Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Health of the Female

I stood outside the Otter Project in downtown Monterey, California, disappointed. The glass door to the office was locked, and as I peered in no one seemed to be moving around inside. I'd gone out walking the dog and had hoped to find someone to tell me how California's sea otters were doing these days. I was about to pull the leash away when a young woman with sandy, bobbed hair took shape on the other side of the window. She wore sturdy boots, a yellow t-shirt that read "All who wander are not lost," a bright smile--and she carried a key. I was in luck.

Heather let us both in. She'd been stuffing envelopes in the back but was happy to let us sit down at the large oval table with her and talk about the Otter Project ( The Project is a small non-profit, she told me, that works to protect the otters from oil pollution, sewage and agricultural runoff, and pesticides like DDT and PCB. The chemicals weaken otters' immune systems, with the most dire consequences affecting the females, who are then unable to reproduce, diminishing the population of healthy otters overall. The Otter Project supports international efforts to ban pollutants and contaminants, lobbies local officials to fix sewage problems, and opposes drilling along California's coast. Its office employs three people; Heather is the administrative assistant, with primary responsibility for answering phones, getting materials out, website design and maintenance and social networking on Facebook and Twitter.

She struck me as warm, kind, knowledgeable, patient and excited all at once--I couldn't imagine a better ambassador.

"You must like your work?" I asked.

"It's so incredible," she beamed. "I am so happy, happy, happy!"

She works for the Otter Project for twenty-eight hours a week. At sixteen dollars an hour, she earns about $1400 a month. Her rent in Monterey (one of the most expensive places in the country, if not the world, to live in) costs her a thousand dollars a month. She manages with a little help from her parents, and by doing catering work on the side.

But life hadn't always been so happy, she told me.

"I studied Recreation Services in college and worked for years in the big hotels and resorts in Miami. I made huge money, wore a suit every day, was paid for forty hours a week and worked seventy. Then I moved into event planning, thinking it would be a little better, but after a while it got to feel like all I was was some conduit for funneling money from one wealthy human being to another."

So Heather quit her job, rested in Bali for a while ("the people are so artistic there, so filled with joy and color") until the money ran out, then came to California to work for a Los Angeles youth hostel. In California, she fell head over heels in love, but it ended badly, and she moved north to Monterey. And suddenly, for the first time in her life, she felt at home.

The only problem, she sighed, was that she was now thirty-five years old and still hadn't found someone to mate with for life. She was getting nervous; time was running out. And there weren't many singles in Monterey. "Only," she said, "young students over at the Institute and rich marrieds who are all settled down." But she hadn't given up on marriage and a family. "Something will happen. And I want to be here. It just feels so right."

I looked at Heather and wondered how it was someone hadn't latched onto her healthy, glowing, wonderful spirit just yet, and where she might find the right companion to help pass that spirit along . . .


In our next post: The Health of the Male

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