenever you will be away from the house for a while. Beef jerky, dried fruit, cut veggies, nuts, Larabars, and granola all make quick snacks for on the go eating. Eating a little something keeps you from stopping because you are ravenous and it gives you the energy to go home and cook. I like to carry snacks in a Sigg box or a LunchBot, they are perfect for grabbing and storing loose snacks fast.
6. Make Extra When You Cook
Use your slow cooker or your biggest casserole dish but make extra servings and freeze for later in the week. Do the work once, enjoy the food twice… nuff said.
7. Go on a Special Diet
Yes I am trying to convert you to paleo /primal. There are very few places we feel comfortable eating out and staying paleo (fast food anyways) so that means we just don’t eat out. When a pricey steakhouse or seafood joint becomes the only option beyond a few fast food options here and there… you make eating at home work or you suffer the consequences of a blown budget. In this case, having an unusual diet is a big boon.
What is your favorite tip for putting home cooked meals on the menu?
January ‘s Conscious Box arrived this week. The theme is “Renew Your Intentions”. I guess it is fitting that so many of the products seek to provide help with health and wellness goals since that is usually tops on our list! I enjoyed this box but have to admit that several things in it did not interest me.
Here is what it contained:
Raw Rev 100 Chocolate & Coconut Bar – This was the first thing to be touched in the box and it was divine. It is raw, vegan gluten free and dairy free. It’s made up of fruit, seeds, nuts, and cocoa so it is grain free and acceptable in this paleo household. Yum is an understatement!
Sacred Chocolate Mylk – The tiny package had a single candy heart in it but it was enough to elicit a moan of pleasure. It was creamy smooth like silk and really delicious. 100% organic and 60% cacao. I am not sure if you can buy these at Whole Foods but next time I am in there I will be hunting for them. I only want or eat chocolate once a month so these would be nice to have around so I don’t go bizerk and try to buy a Nestle bar.
Green Tara Spirulina Energy Bites – Sadly I did not like the taste of these at all. The ingredient list is organic bananas, organic sesame seeds, organic coconut, organic dates, and spirulina. So why did these taste like a bar of nasty soap? Ew!
But I do like the idea of eating more spirulina so I plan to save these and throw them in green smoothies.
Think Thin Crunch Bar – Can’t comment on this one as it did not pass the ingredient test and will be chucked or donated (since I have some other food to donate). It has soy protein isolate in it, as well as peanuts, which we are trying to avoid.
Parma Vegan Parmesan – I haven’t tried this yet but I think I will add it to a salad later this week. I have no issues with regular parmesan cheese but the ingredients aren’t bad in this alternative. It is gluten free, soy free, and dairy free. Ingredients: raw organic walnuts, nutritional yeast, organic pumpkin seeds, organic sunflower seeds, kelp, organic garlic, organic hemp seeds, organic sesame seeds, Himalayan crystal salt, & organic herbs.
Kelapo Virgin Coconut Oil – Organic, cold processed, and fair trade. This is good stuff and we use coconut oil quite often around these parts.
Guayaki Yerba Chai Spice Mate - Herba Mate, tea… it’s all the same to me. I did brew one of these and it was okay but why drink something unless you really like it? That is the way I feel about tea and coffee. I only like them if I add lots of cream and honey, so why bother?
Ancient Treasures Tea – See above. I am giving all teas to my husband.
Golden Earth Perfume – These perfumes are made of 100% pure therapeutic grade essential oils and are infused with crystals. The Euphoria blend, which is what I got, is rose, jasmine, and agate crystal. No synthetic fragrances. Since I am not big on perfume and especially not jasmine, I gave this to my daughter who is happy as a clam with smelly stuff. I do love the concept of their perfume though!
Eco-Dent Tooth Powder - Very foamy and efficient tooth powder though not great tasting but what tooth powder is? None that I have tried. There was also some Eco-Dent gum. I am not a gum person so I will likely give it to my kids.
Ancient Minerals Magnesium oil and Magnesium Gel – I squealed in delight when I saw these. I love Ancient Minerals Magnesium products. Magnesium is so important for staying healthy and yet supplements are not absorbed well. Topical magnesium is much better and I was all out of the oil, which I prefer over the gel.
CleanWell Hand Sanitizer – I like the company and I like the product but I am just not a big user of hand sanitizer. This will likely be donated to the local homeless shelter.
Jo-Sha Eucalyptus Wipe – This product did not thrill me either for the same reason. I suppose an essential oil wipe could be used to clean off gym equipment or dirty hands but so can soap and water. Stuff like this is just not practical in my life when there are easier and cheaper solutions.
I hope there is lots of chocolate in February’s box!
I discovered Abe’s Market sometime last year when I came across a cardboard dollhouse with furniture that I knew my 7 year old daughter would just love. It ended up being a birthday present and my daughter still plays with it quite often. Even though it is made of cardboard it is still going strong.
This store is part Etsy and part Whole Foods with a mix of posh and sustainable toys as well as some handcrafted stuff. But they also have a little Amazon, Groupon and Home Shopping Network thrown in their to to make a really well rounded online store. Abe’s Market is about combining the best things that Grandpa Abe represented – health and wellness, mom and pop, reliability, trust, honesty, community and personal connection between business owners and customers. They also have great prices IMO. I recall that dollhouse being a real steal.
Well, the folks at Abe’s Market are celebrating their new “In the Know” video series by offering my readers a kickin coupon deal. The idea behind the series is to help consumers find out where the the products they are buying come from and the story behind them. This valuable background goes beyond what can be found on a label. Who makes the product? What’s in it? Where is it made? How? I recall watching their video about the dollhouse when I purchased it. I already thought it was an amazing idea but it looks like they are taking that idea even farther and adding educational videos on all sorts of other topics. This one below talks about shopping for natural, organic, eco friendly toys.
With Christmas coming up I thought a $10 off coupon might come in handy. Enjoy!
Visitthe store and use the special one-time only discount code “ENB-dk49hy” at checkout for $10 off a $30 purchase or more. Also visit @AbesMarket on Twitter and Facebook.
Hi there! I am a green, paleo, crossfit mom of three. I am concerned about health, wellness, and sustainability issues. This is my life. This what I am passionate about. Come get to know me and feel free to connect. Enjoy!