Archive for tag: animals

On Montanans and Thriving Outside

Thanks to new friends here in Billings, I spent most of the day this past Saturday climbing again, outside in the sun. It got so warm and wondrous that I had to hide away in the shade to keep from getting sunburned! In March! After hours of belaying and getting up on a few routes myself, I sat and watched the sun begin to set from our perch up on the rims north of town. I'd been outside on those rocks since noon, and was wishing I'd brought a picnic dinner so I could stay up there until the daylight left. All this time outdoors is absolutely bringing me alive. In one of my residency interviews, the doctor asked me how I refresh, how I ground myself, or how I rejuvenate. It took no thought at all to answer that I do this by spending time outdoors.

2016-03-17_sky
At the end of a brilliantly sunny day out climbing.

On Sunday I didn't manage to do anything serious like file my taxes or study for boards, but I did spend an hour or so running along the rims, drinking up the sky and clouds. After my run I headed to a backyard goodbye celebration for Dr. La Deana Jeane, one of the associate NDs at YNC who is leaving to do some doctoring that doesn't require her to sit at a desk all day. We ate delicious food (NDs have a way of providing the most spectacular spreads at their get-togethers), and sat around the fire playing games and music until it was dark and chilly. By the time we left, we all wore that wonderful smoky fire smell heavy on our clothes and in our hair.

Backtracking to Friday, I found myself again at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company dancing to Jalan Crossland's lively guitar-picking and foot-stomping. I followed for a few spins on the crowded dance floor, and was asked if I was a Something. People who've been in this part of the West for decades know each other by their family names. I, apparently, look like one of the Something girls (I can't remember the family name). I've been asked 3 times if I'm part of this native Montana family, and each time I say, "No," I kind of wish I could say, "Yes." I've heard it's hard to get in with these folks if your family hasn't been ranching in Montana or Wyoming since the Homestead Act. It seems that there's something about a doctor though, and a naturopath especially, that I think might cracks this insular world.

2016-03-17_office
Entering the Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic.

I've met several of the members of these old Western families at the clinic. Through our interactions, I've learned that they do not want to operate within the system, and that they've used natural medicine on their animals forever. This combination brings them to Naturopathy, because in Montana, our medicine still operates outside of the conventional healthcare system. Also, NDs and ranchers have a shared understanding of how the natural world affects both our individual and community health. 

I love the stories that come from the ranchers that visit the clinic. One woman illustrated the level of her fatigue by exclaiming, "I used to go out and lamb three hun'red head a' ewes, and now I can barely stand to lamb a hun'red!" Another rancher claims he can't make it in that week because it's calving season and they're just too damn busy for him to see the doctor about this virus. Another young rancher, when asked about her daily exercise tells us that she runs on the treadmill at least once a day, but really she's outside lifting and hauling, feeding cows and hefting her little boys around the ranch all day. She supposes that she gets plenty of exercise just by living her life, and she's absolutely right.

2016-03-17_hall
In the hallway at YNC.

I'll be perfectly honest here, a few weeks away from providing patient care myself, and I notice I'm losing some of the details of medicine because they sink into the depths of my brain as I fill it with organizing residency interviews, observing people, and spending time outdoors. One of the residents here at YNC confirmed for me that this is natural; she feels she lost some of that more immediate knowledge as soon as she finished school and played the waiting game on starting her job at YNC. She reassured me it'll just take spending some time with the material to get it back to the front of my brain. 

After this recent revelation, I know I'll need to make the effort to spend more time with my books again. I also know that I have more energy and I feel lighter every day since spending time outside on a regular basis. So, I guess it's OK that I've taken a break from the intensity of studies. For the first time since I started the ND program at NUHS, I feel a desperate need to move my body and burn up energy at the end of the day. This feeling solidifies the fact that I thrive in a place with accessible nature and sky. One more month for me here in Billings before I head back to Illinois for graduation... let's see how much time I can spend outside under this big sky!

From Bathtub to Dinner Plate

I was small when I figured out what it really meant to eat meat. There were a bunch of brownish-red lobsters in the bathtub. They twitched their antennae and crawled around on the bottom under several inches of water. My mom brought chopsticks into the bathroom and we stuck them down into the open claws of the lobsters and they grabbed at them! I watched the bionic things bumble over each other in the blue tub of the downstairs bathroom until it was time to cook. Their antennae kept moving as my dad lowered the creatures into the pot and when it came time to eat, my dad cracked my lobster open in front of me, and a green, grainy goo came out. That was gross, but I knew I liked lobster. I'd had it before and it was yummy. So I tried to ignore the green guts and dipped my morsels in butter, then sucked the rich meat out of those recently active claws. I didn't eat a whole lot of lobster that evening but I did do a lot of little-kid thinking.

This is what I remember about learning how things go from living in the bathtub to becoming dead on the dinner plate. I didn't grow up in a family of hunters and fishermen. Since then, though, I've found myself in the brilliant presence of one.

2015-07-24_ducks
The ducks that became dinner.

I once half-watched Hanzi clean a beautiful mallard he shot out of the sky that morning. After I ate its delicious and gamey breasts for dinner, Hanzi tied one of the perfectly shiny purple and green feathers into my long hair with the clever use of some fly-tying supplies.

I kind of know how to clean a fish: I could do it in a pinch. But I still don't like encountering the bones in a trout on my dinner plate. One time when we were unemployed, poor, and hungry for anything free, we cooked a gift of pheasant legs like chicken wings. There were more bones in that meal than meat. It was tasty, but we understood why the hunter was happy to give them away.

2015-07-24_trout
My first trout caught on a fly.

Hanzi tells a story of shooting a chickadee with his bee-bee gun once. Rules were: if you shot it, you ate it. So, nine-year-old Hanzi set to work cleaning that little bird. It took a long time, and when he cooked it he got only one little bite of meat. That's the last time he shot a little bird for fun.

Now, I think it's really important to acknowledge where our food comes from, and how it was treated in the process of becoming dinner, lunch, or breakfast. As NDs-to-be we are already teaching our people about the importance of eating good food. Part of knowing our food is good lies in understanding how it was grown, or what it ate. We want our foods to be organic because that means they were grown with minimal synthetic chemical help. We want our meat to come from the bodies of animals that were given space to move and the kind of food they are meant to eat. What we're really going for here is nutrient-rich sustenance that our bodies can use to make all of our parts work well. What we're also endeavoring to do is help our patients connect with the world around them and acknowledge the wisdom in living by the laws nature. And so I challenge you to think about it if you haven't already; how do you connect with your food on, and off, your plate?

Happy New Year of the Sheep, Goat, Ram!

So, I guess the exact name for this new lunar year in the Chinese calendar is up for debate. What's not debatable is the fact that I went to a (belated) Chinese New Year party on Saturday and ate a delicious hotpot with ingredients sourced from Chicago's China Town. Yummy! I also tried my hand (mouth?) at a Chinese blowgun and wore house slippers.

Photo of hotpot cooking
Hotpot! (The little mushrooms were the most delicious part!)

According to both the New York Times and NPR, the English translation of this year's Chinese animal is fuzzy. "Yang" may mean a sheep, a goat, or a ram. The sheep/goat/ram debate seems to be a uniquely American and European problem. Throughout Asia, most people are settled on what exactly the word "yang" represents for them, often depending on which one of these animals lives in that particular region and whether they do good or bad things for the ecosystem.

Photo of friend using blowgun
Party host Reed taking aim with the blowgun

For example, I learned that in Mongolia, this year is likely be regarded as the year of the sheep, as opposed to the goat, which is known for eating not only the grass but also the roots, leaving no grass for the following year. Thus, the sheep is more auspicious and one's ancestors would surely name a year for the animal that leaves opportunity for growth.

As part of our naturopathic training, we take an Intro to Chinese Medicine class in our third trimester. The course provides an excellent segue for those ND students who are considering a dual degree in Acupuncture or Oriental Medicine at NUHS. The information we learn in this class barely grazes the surface of Chinese medicine, but it does give us the capacity to converse with its practitioners based on our rudimentary understanding of the substances, organs, elements, and patterns used in Chinese medicine. We are taught to analyze a case to determine imbalances in yin/yang, internal/external, cold/hot, and deficiency/excess.

Photo of laptop and notes
Pulled out my old notes on Chinese Medicine for a refresher

After much debate in my third tri here at NUHS, I realized that studying in the OM program was not for me. Many of my ND peers are working toward dual degrees and take night classes in the Acupuncture/Oriental Medicine program. I hear fabulous things about the professors and the program as a whole! If you're curious about the master of science programs in acupuncture and oriental medicine here at National, don't hesitate to jump over to Juli's blog and read about it!

As for the rest of the naturopathic medical schools, I believe that the Canadian colleges include more training in Chinese medicine in their curriculum than do the American schools because parts of Canada include acupuncture in their ND licensure. Another note to make about this overlap between naturopathic medicine and Chinese medicine is that as NDs we have the opportunity to sit for an acupuncture-specific board exam when we take NPLEX Part 2. If you want to practice in certain Canadian provinces, Arizona or Kansas, I believe you must sit for this board exam. In order to sit for this add-on exam, you must have upwards of 200 credits in acupuncture/oriental medicine. At NUHS, this means you must enroll in 7 specific courses in the AOM program. I looked into all of this because I intended to take every add-on board available to me when it comes time to do so, but in the end I decided I was unlikely to end up in Arizona or Kansas or most of Canada, and if I do end up in one of these places I'll tackle that obstacle when I come to it.

In the meantime, I'll be making an effort to embody these qualities of our new Year of the Sheep (/goat/ram): avoid pessimism and hesitation, be kind-hearted, clever, tender, and compassionate. Happy New Year to you all!