Free Range Legs

I will not shave my legs for you/ Would you turn a peach into a nectarine?
-Biosphere Suite (2001), Joyce Kilmer Memorial Bad Poetry Contest submission

fuzzy tarantula legs
“Fuzzy Legs” by TJ (2006), CC-BY-2.0, via Flickr

Every spring, as the temperature warms, it’s the same dilemma. Do I stand firm on furry appendages or do I bow to American society’s pressure to shear my leg hair follicles into submission?

Under winter’s cover of tights and leggings, jeans and corduroys, yoga pants and sweatpants, my legs have returned to their natural state of luxuriant fuzziness. Bless my hirsute ancestral mammals, or my healthy circulation. It took me a long time to get them to this soft and fluffy state.

In the company of hippies, in the woods or on the farm, furry female bodies are celebrated. Also, the de rigeur protective layers of pants tucked into socks (“forest pants”) to prevent tick bites and sunburn makes the state of one’s bare limbs (denuded or not?) irrelevant.

Yet, surrounded by suburban mores, my resolve to remain unshorn wavers. Drawn into cultural conformity, I want to wear skirts and capri pants without feeling self conscious of my fuzzy calves. How much stronger of a woman would I need to be to not care what other people think? Why must I deliberate whether removing leg hair or not is some kind of monumental public philosophical statement?

One of my favorite hippie chicks put it to me this way. “Sometimes I feel like shaving. And sometimes I don’t. Either way is okay with me.”

Sarah’s Scribbles “Not that Natural”



Flying heron holding a branch
By PhotoBobil (Heron 21 Uploaded by Snowmanradio) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Each morning and evening, I look up into the sky above the parking lot outside the apartment. If I’m lucky, I catch a glimpse of the commuters. Their distinctive silhouette against the sky, like giant pterodactyls with long sticklike legs, makes them immediately recognizable. I see them on my way to work, and then again in the evening from my balcony when I return home.

Sometimes, I see them flying singly or in pairs. Once, I saw a pair of Herons pass a third flying in the opposite direction. Do Great Blue Herons commute to one marsh to fish and hunt each morning, then fly back to their nests in the evening? Maybe they fight sky traffic the way the more earthbound of us do, inching along on I-94 during rush hour.

More about Great Blue Herons in Michigan:

Know your Michigan Birds: Great Blue Heron
Michigan DNR: Great Blue Heron
University of Michigan BioKIDS: Great Blue Heron

Shift work

4 o’clock shift at the Ford Motor Company assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan (1910s). By Detroit Publishing Company [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I got a job, in the grand tradition of Detroit area shift workers. Every morning before 8am, workers pull into the parking lot in front of my office. Or walk. Or ride their bikes. Or arrive by bus. We wait patiently with our newspapers, crossword puzzles and lunchboxes in hand, until 8am. Then the doors to the facility open and we can shuffle in to our work sites.

Once inside our rooms, we sit down at metal folding chairs arranged at rows of plastic folding tables. Each seat has a terminal and monitor, where we can electronically “transfer in” for the shift.

For the next 8 hours (minus legally mandated lunch times and breaks), we work at our computer terminals, grading the free response portions of standardized tests. At 4pm, we turn in our secured work materials, our tally of packet counts and “clock out” to go home. A line of workers leaves the facility, like a cavalcade of ants. We exit the door in clumps, then scatter as we reach the crumbled asphalt of the parking lot and disappear into individual vehicles and private lives.

I can’t (to my great chagrin) actually talk about what I do at work, since the material is all proprietary. A bizarre and wonderful culture of inside jokes develops among the workers grading a particular prompt. I kept myself awake by writing down the hilarious things students write on tiny sticky notes and read them aloud to my coworkers at breaks. (However, I dutifully turned my stack of post-its with their collection of controlled information back into our team leader at the end of the project). It’s sometimes easy to forget that behind every handwritten (or typed) essay we analyze and rate, there is a real-life student.

My coworkers are an interesting bunch of retired teachers, retired autoworkers, underemployed and part-time workers from myriad industries. “I found it on Craigslist,” I told them. An eclectic group, temporarily electronically hiveminded to grade according to the rubric.

I kinda like it.

Back from Winter

skunk cabbage
Westside South: Skunk Cabbage by Ryan Johnson (2007) CC BY-SA 2.0 via flickr

So it’s been an interesting winter for me here in Michigan. The volume and intensity of my adventures over the past few months since my last post (October 2015!) outpaced my ability to report them. I jumped headfirst into an emotionally and physically challenging fellowship program, encountered many adverse situations, and emerged mostly intact.

I intend to stick around Michigan for awhile and see what happens. Currently, I am in a fluid (nomadic!) housing situation, but have found temporary work projects. I have met a number of amazing and interesting folks, who have provided much-needed support and respite during my journeys.

I found the photo of the Skunk Cabbage sprout emerging from the snow as an appropriate metaphor for how I’m feeling these days. Skunk cabbages are one of the first plants to emerge in the springtime, using their own generated heat to melt the snow around their Audrey-II-like flowers. In my own pod-like way, I feel like I’m just starting to come out of a long dormancy (for this blog, certainly!) and look forward to peeking out into brighter days ahead.

Carbon capture

Carbon capture by Protopian Pickle Jar (2015) CC BY-SA 2.0
Carbon capture by Protopian Pickle Jar (2015) CC BY-SA 2.0

It was a gorgeous fall afternoon today. I decided to rake up leaves in my front yard. Not because I care about leaves scattered on the lawn. Especially, as wind gusts kept chasing my newly raked piles leaves back into their original spread out state. If neatness and order of the lawn was what I was after, it seemed a particularly Sisyphean task.

No, as I explained to my neighbor, I wasn’t really raking the yard. I was in the process of gathering carbon for my compost pile. (I’m not really sure why I felt compelled to tell him that. I just felt kind of weird for raking the lawn of a rented house. Isn’t that a homeOWNER-ish thing to do?)

Yup, carbon capture for the compost. And there’s a lot more of that leaf-carbon still on the trees. Me and my trusty rake will be there. Maybe I can even use my gathered leaves to mulch the garden bed in back!

Urban Adulting for Suburbanites: Orthotraxy

Trash Can Caution by Protopian Pickle Jar (2015) CC By-SA 2.0
Trash Can Caution by Protopian Pickle Jar (2015) CC By-SA 2.0

Every since I was a little kid, I’ve been concerned with proper trash disposal. “Do not litter” was stamped into my pre-school-age brain. Then, in elementary school, I was into the Process of sorting recyclables for our new curbside pickup bin. You have to figure out if the thing goes in the trash or recycling. Next, check the little triangles on the plastics, rinse the food containers, and sort the paper (for years, the recycling company couldn’t take magazines or shiny paper, though they do now.)

As I grew older, I learned about composting, both the backyard and worm bin varieties. While all organic material is compostable (i.e. will eventually break down into soil), some things like decomposing meat, dairy and fats are *much* stinkier than fruit and vegetable scraps. I made sure only to compost approved less-stinky materials, to avoid critter visitors to my pile. In a worm bin, worms can picky about their foodstuffs (they really don’t like citrus), I made sure to sort the peels that went into my worm farm.

In my kitchen, I have taken up my mother’s (and grandmother’s) practice of sticking organic trash in freezer to prevent it rotting outside for days in the trash can prior to pickup.

Garbage cans (in city-provided ones that can be picked up by the mechanical arm on the garbage truck) need to be in the appropriate location on the curb. Hazardous materials need to be specially disposed of with the Environmental Department to prevent landfill leakage.

In my mind, proper disposal of trash became conflated with virtuous civic engagement. A secular religion of environmental responsibility. If concern for proper ethical and ritual religious behavior is termed Orthopraxy, then love of appropriate trash disposal could be called “Orthotraxy.”

I brought my “orthotraxy” with me to Detroit, where I learned that weekly trash pickup is a major victory. On our street, there isn’t really a special spot to put trash cans, they just need to be on the street accessible to the mechanical arm of the garbage truck. On trash day, the cans sprout up between parked cars that line the streets.

Most of our trash is food waste from the kitchen, which I’ve been putting in our awesome backyard covered compost. I think we also have a rodent critter than likes to visit it, but I don’t begrudge him/her eating our kitchen scraps. It just explains why there are occasionally kale stalks and eggshells strewn around the outside of the composter.

Our duplex also had a recycling bin delivered, a big one the same size as the trash can. However, it took me a few weeks to figure out that 1) recycling pickup is only every 2 weeks and 2) we share our bin with our upstairs neighbors (which may explain a) why it is always full and b) often contains non-recyclable items which I didn’t put in it.) But my neighbors may not be the ones responsible for the non-recyclables.

We have had very little trash, usually about 1 bag per week. I was surprised when I took the trash can out on Thursday night at how heavy it was. I realized that someone else (who uses different trash bags) had been putting their trash in our trash can. I didn’t really mind, it was all getting picked up and going to the same place.

However, when I brought the can back to the house from the curb on Friday night, I was again surprised at how heavy it was. Did the city not pick up the trash? I peeked inside: There was a full trash bag (totally different than the ones that were in it Thursday evening) that someone else had put in the trash can while it sat on the curb *after* the city picked up all the other trash in it.

Hey, at least they stuck it in a trash can! Anonymous mystery trash contributors, I can only wonder at your motivations. Was your trash can too full? Did you not want to schlep your trash can to the curb? Did you have stinky trash and forgot about pickup until it was already over?

My sense of righteousness and orthotraxy is smarting at your transgressions, but in the scheme of things, they are minor ones.

Rush, Rest, Repeat

Perspective of feet while lying in hammock
At Rest by Protopian Pickle Jar (2015) CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr

So while I technically “moved into” the city of Detroit last Sunday, one week later I find myself still arriving in this place. It has been a whirlwind tour of introduction to the many Detroits that exist here, layered in time, space and experiences. I am gradually attempting to process this information into a coherent sense of place.

However, so much of the last week has been spent rushing in, out and around the city that I have barely had time to sift through the torrent of historical, spatial and sensory information pouring in.

A few things that stand out: Wandering around my new neighborhood in the early evening, waving to neighbors as they sat on porches and getting a sense of the order of streets and the distance along blocks. Sitting on the pier at Belle Isle and feeling the breeze off the Detroit River. Examining Diego Rivera’s huge “Industry” mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Visiting with an neighborhood urban garden project on the East side.

We ended the week by driving “Up North” to the Leelanau peninsula (on Lake Michigan near Traverse City) for a weekend retreat. It may have taken 4 hours to drive up there on Friday (and another 4 to drive back on Sunday), but it was a truly beautiful and restorative place to celebrate my birthday.

I had the day off today for Labor Day, but after a rather intensive week of being in groups, orientation discussions and community, it was nice to just spend a day continuing to explore the neighborhood, catch up on reading and wash laundry. From my house, I walked to campus of nearby Wayne State University, then around to the Detroit Public Library and the Detroit Institute of Arts. According to Google maps, I probably covered about 3.5 miles on my loop.

Trying to get ready for another week of immersion into the many layers of Detroit that make up this place. I am looking forward to finding out more about the work we will be doing. And then, the rush to get ready for Rosh Hashanah next week, and followed by a couple days of (hopefully) meaningful contemplation.