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Lessons from World War I

lessons

Lessons from World War I

H. Bradford

11/12/18


November 11, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.  This is a momentous anniversary since our world is still deeply influenced by the outcome of World War I.  Yet, in the United States, World War I is not a popular war to learn about. It is not a war that American students love to learn about in the same way the they love World War II, with its villains and seemingly black and white struggle against fascism.  Despite its impact on world history, it does not lend itself as many movies and documentaries. When it does, for instance in the popular Wonder Woman film released in 2017, it is warped to resemble World War II to make itself more interesting to American audiences.  Of course, World War I is important in its own right and offers important historical lessons. As an activist, it is useful to examine the struggle against World War I, as it was a crucible that tested the ideological mettle of revolutionaries and activists.


World War I- An Introduction


World War I is significant for its brutality, industrialized warfare, and for reshaping the globe.  The brutality of the war is massive stain on the blood soaked histories of all imperialist nations. As a low estimate, over 8.5 million combatants died in the war with 21 million wounded and up to 13 million civilian casualties.  The nations that went to war were criminal in their barbaric sacrifice of millions of soldiers. For instance, the Russian Empire sent troops into battle armed only with axes, no wire cutters, and without boots. Early in the war, of an army corps of 25,000 soldiers, only one returned to Russia, as the rest were either killed or taken prisoner.  In the first month of the war alone, 310,000 Russians were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. On several occasions, British soldiers were ordered to advance against German trenches, which only resulted in massive bloodshed as they faced machine gun fire and tangled miles of barbed wire fences. When forced to march against the trenches at Loos, 8,000 of 10,000 British soldiers were killed for a gain of less than two miles of occupied territory.  In the first two years of the war, Britain had 250,000 dead soldiers for the gain of eight square miles. At the Battle of Verdun, 90,000 British soldiers perished in six weeks. At the Battle of Somme, 57,000 British troops perished in one day and 19,000 in one hour alone. The fighting continued even after the Armistice was signed on 11/11/18, as it was signed at 5 am, but did not go into effect until 11 am. In the twilight between war and peace, 2,738 soldiers died and 8,000 were wounded.  The scope of this senseless bloodshed seems unfathomable. The scale of human suffering was magnified by industrial methods of war. World War I saw new weapons, such as tanks, airplanes, giant guns mounted on trains, machine guns (which had been used in previous conflicts such as the Boer war), aerial bombings from zeppelins, submarines, and poison gas. Barbed wire was also a recent invention, which secured the defensive lines of both sides, ensuring a bloody stalemate. The conflict itself resulted in the collapse of empires and the division of colonial spoils (Hochschild, 2011).  

 


Almost everyone who has taken a history class remembers the tired narrative that World War I began in June 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his pregnant wife, Sofia in Sarajevo by the Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip.  This unleashed a chain of events wherein Russia vowed to protect Serbia against an Austro-Hungarian invasion. In turn, Austro-Hungary sought to ally itself with Germany against Russia and France vowed to ally itself with Russia against Germany.  Britain justified entering the war on behalf of poor, innocent, neutral, little Belgium (which just years prior was neither poor, innocent, or neutral in King Leopold II’s genocidal rubber extraction from the Congo Free State), a strategic passage for German troops invading France.  The narrative goes that World War I was born from the anarchy of alliances. Of course, the causes of the war are far more profound than upkeeping treaties and national friendships. This method of framing the war as a domino of effect treaties renders the possibility of resisting the war invisible.  It also ignores that these treaties themselves were the outcome of imperialist countries volleying for power.


For historical context, there were massive changes in Europe during the 1800s.  On one hand, the 1800s saw the accelerating decline of the Ottoman Empire, which had been considered the sickman of Europe in terms of empires since it lost at the Battle of Vienna in 1683.  Wars and independence movements of the 1800s shrank Ottoman territory as countries such as Greece, Serbia, Egypt, Bulgaria, and later Albania, became independent. The Ottoman Empire was strained by internal debate over modernizing or harkening back to bygone times.  The century saw the disbanding of the Janissaries, defeat in the Russo-Turkish war, and the revolt of the Young Turks. The Russo-Turkish War saw the establishment of independent Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria. The Treaty of Berlin awarded Bosnia to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which upset Serbians and inspired the formation of the Black Hand, which fought for reunification with Bosnia as well as unification with other areas populated by Serbians.  The disintegration of the Ottoman Empire created territorial concerns as newly emerging countries such as Serbia, Bulgaria, and Albania sought to establish boundaries at the expense of one another. The Balkan Wars fought just prior to the start of WWI came out of these territorial disputes. Thus, the Ottoman entry into WWI on the side of Germany and Austro-Hungary was largely in the interest of retaking lost territories. Likewise, Bulgaria joined the conflict on the side of the Central Powers with the hope of regaining territory lost in the 1913 Balkan War, namely southern Macedonia and Greece (Jankowski, 2013).


While Ottomans were in decline, Germany and Russia were struggling for ascendancy.  The 1800s saw the formation of the German state, an outcome of the 1866 war between Prussia and Austro-Hungary and the Germanification of people within this territory under Kaiser Wilhelm II.  The 1800s also saw Germany’s entry into the imperialist conquest of the world as it sought to colonize places such as modern day Namibia, Botswana, Cameroon, Rwanda, Burundi, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands, etc (Jankowski, 2013).  It should also be noted that Germany was 50% larger than its present size with one of Europe’s strongest economies (Hochschild, 2011). The Russian Empire saw its own economy growing with the expansion of railroads and a population twice the size of Germany’s (Hochschild, 2011).  Although Russia was hobbled in the 19th century by serfdom and slow industrialization, it won the Russo-Turkish War only to see its gains reversed by the Treaty of Berlin. It was further humiliated by the loss of a 1905 war against Japan and held on to brutal Tsarist autocracy at the cost of hundreds of lives in the face of protests for bread and labor reforms that same year.  The 1800s was also a time of Russian imperial expansion into Central Asia and the Caucasus, with interest in expansion as far as India, much to the chagrin of Britain. After losing the 1905 war with Japan, Russia began to expand and modernize its military, which led to Germany doing the same for fear of being eclipsed (Jankowski, 2013). This drive for global conquest and for gobbling up the shrinking territories is again related to imperialism.


German colonies at the turn of the century


Prior to the outbreak of World War I, European powers expected that war was inevitable.  British and French officials were expecting Germany to go to war with Russia after Russia’s 1905 uprising.  In 1894, France and Russia entered an alliance with one another that if one was attacked by Germany, the other would declare war on Germany to ensure a war on two fronts.  France had lost territory (Alsace and Lorraine) in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, so there was a strong desire for revenge among nationalists who wanted to go to war with Germany to reclaim lost land (Tuchman, 1990).  Between 1908 and 1913, the arms expenses of the six largest countries of Europe increased by 50% and 5-6% of national budgets were devoted to military spending (Hochschild, 2011). For nine years, Britain and France strategized what a German attack would look like and duly prepared.  Belgian had been created as a neutral state in 1830 with Britain a strong proponent of neutrality to secure itself from invasion. In 1913, Germans helped to reorganize the Ottoman Army, which upset Russia. France and Germany had each developed their own war plans, such as France’s Plan 17 and Germany’s Schlieffen Plan (Tuchman, 1990).  Even in popular culture in the years leading up to the war, German invasion became a fiction genre. For example, the Daily Mail ran a novel called The Invasion of 1910, which depicted a German invasion of the East coast of England (Hochschild, 2011).   

     

 

WWI and Imperialism


From a Marxist perspective, the primary cause of World War I was imperialism.  Imperialism was the linchpin of the anti-war socialist analysis of World War I, a topic which we be explored in greater detail in the next section.  The main proponent of this perspective was Vladimir Lenin, who drew his analysis of imperialism from the writings of Rosa Luxemburg, who wrote The Accumulation of Capital and Nikolai Bukharin, who wrote Imperialism and the World Economy.  Lenin also developed his theory based upon economist John Hobson’s Imperialism: A Study and Marxist economist Rudolf Hilferding’s Financial Capital (Nation, 1989).  According to Lenin, imperialism was the highest stage of capitalism, characterized by such things as monopoly capital, a monopoly of large banks and financial institutions, the territorial partition of the world, the economic partition of the world by cartels, and the control of raw materials by trusts and the financial oligarchy.  Lenin characterized imperialism resulting from a trend towards the concentration of productive power. That is, imperialism features fewer companies with larger worker forces and greater production. To him, the movement towards the monopolization of capital occurred following a series of economic crises in capitalism in 1873 and 1900 (2005)  The fusion of capital into larger blocs was an important characteristic of capitalism observed by Karl Marx.   It occurred when larger capitalists destroying smaller ones and through the union of smaller capital into larger ones, a process mediated by banks and stock markets. Once there were fewer firms on the playing field, they often united into cartels or agreements to limit competition and divide the market.  Banks also became concentrated into fewer powerful banks, which melded with industrial capital and the state (Patniak, 2014). On one hand, imperialism provided the advantage that it increased economic organization, planning, and efficiency, which were economic characteristics that Lenin theorized might serve a transition to socialism. On the other hand, imperialism also resulted in less innovation, stagnation, and an unevenness in concentrations of capital.  This unevenness created contradictions in the development of cities versus rural areas, heavy versus light industry, gaps between rich and poor, and gaps between colonies and colonizers. These contradictions created systemic instability in the long run, which cartels could only temporarily stave off (Nation, 1989).


Imperialism resulted in increased competition of state supported monopolies for markets and raw materials.  World War I was the result of partitioning the world. In this context, workers were given the choice between fighting for their own national monopolies or making revolution.  Lenin believed that workers should turn imperialist war into a civil war against capitalism. This was in contrast to social democrats who wanted workers to fight for their nations or Kautsky who felt workers should defend their nations, but not fight on the offensive.  Kautsky had postulated that the world was in a state of ultra imperialism, which would actually result in greater peace and stability as the stakes of war were higher. Rosa Luxemburg believed that capitalism had not yet reached every corner of the globe, so revolution was not yet possible.  Thus, there was debate over the nature of imperialism within the socialist movement. To Lenin, imperialism allowed the prospect of revolution in both advanced and colonized countries, since colonized countries were brought into imperialist wars as soldiers (Nation, 1989). For instance, 400,000 African forced laborers died in the war for Great Britain.  The first use of poison gas in the war was in April 1915 and the first victims were French troops from North Africa who observed the greenish yellow mist of chlorine, then succumbed to coughing blood and suffocation. Although the horror of zeppelin bombs fell on Britain in May 1915, the first use of zeppelin bombings was actually by Spain and France before the war, to punish Moroccans for uprising.  And while Britain justified the war as a matter of self-determination for Belgium, they crushed self-determination for Ireland when 1,750 Irish nationalists rose up in 1916 for independence. Britain sent troops there, eventually out numbering the nationalists 20 to 1. Fifteen of leaders of the uprising were shot, including James Connolly who was already wounded when executed and had to be tied to a chair to be shot (Hochschild, 2011).  Further, while the European arena is given more historical attention, battles were fought in colonies as well. In 1916 in south-west Tanzania, Germany fought the the British with an army of about 15,000. Of this number, 12,000 were Africans- who fought other Africans fighting on behalf of the British. Because the borders were created by Europeans and did not represent cultural, historical, or tribal lands, these African soldiers sometimes had to fight members of their family.  More than one million East Africans died in World War I (Masebo, 2015). France enlisted 200,000 West Africans to fight on their behalf in the war, calling them Senegalese tirailleurs, even though they came from various West African countries. These soldiers were forcibly recruited, then promised benefits that they were later denied (AFP, 2018). Colonies were inextricably linked, economically and militarily, to imperialist war efforts. Thus, in addition to blaming imperialism for the outbreak of World War I, Lenin postulated that the national struggle of oppressed nationalities was part of the larger struggle against imperialism.     

From Forgotten African Battlefields of WWI, CNN


Lenin noted that by 1900, 90% of African territory was controlled by European powers, in contrast to just over 10% in 1876.  Polynesia was 98% controlled by European powers compared to 56% in 1876. As of 1900, the world was almost entirely divided between major European powers with the only possibility of redivision.  Between 1884 and 1900, France, Britain, Belgium, Portugal, and Germany saw accelerated expansion of their overseas territories. He quoted Cecil Rhode, who saw imperialism as necessary for creating markets for goods and opportunities for surplus British population (Lenin, 2005).  By the time World War I began, the banqueting table of capitalists was full. World War I was a means to redistribute these imperialist spoils. Germany sought to test its power against that of Britain and France. To Lenin, one side or the other had to relinquish colonies (Lenin, War and Revolution, 2005).  Indeed, World War I resulted in a re-division of the world. The war saw the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, whose territories were divided among the victors. For instance, Syria and Lebanon became French protectorates and Britain took control of Mesopotamia, most of the Arabian peninsula, and Palestine. The United States, a latecomer to the war, cemented its position as a world power.  The defeat of Germany resulted in the redistribution of German colonies, such as German East Africa to Britain, part of Mozambique to Portugal, the division of Cameroon between British and French, and the formation of Ghana and Togo under British and French control, respectively. Even New Zealand and Australia gained control of German Pacific island territories German Samoa, German New Guinea, and Nauru.  Various states came out of the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire, including Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, The Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and the Kingdom of Romania.  Of course, revolution destroyed the Russian Empire before the conclusion of the war, resulting in the independence of Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. Poland was constructed of territories lost by Russian, German, and Austro-Hungarian Empires.        


Socialist Resistance to World War I


Like all wars, there was resistance to World War I.  A group that would have been well positioned to resist the outbreak of the war was the socialist movement.  However, in August 1914, various socialists in Britain, France, Germany, and Austro-Hungary sided with their national governments in participating in World War I (Partington, 2013).  For some context, the Second International was a loose federation of socialist groups which arose out of the collapse of the First International in 1876 over debates related to anarchy led by Bukharin.  Between its founding in 1889 to the outbreak of World War I, the Second International saw success in terms of rising standards of living for workers, mass popularity, and electoral success that brought socialists into various governments.  One the eve of the war, there were three million socialist party members in Germany, one million in France, and a half million in Great Britain and Austria-Hungary respectively (Nation, 1989). The German Socialist Party was the largest party in the the German legislature.  Even in the United States, where socialism was less popular, socialist candidate Eugene Debs garnered 900,000 votes in his 1912 presidential bid (Hochschild, 2011). During this time period, socialists of the Second International certainly had opportunities to debate war, as there was the Balkan Wars, Boer Wars, Italy’s invasion of Libya, and war between Russia and Japan.  However, the international failed to develop a cohesive anti-war strategy. As World War I approached, socialists made some efforts to organize against it. For instance, in July 1914 socialists organized modest anti-war protests and there were strikes in St. Petersburg (Nation, 1989) and strikes involving over a million workers in Russia earlier in the year. In July 1914, socialist leaders such as Kerrie Hardie, the working class Scottish socialist parliamentarian from Great Britain, Jean Jaures, the French historian and parliamentarian from the French Section of the Workers International, and Rosa Luxemburg, the Jewish Polish Marxist theorist from the German Socialist Party (SPD), met in Brussels for a Socialist Conference to discuss the impending war.  Hardie vowed to call for a general strike should Britain enter a war. Jaures spoke before 7,000 Belgian workers calling for a war on war. Unfortunately, Jaures was assassinated in Paris shortly after this meeting by a nationalist zealot. Nevertheless, there were trade union and leftist organized marches in Trafalgar Square in London against the war, where Hardie again called for a general strike against war (Hochschild, 2011). Despite these agitational efforts, the fate of the international was sealed when on August 4th the German SPD voted for emergency war allocations. Socialists in other European countries followed suit, adopted a “defensist” position in which they opted to suspend class struggle in the interest of defending their nations (Nation, 1989).  Only 14 of 111 SPD deputies voted against war allocations (Hoschild, 2011). The fact that the majority of socialists supported the war shattered The Second International, which over the course of the war saw the decline of socialist party membership. For instance, Germany’s SPD lost 63% of its membership between 1914-1916 (Nation, 1989). With millions of members in all of the belligerent countries, positions of political power, and union support, socialists had the power to stop the war.  Putting nationalism before internationalism was one of the greatest failures of socialists.

Rosa Luxemburg


Not all socialists agreed with the defensist position and during the course of the war they formed an small opposition within the Second International, a segment of which would eventually became the Third International and Communist Party.  This opposition had diverse views, ranging from the Menshevik position that socialists should call for neither victory nor defeat of imperialist powers to Lenin’s position of revolutionary defeatism. As her SPD counterparts were calling for war allocations, Rosa Luxemburg called a meeting at her apartment to oppose the war and strategize how to shore up an anti-war opposition within the party.  After this meeting, Karl Liebknecht campaigned around Europe with the slogans that “The Main Enemy is at Home”, “Civil War Not Civil Truce” and echoing Jaures, a call to “Wage War Against War.” They shared a further left position in the party that the only way to end the war was to make revolution. However, both Luxemburg and Liebknecht were arrested in February 1915 (Nation, 1989).

  

Another early mobilization of socialists against the war was a Women’s International Conference first proposed by Inessa Armand, representing the left faction of the anti-war socialists and organized by Clara Zetkin, who was a centrist within the anti-defensist opposition.  Zetkin’s centrist anti-defensist position emphasized peace over making revolution (Nation, 1989). After writing An appeal to Socialist Women of All Countries, Zetkin organized the March 1915 Women’s International Conference in neutral Berne, Switzerland for anti-war socialist women.  Although she was not as quick to place blame on the socialists for supporting their governments nor emphasize the need for revolution, Clara Zetkin had a long history of  anti-war credentials. She was the secretary of the Women’s Socialist International and which she founded in 1907. She was also one of the founders of International Women’s Day.  She was a vocal opponent of British war against Boers in South Africa, articulating this position on a May Day speech in 1900. Later, she was an opponent of the First Balkan War and warned that it could develop into a war between greater European powers (Partington, 2013).  

Clara Zetkin


The Women’s International Conference was attended by 28 delegates from 8 countries, who developed resolutions on such things as an immediate end to the war, peace without humiliating conditions on any nation, and reparations for Belgium.  A manifesto based upon the conference was published later in June. Again, slogans such as “war on war” and “peace without conquest or annexations” were called for. The role of financial interests such as the arms industry was spotlighted as well as how capitalists used patriotism to dupe workers into fighting in the war and weakening socialism.  Russian delegates voted to amend this resolution to clearly blame socialists who had collaborated with capitalist governments and called for women to join illegal revolutionary association to advance the overthrow of capitalism. This amendment was rejected as it was viewed as divisive and called for illegal activity. The British delegation added a amendment that condemned price increases and wage decreases during the war and which welcomed other anti-war activists to join them in struggle.  The second part of this resolution was not passed (Partington, 2013). The conference was significant because it was the first anti-war conference attended by representatives from belligerent nations. The conference also set the stage for the Zimmerwald conference, which sought to better organize the opposition within the Second International towards ending the war, reforming the international, or abandoning it (Nation, 1989).

     

The Zimmerwald Conference began on September 11, 1915 in a small swiss village of Zimmerwald under the auspices that it was the meeting of an Ornithological Society.  The conference was attended by 38 individuals from 11 countries. The conference is more famous for its male attendees such as Trotsky, Lenin, Zinoviev, Radek, and Martov.  However, several women attended including Henriette Roland-Holst a poet and Social Democratic Party member from the Netherlands, Angelica Balanoff of the Italian Socialist Party, Bertha Thalheimer and Minna Reichert of the SPD in Germany.  Henriette Roland-Holst went on to oversee the creation of Der Verbote, a journal which served as a mouthpiece for the ideas of the conference. Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg were in prison at the time.  The conference manifesto blamed the cause of the war on imperialism, demanded an immediate end to the war, peace without annexations, and the restoration of Belgium.  Clara Zetkin was actually against the conference because she viewed it as sectarian. A point of contention at the conference was the nature of self-determination. Lenin and the Bolsheviks supported self-determination for oppressed nationalities.  Rosa Luxemburg, not in attendance, felt that this was a distraction and that national liberation was impossible under imperialism. Lenin argued that national struggle complimented socialist struggle. Another point of contention was whether or not to break with the Second International.  Since defenism was still the majority position among socialists, most members of the opposition feared breaking with the international as it would mean being part of a smaller, less viable organization. Rosa Luxemburg disagreed that it was a matter that the organization should decide from within, but should be a worker initiative (Nation, 1989).


The socialist movement continued to debate strategies and the nature of the war throughout the war.  As the war continued, anti-war actions increased. For instance, in July 1916, 60,000 soldiers died in a single day at the Battle of Somme.  In the first six months of 1916 alone, here were one million war casualties. It is unsurprising that in May 1916, 10,000 people protested in Potsdamer Platz in Berlin.  The protest was organized by Rosa Luxemburg’s socialist organization, The Spartacist League. There were also strikes and demonstrations in Leipzig that year (Nation, 1989).  In 1916, 200,000 people signed a petition for peace in Britain (Hochschild, 2011). Of course, the most dramatic event was the strike of workers at the Putilov Arms factory on the 3rd of March, 1917.  This spiraled into a general strike in Petrograd, the mutiny of the army, and the abdication of the throne after three hundred years of Romanov rule. The February Revolution in Russia resulted in a Provisional Government.  In the months that followed, there were mutinies in France and Germany, general strikes and protests across Europe (Nation, 1989). Following the February revolution, 12,000 Londoners rallied in solidarity with the Russians and activists began organizing soviets.  In April 1917, there were mutinies in France, wherein soldiers waved red flags, sang the international, and in one case, soldiers hijacked a train and went back to Paris. French troops were diverted from the front to French cities to quell rebellion. At least 30 French army division created soviets.  In Russia, the army fell apart as a million soldiers deserted (Hochschild, 2011). The February revolution strengthened the Bolshevik position within the Zimmerwald left, but it took a second revolution, with the Bolsheviks assumption of power to end the war, as the Provisional Government lacked the political will to exit the war (Nation, 1989).  

February Revolution in Petrograd


The new Bolshevik government announced an armistice on December 15, 1918 and sent a delegation to meet the Germans at Brest-Litovsk fortress.  The delegation consisted of a woman, soldier, sailor, peasant, worker, and at least two Jewish men, all chosen to represent the new society in Russia.  The peasant in the delegation, Stashkov, was pulled from the street randomly, but happened to be a leftist.  He had never had wine before the meeting and had the unfortunate habit of calling his fellow delegates “barin” or master. The female delegate, Anastasia Bitsenko, made the German delegates, all from the higher echelons of German society, uneasy, as she had just returned from Siberia after a seven year imprisonment for assassinating the Russian Minister of War.  Together, these enemies in terms of class, ideology, and war feasted uneasily in honor of the Russian exit from the conflict (Hochschild, 2011). The terms of this exit were settled by a peace treaty in March 1918, which set the conditions of Russia’s exited the World War I at the cost of territorial concessions to Germany. The armistice between the countries antagonized Russia’s allies (Nation, 1989).  Russia’s end to the war meant that Germany could devote an addition half million soldiers to the Western Front. It also resulted in more unrest in the warring countries as activists were emboldened by the Russian revolution and immiserated by the ongoing war. Throughout the war, Germany was blockaded by the Allies, which led to food shortages. German troops were reduced to eating turnips and horse meat and civilians ate dogs and cats.  Real wages in Germany declined by half during the war. In turn, German submarines downed over 5,000 allied merchant ships, sending 47,000 tons of meat to the bottom of the sea in the first half of 1917 alone. By 1918, war cost made up 70% of Britain’s GDP. 100,000 workers protested in Manchester against food shortages. In July, rail workers in Britain went on strike. Even the police went on strike for two days, as 12,000 London police walked off the job (Hochschild, 2011).  


Lenin had pinned his hopes on revolution spreading across the world.  Considering the mutinies, desertions, strikes, and protests in 1918, this does not seem entirely far fetched.  British military officials even considered making peace with Germany as a way to contain the threat of the Russian spreading revolution elsewhere.  March 1918 saw the founding congress of the Communist Party and the Third International, the final break from the Second International. That same year, there were soviets formed in Germany and a sailor mutiny wherein the sailors raised the red flag. 400,000 Berlin workers went on strike in January 1918 demanding peace, a people’s republic, and workers rights (Hochschild, 2011).  Revolutions were attempted in Bavaria, Hungary, Braunschweig, and Berlin. Revolutionaries captured the Kaiser’s palace in Berlin and declared a socialist republic. The Berlin Revolution led by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebnecht’s Spartacist League was crushed by Social Democratic Party of Germany in alliance with the German Supreme Command (Nation, 1989). Both revolutionaries were captured, tortured, and executed. The SPD, which had led the member parties of the Second International to side with their belligerent governments, went on to crush other uprisings across Germany, taking its place in the Weimar Republic that followed.  Suffice to say, the chasm in the socialist movement that began in 1914 had become an irreparable trench of millions dead and the graves of revolutionaries.


Other Resistance to World War I:   


The debates and division within the the socialist movement is certainly an interesting aspect of how war was resisted or failed to be resisted.  However, there were many other groups involved in resisting World War One. Another natural source of resistance against World War I might have been anarchists, however, like the socialist movement, the anarchist movement split over how to react to the war.  A number of leading anarchists, including Peter Kropotkin, signed the Manifesto of the Sixteen in 1916, which argued that victory over the Central Powers was necessary. The manifesto encouraged anarchists to support the Allies.  Kropotkin’s support of the Allies may have been the result of a desire to defend France as a progressive country with a revolutionary tradition.  To him, defense of France was a defense of the French Revolution. His approach to the war was pragmatic. He felt that any uprising against the war would be small and easily crushed and that there was a responsibility to defend the country from aggression.  He viewed Germany as particularly militaristic. The year that the Manifesto of the Sixteen was written was particularly brutal and saw the beginning of British conscription (Adams and Kinna, 2017).


Not all anarchists were as lost on the issue of war as Kropotkin, for instance, Emma Goldman believed that the state had no right to wage war, drafts were illegimate and coercive, and wars were fought by capitalists at the expense of workers.  As the United States moved towards war in 1916, she began using her magazine, Mother Earth, to espouse anti-war ideas.  Once the United States entered the war, she launched the No-Conscription League.  Subsequently, her magazine was banned and she was arrested on June 15, 1917 along with her comrade, Alexander Berkman (War Resistance, Anti-Militarism, and Deportation, 1917-1919, n.d.).  Before she was arrested, Goldman had planned on curtailing anti-conscription speeches, as speakers and attendees of her meetings were harassed by soldiers and police. She was arrested for violating the Selective Service Act, which was passed five days before her arrest.  The New York Times covered her arrest and trial, blaming her for two riots that had occurred at her meetings.  However, the reports of riots were overblown, as the meetings themselves were peaceful until disrupted by police and soldiers who demanded to see draft registration cards from attendees. Goldman did her best to use the trial as a platform for her ideas, arguing that she didn’t actually tell men not to register for the draft, as according to her anarchist beliefs she supported the right of individuals to make their own choices.  She also framed her organizing as part of an American tradition of protest and that democracy should not fear frank debate. Despite her efforts of defending herself and ideas, she was sentenced to the maximum sentence of two years (Kennedy, 1999). Upon serving her sentence at Missouri State Penitentiary, she was deported in December 1919 along with other radicals (War Resistance, Anti-Militarism, and Deportation, 1917-1919, n.d.).  Interestingly, Goldman had gained U.S. citizenship when she married Jacob Kershner in 1887, but he had his citizenship revoked in 1909. According to the laws at the time, a wife’s citizenship was contingent on the husband’s. Thus, she was deported based upon the citizenship of her dead husband.

Emma Goldman


European anarcho-syndicalists experienced the same split socialists did, as many came out in support of defensism (Nation, 1989).  In the United States, The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was the target of propaganda from the Wilson administration, which claimed that they were agents of the kaiser who were trying to sabotage the U.S. war effort (Richard, 2012).  The IWW is an international union with ties to both the socialist and anarchist movements. While not specifically anacho-syndicalist, the IWW was founded several anarcho-syndicalists such as Lucy Parsons and William Trautman. Because the IWW was trying to organize industries important to the war such as mining, lumber, and rubber, they were targeted with Red Scare tactics.  To avoid persecution, the leadership of the IWW refrained from taking a public stance against the war, but members were free to critique the war. This tactic did not work and in September 1917, the Department of Justice raided 48 IWW halls and arrested 165 members, some of whom had not been active for years (Richard, 2012). One of the members who was arrested as Loiuse Olivereau, who at the time was an anarchist IWW secretary.  After the raid of an IWW office that she worked at, she went to the Department of Justice to have some of her property returned. Among this property were anti-war fliers, which were a violation of the Espionage Act. Like Goldman, she went to trial and tried to make a political defense. She defended herself and her ideas, arguing that wartime repression and zealous nationalism were not “American” values. She appealed to plurality and nationalism based upon internationalism.  In her pamphlets, she had emphasized that men who avoided war were not cowards, but brave for living by their convictions. The media gave little attention to her arguments, instead portraying her as a radical foreigner with dangerous ideas, as Goldman had been portrayed (Kennedy, 1999). IWW members who were not arrested faced vigilante justice from lynch mobs. For instance, Frank Little was disfigured and hung from a railroad trestle in Butte, Montana. In 1919, Wesley Everest was turned over to a mob by prison guards in Centralia, Washington.  He had his teeth knocked out with a rifle butt, was lynched three times, and shot. The coroner deemed the death a suicide (Richard, 2012).


In addition to anarchists and socialists, suffragists were another group of activists with an interest in anti-war organizing.  In addition to the March 1915 socialist women’s conference, there was a much larger women’s gathering at The Hague in the Netherlands.  April 1915 conference brought over 1300 delegates together and was organized by suffragists under the leadership of Jane Addams. It was mostly attended by middle class, professionals though representatives from trade unions and the Hungarian Agrarian union was also in attendance.  Like the socialist movement, the suffragist movement was divided between those who supported their governments and those who were anti-war. For instance, the International Suffrage Alliance did not support the Hague conference. Invitations to the conference put forth the position that the war should be ended peacefully and that women should be given the right to vote.  Attendance was difficult, since it meant crossing war torn countries or asking for travel documents, which was often denied (Blasco and Magallon, 2015). Attending the conference was itself illegal and all 28 delegates from Germany were arrested upon their return. 17 of the 20 British delegates were refused passage by ship when they tried to leave Britain (Hochschild, 2011).  Like the socialist conference, the The Hague conference made a resolution that territorial gains or conquests should not be recognized, though it put the onus of ending the war on neutral countries rather than working people. There was no call for a “war on war” but for mediation, justice, and diplomacy through a Society of Nations. Some of the points of this resolution were adopted by Woodrow Wilson in his 14 Points (Blasco and Magallon, 2015).


The sentiment of The Hague Conference, which focused on progressive internationalism, was echoed by the Women’s Peace Party before the war.  In 1914, 1,500 women marched against World War I in New York. Fannie Garrison Villard, Crystal Eastman, and Madeleine Z Doty organized the first all-female peace organization, The Women’s Peace Party.  After the end of the war, the Women’s Peace Party became the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (Jensen, 2014). Despite the peaceful orientation, the WPP also promised to defend America from foreign enemies and worked to get Woodrow Wilson elected in 1916.  They also framed their peace work as a matter of maternal duty as nurturers. Irrespective of their patriotic politics, they were critiqued for being too nurturing or feminine, as this was viewed by men as having a negative and weakening effect on the public sphere (Kennedy, 1999).  At the same time, it seems contradictory that a peace party would support national defense. However, supporting the U.S. war effort might be viewed as an extension of the interest of middle class white women in finding increased state power through voting. The war sharpened the differences between radical and reformist suffragists.  The New York State Suffragist Party argued that the Silent Sentinels protest outside of the White House was harassing the government during a time of national stress (Women’s Suffrage and WWI, n.d). Even before the United States entered the war, The National American Woman Suffrage Association wrote a letter to Woodrow Wilson pledging the services of two million suffragists.  The letter appeared in the New York Times and promised that the suffragists would remain loyal to the war effort by encouraging women to volunteer in industries left vacant by men at war and collect medical supplies and rations (The History Engine, n.d.). The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) engaged in patriotic volunteering, but they did not abandon organizing for the vote.  NAWSA’s president, Carrie Chapman Catt was a pacifist, but supported the war effort by promoting Liberty Loans, Red Cross drives, and War Savings Stamps. Around the country, suffragists supported the war effort by planting victory gardens, food conservation, Red Cross and volunteering. The National Women’s Party took a more radical approach, and during the war 200 of them picketed the White House and were arrested, went on hunger strikes, and were forcibly fed.  In the United States, women finally won the right to vote in 1920, but this mostly impacted white women as Native American women were not U.S. citizens until 1924 and first generation Asian women were not granted the right to vote until after World War II (Jensen, 2014).

         

Silent Sentinels who protested outside the White House during WWI


The divide in the suffragist movement is illustrated in the Pankhurst family.  Sylvia Pankhurst, was a British suffragist who with her mother Emmaline and sisters, Christabel and Adela, founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) (Miles and McGregor, 1993). Emmaline Pankhurst, the matriarch of the family, became engaged in politics after working with poor women to collect data on illegitimate births. She noted that many of these births were caused by rape and also took issue with the fact that female teachers in Manchester made less than their male counterparts.  Thus, sexual assault and the wage gap have a long been observed as social problems by feminists. The WPSU did not allow male members, though they infiltrated meetings of the Liberal Party to demand voting rights. The WSPU eventually split over the issue of whether or not they should support candidates. Emmaline Pankhurst was against this, as all of the candidates at the time were male. Charlotte Despards, a novelist, charitable organizer, Poor Law Board member, and proponent of Indian and Irish independence, was for supporting candidates, as she was a supporter of the Independent Labor Party.  Despards went on to found the Women’s Freedom League (Hochschild, 2011). Again, male membership and supporting male candidates are still issues that modern feminist groups consider.


The WSPU was the most radical of the British suffragist groups and it engaged in arson, window breaking, and bomb attacks (Miles and McGregor, 1993).  The WSPU burned the orchid house at Kew Gardens, smashed a jewel case at the Tower of London, burned a church, and carved out “No Votes, No Golf” on a golf green (Hochschild, 2011).  Due to these activities, suffragists were imprisoned and Sylvia herself was arrested nine times between 1913 and 1914. To protest imprisonment, they went on hunger strikes and had to be forcibly fed.  Sylvia was expelled from the WSPU for socialist beliefs and founded the East London Federation of Suffragists. Despite their extreme tactics, Emmaline and Christabel became less radical at the outbreak of World War I and ceased their radical tactics, instead supporting the war and handing out white feathers to shame men to who didn’t enlist to fight (Miles and McGregor, 1993).  The eldest sister, Christabel traveled to the United States to drum up support for the war. Most British suffragists supported the war effort, which may seem surprising as many had earlier denounced war, gender essentializing it as a masculine endeavor. This turn towards national defense over voting rights was strategic, as it did offer mainstream legitimacy to suffragists who had otherwise been arrested and persecuted.  Even the author Rudyard Kipling had expressed concern that the women’s suffrage movement weakened Britain, making it less prepared for war. The WSPU organized a march of 60,000 women, though not against war. The march was to encourage women to buy shells. Perhaps due to their compliance in the war and part because the Russian revolution had granted universal suffrage, women were granted the right to vote in Britain in 1919 (Hochschild, 2011).  


As for Sylvia, one of the few anti-war suffragists, she organized ELFS to set of free clinics to mothers and children, a free day care, a Cost Price restaurant, and a toy factory for fundraising.  She supported strikes against conscription, the Defense of the Realm Act, protested the execution of James Connolly, and her group was the only British suffragist organization which continued to organize for the vote during the war (Miles and McGregor, 1993).  She had even suggested that an anti-war march of 1,000 women should occur in the no man’s land between enemy lines. Throughout the war, she documented the suffering of women, noting that women were forced out of hospital beds to make room for soldiers or struggle to survive on the military pay of their husbands.  The wives of deserters received no pension from the government and women were subjected to curfews to avoid cheating and faced imprisonment if they had a venereal disease and had sex with a soldier (Hochschild, 2011).

Sylvia Pankhurst


In 1916, the organization changed its name to the Workers Suffrage Federation and in 1918 to the Workers Socialist Federation.  It was the first British organization to affiliate with the Third International and she herself articulated that while women could win the vote under capitalism, they could achieve liberation.  She was arrested for sedition in 1920 for urging British sailors to mutiny over poor conditions and for dock workers to resist loading arms to be used by Russian counterrevolutionaries. While in prison, the Workers Socialist Federation joined the Communist Party.  She never joined the Communist Party herself and was critical of the New Economic Program (Miles and McGregor, 1993). Sylvia never joined the party, but paid a visit to the Soviet Union, which impressed her. She continued her activism throughout her life, warning about the rise of fascism and drawing attention to Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia.  She eventually moved to Ethiopia, where she died at the age of 74.


Conclusion:


Resistance to World War I in many ways seems like a series of stunning betrayals.  The socialists, which had the power to stop the war, sided with their national governments at the cost of millions of lives.  The hardships of war created the conditions for unrest in many countries, but it was only in Russia where revolution was successful (at a high cost and with lasting consequences to the shape the new society).  Suffragists, like socialists, sided with their national governments. This Faustian deal, in some ways, secured the right to vote. Today, women can vote to send women to kill other women in war, just as socialists voted for the money to arm workers to fight other workers.  Anarchists were also fractured by the war, when this group seemed the most ideologically unlikely to side with government war mongering! At the same time, activists of all of these groups made hard choices. Anti-war socialists found themselves unable to organize workers early in the war due to their small numbers and the swell of nationalism and prejudices.  Any activist organizing against the war faced imprisonment in beligerant countries, and Emma Goldman, Clara Zetkin, and Rosa Luxemburg among many more were arrested. Some activists faced mob justice and death. Still, there are some lessons to be drawn from all of this. A major lesson is the importance of unwavering internationalism. Another lesson is to take a long, principled view of power.  Suffragists abandoned their organizing in the interest of legitimacy and national power. In doing so, they made powerful allies, but they also took their place in the state apparatus that oppresses of women. So too, socialists, who enjoyed popularity and a share of state power, crushed other socialists and supported the violent, senseless slaughter of workers to maintain their place in capitalism.  Activists should always stand against imperialism and in solidarity with all of the oppressed people of the world.  Doing this may mean standing in the minority or at the margins of history making, but it may also mean keeping alive the idea that a better world is possible and the ideas with the power to build movements that make this happen.


Sources:

 

Adams, Matthew S., and Ruth Kinna. (2017) Anarchism, 1914-18: Internationalism, Anti-Militarism and War. Manchester University Press.   

 

AFP. (2018, November 6). France addresses painful history of African WWI troops. Retrieved November 12, 2018, from https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/africa/2018-11-06-france-addresses-painful-history-of-african-wwi-troops/

 

Blasco, S., & Magallón, C. (2015, April 28). Retrieved October 25, 2018, from http://noglory.org/index.php/articles/445-the-first-international-congress-of-women

 

Hochschild, A. (2011). To end all wars: A story of loyalty and rebellion, 1914-1918. United Kingdom: Macmillan.

 

Jankowski, T., 2013. Eastern Europe! – Everything You Need to Know about the History (and More). New Europe Books.

 

Kennedy, K. (1999). Disloyal mothers and scurrilous citizens: Women and subversion during World War I. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

 

Miles, L., & McGregor, S. (1993, January 01). Suffragette who opposed World War One. Retrieved October 25, 2018, from http://socialistreview.org.uk/395/suffragette-who-opposed-world-war-one

 

Jensen, K. (2014, October 8). Women’s Mobilization for War (USA). Retrieved November 7, 2018, from https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/womens_mobilization_for_war_usa#Suffrage_Movement

 

Lenin, V. (2005). Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Retrieved October 23, 2018, from https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/  

 

Lenin, V.I. Lenin: War and Revolution, 2005, http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/may/14.htm.

 

Masebo, O. (2015, July 03). The African soldiers dragged into Europe’s war. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33329661

 

Nation, R. (1989). War on War: Lenin, the Zimmerwald Left, and the Origins of Communist Internationalism. Haymarket Books.

 

Partington, J. S. (2013). Clara Zetkin: National and international contexts. London: Socialist History Society.

 

Patnaik, P. (2014). Lenin, Imperialism, and the First World War. Social Scientist, 42(7/8), 29-46. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24372919

 

Richard, J. (2012, November). The Legacy of the IWW. Retrieved November 12, 2018, from https://isreview.org/issue/86/legacy-iww

 

The History Engine. (n.d.). Retrieved November 7, 2018, from https://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/5322

 

Tuchman, Barbara Wertheim. The Guns of August. Ballantine Books, 1990.

 

War Resistance, Anti-Militarism, and Deportation, 1917-1919. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2018, from http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/goldman/MeetEmmaGoldman/warresistance-antimilitarism-deportation1917-1919.html

 

Women’s Suffrage and WWI (U.S. National Park Service). (n.d.). Retrieved November 7, 2018, from https://www.nps.gov/articles/womens-suffrage-wwi.htm

 

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The Gender Question: My Pronouns

The Gender Question_ Unpacking my Pronouns

The Gender Question: Unpacking

My Pronouns

H. Bradford

10/21/18

Wednesday October 17th was the first International Gender Pronouns Day.  The goal of the day is to raise awareness of gender pronouns, including referring to people by their preferred pronouns and normalizing asking about the pronouns.  In activist circles, this is increasingly becoming commonplace.  Recently, both of my workplaces asked me for my preferred gender pronouns.  But, I can remember just a few years ago when I was asked for the first time to publicly announce my pronouns.  This is a reflection of how I felt and my own gender journey.

Image result for they them their name tag


The first meeting that I was asked to use my preferred gender pronouns caught me off guard.  I felt afraid and unsure of what to say.  I knew what the expected answer was…she/her/hers….and I felt afraid to say anything but the pronouns that would match my outward appearance.  I didn’t answer at all.  Meeting after meeting, I didn’t answer.  I dreaded when it was my turn to share.  I would simply say my name and something else (for instance what group I was in or why I was there), avoiding the question or trying to bury the question in other information.  Only a few times was I called out.  “Oh, you forgot to share your pronouns!”  I wanted the question to go away.  It seemed like some hokey, liberal trend to be inclusive- but really, it felt like an interrogation into the walled up parts of myself.   I have wrestled with gender identity, but came to no conclusions or worse, no plan of action.  Thus, I have slid through life avoiding the question and relegating it to some condemned, musty, walled off part of myself that could be attended to when I had the time, courage, or emotional safety.  The “gender question” asked at activist meetings forced it out of the dark corner that I had been avoiding.  I resented that.  No one shines a light in my haunted house! Image result for haunted house

Mn State Fair Haunted House


For some context, I have felt alienated by my femaleness.  It started sometime around the 5th grade.  I didn’t want to grow up to be female…or the “w” word.  I didn’t want breasts or a period.  I didn’t want curves or for people to see me as a woman.  I didn’t want to become…such an alien thing.  It is a feeling that has hung around.  I could provide more details or examples, as often creating a narrative of lifelong questioning is necessary for legitimacy.  But, I don’t care to and legitimacy does not have to be rooted in history and long stories.  In any event, despite feeling un-female, I wondered what alternative existed for me.  What else could I be and how could I become it?   Despite these feelings, I have generally presented myself in a feminine way (to some degree), with makeup, shaved body, and long hair.  Thus, to question or feel disgusted by and alien from my body and biological/social lot seemed disingenuous.   Worse, when I have talked to some people close to me over the years, the reactions have been that I must be mentally ill or just trying to be trendy….because gender dysphoria is cool.   This left me feeling a bit lost and defeated.  By my 30s I tried not to think too deeply about it.  That is…until that pesky question kept coming up!


I started to test out answers.  Mostly, when it came up, I said I go by she/her/hers and they/them/theirs.  No one cared.  The question moved on to the next person.  This was nice and gave me more confidence.  No one stopped the whole thing and said, “Wait!  You are NOT they, them, theirs…. you are just trying to be trendy here!  Call the gender police.”  Or, “They, them, theirs is for MORE androgynous looking people.  Clearly you wear makeup and have long hair.  You are not constructing gender properly.”  In the few instances where I felt that I needed to give an explanation, I said that I was gender questioning.  By cautiously answering…but being met with zero reaction or questioning, I began to feel more comfortable.   These questions felt invasive and loaded at first, but it turned out it was not an inquisition. Image result for gender police


What am I?  I feel weird calling myself a woman.  It just seemed so…not me.  It seems like a special title reserved for some other people.  I didn’t ask for this body.  There are parts of it I would be happy to be rid of.  At the same time, I think she/her/hers is appropriate for me.  Despite how I might feel about myself, the world sees me as female.  I am treated like a woman.  Each time I fear for my safety or am treated as “less than” a man, I am living a female experience in a female body (I don’t mean this to reify biological gender, but as a shared experience of oppression).  I feel safer in female spaces than in spaces dominated by men and I feel like I do not behave or present in a fashion that is gender queer enough for trans or non-binary spaces.  I present myself in a “feminine” way.  I have been subjected to and subjugated by female gender norms.  I fear aging.  I fear becoming too ugly or too fat.  My presentation of self is still very much governed by patriarchal gender norms for women.   At the same time, gender is socially constructed.  There is no feminine.  Long hair and makeup can be masculine, androgynous, feminine, or really anything or nothing at all.  Despite the arbitrary nature of these rules, my presentation has social meaning that is associated with femaleness.  I could reject this, but there is no real way to reject this as reconstructing gender usually hinges upon gender tropes.  Binary gender is such a part of our cognitive landscape that it is hard to escape.  Inevitably, it depends upon rejecting what is viewed as masculine, feminine, mixing up these characteristics, or inventing something androgynous (which is often stereotyped as thin and skewed towards masculine).  She/her/hers is also useful in showing solidarity with women.  I am a feminist.  Maybe I don’t always feel like a woman, but I live in this world perceived and treated as one.  I experience oppression as a woman and she/her/hers can be useful gender shorthand for these experiences and my solidarity with those who also experience this.


Although I am she/her/hers….I am also not these things.  It feels like gender is Schroedinger’s cat, which both IS and ISN’T.  Both things exist in the box that is myself.  I am female in body and experience, but also not these things, both because there is no female body and universal female experience and because I feel alien from the female parts of me (whatever those may be).   This is hard to explain.  To address the first aspect of my non-femaleness, well, femaleness does not really exist.  What is female?  Breasts, certain hormones, certain chromosomes, vaginas, or other biological characteristics?  Some females have some of these characteristics and not others, have all of these to varying degrees, or have some of these in some parts of life and not in others.   I have some biological markers of being female, but I do not necessarily want them, and being female is more than just biological rules and boundaries (which are themselves socially determined).   I would be happy to not have breasts, for instance.  I have always hated them.  I am actually really happy that mine are small, since I really don’t want these female associated appendages hanging off my body.  They serve no purpose in my life.  I have no intention of breast feeding, which seems like a body horror, nor enjoy their utility in sexual attraction.  Yes, I called it a body horror.  I feel that chest feeding can be wonderful and nourishing for OTHERS who are not alienated by their bodies, but to me existing in this body, the very thought of it seems like a torturous humiliation.  In this sense, and others that I won’t share, I am very much not a woman.


Femaleness is also related to gender roles, expected behaviors, and social position.   Where do I fit in to that?  Sure, I think that I am “feminine”, but I think that this is one facet of who I am and more or less just a part of the full constellation of human traits that everyone shares to varying degrees.  I am not “feminine” in some ways, in that I don’t necessarily follow female gender roles.  I am not particularly nurturing, not at all motherly or maternal, am emotionally reserved, not much for traditional roles of care giving and cleaning, independent and self-reliant, not romantic, generally more rational and scientific than spiritual or emotional, etc.  Once again, these are characteristics that get divied up between masculine and feminine, but are not inherently either.  Still, I think that bodily, emotionally, and socially, I have traits that I feel are masculine, feminine, and androgynous.  I don’t feel a close affinity with my femaleness, but I don’t entirely reject it either.  Thus, I really like they, them, their as gender pronouns.  I also like to go by H. as well as Heather, since I think it represents my non-binary self.   Heather is very feminine in our society.  I used to hate my name because of it.  However, I am trying to accept that Heather is just a plant.  It is a flower that grows in rocky, boggy conditions- with no innate femininity, masculinity, or androgyny.  The sound of the word Heather is not feminine, as people in other countries have similar sounding names which are pegged as masculine- such as Hadir in Arabic speaking countries.  I can be Heather and not necessarily be feminine.  But, I do enjoy when friends call me H.

Image result for heather plant


Gender is complicated.  I don’t have the answers.  I consider myself gender questioning because I haven’t arrived at my final destination.  I don’t know that I will.  There may be times in my life that I embrace my femaleness more.  Other times, it may be a source of pain and humiliation.  I haven’t always enjoyed getting asked what my pronouns are, but at the very least, I am starting to feel more confident.  At this point, I feel confident enough to say that yes, there is a they, them, their part of myself.  It doesn’t matter if I don’t look or behave in a non-binary way or reject gender enough.  I don’t need to be legitimate in anyone else’s eyes.  It is gender that is illegitimate, not me.  Even if my feelings ARE the result of being trendy or mentally ill, why stigmatize either? Traditional concepts of gender (and sex) benefit no one but those at the top of our patriarchal, capitalist economic system.   As my life progresses, perhaps I will feel bolder and ask to be H. or they, them, their more often.  Perhaps not.  For now, this is where I am at.  Thanks for asking.

 

Anxious Adventuring: Glacier Hike

Anxious Adventuring_Glacier Hike

Anxious Adventuring: Glacier Hike

H. Bradford

10/18/18

Iceland offers an endless array of opportunities for adventure.  Unfortunately, I only had a few days in Iceland, so I had to prioritize what I wanted to see.  I packed a lot into each day but had to determine what I would do on my final day in the country.  I narrowed it down to something related to volcanoes (such as lava tube exploring) or glaciers.  In the end, I chose a glacial activity since volcanoes will be around for a while but glaciers are in critical global decline.  Hence, I decided to go on a southern coast day tour of Iceland which included a glacier hike.  The tour company that I used for the day trip was Gray Line, but there are many day trip tour companies in Iceland.  The glacier that I visited was Solheimajokull, which is part of Mýrdalsjökull an ice cap that sits on top of the Katla volcano.  I was informed by the guide that as a result of climate change, there will not be any glaciers in Iceland in 100- 150 years.  Visitors to Solheimajokull can see how much the glacier has retreated in just the last ten years and it was melting as we walked on it.

Image may contain: one or more people, sky, outdoor and nature

 


I was not particularly anxious about the glacier hike, even though I have never been on a glacier before.  My primary concerns were that it was going to be cold, slippery, and physically challenging.  About five people from our larger South Coast tour opted for the hike, with the vast majority continuing on for more sedate adventures.  When we arrived, we were outfitted with a harness, crampons, and ice axe.  The instructions did not feel quite as intense as the snorkeling instructions at Silfra.  We were told not to shuffle our feet, to trust the crampons, and how to hold the ice axe in a stable manner (i.e. not impale ourselves or others).  With those instructions, we set off towards the glacier.  It was about a fifteen minute hike from the parking lot to the beginning of the glacier.  Once we were close enough, we strapped crampons onto our boots.  Thus, a person would obviously want to pack hiking boots for this particular adventure (though, I believe they can also be rented).

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor


The first part of the glacial hike involved climbing up and down small hills.  In some parts, there were makeshift steps carved into the ice and snow.  Other parts required straddling small rivers of melting water and stepping over minor crevices.  From a cardio perspective, this was sometimes a little challenging, or at least got my heart rate up.  This is important to note because I was worried that the glacier would be cold.  After all, it is ice.  However, the giant mounds of ice broke up the wind and I actually felt pretty warm once I got moving.  I quickly shed layers and realized that I was wearing too much (fleece lined water resistant pants with leggings underneath and two sweaters + a jacket and wool headband).  On the other hand, I was not wearing a water proof jacket.  So, I got soggy as it rained for most of the hike.  When we stopped to look at the scenery, I became cold and tried to put on layers again.  Rain jackets can be rented for about $10 before the hike commences, which would have been a smart idea.  However, at the beginning of the hike, there was only a small drizzle, so I didn’t think it would be an issue.  Based upon this experience, I would suggest that the cold is not the major weather condition to worry about- rather rain, sweat, and moisture in general.

Image may contain: one or more people, mountain, outdoor and nature


When we reached the glacial plateau, we stopped to take in the scenery and got a closer look at some larger holes in the glacier.  We used a rope to lean in for a safe view of a large moulin, or a circular shaft in the ice carved by water.  There was time for photos and the guide taught us a little about glaciers.  After about 20 minutes of hanging out, we turned back…down.  This was where things went down hill for me.  I came upon a gentle, but icy slope that I didn’t feel comfortable going down.  I had a hard time trusting that my feet were not going to slip or that I would not simply tumble forward.  I hesitated, got a little stuck, and stumbled a little.  I didn’t fall or even loose my balance, but it was enough to make the guide uneasy and keep me towards the front of the group.  Yep, so like the snorkeling adventure, I got to be the guide’s sidekick.  From then on, I felt very self-conscious and over-thought each step.  I did my best not to shuffle, so I over exaggerated my steps.  At one point, I lost my balance for a moment- but immediately caught myself without incident, falling, or any stumbling.  However, since the nearest hospital was over an hour away and the guide mentioned that people had died hiking on the glacier, I remained haunted by a mistrust of my feet and sense of balance.  Like anything, over thinking can be paralyzing.  In the end, I never fell or came close to falling, but I definitely felt happy when it was over.  Unlike the snorkeling, I ended with a diminished sense of self confidence.  I mean really….why can’t I trust my feet?!!

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The glacial hike, like the snorkeling, is a beginner’s adventure- and as such, most anyone of reasonable health and balance should be able to complete the hike without incident.  Since I often hike or go for long walks, I didn’t enter the activity with much anxiety.  Really, it was not until the hike back (with more walking down hill) that I felt uneasy about the activity.  I am not sure what I could have done differently, except maybe to make sure the crampons were more secure on my boots- since they seemed a little too loose on the way back.  Once I started thinking too hard about each step, I seemed more prone to faltering- but- it was impossible NOT to think of each step since I didn’t want to stumble!  Overall, I would say the hike was worth it.  The three hour activity passed quickly and it was pretty neat to traverse a glacier.  While there probably isn’t much I can do to overcome my discomfort of going down slopes, at least I learned how to better prepare for such a hike in terms of what to wear.   I felt disappointed with myself for not being better at descending from the glacial plateau.  On the other hand, only five people out of over 25 people on the larger tour, went on the glacial hike…so I can be happy that I at least tried it!  I feel fortunate to have the privilege of visiting a glacier, as future generations are unlikely to have this opportunity if the necessary changes to our economic system are not made soon.

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Anxious Adventuring: Nationalist Tour Guide

Anxious Adventuring_ guide

Anxious Adventuring: Nationalist Tour Guide

H. Bradford

10/8/18

While visiting Macedonia I decided to go on a day tour to Lake Ohrid.  It would have been far cheaper to take a public bus, but I had some worries that perhaps the bus would be overbooked or that I would miss the bus back to Skopje.  To make things less stressful, I booked a day tour to Lake Ohrid.  Of course, Macedonia does not have an expansive tourist industry, so most day tours are private tours.  Private tours are expensive, but they make it easier to learn about different historical sights than I would have learned on my own.  Another downside, besides price, is that it can be socially awkward.  After all, it means that the guide is your only company ALL day long.  That is a lot of social pressure on both parties.  Many things could go wrong.  What if the guide is weird?  What if the guide makes me feel unsafe?  What if we simply don’t get along?  I don’t often do private tours because of the price and the social component.  But, it seemed easier than making a mistake using the bus system in an unfamiliar country for a several hour bus ride that at least online was said to be often sold out… so I booked a guide.

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Beautiful Lake Ohrid…


I waited anxiously at my hostel for the guide to arrive.  When he arrived, I felt disappointed that it was a man, since it always feels safer to be alone with women.  I wasn’t entirely alone though, since he had a driver with him.  It made me feel tense, as these two men were to be my company for the day.  Oh well.  The guide was nice enough…and handed me some brochures about various Macedonian tourist attractions.  He gave me an overview of how the day would go and we set off towards our first stop, the mouth of the Vardar river.  Along the way, he shared his knowledge of Macedonia, which he was very passionate and knowledgeable about.  Based upon his particular slant on the information he shared, it became clear that he was….very nationalist. Image may contain: Heather Bradford, standing, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature

First stop…Vardar River (one of many photos of me that day…)


The guide, who I will call “A.” strongly believed that Macedonia was indeed the homeland of Alexander the Great and that the people of Macedonia, while Slavs, had actually mixed with the ancient Macedonian population.  He substantiated this belief with stories of how some villages continue to conduct group weddings.  He believed that group weddings  were a custom modeled after Alexander the Great’s mass wedding held in Susa wherein marriages were arranged between Alexander and his officers and Persian noblewomen.  This was an interesting theory, though there are many reasons to hold collective weddings (for instance, to save time and to share costs).  He was a strong advocate for a boycott of the referendum, as he felt that if it passed, Greece would have control over street names, statues, books, school curriculum, stadiums, or even outlaw the use of the name Alexander as a given name.  I didn’t quite understand why the referendum would be boycotted rather than simply “vote NO.”  Since the failure of the referendum, I now understand that voter turnout needed to be at least 50% for it to be valid.  To A., the very idea that the matter would be voted upon was insulting.  He felt deeply that not only were Macedonians the inheritors of Alexander the Great’s legacy, Greece had no business telling Macedonia what to do.  This was not framed as an anti-Nato or anti-EU sentiment.  A. also made no indication that he had a pro-Russian political orientation.  His position was, however, a vehemently anti-Greek position.  He spoke about the oppression of Slavic people in Greek Macedonia and believed that the majority of this population still spoke Macedonian (it is unknown how many speakers there are, but in 1951 it was 40,000).  I nodded along to his assertions, but didn’t know what to say when he went on a tirade about how Alexander the Great was not bisexual or gay and this was a myth propagated by Hollywood.  Nationalism, while it has reasonable aspects (yes, Macedonia should have the autonomy to determine its own name and interpretation of history) can also be deeply intolerant, angry, masculine, and homophobic… at least that is the brand of nationalism that I experienced with A.

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For my part, I mostly played dumb and asked questions, since that is often the safest way to act out the role of a non-threatening female around angry men.  In any event, I did not want to risk upsetting the person responsible for my safety and transportation.  The day had many awkward moments, as A. had a very pushy personality.  For instance, he insisted that he needed to take my photo at every stop we made.  At churches, rivers, lakes, statues, etc.  I politely told him many times that I was content to have just a few photos of myself, but he pushed to take my photo at every stop, harassing me with compliments about how I looked.  This was uncomfortable, but I lacked any power in the situation to escape this barrage of photos.  I did my best to make polite excuses not to take more photos of myself (usually I have the opposite problem that as a solo traveler I have to ask a stranger for a photo or use the self-timer on my camera).  This was to no avail and a familiar experience.  Consent and boundaries are only dimly understood among most people and part of living and traveling in this world is experiencing situations where these are violated, ignored, or pushed.  Likewise, A. was very devoutly Orthodox.  When we visited two monasteries, he insisted that I drink the water.  I didn’t want to drink the water, since I didn’t trust that it was not going to make me sick (untreated water contains unfamiliar bacteria that he might be used to, but I could get sick from).  He pushed me to drink the water, which he asserted was the purest water in the world.  I took a small sip to appease him and later found myself pretending to drink the water by cupping it in my hand, putting it to my mouth, but letting it slip through my fingers.  When asked about my religious beliefs, I felt it was best to lie- as he was extremely devout in his Orthodoxy.  I told him I was Protestant.  I don’t think I have ever lied about my atheism.  At one point, he told me to light the candles at the monastery.  I am not Orthodox, so I felt uncomfortable, but he was so adamant about it, I lit the candle.  Then, he quizzed me about what it meant.  I had no idea.  He said that the candles are lit because of the sins in the world.  I said something awkward about darkness and suffering, then moved on to ponder the miraculous dripping bone marrow of John the Baptist.

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Things became less socially intense when we arrived at Lake Ohrid.  I opted to spent some time alone there and enjoyed blissful social isolation as I strolled around the lake looking for birds and taking in the scenery.  At Lake Ohrid, the guide and I parted ways.  I appreciate that he was very candid about his political beliefs and I felt that it had been a unique opportunity to speak with someone with strong nationalist views.  On the other hand, I was relieved to no longer feel pressured for photographs or to sample water or any other thing that had made me feel uncomfortable during the day.  I survived!  The ride back to Skopje was less stressful.  I had an enjoyable conversation with the more politically moderate driver who was pro-EU and pro-NATO.  He was pessimistic about Macedonia’s future and largely indifferent to Greek’s demands, since Macedonia was too weak to resist it and Alexander the Great was not worth celebrating anyway.  The driver felt that Macedonia was a unimportant, doomed nation (so he lacked A.’s zealous confidence in Macedonia’s purpose and history).  It was interesting to hear this perspective, even if it came across as a dreary pro-Western defeatism.  Despite the polar opposite views on Macedonia’s history, both men agreed upon the horrible prospect of “Greater Albania.”  When I spoke to a very progressive guide the following day, she also feared Greater Albania.  So, oddly, that was the tie that bound the political spectrum- fear of Albanian territorial, economic, and population expansion.  I am not sure what to make of that…

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My guides often pointed out whenever they saw an Albanian flag…


I think it is both rude and privileged to put down my guide, as he was extremely hard working and passionate about his job.  In a group setting, I probably would have felt far less uncomfortable and anxious.  He was uncomfortably pushy in some regards and it was emotionally exhausting to try to balance politeness (for safety and a smooth day) and resistance (not wanting to drink unknown water, for instance).   I have had experiences like this before while traveling and living, which I have navigated differently depending upon my own perceived power in the situation (which is often little).  In any event, as trying as the day felt at some points, it was an opportunity to see and hear nationalism first hand.  Despite my support of Macedonian self-determination, on a personal level, nationalism feels smothering, assertive, and intolerant.

I am fairly certain that this AP photo by Thanassis Stavrakis of a Macedonian nationalist is a picture of my tour guide….

What’s in a name? Macedonia’s Referendum

What's in a Name_ Macedonia's Referendum

What’s in a Name? Macedonia’s Referendum

H. Bradford

10/7/18


I traveled to Macedonia this past September as a part of a three week trip that took me to several countries.   The trip occurred just ahead of Macedonia’s September 30th referendum to change the country’s name from Republic of Macedonia (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) to North Macedonia (among other things).  It was an interesting time to visit the country, since there were activists campaigning for a boycott of the referendum.  Some of them handed out fliers and others appeared to maintain an encampment near Park Warrior Woman.   On the surface, the referendum seems simple enough, as it asked whether or not Macedonians were in favor of NATO and EU membership by accepting an agreement with Greece.  The Prespa Agreement with Greece entails a name change, but also means that the constitution would have to acknowledge that Macedonians are not related to ancient Macedonians and there would have to be Greek review of maps and textbooks to make certain that that Macedonia did not claim Hellenistic heritage or Greek territory. While I didn’t have the opportunity to speak to many Macedonians on the issue, I did speak to three of them, each of whom had different opinions on the vote.  I also read several books on Macedonian history before the trip, which at least provided some context to the debate.  My opinion is informed by these experiences. Image may contain: one or more people, shoes, tree, sky, crowd and outdoor


Macedonia was one of the six republics of Yugoslavia and among them it was the poorest, with an economy centered upon agriculture.  Within Yugoslavia, Macedonian national identity was promoted through the development of film, theater, music, art, language, etc.  Nationalism was cultivated in such a way as not to promote independence from Yugoslavia or overt territorial ambitions against Greece or Bulgaria in the interest of uniting Macedonians.  The collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991 presented an economic and identity crisis.  In forging a new identity, Macedonia certainly has unique history and language to draw from, as the country is full of ancient Christian churches and monasteries and Macedonian language influenced St. Cyril’s Glagolitic script, the first Slavic alphabet.  Language and orthodoxy are two components of Macedonian national identity, and the Macedonian Orthodox church declared itself autocephalus in 1967.  However, its autonomy is not recognized by the rest of Eastern Orthodoxy.  While these are important parts of Macedonian nationalism, it seems that a great deal of Macedonian nationalism today draws from the ancient history of Alexander the Great, which Greece takes issue with.   And…Macedonia draws from this history to the extreme.  A visit to Skopje feels like a tour of an Alexander the Great theme park, with enormous statues of Alexander the Great, Phillip II, Alex’s mother Olympia, and Greek style buildings.

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Most scholars find little continuity between the Macedonia of Alexander the Great and modern Republic of Macedonia.  Alexander the Great was believed to have been born in Pella, in modern Greek Macedonia in 356 BC.  Of course, the division between Greek Macedonia and Republic of Macedonia is a construct of the Ottoman empire, nationalist struggles that aided the empire’s collapse, and borders drawn from the Balkan wars of the early 1900s.  In any event, the Macedonia of Alexander the Great or Phillip II appears to mostly cover Greek Macedonia, with parts of modern day Republic of Macedonia, Albania, and Bulgaria.  I have seen maps that extend this border further north as far as half way up Republic of Macedonia, but this doesn’t really matter as “Macedonia” as a place has encompassed different areas in different times.  The Macedonians today are Slavic people, who settled in the region in the 6th century, nearly 600 years after the death of Alexander the Great.  Therefore, Greeks argue that Republic of Macedonia has appropriated their history.  On the other hand, Alex, a Macedonian I spoke to, believed that Slavic people mixed with the Macedonian population, preserving some of their customs and history.   Macedonia would have experienced invasion from Huns, Visgoths, Vandals, as well as Roman rule prior to Slavs entering the scene.  History is contentious and while Republic of Macedonia is unlikely to be the geographic and cultural inheritor of Alexander the Great’s legacy, all nations are build upon myths and borrowings.

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All nations are human constructions.  After all, the Earth, as seen from space, does not have neat little lines delineating borders or handy name tags for rivers, countries, mountains, etc.  These are things that we have named and given meaning to.  In the case of nation states, this is a fairly recent phenomenon of unifying peoples, cultures, languages, and geographical spaces into recognized political units.  This didn’t happen neatly, accidentally, or uniformly.  Africa consists of nations carved out and patched together by European colonizers.   The United States, as a nation, was built by genocide, warfare, slavery, colonization, civil war, imperialism, and also by accompanying and supporting mythologies of manifest destiny, exceptionalism, moral justification, pluralism, and democracy.  And, like much of the West, part of our national mythology draws from Ancient Greece.  We appropriate Greek architecture, as many of our government buildings and statues have Greek themes and columns.   Lighthouses, juries, theater, democracy, our alphabet, the Olympics, math, science, philosophy, art, libraries, etc. are parts of ancient Greek culture that have been widely appropriated by the West.  We created movies and television shows based upon Greek mythology which are often inaccurate or re-imagined for mass audiences.  Yet, Greece does not take issue with all of these borrowings from their history, even when many are likewise not accurate reconstructions of myths, ideas about democracy, architectural styles, etc.  Why Macedonia?  Why Alexander the Great? Image may contain: sky, cloud, bridge and outdoor

A very Greek looking Museum of Archaeology in Skopje…


From a practical standpoint, borrowing from Ancient Greece is so commonplace that much of it probably happens without thought or notice. On the other hand, Greece does not have the means to threaten the United States or most of Europe even if they were to misappropriate ancient Greek history.  For example, there is a replica of the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee, which, of course, is even more outrageously ahistorical than any Macedonian claim to Alexander the Great.  Suppose Greece took issue with this.  The United States has the largest GDP in the world, whereas Greece is around 50th.  While Greece spends over 2.3% of its GDP on military (for which it was praised by Trump), this spending (about 9.3 billion dollars) is dwarfed  by the $590 billion spent by the United States on defense each year.  Greece has little economic, political, or military power to challenge most other members of NATO or the EU for any misuse of Greek culture or history.   At the same time, Greece is in a much more powerful position than Macedonia.  Although Macedonia’s government has vowed to increase military spending as it seeks NATO membership, as of 2017 military spending was less than 1% of the GDP at just under 110 million dollars.   In terms of 2015 GDP, Macedonia was the sixth poorest country in Europe, after Moldova, Ukraine, Kosovo, Albania, and Bosnia Herzegovina and a 27% unemployment rate.   Greece’s unemployment rate was also around 25% in 2015 and the population has suffered austerity measures and shaky EU membership in the face of a debt crisis that was spurred by the larger global financial crisis of 2008.  Nevertheless, Greece has more political and economic power than Macedonia for a number of reasons including its long established NATO membership (since 1951), EU membership (a part of predecessor organization the European Community since 1981), longer history as an independent country (Macedonia became an independent country in 1991 compared to Greece’s independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1829), larger population and area (population of 10 million versus 2 million in Macedonia), larger and better equipped military, etc.  In short, Greece is much more powerful than Macedonia and therefore far more able to enforce its claims to culture, history, and national identity.

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Phillip II statue in Skopje…with scenes of Alexander the Great’s life


Since Macedonia’s 1991 independence, Greece has exerted its relative power to thwart Macedonia’s existence as….Macedonia.  In the 1990s, Greece imposed an economic embargo against Macedonia and blocked its UN membership.  In 2008, Greece vetoed Macedonia’s NATO membership and in 2009, its bid for EU membership.  In 1993, Macedonia agreed to the official name of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in exchange for UN membership and in 1995, agreed to change the flag by removing the Vergina Sun used as the royal symbol of ancient Macedonia (Gjukovikj, 2018).  This past summer, Greek and Macedonian governments sought to come to an agreement which would pave the way for Macedonia’s NATO membership.  This agreement entailed a name change to North Macedonia,  renouncing any claim to ancient Macedonia history and Greek territory, removal of all public uses of the Vergina sun, recognition of Greece’s territorial integrity (i.e. no territorial claims to Greek Macedonia), committee oversight of textbooks and historical materials, and various articles more generally related to trade, defense, crime, treaty enforcement, etc.  The Prespa agreement can be read here: https://www.thenationalherald.com/204203/the-full-text-of-greece-fyrom-agreement-pdf/


I have a soft spot for Macedonia, as it very much seems like the underdog in this situation.  It is impossible to imagine an outside country setting the terms of how the United States can interpret its history or what symbols we can use on our flag or in our public spaces.  It seems absurd that Macedonia cannot be Macedonia….as if national identity is some sacred truth!  Certainly cultural appropriation is not a small matter, but generally the injustice stems from the powerful appropriating the history and culture of the oppressed.  In this case, Macedonia is the smaller power with less leverage to define itself or maintain an autonomous existence.  While Macedonians certainly appropriate Hellenistic culture to nationalist ends, Greece historically has extinguished and denied Slavic culture in Greek Macedonia.  After Macedonia was divided by Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria in 1913, Greece replaced Slavic geographical and family names in Greek Macedonia with Greek ones and designated the Macedonian population “Bulgarians.”  In 1936, Macedonian language was outlawed in Greece and many Macedonians, who often were also leftists, either fled the country or faced political repression.  In 1951, 40,000 people in Northern Greece still considered themselves Slavophiles despite the decades of repression. No census of Slavic speakers has been conducted since (Karadis, 1994).  As recent as 1994, Human Rights Watch called upon Greece to stop harassment of Slavic speakers and in 1998, the European Court of Human Rights called upon Greece to allow its people free association by granting permission for the formation of Slavic cultural associations (Karatsareas, n.d.).  Greece many not formally recognize what remains of its aging Slavic speaking population, but the assertion of territorial integrity in the Prespa agreement at some level admits that the 1913 borders (which included Greek Macedonia) is contentious.  Why?  Macedonia lacks the military, political, or economic means to challenge Greece’s borders and the Slavic population of Greece Macedonia has been Hellenized to the degree that there is little threat of an independence/unification movement.   It seems that rather than a real Macedonian threat to Greece’s national integrity, this aspect of the agreement is meant to establish that Greece has “won” at history or any debate to the nature of Greece Macedonia’s geographic or cultural makeup is over.


Unfortunately, Macedonia’s right to be Macedonia (i.e. its right to self-determination), is not supported in the West.  While I was visiting Macedonia, Angela Merkel came to Skopje in support of voting yes in the referendum.  NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz also visited Skopje that week.  The U.S state department, former president George W. Bush,  U.S. secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and President Trump each encouraged Macedonians to vote yes.  In fact, $8 million was approved by congress to fund a yes vote (Tisdale, 2018).  I imagine that to most people, Macedonia’s path to EU and NATO membership is viewed positively, as becoming closer to the West is blithely viewed as a way to become more prosperous, progressive, globally integrated, or any number of positive things.  But, at what cost?  In this case, the immediate cost is self-determination on even the most basic issue of maintaining the autonomy to choose by what name the country calls itself! Increased military spending is another expected cost.  Of course, this is also part of a larger issue, since the referendum in Macedonia has been framed by Western media as primarily a naming issue!  No big deal, right?  What is the difference between Macedonia and North Macedonia?  But, this ignores the other aspects of the Prespa Agreement, including the auditing of text books and maps.  This framing also ignores the assumption that joining the EU and NATO are positive things.  It is really positive and progressive to join the West by increasing military spending or fighting in NATO’s conflicts?  In any event, while the Yes vote won, voter turnout was too low to validate the results (only 36% voter turnout).  For now, the matter remains at an impasse as the referendum failed. Image may contain: outdoor


Macedonia is still a fairly new nation with tremendous challenges ahead.  Navigating these challenges are nearly impossible.  Integration with the West almost certainly means compromising aspects of national identity in favor of an identity which is less threatening to Greece.  As a matter of self-determination, I believe that Macedonians should have the right to interpret their history as they please, even if it does not align with other histories.  The world is full of cities founded and named after Alexander the Great, which Greece does not take particular interest in.   There are statues of Alexander the Great in Scotland, Argentina, Germany, France, and Egypt to name a few places.  The Albanian military commander “Skanderbeg” was nicknamed after Alexander the Great.  I think that it is entirely possible for both countries to coexist while allowing for Macedonia to draw inspiration from this history.  At the same time, a Macedonian driver that I met made the excellent point that maybe Alexander the Great is not the best symbol for the nation, considering that his image and history celebrate warfare and conquest.  I would add that Macedonia is made up of many people, including Albanians, Roma, Turks, Vlachs, Serbians, Torbesh, and others.  Alexander the Great may not represent all of these people.  I think that is a matter for the people of Macedonia to decide and question.   No one in Macedonia benefits from costly statues and buildings when the population suffers from poverty and unemployment.  For instance, the “Warrior on Horse” statue (which is meant to depict Alexander the Great) cost over $13 million.  The structures built in Skopje between 2010-2014 cost over $700 million.  As a tourist, it is certainly bizarre and fascinating to stroll around the endless monuments, but these have a human cost in terms of money that could have been spent on social programs and labor power that went into their construction.  Therefore, the right to Alexander the Great should not be idealized, but should be allowed as a matter of national autonomy.  Likewise, nationalism can be ugly and is often misused to cow a populace into submission and can foster social division.  But, the experience of realizing national autonomy can be unify and mobilize a people towards progressive interests.  In the end, that is why I support allowing Macedonia to be Macedonia.

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Sources:

Bender, J. (2015, June 29). Greece’s military budget is getting bigger even as the country’s economy lurches towards mayhem. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/why-greeces-military-budget-is-so-high-2015-6

Gjukovikj, D. (2018, August 02). Analysis | After 27 years, Greece and Macedonia have resolved their contentious ‘naming dispute.’ Here’s how. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/08/02/after-27-years-greece-and-macedonia-have-resolved-the-contentious-naming-dispute-heres-how/?utm_term=.de83f58ce516

Kakissis, J. (2018, July 09). Greece Is One Of Few NATO Members To Have Met Defense Spending Goal. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2018/07/09/627417425/greece-is-one-of-few-nato-members-to-have-met-defense-spending-goal

Karadjis, M. (1994, April 27). Macedonia: What the Greek government tries to hide. Retrieved from https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/macedonia-what-greek-government-tries-hide

Karatsareas, P. (2018, September 14). Greece’s Macedonian Slavic heritage was wiped out by linguistic oppression – here’s how. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/greeces-macedonian-slavic-heritage-was-wiped-out-by-linguistic-oppression-heres-how-94675

Pamuk, H. (2018, July 11). NATO formally invites Macedonia to join alliance. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nato-summit-declaration/nato-formally-invites-macedonia-to-join-alliance-idUSKBN1K12AR

State Department official backs Macedonian referendum. (2018, September 13). Retrieved from https://www.foxnews.com/world/state-department-official-backs-macedonian-referendum

Tisdall, S. (2018, October 01). Result of Macedonia’s referendum is another victory for Russia | Simon Tisdall. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/01/result-of-macedonia-referendum-is-another-victory-for-russia

Western Leaders Line up to Visit Macedonia Before Referendum. (2018, September 09.). Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2018-09-12/macedonia-opposition-says-name-change-an-issue-of-conscience

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anxious Adventuring: Silfra Snorkel

Anxious Adventuring_ Silfra Snorkel

Anxious Adventuring: Silfra Snorkel

H. Bradford

10/4/18

I am not a very adventurous person by nature, but I am curious.  This is why I wanted to snorkel at Silfra, Iceland.  Silfra is a fissure located in Thingvellir National Park, where it formed in 1789 during the earthquakes associated with the Laki volcanic eruption.  On one side of the chasm is the North American plate and on the other, is the Eurasian plate.  These plates are pulling apart from one another, creating the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that bisects Iceland (and extends 65,000 km under the Atlantic Ocean).  The volcanoes which created and continue to shape Iceland are located along the ridge.   Iceland is unique because you can see the rift above ground (as opposed to at the bottom of the ocean).  The idea of snorkeling between two continents, where you can literally touch Europe and North America, sounded great!  The only problem is that I am not overly fond of or comfortable in water.   I debated if I should try this activity out at all.  But, in the end, I figured I would at least try it- despite my many worries.  This is an overview of this experience so that other anxious adventurers can find the confidence to dip into the water and explore this tectonic wonder!

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I had a number of misgivings about snorkeling at Silfra, but my main concern was that it would be cold.   The water temperature is usually under 40 degrees F and was about 36 degrees F when I visited.  It didn’t help that our tour driver/guide kept warning our small group that we were going to be cold throughout the day as we toured the Golden Circle.  Silfra was one of our last stops.  I tried not to think too much about the just-above-freezing-glacial water, but this was the main concern that weighed on me throughout the day leading up to the snorkel.  Aside from this, I was also mildly worried that I was not a good enough swimmer or that I would become anxious swimming in the deep water (I think the deepest part is about 100 feet, though I am not sure of the depth of the water I swam over).   Thankfully, none of these things turned out to be worth worrying over!

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When we arrived at Silfra, we were handed off to a snorkeling/diving guide.  The guide gave us a barrage of instructions regarding how to put on our dry suit.  I was too mentally preoccupied to pay close attention.  Gearing up to go snorkeling involved wearing a base layer (for me, the leggings and t-shirt I was wearing) and slipping into a flannel jumpsuit over this layer.  Once this was on, we put a dry suit over the flannel layer.  The dry suit was moist from earlier snorkeling trips in the day and required some assistance to zip in the back.  The worst part and an unexpected aspect of the dry suit was that we had to wear rubber bands around our neck and wrists!  The bands were meant to keep the suit water tight.  Without them, our suit might fill up with cold water!  The guide warned that one or two people out of every trip got water in their suit.  Yikes!  I felt immediate anxiety when the band was put around my neck.  I felt that I could not swallow or breathe, but I also felt that if I complained or loosened it, my suit would fill with water.  The thought of water entering my suit replaced the general fear of the cold.  The guide assured us that if we got water in the suit, we wouldn’t get hypothermia.  We would simply have to suck it up and continue uncomfortably to the end.   This was not at all encouraging nor anything I had even thought to worry about.

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This photo was taken AFTER snorkeling, but my expression is still a little anxious or strained.


We were fitted with masks, gloves, and flippers.  A cold, wet, rubbery hood was squeezed over our heads, which only added to my sense of choking.  I tried to relax and not show any signs of anxiety.  We were given more instructions, such as the fact that the snorkeling was a one way trip.  Once we commited to it, there was no turning back half way.  Anyone with misgivings was told they had to quit right away or commit, even if they were wet, cold, uncomfortable, or afraid.  However, the snorkeling itself would only last about a half hour, as that was the amount of time it would take to pass through the fissure to a lagoon.   A current would carry us along, but at one point, we would have to swim a little harder  to avoid being pushed out to a lake and separated from the group.  After these instructions, we were marched along to the entry point, where the guide helped put masks on our face and eased us into the water.  I continued to feel anxious, especially with the mask on my face, which forced me to breathe through my mouth.  I felt that I wasn’t getting enough air.  I told the guide that I felt anxious and he asked me what I was afraid of.  I told him that I was mostly afraid that my suit would fill up with cold water (which was one of several concerns at that moment).  He said that once I was in the water, it would either fill up or not fill up, then I could be afraid or not afraid.  With that, the group of six of us slowly entered the water.  I entered last.


The suit did not fill up with water.  It squeezed more tightly, but remained dry.  We were taught how to roll onto our backs if we needed a break or to adjust something.  The suit itself was very buoyant, making swimming very easy.  Sinking would have been nearly impossible, so the depth of the water was of little concern to me.  The guide became less gruff and stayed close to me to make certain that I was was comfortable.  The extra attention made me feel self-conscious and also socially anxious.  I assured him that I would be able to do this.  I probably wasn’t that convincing, since he stayed close.  Eventually, I became more comfortable.  The suit was warm, though my face and hands became very cold.  However, the cold was actually far less terrible than taking a cold shower or doing dishes in cold water.  The cold is really nothing to worry about at all.  Breathing through my mouth became more natural, rather than the forced struggle at the beginning.  I also stopped noticing the tight band around my neck.  I started to feel more comfortable and the whole ordeal felt mildly enjoyable as I passed over the algae carpeted rocks.  The guide did intervene to direct me away from the current towards the lake (and towards the lagoon), but probably because he either didn’t trust my sense of direction or didn’t want me to go through the experience of getting separated from the group.  Shortly after that, the whole thing was over!  My left hand was pretty numb at that point, so I didn’t waste time swimming around the lagoon.  I got out of the water, as did everyone else in the group.  Easy peasey…despite any concern I might have caused the guide.

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When it was all over, I felt an enormous sense of self-efficacy.  I felt that I could easily snorkel in most situations and that I was one step closer to trying diving someday.  I even felt that if given the opportunity, I would do it again.  My anxiety stemmed from the unknown of all of it and from the unfamiliar bodily sensations of breathing through my mouth while feeling that I was choking.  The water was cold, but I would much rather have a cold hand/face than feel cold from a frigid shower or cold rain.  Physically, it was not that challenging, as the suit floated easily and the current pushed us along.  Therefore, anyone should reasonably be able to do the activity if they know what to expect and can swim.  We were treated to hot cocoa and cookies after removing our gear.  I was surprised that I wasn’t wet at all under the suit and that even my hair was only a little damp.  As far as I could tell, no one in the group was significantly wet.

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A small reward for facing my anxiety…


I think  if I could do it, almost anyone can do this!  It takes a little time to get used to all of the new sensations, but the reward is swimming between two continents!  The particular tour that I did was through Arctic Adventures and included a tour of the Golden Circle.  There were less than a dozen people on the tour, most of whom had never snorkeled before.  Aside from Silfra, the trip visits Gullfoss waterfall and Geyser, as well as Thingvellir National Park.   It is advisable to bring a towel and change of clothes.  Also be mindful that there isn’t much time for taking photos.  No one in our snorkeling group brought cameras along for the snorkeling part.  Hence, none of the photos were taken during the actual snorkeling part of the trip.   Despite this, here is the evidence that I survived the ordeal with a smile (and nothing worse than a cold hand).

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A Tale of Two Interstate Parks

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A Tale of Two Interstate Parks

H. Bradford

8/25/18


Summer is quickly coming to an end in the Northland, so I wanted to squeeze a final camping adventure in before the season shifts to fall.  To this end, I headed out towards Interstate State Park, which is actually two state parks.  There is a Minnesota Interstate Park and a Wisconsin Interstate Park.  They are located within 10 minutes drive of each other, straddling the banks of the St. Croix River.  Both are located around two hours south of Duluth/Superior near the towns of Taylor Falls, MN and St. Croix Falls, WI.  Both can be reached by taking either Interstate 35 in Minnesota or HWY 35 in Wisconsin.  I opted for HWY 35 in WI, which is a pleasant, leisurely drive through many small, Wisconsin communities.   Here is a review of the parks! Image may contain: sky, plant, tree, outdoor, nature and water


 

Interstate State Park, Minnesota

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Interstate State Park in Minnesota is the second oldest state park in the state, after Itasca State Park.  While my other state park adventures were filled with solitude and insects, this park was swarming with people!  It is a popular tourist destination and more tourist oriented than the other state parks that I have visited this summer.  Despite the buzzing throngs of humans, very few opted to go on the free glacial pothole tour that was offered at noon.  Every weekend and Monday at noon, park staff provide a free tour of the park’s glacial potholes.  I went on the tour and learned about the formation of the large potholes in the park, while meandering around some of the large potholes near the park’s entrance.   Basically, when the glaciers around Lake Superior began to melt 10,000 years ago it created a powerful torrent of water which created the modern St. Croix river.  The cliffs through which this water flowed were formed 1.1 billion years ago from the lava released from a mid-continental rift that spreads from Minnesota to Kansas.   The powerful river once rushed over these cliffs, creating potholes in the landscape as smaller rocks got caught and scoured holes into the surface.  Interstate State Park boasts the largest “explored” pothole in the world.  This means that there are larger potholes in the world, but they have not been dug out to determine their actual depth.  Visitors to the park can actually stand inside one of the larger potholes.  These potholes were manually shoveled out earlier in the last century and the visitor center features some modern artifacts that have been retrieved from the potholes over the years.  Each year, the potholes are pumped out, as they fill with water, leaves, and other debris.  Aside from the potholes, the naturalist also told us about the billion year old basalt left behind from the mid-continental rift.  The surface of the basalt is pock marked with air bubbles from when the lava cooled.  It was neat to learn about this history and to think about walking on top of such ancient rocks.

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After partaking in the tour, I set up my tent at my campsite.  At this point, I may have gone hiking, but instead, I wanted to explore Taylor Falls.  About 10 minutes drive away from Interstate Park is the Franconia Sculpture Park.  On Sundays, the park offers a free tour at 2 pm with one of the sculptors.  So, after the glacial pothole tour, I went on a sculpture park tour not far from the park.  Prior to the weekend, I had never heard of the sculpture park.  I expected to find a quaint community project with a few quirky sculptures.  Instead, I found a massive field of impressive sculptures, some created by famous artists from all over the world.  Artists even stay at the park as residents and interns.  There is also a workshop wherein artists can created their works.  It was an impressive artistic institution pretty much located in the middle of nowhere (Taylor Falls only has a population of about 900 people).  Once again, the guided tour was not well attended.  It was myself and two local senior citizens.  However, it was great to learn more about the artists, their methods, and the meaning of some of the sculptures.  I hadn’t put much thought into sculptures before- or at least not the process of making them.  An artist was busy making a metal sculpture from a mold she made over a plastered comforter spread over a friend’s body.   The artist was not an engineer, so she had to figure out for herself how to work with metal and create something structurally sound.  I could better appreciate the technical challenges of erecting giant sculptures of metal, cement, or stone after the tour. Image may contain: plant, outdoor and nature


Since Interstate Park is located within Taylor Falls, Mn, the local tourist attractions warrant mention- as these are connected to the park through the Railroad Trail.  After visiting the Franconia Sculpture park, I returned to the state park and followed the River Trail from the campground to the town.  Within Taylor Falls, I grabbed some dinner at the Drive In Restaurant.  The Drive In Restaurant is an old fashioned drive in, where you can eat in your car.  I chose to eat at a table.  The servers wear Poodle Skirts and serve classic American foods like malts, sundaes, burgers, fries, etc.  They actually had a veggie burger on their menu.   This is easily within walking distance from the park, as are several other restaurants.

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On the way back to the park, I followed the Railroad trail, which follows along an old railroad bed.  It is less stunning than the River Trail (which follows the St. Croix river) but worth hiking simply to mix things up.  Together, the trails make for about a three mile loop.  Thus, Minnesota Interstate Park does not have many trails (as these are the main two trails in the park).  It is not a state park to visit if you expect to do a lot of hiking, but worth visiting if you want to enjoy the St. Croix river and some local tourist attractions.   The Railroad trail leads hikers past the Folsom House (which is up the hill from the trail), which is a house built in 1854 by lumber baron, W.H. Folsom.  The house was closed when I visited, but it is generally open on the weekends during the summer and fall.  The trail also brings visitors past the historic rail station.  Another attraction, back in town and not on the trail, is a small, yellow library dating back to the late 1800s (it was built in 1854 as a taylor shop but later became a library).  The diminutive library continues to lend books to this day.  Finally, for those looking for something else to do after hiking to two short trails, the state park is unique in that it offers steamboat tours.  Tickets for the steamboat tours can be purchased near the park’s visitors office.  Tickets cost about $20, which I was content to forgo as I had already explored the river on foot and didn’t feel like spending more money.   The St. Croix river can also be explored by canoe or kayak and there are several rentals in the area.

Tiny Library from the 1800s


 

  Park Overview:

Pros: Beautiful cliffs over the water, many local tourist attractions, guided pothole tours, largest explored pothole in the world, riverboat tours, kayak/canoe opportunities, easy hiking trails, and well-staffed park and campground.


Cons: Very busy with tourists, loud traffic, not many hiking trails, relatively small park Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, outdoor, nature and water


Interstate State Park, Wisconsin

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On the other side of the St. Croix River is Wisconsin’s Interstate Park.  As mentioned, this was Wisconsin’s first state park.  I visited here early Monday morning after camping at Minnesota’s park.  At 7am, the park was devoid of tourists and hikers.  This gave me the opportunity to explore the park’s trails alone.  Unlike the Minnesota state park, there are many trails to explore.  Most of these are small loop trails which connect to each other in a series of lopsided figure eights.  Each loop is usually about a half a mile to under a mile long.   I hiked several of these small loop trails.  One of the highlights was the Pothole Trail.  Like the Minnesota park, the Wisconsin Interstate State Park also features potholes.  These potholes are smaller in width and depth, so they are not as impressive as the Minnesota potholes.  But, if you want to take in  more glacial potholes, the trail is still worthwhile and the trail itself features a nice overlook of the St. Croix river.  I also followed the Meadow Valley Trail, which was a bit swampy and buggy.   It is mostly just a connector between a parking lot and the Pothole Trail.  Another trail is the Summit Rock Trail, which brings visitors to the highest point on the bluffs.  This trail features the best observation point of all of the trails, since it is the highest.  I also followed part of the Echo Canyon Trail, though this was done to get to the Lake o’ the Dalles Trail.  The Lake o’ the Dalles Trail is a one mile loop around a small lake.  This is the only place between the two state parks where visitors can go swimming.  Otherwise, the currents of the St. Croix river are either too strong or the cliffs/bluffs are too steep.   This area features a beach house and the trail is described as a wildlife viewing trail.   I didn’t see much for wildlife, but I did encounter poison ivy.

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I didn’t mention that the Minnesota Interstate Park was buzzing with both people, but also a new colony of honeybees.  I have never seen a swarm of bees colonize a tree before.  The naturalist pointed them out and put up a sign so that everyone would avoid that area.  After a few hours, the bees were settled down in their new home.  Despite nearly walking by the swarm, the bees were content to focus on their new home.  Other than this brief and interesting encounter with these bees, I had no major insect incidents over the course of my park visit.  However….I did notice how there was NO poison ivy in the parks.  This was a first, as the other parks I have visited this summer had abundant ivy.  I guess I was lulled into complacency, since during my hike around Lake o’the Dalles, I noticed a lush gauntlet of poison ivy right by the trail (which I had already been following).  When I looked down at my legs, I saw they had small red bumps near the ankles and lower calves.   I couldn’t do much about it at the time.   This was a good lesson in paying attention and wearing taller socks/shoes/long pants.  Several days later, my legs are still bumpy, red, and itchy.   This was my first brush against poison ivy and the reaction was not that severe, just annoying and ugly.  I have used Vicks Vapor Rub and Cortisone cream on it.

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Despite the poison ivy, I saw a Giant Swallowtail butterfly, which are rare…


There were a few other trails which I did not have time to explore.   Otherwise, the park also features a small museum and gift shop.  The museum features information about glaciers.  It also has a display of various clams found in the St. Croix River.  Traveling HWY 35, one passes by Clam Dam and Clam Falls, which alludes to the mussels found in the river.  Personally, I haven’t paid much attention to mussels, so the display was neat because it showcased the variety of local clams.  The mussels have unique names, such as Fawnsfoot, Higgin’s Eye, Monkey Face, Snuffbox, and Winged Maple leaf.   Some of these mussels are endangered and I know that I certainly have never paid attention to the differences between species of clams.  The St. Croix River has over 40 species of mussels, making it one of the most significant mussel habitats in the country. No automatic alt text available.


I did not explore the local tourist attractions outside of Wisconsin’s Interstate Park.  St. Croix Falls, the community near the park, is larger than Taylor Falls and also more spread out.  While I did not stop here, I did stop in Balsam Lake (which was slightly out of the way but roughly 15 miles away from the park).  The small community features a museum, a city park with camping, a few eateries, and some historic buildings.  I ate lunch at KJ’s New North.  The deli/coffee shop does not have any vegetarian items on the menu, but they made me a veggie sandwich with all of their veggies (peppers, pickles, lettuce, tomato, avocado+cheese).   The food was tasty and the service was good.  Since the town has its own municipal self-serve camping in the park, this might be a camping option when the state parks are full.   Pine Park features disc golf and the basic camping sites have a shared restroom and shower.  I visited the park briefly and found that it was great habitat for woodpeckers.  I saw four species of woodpeckers in my first fifteen minutes in the park, including a red headed woodpecker.  This was my only birding on the trip.

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Park overview:

Pros: Various hiking trails, glacial potholes, swimming opportunities, camping,  quieter than MN Interstate Park, close to St. Croix falls and other nearby communities, gift shop/mini museum, first Wisconsin State Park, and cheaper camping fees than MN.


Cons: Poison ivy and tourists (but less busy than MN Interstate Park…though it was a Monday)

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Conclusion:

Both parks compliment each other well.  Minnesota’s Interstate Park is great for its potholes, boat tours, and proximity to tourist attractions.  Wisconsin’s Interstate Park is great for hiking, swimming, and its interpretive center.  Together, the parks give visitors an appreciation for geology, knowledge about glaciers, and great views off the bluffs divided by the St. Croix river.   The proximity of the parks to the Minneapolis area and the dramatic natural beauty ensures that both are a popular destination.  They aren’t the most tranquil state parks, but if you don’t mind the sound of cicadas, traffic, and people they are a great place to visit.

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Aitkin County Fair Review

Review of the Aitkin County Fair

Aitkin County Fair Review

H. Bradford

7/30/18

Aitkin County is Minnesota county with a population just over 16,000.  Despite the fact that is the neighboring county to Carlton County, where I grew up, I have never attended their county fair.  I usually attended the Carlton County Fair or a fair in St. Louis County.  This year, I attended the Aitkin County Fair with my family.   The fair was held early by fair standards (July 4-7th).  I attended on Saturday, which was the final day of the fair.  Here are my general impressions of the fair, though it may be an unfair assessment.


 

Pros:

 

Free Admission:

Most fairs charge a fee to enter.  This was always true of the Carlton County Fair.  The Aitkin County Fair costs nothing to attend!  There is a $5 parking fee, but this is easily avoided if a person parks further away.  This means that a person looking for free summer fun can wander around the fair at not cost.  Of course, rides and food are a bit spendy, but a person could choose to spend nothing! Image may contain: 1 person, standing and outdoor


Children Activities:

There were a variety of free activities for children.  There was an entire building dedicated to free crafts for kids, where children could make noodle necklaces and spinners.  My nephews did a few of the free crafts, but were less interested in other free activities such as viewing animals or learning more about farming in an interactive, children’s barn.

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Tractor Parade:

Another highlight of the fair was the tractor parade.  There is something really fun about watching a parade of tractors.  The drivers tended to be older men, but there were also some kids and women.  The tractors followed the perimeter of the fairgrounds for a 20 minute parade that showcased the mostly older model tractors. Image may contain: sky, tree, outdoor and nature


A Variety of Booths:

The Aitkin County Fair featured a two buildings of booths.  My favorite booth was for the Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge.  This booth was selling guidebooks on a variety of topics at half price.  I purchased a guide to ferns, a guide to moths, and a wildflower guide.  I also purchased two half priced children’s books for my nephews on the topic of bats.   I collected pamphlets from other booths on gardening in Minnesota, Minnesota trees, and pollinators- which may have come from booths for the DNR and University of Minnesota Extension.  The Aitkin County History Society also had a building at the fair.


 

Aitkin Gobblers:

This doesn’t have much to do with the fair, but the mascot for the Aitkin schools is a turkey, since the area was once known for turkey farming and processing.  Aitkin County once produced a half million turkeys each year and Land-o-Lakes operated a turkey processing plant in Aitkin until 1985.  The school adopted the turkey mascot because of the importance of turkeys to Aitkin.  Well, I think this is a great, unique mascot.  I made a point of trying to find an Aitkin Gobbler T-shirt while in Aitkin, but I could only find one at a local thrift store.  I purchased the shirt for $3, but was disappointed that it did not feature the image of a turkey.  At the fair, there were only a few turkeys.  One of them looked droopy and had an empty water dish, so I gave it some water (which it immediately stepped on and knocked over. Oh well, at least its foot was no longer dehydrated..)  There are not many turkeys in Aitkin any more, but at least a few could be found at the fair and I found a Gobbler shirt.     The range of wild turkeys is expanding, so it is more common to see wild turkeys in Aitkin and Carlton counties.  So, perhaps the turkey will return as a wild and free bird.  Fair organizers should really play up the importance of turkeys…

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Fire and Rescue Table:

Aitkin County Fire and Rescue had an awesome table tucked away in the far northeast corner of the fair.   The table gave away full sized bottles of water for free to combat heat exhaustion.  We were all given at least one bottle of ice cold water.  They also gave us vials of insect repellent and other free items related to staying safe.  We were encouraged to take us much as we wanted.  Maybe because of the isolated location of the table and the fact that it was the last day of the fair, we were given a large amount of free goodies.


 

Cons:

Banana Derby:

The Banana Derby should probably go into the “con” category.  It is one of those surprising things that seem out of place in this day and age.  The attraction was literally a race between two dogs with monkeys riding on their backs.  It was free to observe and money was made through promotional photographs with the monkeys.  This didn’t seem right.  Monkeys in sweaty, polyester jockey costumes holding on to dogs as they ran on a small track.  Even if the dogs and monkeys are treated well, that sort of performance is probably stressful and tiring for the animals.  Is this the worst offense of the fair?  After all, animals are put on display for several days or served as food.  This is a complicated issue, but there seemed like something distinctively exploitative about carting dogs and monkeys around the country and training them to race.  Perhaps it is simply the unusual nature of this particular entertainment that calls into question the issue of animal treatment.  I will say that whole thing was pretty surreal.

 

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Lack of Produce:

Because the fair is held in early July, most gardens have not produced many crops as it it too early in the season.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, eggplants, peppers, and so on tend to arrive later in late July and August.  Thus, the fair did not have many vegetables on display.   What could be done?  Maybe people could be encouraged to enter peas, lettuce, or immature versions of the later season crops. Image result for shriveled vegetable

Not an actual photo from the fair…but my impression of the veggies…


Business Booths:

While there was a building full of booths for organizations, there was another that was focused on businesses.  These offered prizes to promote their business.   These prizes seem a little scammy.  For instance, I received a call that I was one of  the finalists for a prize at the “Atkin” county fair.  Considering that the caller did not know how to pronounce Aitkin, I felt that it was not a representative from a local business or a genuine prize.  My brother also received a call regarding another prize, and it was clear that everyone who entered likely got a call from the business.  The prize offerings seemed like a way to gather customer contact information to trick people into purchasing products and services.


Lack of Swag Bags:

While at the fair, I tend to collect various pamphlets and free things.  Soon, my arms were full of books, pamphlets, and booklets.   None of the booths offered any sort of bag to carry the items in…except…the Aitkin County Republican Party.  I grabbed several bags and gave them to my family members.  I didn’t mind carrying my stuff around in a bag that said “God Bless America- Aitkin County Republican Party” as I found it rather ironic.  I didn’t feel ashamed, as it felt more like a prank or that I was a troll.   Is this wrong?  Should have I cared more?  I would have felt more embarrassed with a Democrat bag, since at least that would seem halfway plausible to the rest of the world.  A long story short, I guess I should have come prepared with a purse or backpack large enough to carry my loot.

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Not an actual photo of the bag, but you get the idea…

 

Overall:

The Aitkin County Fair is definitely a small fair.  There aren’t huge crowds and it is easy to amble along, enjoying this slice of rural living.  Rural life has been in a long decline, so there is a sense of emptiness at the fair.  Still, there is a sample of what once was with barns of goats, rabbits, cows, turkeys, pigs, and chickens, even if there are only a few representatives of each.  The few withered vegetable entries were sad, but on the other hand, there seemed to be robust interest in creating art, as the art barn had many entries.   There are carnival rides, free activities for kids, organizations with booths,  and of course, the tractor parade.  There is also music, fireworks, tractor pulls, 4H demonstrations, and a magician.  I did not partake in those events, but I am sure that each would add to the experience.  As a whole, I think it was a charming fair and worth a visit precisely because it is a small town affair and because of the hard work the community puts into organizing it.

A Review of Three Minnesota National Wildlife Refuges

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A Review of Three Minnesota National Wildlife Refuges

H. Bradford

7/29/18


This past weekend (+Monday and Tuesday), I visited three state parks as part of my goal to see all of the state parks in Minnesota.  As it happens, all three state parks were not terribly far from National Wildlife Refuges.  Thus, I also visited three National Wildlife Refuges during my mini-vacation.   National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) are administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service for the purpose of conserving…well, wildlife!  I will admit that I am not as familiar with NWRs as I am with state or national parks.  From my limited experience, it seems that NWRs that I have been to differ from state parks in that they typically do not charge a fee or requite a sticker.  At the same time, camping is not typically allowed and there are fewer amenities, programs, and regular staffing.  They also seem less busy or tourist oriented than state or national parks.  On the other hand, some allow hunting and trapping, which is not always allowed at state parks.  My general impression is that NWRs are less family and tourist friendly, but great for bird/wildlife watching and a variety of independent outdoor activities.  There are 13 NWRs in Minnesota, which are among the 550 spread across the United States.  This is a review of three of them.

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Sherburne NWR:


Sherburne NWR is located near Zimmerman, MN and about a half an hour south-east of St. Cloud, MN.  I visited the refuge with my brother as a Saturday excursion during my weekend visit.  The park contains oak savanna, wetlands, and prairie ecosystems and offers hiking, but also a wildlife drive and opportunities for fishing and hunting.   My brother and I mostly partook in the wildlife drive, which provides a few opportunities to stop for short hikes.  The primary purpose of the visit was birding.

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The wildlife drive took us through a variety of landscapes, including the three mentioned on the website: prairie, wetland, and oak savanna.  We took a short hike in the prairie area, which unlike the state parks I had visited over the weekend, was devoid of bothersome insects.   While it seems that woodland wildflowers peak in the early spring, the prairie wildflowers were in full bloom, creating colorful fields of orange and yellow.   As for birding, the park has several species of sparrows which are not regularly seen in Northern Minnesota, where I live.   For instance, during our short hike, I heard a Field sparrow.  The song is very distinct, even though I have never seen or heard one before.  I imagine that it is the sound of a Frisbee being thrown or a UFO taking off.   There were also many grasshopper sparrows, another sparrow that I hadn’t seen before.  They have an insect like song that sounds like a cross between a buzz and a hiss.  Over twenty species of sparrows can be found in the wildlife refuge, so it seems like a great place to visit to see sparrows (even if I only saw a few species).

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The wildlife drive follows along some lakes, where trumpeter swans, double-crested cormorants, great blue herons, and various ducks can be seen.  For me, a highlight of these area was seeing black terns, which are another new bird for me.  I was unable to photograph them, as they zip along pretty quickly.   They don’t range near Duluth, but are found in other parts of Minnesota in prairie or prairie transition areas.  Another highlight was hearing a Least bittern in a ditch by the lake, though I did not see the bird hidden in the thick vegetation.   I am not a great birder, so I would suggest that less skilled birders (like myself) review bird song/calls before heading to the park.  It definitely helps with sparrow identification (as they all look pretty plain and brown) and for hard to spot birds.  I listened to a bird CD in my car on the way to Lake Maria State Park from Duluth (a three hour drive) so a few vocalizations were fresh in my head.

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The only buggy area was on the north-west end of the lake, where there was a small oak forests and trail.  We were too mosquito bitten to venture far, but we did see a red bellied woodpecker.  This was a new woodpecker species for me and one that I later saw more of at Charles Lindbergh State Park and Crane Meadows NWR.  As a whole, I would say that the park offered great birding opportunities.  I would definitely return to see more sparrows and to view the Sandhill cranes which migrate through the refuge in large numbers each fall.    I like that the park offered a wide variety of ecosystems and a wildlife drive.  While we didn’t do much hiking, I would like to return to try out the trails.  The park was surprisingly busy, with several vehicles slowly moving along the wildlife drive, also trying to spy on birds.  There isn’t much room for passing, so, be prepared to take it slow and follow the caravan of wildlife enthusiasts!   The refuge is about 30 minutes drive away from Lake Maria State Park, so both could be visited in the same day (though I visited them over the course of two days).

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Crane Meadows NWR:


Crane Meadows NWR is only fifteen minutes away from Charles Lindbergh State Park and only about ten minutes away from Little Falls.  This makes it very accessible and very easy to take in along with Charles Lindbergh State Park.  The NWR was a welcome reprieve from the mosquito swarms that characterized Charles Lindbergh State Park.  Crane Meadows NWR was bright and sunny, and although the trails followed along the Platte River, the wildlife area lacked the deer flies and mosquitoes that plagued my other outdoor adventures over the weekend.  Crane Meadows is only 2000 acres (compared to over 30,000 for Sherburne NWR) and does not have a wildlife drive.  Instead, it offers a few looped trails along the Platte River to Rice Lake.  The longest loop is just under four miles.  I hiked this loop, which was the best hike of the weekend because 1.) it wasn’t buggy.  2.) There was an abundance of birds.  3.) The trail passes a variety of ecosystems, such as oak savanna, tall grass prairie, sedge meadow wetland, and more!  The trail can only be used for hiking, so horses and bicycles are not allowed.  Perhaps owing to the length and limited use, I did not see any other people on the trail.

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As I already mentioned, the hike was very enjoyable, with easy terrain and a variety of habitats in one relatively small area.  I did not see as many birds as I did at Sherburne, but I also covered a smaller area.  There were some noteworthy birds on the hike, including a great crested flycatcher, another new bird for my list.  The yellow, gray, and rusty orange bird is easy to identify (which is not true of most flycatchers, which look pretty similar in their variations of pale yellow, olive, and gray plumage.)  Another highlight was a few red headed woodpeckers, which I have not seen in Minnesota before.  I also saw red breasted woodpeckers and a swamp sparrow.  Other sparrows included song sparrows and chipping sparrows, both of which are pretty common in Duluth.  The martin house was busy and there were also many barn swallows.

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Like Sherburne NWR, I would definitely visit Crane Meadows again.  The leisurely hike and variety of birds made for a great way to spend an afternoon.  I would say that the main downside of the NWR is a lack of amenities.  There are no toilets on the trails, but there is a port-a-potty at the parking area.  On the other hand, there was hardly anyone at the NWR, so that was a plus.  As a whole, it is a nice, compact wildlife area with easy access to Little Falls.

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Rice Lake NWR:

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The final NWR that I visited was Rice Lake NWR, near McGregor, MN.  I have visited this area many times, but couldn’t resist making a pit stop on my way home to Duluth.   Of the three, this NWR has the widest variety of things to do.  There is a wildlife drive, which I have done many times.  There is an observation deck and several hiking trails.  The NWR also features Native American and Civilian Conservation Corps history.  Native Americans continue to use the wildlife area for harvesting wild rice and maple syrup.  In fact, Native Americans have used the park since at least 1000 BC and there are burial mounds within the refuge.  Each time I visit, there are usually at least a few people fishing, which seems to be the most popular activity.  Rice Lake NWR is rich in waterfowl and each spring and fall during migrations.  In fact, the area holds the state record for the most waterfowl seen in one place at one time, when a million ring necked ducks were observed in 1994.   Like the other two parks, there is a wide variety of sparrows that can also be seen, including the rare LaConte’s Sparrow (which I have not seen).

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Where the wild rice grows…


In addition to the hiking trails, wildlife drive, fishing, birding, and Native American history/use, this NWR generally has pretty good amenities (at least compared to the other two refuges).  There are several toilets or port-a-poties spread throughout the refuge as well as two picnic areas.  There is no running water, however.  The refuge itself features mixed forests, lakes, and bogs.  Because it is a very wet environment, there are always lots of insects!  Of the three refuges, this was the worst, with swarms of deer flies AND mosquitoes.    I have never successfully hiked in this refuge since these attempts are almost always thwarted by voracious insects.  Even an open window during the wildlife drive attracted unwanted deer flies into my vehicle.

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National Wildlife Refuges are a different experience than state and national parks.  While they may not be as full of tourists, activities, and amenities, they are great places to spend a day taking in nature.  All three of these locations are relaxing, tranquil, and great for birding.  All three are places that I would visit again.   There are only 13 of these gems in Minnesota, and only 12 can be visited!  I will definitely be visiting other NWRs in the future and hopefully you will be inspired to visit them as well!

 

A Review of Three Minnesota State Parks

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A Review of Three Minnesota State Parks

H. Bradford

7/27/18

This past week I visited three Minnesota State Parks.  My goal is to one day visit all 66 state parks.  Usually, I try to visit a few new ones each year, so it is a long term goal.  The three parks that I visited are each located in central Minnesota and are each within one hour driving distance from St. Cloud.  I chose the parks since I visited my brother this past weekend (who lives in the St. Cloud area) and it was a way to kill two birds with one stone.  Well, really, I don’t want to kill birds at all.  Typically, I prefer to watch them.  Violent idioms aside, here is my review of the three state parks that I visited.


Lake Maria State Park:

Lake Maria State Park is located near Monticello, Minnesota, about three hours south-west of Duluth.  There was some road construction along the way and when I stopped at a gas station about 10 miles away from the park, the staff and a customer had no idea where Lake Maria State Park was.  The customer reckoned that he had heard of it before.  This did not bode well for the state park.  When I arrived not long after the stop, I found that the park office was closed.  It was a Friday, which I assumed might be a busier day of the week for a state park.  With the park office closed, I decided to do some hiking, then check back later (since I like to collect state park patches).   My first hike was to Little Mary Lake.

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(Sorry to disappoint anyone but Lake Maria’s sign is not this sparkly in real life.  I just had a sparkle setting on my camera by accident.)


Almost immediately, I was attacked by deer flies.  I did not think to wear my hat, so during the course of my hike, I picked dead deer flies from my hair in a demoralizing journey to the lake.  Had I counted the number of dead deer flies, I would not be surprised if at least 50 found their death in my hair.  The hike itself was hard to enjoy, as my constant battle with the flies made it impossible to stop for photos or bird watching.  The trail was dotted with many swampy pools, which seemed like the perfect environment for breeding insects.  The forest itself was unique, as it is a remnant of the “Big Woods” that once covered that part of the state.  The surrounding area near the park is either farm fields with corn or big box stores along I-94, so the park is a piece of what once was.   The forest also seemed unique to me because of the large number of basswood trees.  I might have appreciated the park more had my hike not been marked by the incessant attack of deer flies.

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One of Lake Maria’s swampy pools.


Little Mary Lake features a wildlife lookout, wherein visitors can take a moment to enjoy the swans and other waterfowl on the lake.   Further ahead, there is a boat landing and interpretive trail.  I enjoy interpretive trails, though the Zumbrunnen Interpretive Trail was overgrown with sedges and other vegetation.   Upon finishing this trail, I headed back to my car to eat a snack, put on a hat (to guard against flies), and wait for the visitor center to open.

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The wildlife lookout area


My second hike of the day was to Lake Maria.  I took a meandering path instead of a direct route, which took me to a bluebird restoration area, then back to the lake.  The lake itself was actually much smaller than Little Lake Mary, despite the fact the larger lake is called “Little.”  Once again, I was pestered by flies. Despite wearing hat (which I retrieved after the first hike), they flew at my face and under the brim.  This made for an exhausting day, as my hike seemed like an endless battle with flies.   However, I think that the park would be more enjoyable in the autumn or spring when the flies are not as thick.  Since the park is almost entirely forests and lakes, I am sure that it would be particularly nice in the fall.

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Pros:

The park was almost entirely empty.  I hiked from 11:30 am to about 3:30 pm and only encountered one other hiker.  There were several other people in the park, but I can count on one hand the number that I saw at various points during the day.  The park also features backpacking campsites.  It seems that it is a great park to visit if someone wants solitude.  I assumed that since the park is only 22 miles from St. Cloud and 45 miles from Minneapolis that it would be much busier.  This was not the case at all.  Lake Maria features lakes, forests, and plenty of birds.


Cons:

The flies were insufferable.  The natural ponds and lakes and surrounding farmland seem to be the ingredients for a lot of flies.  I would definitely have arrived more prepared for flies had I been thinking about it.  They bite any exposed skin, making taking photos difficult as they would land on my hands.   Another con was that the park office did not open until 2pm.  I wanted to purchase a year long park sticker and an embroidered patch, but had to wait until the park office opened.  Stickers can be ordered online, but I wanted the sticker right away as I had planned on visiting two other state parks that weekend.


Charles Lindbergh State Park:

Do you like aviation history and relentless swarms of mosquitoes?  I sure don’t.  This made Charles Lindbergh State Park a bit of a disappointment for me (heavy emphasis on the mosquito swarms).   Charles Lindbergh State Park is located about an hour north west of Lake Maria State Park, or about 30 minutes south of St. Cloud Minnesota.  The park was established with donated land from Charles Lindbergh Sr., the father of the famous aviator and a state congressperson.  Upon arriving at the park at about 9am on Monday, I found that the office was closed.  Bugs and closed park offices were a theme over the weekend.  I had intended to camp there, so I dropped off some money for firewood and set off to explore some of the historic buildings around the park.

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Because the park was created through a land donation of Charles Lindbergh Sr., visitors can walk around the family farm house.  The farm house was not open during my visit, but the grounds were open.  Visitors can also view a dilapidated house which was used by tenant farmers on the Lindbergh property.  There are some signs which tell the story of the farm, which seems oddly situated in a wooded strip of land between the Mississippi River and Pike Creek.  Near the farm, there is a museum dedicated to Charles Lindbergh Jr., the famous aviator.  The museum, like the farm house, was not open.  In the opposite direction, there is Weyerhauser Museum, but once again, this museum was not open.   Although the museums were closed, there are a few interpretive signs and a pleasant trail along the Mississippi River, which connects these sites.

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Tenant farmer house

 


After viewing these historical sites, I decided to do some hiking within the woods.  This was where I was bombarded by mosquitoes.  It is little wonder, since the trail followed Pine Creek, a wonderful breeding place for the blood thirsty plague.  I sprayed myself with DEET, but this would not defeat the relentless mosquitoes, which prodded my skin and clothes for any DEET free areas.  On the bright side, it caused me to hike very quickly as the mosquitoes pushed me forward.  I hiked a 1.5 mile loop which took me through the forest, along the creek, and to the landing site of Lindbergh’s “Jenny” airplane.  I am not really interested in aviation history, but the clearing was the only mosquito free area of the hike.

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I would have hiked longer, but the mosquitoes were making me miserable.  Instead, I headed to the park office, which was again closed.  I decided that I would leave the park, head to Little Falls, find some lunch, then go hiking elsewhere (at Crane Meadows National Wildlife Reserve).  This 3.5 mile hike proved to be bug free and greatly improved my bug bitten morale.

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A mosquito breeding area


When I returned to the park in the early evening, the park office was still closed.  I set up my tent at the campsite, took a short jaunt into the mosquito infested woods, then settled down at my campsite with a fire and some reading.  A wasp flew into my tent and I could not find it.  This caused me some concern.  Another source of concern was the nearby campers, who seemed to be very rowdy and loud.  Because of the loud neighbor campers and the mysterious disappearance of the wasp in my tent, I decided to sleep in my car.


Sometime after midnight, a police officer woke me up.  He questioned me about the behaviors of the nearby campers and if I had witnessed anything unusual or anyone in distress.  There were several squad cars parked near my campsite.  I only said that they had been loud earlier, but I didn’t hear any fighting or anything more concerning than the ruckus of loud conversation.  The officer left, but sometime later I was roused again, this time by a sergeant who wanted me to make an official witness statement.  I really hadn’t been paying attention to the other campers, their conversations, or what they were up to.  I have no idea what sort of crime happened on the other campsite.  I never heard anyone in need of help or anything that sounded like an argument or fight.  So…I don’t know.  But, it made me feel uneasy for the rest of the night.  The officers also seemed surprised that I was camping alone and in my car, rather than my tent.  I explained that a wasp had entered my tent and I could not locate it.   The rest of the night was a fitful sleep of wondering if someone had been hurt or if I failed to help someone.  I had a dream that a woman came knocking on my car door asking for help.  In the morning, the park office was still closed as I left…

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My shirt says…camping is in-tents.   Owing to a wayward wasp and concerning crime, it was a little too intense, even if it was not in-tent.


Pros:

Charles Lindbergh State Park features museums and historical buildings, melding history and nature into a unique state park.  The park is located along the Mississippi River, so it is also a good place to visit if a person wants to take in a section of the second longest U.S. river.   However, most of the trails are not along the Mississippi.   The park is conveniently located near Little Falls, MN which has a historic downtown and several local attractions, including the Minnesota Fishing Museum (inconveniently closed on Mondays as well).  The town has a variety of restaurants and stores, making it easy to restock or recharge while camping.  The park is also less than 10 miles from Crane Meadows National Wildlife Preserve.  Location and history seem to be the best features of the park.  Like Lake Maria, the park was fairly empty.  While the campground was active, I didn’t see any other hikers on the trails.


Cons:

The park was not staffed between 9 am Monday and 9am Tuesday when I left.  I checked the office numerous times, but I saw no one there.  This meant that I could not collect an embroidered patch from the park.  It also meant that no one was around to attend to the campground, which in the case of my stay, was the site of some kind of crime.  Obviously, visiting the park on a Monday was not a perfect idea, since the museums were closed.  There were also a lot of hungry mosquitoes.

Crow Wing State Park:


The final park that I visited was Crow Wing State Park, which is less than 30 minutes north of Little Falls near Brainerd, Minnesota.   Of the three, I spent the least amount of time here, since I was simply stopping by on my way home.   Crow Wing State Park is the park that I would most likely revisit and was my favorite of the three.   I spent under three hours at the park, hiking around on Tuesday morning after leaving Lindbergh State Park.  Once again, the park office was closed.  It was closed throughout my visit (though I saw staff poking around the park- just not attending to the office).  Thus, I was unable to obtain a collectable embroidered patch once again…since….once again, the park office was closed.

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Much like Charles Lindbergh State Park, Crow Wing State Park was a breeding ground for aggressive swarms of mosquitoes.  The mosquitoes were actually far worse in some areas of this park.  Once again, DEET didn’t do much to deter the menacing cloud that followed me around the park.  My 100% DEET spray, which is potent enough to remove my nail polish and destroyed the fabric of my leggings, didn’t bother them that much.  The mosquitoes mostly bounced off my skin, looking for a clear spot to feast.  I can only be thankful that the mosquitoes here do not carry tropical diseases as we would all be doomed.  At some points, I actually jogged down the trail, hoping to out run them.  I didn’t.  There were just too many.   Oh well.

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More mosquitoes…

 


Insects aside, there was a lot to like about the park.  For one, the trails were accessible and could easily be visited by families.  The trail that I visited passed through the remnants of the former town of Crow Wing, which was established at the confluence of the Mississippi and Crow Wing rivers.  There is nothing left of the town but sign posts where businesses and town amenities once stood.  However, this was interesting and there were a few interpretive signs which told the story of the long lost 1800s trading town.  Another bonus of this area was that it was situated in a sunny clearing that was devoid of mosquitoes.  Because of this, I took my time, taking in the signs and the history.  Highlights of the remnants of Crow Wing include a reconstructed wooden boardwalk and the restored home of Clement Beaulieu the head of the American Fur Company trading post in Crow Wing.  It is one of the oldest wooden houses in Minnesota.  The town of Crow Wing had a population of 600 people at its peak, most of whom were of Native American descent.  The interpretive signs did not mention (at least the ones that I read) that the town collapsed because of the relocation of local Native Americans to White Earth Reservation in 1868 and the subsequent railroad construction in Brainerd.

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Aside from the town of Crow Wing, visitors can hike along the Red River Oxcart Trail to where oxcarts forded across the Mississippi River.   The Red River Trail was established as a trade route to Winnipeg, Manitoba.  The section near Crow Wing was constructed through Ojibwe territory, as it was viewed safer at the time than passing through Dakota territory.   In addition to this trail (which was very buggy) visitors can also view a battle site where Ojibwe and Dakota people fought in 1768.  There is also a reconstructed chapel of Father Pierz, who built a mission near Crow Wing and promoted white settlement and the acculturation of Native Americans (through conversion to Catholicism and adopting European farming practices).  I did not visit the chapel as I was not as interested in Catholic history and the mosquitoes were too intense.

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Pros:

This state park was my favorite of the three.  There is a lot to like!  Native American history, a ghost town, ox cart trail, and battle site (though there was not a lot of information about the 1768 battle).   It also seemed to be the most accessible of the three parks, as the trails were flatter and the distance to the ghost town was not far.  With that said, those with walkers or wheelchairs would still find it difficult to navigate.  However, families or those with less restrictive mobility issues might be able to enjoy the ghost town.  The reconstructed boardwalk is rustic looking, but this also makes it uneven.  That could be a challenge.  As a whole, state park hiking trails do not seem that accessible, but this one might be slightly less daunting.  The history is the main attraction of this park.  The nature is also nice as well.  Although it is only 30 minutes north of Little Falls, the landscape features conifers, wetlands, and wet prairie.  It is also a location to enjoy the Mississippi River (as it meets the Crow Wing river).


Cons:

There really weren’t any cons to this park, other than the mosquitoes.  I suppose that a con could be that the ghost town of Crow Wing seems to be excellent habitat for snakes- as I saw at least three by the boardwalk.  I am not bothered by snakes, but this might frighten some people.  Interestingly, I also saw a small lizard.  There are only three lizards that are found in Minnesota.  I have never seen one.  I believe that the one that I saw was a prairie skink, as that is the most common and is found in that part of the state.  Again, this should go in the pros, as who isn’t pro skink?  So scratch that, there is nothing wrong with this park except for the millions of mosquitoes and fact that the office was closed AGAIN!  I missed out on another collectable patch.


Conclusion:

If there are two lessons to draw from these state park visits it is 1.) be prepared for bugs.  2.) state parks need more funding and staffing.  To address the first issue, yes, I have complained a LOT about insects.  I could certainly dress differently or prepare myself in other ways for the massive amount of insects.  Another idea is to visit these parks in times of the year where the insects are less active.  Daily weather variations can also make a difference.  Had there been heavy wind or rain, the insects would not have been as active.  I think that next year, if I visit any state parks in the month of July I will choose places that are not as wet, as each of these parks is either located on rivers or lakes.  Southern or Western Minnesota might be better options for July.  To address the staffing issue, I was shocked that the parks seemed like ghost towns…(aside from the actual ghost town of Crow Wing).  The parks seemed very understaffed.  What has happened?  We really need to do more to staff the parks!  Of course, there were few visitors at the parks as well.  These parks may not be as well-visited as other parks in Minnesota.  Nevertheless, it is summer, so I expect that there would be SOME tourism to these parks.  I guess we really need to promote state park visits and funding for staff.   Otherwise, hopefully this inspires someone to visit a state park this summer and now you know what to expect!

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