fe25^004_jpg_t285"Are there going to be any naked women where you are going, sir?" That's what the border-crossing officer asked me while he went through my suitcase for the second time. I knew the question was just one of those random interrogations to try and get me talking, and slip up while doing so. But since I'm not a drug lord or a sworn enemy to the United Stares, I had no fear of answering his question. "Not sure, but I hope so" was my reply. I guess that wasn't what he wanted to hear because the security officer then stamped my ticket, indicating a body search, followed by more questioning, swabbing of my lab top and another search of my suitcase.

And people think it's dangerous to go on a wilderness canoe trip! Heck, I'd take that over being poked and felt up at the airport by a complete stranger any day. I thanked the gentleman for providing a safe trip for me, buckled up my belt, slipped my smelly shoes back on, and then walked away.

After the ordeal I questioned my reasoning of going to the U.S. in the first place. It was to attend a Clean River Stormwater Conference in Menonomee, Wisconsin, just north of Milwaukee (I told the border guard I was going to Milwaukee because I couldn't pronounce Menonomee). Great topics were to be discussed, like the Asian carp problem or making good use of rain barrels for water conservation. I was there to speak about why canoeists enjoy river paddling and why they should protect rivers. But I would only be there overnight, and after experiencing such a prominent example of how our society is breaking apart and becoming more and more of a place of distrust and fear, I wasn't sure if the hassle at the airport was worth the time at the conference.

I couldn't have been so wrong. My time at the conference was a breath of fresh air. In retrospect, it proved to me that a small but dedicated group of volunteers can make a real difference in the world. Experiencing how a good community based group can put their energy towards saving their local river made me quickly forget the silly ordeal at the airport. It felt as if I had embarked on a long, bug-infested portage but found a tranquil bit of water to paddle when I arrived. Finally, I was in peace with the world.

First, there was the main organizer, Nancy Greifenhagen, Engineering Technician and Erosion Control specialist for Menonomee. She did a fantastic job organizing the conference and keeping the enthusiasm going throughout the event. But there were also an incredible amount of other volunteers who made my experience a joyful one. A big thanks goes to Brian who drove me to the event from the hotel, Jane and her family who got me back to the hotel, and Anthony (Tony) , manager of Hyatt Place West Hotel, who picked me up at the airport and provided a very nice room at his hotel for me to sleep before I headed back to the airport Hyatt Place West

All of these people went out of their way to help with the conference because they cared about the environment in the community in which they lived. Meeting people such as this made the airport hassles fade to just a trivial event, and the conference experience took away any worries of our future on this planet.

The only unfortunately part was that I saw no naked women during my visit.