sunshine and substitutes for sex

Dear Uma: I am feeling near demented with the excitement of spring! The Sufi whirling helps, but it barely takes the edge off my newfound energy.

Dear Uma:

I am feeling near demented with the excitement of spring! The Sufi whirling helps, but it barely takes the edge off my newfound energy.

There are no real visual treats at this stage of a Yukon spring: dirty snowbanks and mud, with the ubiquitous beer cans and Styrofoam containers, but the sun has heat, and there are pussy willows. People are recognizable again, divested of their parkas and big boots, hats and scarves.

There seems to be a renewed interest in gathering together as the hibernation state fades; community events become more frequent and better attended.

For instance, the elementary school recently hosted a fundraising spaghetti dinner and cake auction that saw a substantial crowd sitting around the tables. The Grade 5 kids’ annual trip to Dawson City looks to be happening, especially with cakes selling at the auction for up to $200! Ah, spring.

The North is not the only place where such a social shift occurs; while reading a paper from a small southern town I came across this plea in the want ads:

“Anyone interested in forming a support group for anyone addicted to anything?” A telephone number followed.

Imagine the variety of responses to this wide-open invitation! One support group to include smokers, drinkers, druggies, overeaters, undereaters, people addicted to bad relationships, people addicted to too many relationships, those whose lives are confined due to their deathly fear of ducks, people who spend too much time in Second City or on porn sites, shopaholics, achluophobics and shengophobics – the potential is awesome.

What would be the result of a similar ad or poster here, I wonder….

There is no doubt Watson Lake is home to alcoholics and drug addicts, but what other addicts might we be sheltering, all unknown to most of us?

Lots of addictions have no obvious physical manifestations, which is really too bad for a dedicated people watcher to whom each and every peculiarity of the human race is a trigger to the imagination.

While not being home to anyone grotesque, or even outstandingly weird in appearance or behaviour, (the ones who so delight and engage me in the cities) Watson Lake does have its fair share of visible eccentrics and oddballs, those whose presence save the place from homogeneity, who give it flavour.

We have the nose that has encountered more adversity than most of us can imagine.

We have the fellow who looks as though he has smoked his weight in marijuana, so relaxed his very ear lobes dangle.

We have the man who farts with noisy abandon, no matter where he is or who is within range.

The town is no stranger to piercings, or tattoos or green-dyed hair.

Low-slung jeans revealing more than is necessary or attractive abound, as do the logo-splashed hoodies and caps that constitute fashion statements among the youthful Lakers.

We have a few blinding baldies, and some whose hairiness suggests brachiating would be their way of getting from place to place.

But back to spring, and the warmth in the sun; I have been reading about the dangers of exposure to sun.

In these days of the vanishing ozone layer, a tan has become a walk on the wild side, evidence of a devil-may-care attitude.

I view this threat in much the same way I regard the hazards of insect repellents; living in a place of maybe four good weeks of strong summer sun, I am prepared to take my chances—out in the sunshine, slathered with Deep Woods.

A good sunscreen seemed like a reasonable investment, however, and in searching for a brand I came across the news about ‘Episkin’ and all my fears of browning have been banished.

Once again, science triumphs, allowing us our pleasures without punishment.

L’Oreal laboratories have discovered and are making synthetic skin.

They began their research in an effort to get away from animal testing, a laboratory activity of enormous unpopularity leading to less money being made from their products. It is also to be entirely banned by 2013, in response to the European Union Cosmetics Directive.

To make Episkin, a layer of fish collagen is seeded with human skin cells discarded from plastic surgeries.

Do the discardees know their cut-off and sucked-out bits are being used?

Do the surgeons sell them to the labs?

Who and what else has access to these cells? Does anyone care?

“One hundred cells are able to multiply,” says Patricia Pineau, research communications director at L’Oreal “and you can get 20 million cells within a week.”

After seven days, there is a patch of skin that can tan and age under UV light.

Tests can determine whether an ingredient will turn toxic in the sun, or corrode, penetrate or irritate human skin.

Episkin has already been used, in one year, to test over 3,000 products, and is also being used to make customized grafts for burn victims and for children who can’t handle exposure to UV light without risking cancer.

With technology like this, skin patches, no more worries about melanomas, sunburn or an uneven tan.

Maybe eventually we will see skin with a sort of patchwork quilt effect come into fashion. Or by going heavier on the fish cells than the plastic surgery scraps, get scales—a textured look.

I trust the scientists will have studied every possible scenario in this somewhat unlikely combination before loosing Episkin on the market.

Segueing from laboratory-grown epidermis and tanning to your future daughter-in-law, thanks for sending the photo.

I think it is hilarious that when you were describing the gun-toting, god-fearing, sexually ambiguous addition to your family you didn’t mention she is black.

They make a stunning couple, and they look happy.

Jason has e-mailed me since I talked to you and he does not sound infatuated; he sounds very mature, organized and resolved. This might just be the ‘real thing,’ Uma.

Then again, maybe it’s spring fever, like in Disney’s Bambi, where all the creatures become addle-pated, a kiddy word for the mating frenzy.

Do you think mating may become redundant through science?

Evolutionary biologists tackle sex like economists: what is the cost-benefit ratio?

Asexuality is quick, requires no special appendages and produces twice as many offspring per parent as sexual reproduction. Mates aren’t necessary. For example, yeast can skip the romance and just split in two.

A hammerhead shark gave birth after three years without sex.

A virgin Komodo dragon hatched a clutch of eggs.

Some female lizards can reproduce without sperm penetrating the egg.

The bdelloid rotifer has been asexual for 85 million years, but then it is a microscopic moss dweller, and what do they care about sex?

All the theories about how sex overcomes its cost involve the diversification of the gene pool. Sex brings together good genes and gets rid of the bad ones.

Maybe sex makes siblings so different from one another that at least one of them ought to survive.

This continual genetic renewal of sex may be what helps us to adapt to environments that are always changing.

Our environment these days may be changing faster than good old sex can help us with; science may have to figure out something faster and better.

If they can make skin with a mixture of fish cells and human skin cells discarded from plastic surgeries, who knows what unholy mixture will lead to a substitute for sex?

With this provocative question, I am going out to walk in the sun, hatless and carefree.



Heather Bennett is a writer

who lives in Watson Lake.