Live in a rural area? Can you find a doctor when you really, really need one?

The vascular surgeon who removed my gangrenous gall bladder last month received his early medical training in Lahore, Pakistan. He’s been a member of the medical community in my rural valley for more than three decades.

eimyxgertMy primary-care physician for the past 20 years received his medical training in Taiwan. My urologist for a decade was an Iranian-American. The surgeon who removed a subcutaneous growth from my right elbow is a Pakistani-American. So is the internist who treated a pulmonary issue. He’s been here more than two decades.

Those who live in rural areas likely know, or have, doctors with surnames they might think uncommon. Yet all my foreign-born physicians are American citizens with deep ties to the community in which I live. They’ve taken good care of me.

But why have these wonderful doctors settled here, in rural America?

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Rachel Carson and the power of wonder

#22: The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson; photographs by Nick Kelsh (1996)

It isn’t often that I get to read someone else’s love letters. But read Rachel Carson’s work and you’ll see that’s just what she’s writing. She writes of the sea with a profound, abiding love.

When I spent time with Carson along the edge of the sea a few weeks ago in Maine, I came across references to a Carson book I’d not heard of before. I had already added one extra Carson book to my reading list, and worried about the possible tangent a second might take me on, but in the end, her work resonated with me too strongly to pass it up. The title was too alluring to pass up: The Sense of Wonder. Continue reading

At the edge of the sea with Rachel Carson

#8: The Edge of the Sea by Rachel Carson (1953)
#9: The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson (1961)

The thermometer says it’s 23 degrees, but the wind blowing east off the Gulf of Maine says differently. I can hardly feel my fingers though my deerskin mittens have been off for less than half a minute. I wanted to grab a couple snapshots with my Blackberry of the waves as they roll in and hit the granite shoreline that the receding tide has been slowly revealing. As the waves hit, the same wind that’s numbing my fingers is sheering off the tops of the whitecaps before they hardly have time to spray. There’s a booming flash of white—and then the wind erases it.

I’m standing at the southern tip of Mt. Desert Island, near the western end of the natural seawall. I’ve come here, to the edge of the sea, to spend some time with Rachel Carson’s The Edge of the Sea. Continue reading

Experiencing the Maine woods with Thoreau

#6: The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau (1864)

Katahdin, some twenty miles to my west, looks like a sketch done in chalk, set against the winter-gray sky. Its ever-present clouds hover today down where its knees might be if the great mountain had them. Katahdin always has clouds. Henry David Thoreau described Katahdin as “a cloud-factory.”

“I entered within the skirts of the cloud which seemed forever drifting over the summit, and yet would never be gone, but was generated out of that pure air as fast as it flowed away,” Thoreau wrote.

The great hermit of Walden is much on my mind today as I read his book The Maine Woods and, by happenstance, retrace part of his route. Continue reading

A Year in the Maine Woods: "where the subtle matters, and the spectacular distracts"

#5: A Year in the Maine Woods by Bernd Heinrich (1994)

When Bernd Heinrich retreated to a cabin in the mountainous forest of western Maine—a place “where the subtle matters, and the spectacular distracts”—he intended to live as close to nature as he could. He took a leave from his post as a professor of zoology at the University of Vermont so that he could take a turn as the eager pupil. He would let nature do the teaching.

The Maine woods, of course, hold an romanticized charm for most people from “away,” which native Mainers immediately dismiss because they understand the curse of blackflies and the rugged bitterness of winter. Heinrich likewise refuses to perpetuate any of that romantic bosh. The world he observes is wondrous enough on its own without being sentimentalized.

The result, A Year in the Maine Woods, is a beautiful, thoughtful meditation on his time in the wilderness. He observes nature with a scientist’s eye and intention, he understands it with a naturalist’s hearts, and he writes about it with a poet’s grace. Continue reading

The billion billion stones of Jasper Beach

I had already been reminded that morning what a billion billion looked like. I had started my day well before dawn and so had taken the opportunity to gaze skyward. With no ambient light to pollute the heavens, I could see infinity spread above me—layer upon dark transparent layer, a billion stars set in each one, stretched across the sky.

Hours later, standing at the edge of the sea, I was reminded again of a billion billion. This time, I needed only to look down rather than up: a billion billion small, smooth stones, piled like a high sand dune that stretched the entire length of the beach. Continue reading

Sunrise as east as east gets

The first trace of dawn appears as a soft blue glow just before 3:25, catching me quite by surprise. The “official” time for sunrise isn’t supposed to come until 4:45, and although I knew the sky would begin to lighten before then, I didn’t realize it would start to glow quite so soon.

I’ve come to Quoddy Head State Park, just south of Lubec, Maine, to watch the day break. Quoddy Head, with its tall cliffs and rugged rocky coastline, is the easternmost point in the United States. The new day will greet me here sooner than it will greet anyone else in America.

A splash of color appears just above the horizon, orange that’s really pink that’s really orange that’s really pink. As the sky continues its shift to light blue, the wilder colors settle into a soft, soft pastel line brushed just above the faint outline of Grand Manan Island, which begins to materialize out of the dark indigo sea. Continue reading

Nota Bene #110: WEHT SWK?

“In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.” Who said it? Continue reading

Welcome to Colorado Springs, America's teabagger paradise

Colorado is a beautiful place and it always ranks right at the top of those most desirable places to live rankings (heck, a new poll says the People’s Republic of Boulder is the happiest place in America), but be clear about one thing before you pack up the family to head this way: a consistent voting majority of our citizens are butt-stupid when it comes to taxes. We’re the ones who blazed the trail for the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” (TABOR) movement, and we’ve been paying a steep price for it ever since. For instance:

  • Under TABOR, Colorado declined from 35th to 49th in the nation in K-12 spending as a percentage of personal income.
  • Colorado’s average per-pupil funding fell by more than $400 relative to the national average. Continue reading

The owl-filled night

owl“Who-cooks-for-you,” cried the voice in the distance. “Who-cooks-for-you-all?”

My father and I, both standing in the road near the front of his pickup, pivoted in the direction of the call and leaned toward it, cocking our heads, straining to listen against the silence of the night in case the call came again.

“Who-cooks-for—”

“Over there,” my dad whispered Continue reading