broken walls and narratives

A not so revolutionary blog about feminism, socialism, activism, travel, nature, life, etc.

Extinctions

Extinctions(1)

Extinctions

H. Bradford

02.23.2010


I’d rather read about dinosaurs

than think about relationships.

Both end in extinctions,

but I prefer the one 65 million years ago

To the here, now, or tomorrow.

Of course, birds are the happy ending

to cosmic cataclysm

But, few will grow feathers and fly free.

Instead, we’ll grow heavy and hard,

fossilize in the muck

all around us.

History is made of calcified hopes.

Nothing is permanent,

Just ask the Permians.

Sometimes it pulls apart like Pangaea,

a tsunami of lava,

or hell from the sky.

Sometimes the end is the slow burn of

410 parts per million of atmospheric carbon.

Acidic endings with starved oceans

and polar bear skeletons.

Whether by man or by mother earth,

in the end….everything ends.

 

 

140 Resolutions for 2020

140 Resolutions for 2020

H. Bradford

2/9/2020


Last year, I had 100 New Year’s Resolutions.  This may seem like a lot, but, sometimes a person needs to Go Big or Go Home.   In all reality, my New Year’s Resolutions are more of a “wish list” of things I should try to do over the course of a year.  Some resolutions (such as reading 40 books) take more effort than others (send Valentine Days cards or wear more leopard print).  Some of the resolutions are more subjective.  For instance, the fruit of the year is apple.  What does this mean?  Eat more apples?  Learn about apples?  Ideally, these sorts of resolutions are a way to focus on a theme or topic to learn about or experience.  If I add more resolutions next year, I may need a microscope to read all of them!  In any event, here are my 140 New Year’s Resolutions in their lengthy glory.  I wonder how many I will check off from the list?


Resolutions140

2019 Year in Review

2019 Year in REview(1)

2019 Year in Review

H. Bradford

2/09/2020


Typically, I would try to write up a “Year in Review” in January, but I just haven’t had time.  Where does the time go, I don’t know!  Thus, my year in review is ready near my birthday instead.  I will say that 2019 started off on a low note, but improved towards the end of the year.  My health, mental health, and finances were a little topsy turvy, but it was also a year of adventures and perseverance.  By the end of the year, I pulled things out of the fire and ended feeling optimistic for 2020!


Depression:


One downside of 2019, was the return of my depression.  This was a struggle between December 2018 and August 2019, with the worst symptoms occurring in December through the spring.  Most of the depression was probably work related, which isn’t something I am at complete liberty to share. I will only say that there was an intense period of labor struggle accompanied by a high attrition of staff.  In the end, I was one of the “last ones standing” or staying at my job. During the struggle and once it was over, I felt rather bleak about it all. I was depressed enough that I withdrew from some people and actively considered suicide.  However, since it wasn’t my first experience with depression, I also sought out some therapy. While I only attended a few sessions, it helped me hold myself accountable for my mental health. Eventually, things improved and I was better able to get a handle on my depression.  It is good to be at a place in life where I’ve had enough experience with depression that it will never be as destructive and debilitating as it was in my early 20s.


Gallbladder Surgery:


Another downside of 2019 was the sudden onset of painful attacks in my chest and back area.  One of these mysterious attacks sent me to the ER in February 2019….while celebrating my birthday!  It turned out that I needed gallbladder surgery. I had my gallbladder removed in April. The downside of all of this was the financial cost to it all.  Even though I have health insurance, the entire ordeal cost me about $6000.

Image may contain: Heather Bradford, selfie and closeup Financial:


Owing to the unexpected expense of a visit to the ER and gallbladder surgery, I felt more stressed about finances than usual.  Coupled with student loans and car repairs, there were some financially stressful moments this past year. However, in the end I was able to manage these expenses, develop a payment plan for the medical bills, and pay off my car early in September.  I also picked up overtime on every paycheck between January and August at my primary place of employment. This helped with my financial security. I even increased my 401 b contribution and tried out a few new financial tools such as Acorns and Mint.  I am also proud that by the end of the year, my credit score reached a peak of over 760.


 

Work:


I worked….a lot.  As mentioned, I picked up quite a lot of overtime at the shelter.  Aside from this, I continued to work at the WE Health Clinic, as the mall Easter Bunny, and substitute teaching.  A downside of the year was when the work schedule I had enjoyed for four years was changed. However, I was able to eventually move to a work schedule that seems to work just as well.  This caused some distress during the interim between the old and newest work schedule. Also distressing was the loss of many of my coworkers after a protracted struggle. Thankfully, things have settled down into a less conflict ridden status quo (even though the struggle was lost).  It was an empowering experience, even if all consuming for a while.


 

Union:


I became Vice President of my union this year.  I feel proud of that.


 

Central America Trip:


In January 2019, I visited Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.  I spent the most time in El Salvador and had a really great time. Highlights included seeing many wonderful birds, visiting the Copan ruins, hiking up two volcanoes, not getting sick, and visiting historical sites related to the civil war in El Salvador.

Image may contain: tree, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature


 

Inca Trail:


Another travel highlight was completing the Inca Trail.  I visited Ecuador and Peru in November and December for three weeks.  The Inca Trail was physically challenging, but I am proud of myself for having made it!

Image may contain: Heather Bradford, smiling, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature


 

Galapagos Islands:


I also visited the Galapagos Islands in December.  I loved seeing the unique wildlife and celebrating evolution.

Image may contain: Heather Bradford


 

Winnipeg Road Trip:


I went on a road trip with my mother to Winnipeg.  For me, this was in part to observe the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg general strike.  We kept a busy schedule, visiting museums, the zoo, camping, spending time in nature, catching an outdoor concert and First Nations festival, and much more!  Visiting Lake Winnipeg was also a highlight. We learned the hard way that the U.S./Canada border point that we wanted to cross closes at 8pm.

Image may contain: sky, ocean, beach, outdoor and nature

Five New State Parks:


One of my goals is to visit all of the state parks in Minnesota.  Each year I try to visit a few new ones. One of the parks I visited was Forestville Mystery Cave, which is located in southern Minnesota.  Although I usually go alone, Dan was kind enough to go with me, indulging my desire to see the largest cave in Minnesota. I also visited Itasca State Park, which is the headwaters of the Mississippi River.  After visiting the park, I stayed with my father in Bemidji and we went to Lake Bemidji State Park together. We walked along the bog walk. Another nearby park was Schoolcraft State Park, which isn’t that impressive but is known for an old white pine.  I also visited Father Hennepin State Park on a day trip, but did not see the famous albino deer. Image may contain: sky, outdoor, water and nature

Where the Mississippi River begins


Friends:


I can always be thankful for my friends.  Adam, Lucas, and I went to Madeline Island and Houghton Falls for a memorable adventure together.  The three of us also went for a hike up Carlton Peak, while Adam and I did a few other hikes.  As I mentioned, Dan and I also went on an adventure to Forestville Mystery Cave.  I also had a great Halloween, as my friends and I dressed up as the seasons.  Although we didn’t win the costume prize, I felt proud of our costumes and had a great time dressing up as dry season! Image may contain: 6 people, including Heather Bradford, Jenny Hoffman and Bryan Bongey, people smiling, people standing and hat


39 Books:


I read 39 books last year.  To some people this may seem like a lot and to others, this may seem disappointingly low.  Some highlights include The Last Days of the Incas, Handbook for a Post Roe America, The End of Roe v. Wade,  The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, 1491: Before Columbus, Eels, Frankenstein, and a few books about Yemen. I always try to “read my age” so, I will have my work cut out for me when I am 80.


135 Activist Events:


I attended 135 activist events.  This includes meetings, protests, pickets, social justice educational events, etc.  The number is down from the last two years. Image may contain: 4 people, including Heather Bradford, people smiling, people standing and outdoor


133 New Species of Birds:


I saw 133 new species of birds in 2019, many of them in Peru and El Salvador.  A highlight from Minnesota was my first Boreal chickadee. Image may contain: plant and bird

Socialist Action Split:


The socialist group I have been a part of since the early 2000s split this past year in November.  This was a bit awkward since I had been the Vice Presidential candidate for the party. While this role was far outside of my comfort zone, on a personal level, I really hate disappointing people.  So, I regret if I disappointed the SA comrades over this matter. On the other hand, a large number of comrades were expelled over dues payment (which followed a long debate over Syria, analysis of imperialism, and trans issues), so leaving was the principled thing to do.

Image may contain: 2 people, including Heather Bradford, people smiling

From Leftist Trainspotters, the cover of SA news shortly after the split, before my photo could be removed…


  Socialist Resurgence:


Those who left or were removed from Socialist Action went on to form a new group called Socialist Resurgence.  There is a healthy energy within the group, even if we are small. The new group has made my local branch more politically engaged than it has been for a long while.


  New Activities:


Each year, I try to challenge myself to try new things.  A few things that I did that were new this year include attending a burlesque show, attending a mycology club, visiting new state parks, visiting Madeline Island, trying some new foods like Lingonberry ice cream, rose apple, cherimoya, rambutan, and Hibiscus Lacroix, making a bat house, attending a roller derby event, hiking at high altitude, becoming certified in mental health first aid, etc.  I wish that I had enough time to do roller derby, as that seems like a really fun sport. I also wish I had time to become more knowledgeable about fungi.


 

Old Activities:


I kept up my regular hobbies of reading, birding, camping, travel, hiking, and writing.  I didn’t write in my blog as much, but I felt pinched for time. I took a watercolor class, continued gardening, took a community ed class about preserving herbs, played community soccer, went cross country skiing and snowshoeing, attended Planetarium classes and events, tried DuoLingo for Russian and Spanish, and so on.  I also started to attend a poetry club and even read poems at an event about body autonomy. I failed to keep up with dancing, yoga, bicycling, and violin.


 

Facing Fears:


I also try to face my fears each year.  Playing co-ed soccer meant facing a fear, since I felt uneasy about playing soccer with men.  I also don’t enjoy substitute teaching very much, since I am afraid I will make a mistake, disappoint the teacher, be unable to control the classroom, or somehow my logins won’t work.  So, each time I sub, I face my fears. My short tenure as VP for Socialist Action and doing more writing for SA and SR also means facing fears, since I fear that I am not smart or knowledgeable enough.  I fear disappointing my comrades by “not being good enough.”


 

New Year’s Resolutions:


I had 100 New Year’s Resolutions.  I completed about 64 of them. I don’t feel upset about this, as 100 is quite a few.  For those who are curious, the black resolutions are ones that I completed and the red text are resolutions I did not complete.  There is always room to grow!

100 New Year's Resolutions(1)

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Mount Scenery

Copy of Anxious Adventuring_Scenery

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Mount Scenery

H. Bradford

02/03/2020


Another mountain.  I am not sure why I do this to myself, but I seem to have some sadistic urge to punish myself by forcing my out of shape self up hills, volcanoes, and mountains while on vacation.  Finally, the day of reckoning on my St. Maarten vacation had come. It was Sunday, the day I had purchased a ferry ticket to the island of Saba to hike up Mount Scenery. I woke up with a sense of dread.  In fact, I didn’t want to wake up at all. For the past several days, Saba loomed large in the near distance, its top shrouded in clouds. Every day brought me another day closer to visiting that cloud covered summit, the highest point in the Netherlands and the mythical Skull Island from King Kong. Aside from the hike, the day would involve transportation logistics that I worried wouldn’t work out.  What if I couldn’t find a taxi to the trail head? What if I couldn’t find a taxi back after the hike? What if the hike took too long? What if I missed my ferry back and was stuck on the island until Tuesday?  

 

Despite my trepidation, I got on the taxi that my hotel had arranged for me and headed to Simpson Bay, where the ferry was set to leave at 9 am.  I booked the ferry ticket through Aqua Mania Adventures, which seems to be the main distributor of tickets. It costs about $100 for the round trip ticket on a ferry that would take about an hour and a half each way.  My hope was to arrive at about 10:30 am and start hiking at 11 am, which would give me about three hours or so to hike up and down the popular Mt. Scenery trail and return to the ferry by 3:30pm. Thus, my day began with the taxi ride from Philipsburg to Simpson Bay, which took about a half an hour and cost me about $18.  


The taxi dropped me off at a parking lot in front of a police station, which suspiciously did not look like the sort of place a ferry would leave.  I doubled checked my paperwork. The instructions stated the Simpson Bay Police Dock, but there was nothing in the area which remotely resembled a ticketing desk. The ferry check in at Simpson Bay is actually located IN the police station near the immigration area.  This was very confusing, especially for the first few travelers to arrive as there was no office or sign indicating that it was the right place. I asked someone inside the building at the immigration desk, who informed me that someone from Aqua Mania Adventures would be arriving soon.  Soon, some equally confused tourists arrived and began milling about the area, waiting for the ticketing agents. A little after 8 am, two individuals from Edge Ferries and Aqua Mania Adventures arrived and set themselves up at an empty table in the immigration office area. They began checking in tourists, scanning passports, and issuing the plastic card that would serve as the ferry ticket.  This process lasted until about 9am, when the ferry arrived and picked up near the police station.


The trip to Saba takes about an hour and a half and most of the travelers on the ferry were there for day trips.  In fact, over half were there to hike Mount Scenery. The ferry offered a complimentary soft drink and was otherwise a calm, uneventful journey. Upon arrival at the very small port, all passengers went through customs and passport control.  All of the other hikers had booked a package which included transportation and lunch. Thus, I was a little concerned about the transportation issue. There were enough taxis for all of the travelers, but I had to wait for my taxi to fill up with other people.  It was the last taxi to leave among the few parked at the ferry terminal. Since other passengers in the taxi van had other plans, the other hikers were able to get a half an hour head start on the trail before I was dropped off.


Due to the time constraints, the taxi driver decided to drop me off at a different trail head than the Mount Scenery Trail head near the Windwardside town.  I was instead dropped up the hill a bit, which cut off about a half an hour of my hike (a one hour hike up rather than 90 minutes) and caught me up to the other hikers.  The taxi itself cost $12, but would have been less with more people in the taxi van, so this number is variable. The driver agreed to meet me at the actual Mt. Scenery trail head (near the trail shop) at 2:45 pm, which would offer enough time to return for the ferry check in at 3:15.  I arrived at the trail just after 11:30. The driver said it would be an hour hike up and an hour hike down (to the actual trailhead). He also told me to turn left at the fork (towards the town) so that I would head to the correct trailhead at the designated meeting time.

Image may contain: plant, tree, bridge, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: plant, tree, outdoor and nature

 


From the spot on the trail, I began the hour hike up to Mt. Scenery.  It was a humid, hot day, but the forest provided some shade and there was sometimes a breeze.  Because of recent rains, the trail was very slippery. The biggest offender was decaying vegetation and moss on the rocks.  I almost wiped out a few times from slipping, but was able to keep balanced. The steps were unevenly sized and also slippery.  However, the upper third of the trail often featured metal railings which aided with balance and also helped me pull my exhausted body up all those steps.  The trail is primarily made of stone steps, which can be tiring in the heat or simply due to the shear number of them (over 1000 from the trail head). There were enough flowers, foliage, and jumping lizards to occupy my mind as I ascended.  It took almost exactly an hour as the driver had predicted.  

Image may contain: plant, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: plant and outdoor

Image may contain: plant, nature and outdoor


The top of Mount Scenery featured a radio tower and a plaque with its elevation.  It was cloudy at the top, but I was able to take a few photos of the town at the bottom and of the sea before the cloud cover returned.  I didn’t linger long at the top since I wanted to make sure that I had enough time to return and visit the town below. So, after taking some photos, watching the moving clouds, and some time spent drinking my water, I set off back towards the bottom.  As predicted, this also took about an hour. Other people are likely to take less time, but I found it particularly slippery on the way down. This was where I slipped the most, as gravity wanted me to go faster than my feet did. I also stopped to take more photos on the way down, as I knew I had more time to spare.  Once at the bottom, I visited the trail shop, where I made a donation and received a certificate that I had reached the top. I then walked around the town, but many things were closed due to it being a Sunday.  

Image may contain: cloud, sky, plant, tree, outdoor, nature and water

Image may contain: Heather Bradford, smiling, selfie, tree, outdoor, closeup and nature

 


I returned to the trailhead and was picked up by the taxi at 2:45 without incident.  Along the way, the driver pointed out some of the sights on the island, such as a university, some old churches, nearby islands such as Statia, and a hospital.  I arrived back with plenty of time to go through passport control and wait around in the scorching sun for the ferry to board. Some children were swimming in the small boat landing, as there are few beaches on the island.  I watched as some tropicbirds flew over the nearby cliffs until the ferry finally boarded and we set off back for Simpson Bay. The ferry ride back was equally calm and passengers were treated to pods of jumping dolphins, a swimming iguana, diving brown boobies, and flying fish. 

Image may contain: shoes, plant, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: sky, cloud, ocean, mountain, outdoor, nature and water


At Simpson Bay, I once again went through passport control, then realized that there were no taxis waiting for the ferry.  I had assumed that taxis would congregate around the ferry drop off point waiting for business. This was not the case and I was instead met with an empty parking lot.  I walked to the nearby McDonalds, as it seemed like a more likely place to find a taxi, and waited for a taxi to pass. While I didn’t see any pass, I did see an approaching van with “Phillipsburg” in red letters in the window.  I flagged down the van, which is one of the public transportation vans. Although I was not at an actual bus stop, it stopped and picked me up anyway. It was $2 to ride back to Phillipsburg. The vans serve as the public transportation for the island, but they don’t have fixed schedules or precise routes.  They can be picked up at actual bus stops which say “bushalte”, but I also saw other people just flag down the van as I had. Apparently the rate varies at different times of the day. In any event, I found it to be a convenient and cheap way to return to Phillipsburg.


In the end, I was happy that everything worked out!  I made all of my transportation connections, arrived at Saba, climbed Mount Scenery, and made it back to Phillipsburg to tell the tale.  To other travelers, I would suggest that the police station is indeed the correct location for the ferry and that it is probably much less worrisome to book transportation and lunch ahead of time on Saba.  I was the only hiker who had not pre-arranged these details. Nevertheless, I fared just fine as there were enough taxis waiting at the tiny port. As for the return trip, it was certainly a pretty good savings to take the public van on the way back.  I am sure I could have taken the public van on the way to the ferry terminal as well, but because I am not accustomed to their regularity and I wanted to arrive on time, I didn’t consider it. There are ferries which leave from Philipsburg as well. Because they leave earlier and return later, the Philipsburg ferry provides a longer window for hiking.  However, I had plans on the days that the Phillipsburg ferries were operating so I had to take the ferry from Simpson Bay. Finally, the hike itself is challenging, but not impossible. I huffed,puffed, and sweated up those stairs, but in the end, it is only an hour or an hour and a half of effort up to the top. This is very doable. The biggest challenge is simply knowing that there is a time constraint due to the ferry schedule and taxi logistics.  With more time, a person could really savor the scenery, bird life, and many lizards. The hardest part was how slippery it was. I would recommend hiking sticks, though with the railings, these could become a nuisance when they have to be stowed away. Otherwise, it was a great little hike!

Image may contain: sky, cloud, mountain, tree, outdoor and nature     View of Mount Scenery from Windwardside

  

Inca Trail Packing Guide

Inca Trail Packing Guide


 

Inca Trail Packing Guide

 

H. Bradford

 

01/08/2020


Back in November, I hiked the Inca Trail.  If you read my previous blog post, https://brokenwallsandnarratives.wordpress.com/2020/01/03/hiking-the-inca-trail-while-out-of-shape/, then you learned that I wasn’t in the best shape.  While I struggled along, I took some mental notes of what I would pack and or not to pack if I ever did it again.  There isn’t a lot of room to pack many items. We were provided a small duffel bag which could be packed with about 5 KG of items, which included a sleeping bag, sleeping bag liner, toiletries, and clothes. It is up to each hiker to carry whatever else they need beyond the 5 KG (this weight may vary by company) in a day pack.  Hopefully, most hikers will not need too much more.  Medications, rain gear, layers, snacks, and water are among the things carried in a day pack. I probably packed a bit too much, but at least this can provide an overview of what I found useful.

20191127_054822


 

Things I didn’t Pack, But Should Have:


Rehydration Salts/Electrolyte Powder:


Based on my experience, this was the number one item I should have packed.  There are a number of reasons why this would have been handy. One, I was not feeling well the third day and didn’t drink enough water.  When a fellow hiker, Elise, put some berry flavored electrolyte powder in my water bottle, I almost immediately felt better and more interested in drinking water.  This helped me to stay hydrated and feeling better for the rest of the day, as it was like drinking a refreshing, yet watery Gatorade. Dehydration can exacerbate the symptoms of altitude, so I suspect this is why I felt so terrible. Secondly, the water provided by porters is filtered and boiled, but doesn’t taste great.  I saw porters washing dishes in a stream, which I have to assume is also one of the sources of water for the trek. There is some running water early in the trek, but I would be surprised if large amounts of water was slugged up on the mountain with everything else. Whatever the source, I found that it sometimes tasted a little rusty (perhaps from rusty pipes) or just a little off.  The water is lukewarm while hiking, which may also be a deterrent to drinking enough of it. Adding flavored electrolyte powder masks the flavor of the water, making drinking water more likely. Thirdly, some people become sick to their stomach on the trail. This thankfully didn’t happen to me until after the trek, but having electrolyte powder can help keep hikers hydrated if they have diarrhea.  Anyway, I can’t stress enough how much having a rehydration pack helped me!


salt

Water Bladder:


Water is an important theme here.  Water was the heaviest item that I carried.  Hikers usually start the day carrying one or two liters of water, which can be 4.4 lbs (if two liters).  It can be many hours before this water is restocked (until at least the lunch stop). I carried two water bottles (one disposable plastic one I carried the entire trip and one that was metal).  Since I carried them on my backpack, to take a drink of water I had to stop and remove the bottles. This deterred me from drinking, since I didn’t want to bother stopping. A water bladder with a hose would have been far easier, as I could have had water on the go.  The worst thing is that I actually brought a water bladder along on the trip, but felt it took up too much space in my small backpack so I opted for the other water bottles! I could have avoided dehydration had I ensured easier access for my water.


Cold Medicine:


In the interest of saving space and weight, I did not bring any cold medicine.  This was foolish, considering that I had only recently recovered from a six week chest cold.  When symptoms of the cold returned, I didn’t have any medicine with me! Thankfully, Elise gave me a cold tablet, which really opened my airways and stopped my coughing.


Vicks Vaporub:


Speaking of cold medicine, my unhappy lungs would have loved some Vicks vaporub.  Vicks is my go to cold relief medicine, since it opens my airways. It can also be used to provide mild relief to sore muscles.  Another way that I would have used Vicks was to block out the terrible toilet smells. Seriously. I gagged several times while trying to use some of the squalid toilets towards the end of the trek.  Vicks is strong smelling, so I could have applied it to the bandana over my nose to mask the ungodly odor. I have heard that police use Vicks to help them block the smell of dead bodies, so it should also provide some relief against squatty potties. vicks

Better Sunscreen:


I didn’t want to pack two different kinds sunscreens (one for my face and one for my body), so I went with the facial sunscreen.  It was SPF 110, which was higher than the body one, and less greasy. My intent when was to save space in my bag while packing one that I didn’t mind putting on my face.  I probably should have packed both. My face did not get burned, but my forearms got roasted with severe sunburn. A waterproof, sweat proof formula might have saved my skin!


 

More Toilet Paper:


I went through a roll before the trek was over.  Granted, the locally available toilet paper is a little thin, flimsy, and economical on the roll.  I also used the toilet paper to blow my nose. Once the toilet paper was gone, I had to use wet wipes I had packed and napkins I stole from lunch.  This wasn’t an emergency, but would have been without the backup paper.


 

Sanitary Pads:


Altitude and physical exertion was unkind to my uterus.  It causes spotting to the degree that it seemed like a full blown period at times.  I happened to have a couple pads with me, but I was concerned that if things got heavier, it would not be adequate.  There are many things that can cause a period to come early, late, or spotting to occur. With that said, it is wise to pack a few pads, tampons, a diva cup, etc.  I use Nuvaring, which SHOULD prevent a period from happening until it is removed and has always reliably worked in this manner for me. The hormones were no match for the hike.


 

“She-Wee”/Travel Urinal:


There are long stretches of the hike without toilets.  Hikers should expect to see toilets at camp (so in the morning and at night) and usually at lunch.  It really isn’t advised to poop on the trail, as a person is expected to carry their used toilet paper with them.  On the other hand, if a person drinks enough water, having to urinate is a likely outcome. There are areas of the trail that really don’t have anywhere private to pee (as there is a ledge on one side and mountain/rock on the other).  For those who lack penises, having a she-wee might be a useful way to quickly and privately urinate. I have one, but didn’t pack it. I didn’t want to waste the space and didn’t know how I felt carrying around a urine soaked rubber funnel if I indeed had to use it.  A person can wash it with water from their water bottle if they do use it. I don’t think it is essential, but it could be useful. Also, I think “She-Wee” is a fun name, since it rhymes. But, I want to point out that it is not inclusive of trans/non-binary travelers who may not identify as “she.”  Go Girl, Lady J, and other similar products are also pretty gendered. I didn’t previously know what to call this product, but travel urinal is probably the most trans friendly.

shopping


 

Things I Packed, But Didn’t Need:


Many Snacks:


I worried that I would get hungry during the long hikes or that the meals would not be enough.  I packed more snacks than I needed, which took up unnecessary space and weight. The meals were always TOO big.  I was constantly over stuffed by the three course lunches and dinners. I slogged along with a belly full of soup each day, as each lunch and dinner included soup.  There was so much food that it felt oppressive. I ate a few of my snacks, including my mini PayDay bars and a protein bar.


Birding Book/Nature Guide:


I had high hopes for seeing birds along the trail.  Alas, I was too busy hiking to stop and identify the birds that I saw.  I really had to focus on keeping moving. While I did stop for some photos, I was too exhausted by the end of the day to identify the birds I had seen.  I had a bird guide in my day pack, but I didn’t use it at all. I also made my own guide to orchids, flowers, and cacti along the way, which I printed on a few sheets of paper.  Again, I didn’t have time to stop and identify orchids or cacti. I passed them by, aware of their variety and splendor, but unable to take the time to know them. shopping2


Extra Rain Gear:


Since I hiked at the end of November, which was the rainy season, I fully expected rain the entire hike.  I checked the weather forecast before the trek and of course it called for rain each day. Thankfully, I only rained one afternoon and the rest was mostly clear.  However, because I expected the worst, I over packed rain gear. I had both a rain jacket, disposable rain poncho, and heavier rain poncho, when the rain jacket alone would have sufficed.


Extra Leggings:


I wore two outfits during the four day trek.  However, I packed too many leggings. I could have survived with just two pairs or two pairs and one fleece legging.  Instead, I packed four pairs of leggings, two of them fleece. I only used one pair of the fleece leggings and that was during the cold nights.


Sunhat:


Although it was sunny, I felt like the hat only got in the way.  It would blow off my head or dangle sideways from its strap. In the end, I used a bandana to protect my head from the sun. 20191126_094648

You can see the sunhat is already in the way….


Things I was Glad I Packed:


 

Altitude Medication (Acetazolamide):


I can’t imagine hiking the trail without altitude medication.  I was only prescribed three days worth, so I had to purchase more.  It was about $20 in Cusco and did not require a prescription. I am not sure how much the $20 bought me, but I needed it for about ten days and had some leftover tablets when I returned.

shopping3


 

Wet Wipes:


An all around good idea for the day pack!  And a great way to clean up after a long day!


 

Hand Sanitizer:


Again, another good idea for the day pack!

 


Pepto Bismol:


Altitude, hygiene conditions, less familiar foods, etc. put a person’s digestive system to the test.  I didn’t became ill on the hike, but I did experience some heartburn and mild upset stomach.

PayDay Bars:


Although I didn’t eat many snacks, my mini PayDay Bars were a treat at the end of the day.  Because they weren’t chocolate, they didn’t melt on the hotter days.


Make-up:


This may seem frivolous, but it helped me feel less dirty and unkempt after four days without a shower.  I wear makeup each day, so I felt more like myself. 20191129_075133

Day Four


Dry Shampoo:


Again, this helped me feel less dirty.


Bandana:


Bandanas are useful in many ways.  I used mine to protect my scalp from the sun, around my neck, and to wrap up a severe sunburn. 20191129_082117

The bandana is covering a terrible burn.


Travel Blanket:


This took up a lot of extra space, but it doubled as a pillow and provided extra warmth during the colder nights.


Everything I Packed:


2 fleece leggings (only needed 1)

2 leggings

4 pairs of socks

4 pairs of underwear

2 t-shirts (may have benefited by another)

2 Shorts

1 sweatshirt

1 fleece top

Rain jacket

Hoodie

Bandana

Sunhat (not needed, as bandana was used for this purpose)

(Note: many people packed a winter jacket, but I felt fine without one and just layered my clothes)

Sunglasses

Wash rag

Hiking Boots

Moleskin for Blisters

 

Hiking poles

Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bag liner

Travel Blanket

Power Bank

Alarm Clock

Camera

Batteries

Chargers

Headlamp

Bird Guide (not needed)

Small notebook (I did take some notes along the way)

Pen

Altitude medication

Ibuprofen

Antibiotics (never used)

Pepto Bismol

Band-aids

Sunscreen 

Deodorant

Make up

Dry Shampoo

Soap

Hairbrush (a comb would have taken less space)

Toothbrush

Toothpaste

Snacks

Water Bottle

Hand Sanitizer

Wet Wipes

Toilet Paper

Sanitary Pads (not enough)

20191129_082205

 

Hiking the Inca Trail While Out of Shape

Hiking the Inca Trail...while out of shape

Hiking the Inca Trail While Out of Shape

H. Bradford

1/3/2020


This year I wanted to go on a vacation that was a little more epic than my typical vacations.  After all, it would be my last vacation of the 2010s and my 30s. That is why last February I decided to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and visit the Galapagos Islands.  Both seemed like a way to end the decade on a high note. Since Machu Picchu is about 8,000 feet above sea level and the highest point on the hike is 13,828 feet, it literally was a way to end things high.  Since I planned the trip about nine months in advance, I didn’t take seriously the need to get into better shape until towards the last few months. Compounded by the fact that I worked overtime every pay period between January and August, then caught a nasty six week chest cold in October, I didn’t really have the time or health to get into better shape.  Needless to say, I began to worry that perhaps my imagination had written a check than my body could not cash. The person who booked the trip in February had doomed my out of shape November self to a challenging, high altitude slog. Like all challenging, somewhat foolish things, it was a learning experience I can now pass on to another out of shape wanderers like myself.


First of all, I really don’t like to think of myself as out of shape.  I enjoy hiking, snow shoeing, cross country skiing, going for walks, spending time outdoors, playing recreational soccer, taking fitness classes, and don’t mind jogging.  I like to be active but I’ve never been athletic. What is “out of shape” anyway? What should a person be able to physically do? What is “in shape?” Well, whatever “in shape” is, I’m not it.  I am active, but don’t specifically push myself towards fitness benchmarks. Because of that, well, I will never really be fit. I spent some time googling how fit a person has to be to complete the Inca Trail.  A website called The Adventure People stated that if you play a sport, can hike for several hours, or garden, you should be able to complete the trail.  I enjoy gardening, sure, but I think that if gardening is the only physical activity someone does, they will probably struggle on the trail. Maybe there is some extreme gardening out there. I suppose if  a person is a migrant laborer picking strawberries in the California sun for twelve hours a day, then the trail is no trouble. But, the ability to plant a few petunias is probably not an adequate measure of one’s physical capacity to finish the trail. I struggled, and I at least attempted to train on the treadmill at the highest incline in the weeks prior to the trip, did a few small local hikes, and was able to jog six miles two days before the trip.  By far, I was the most out of shape in my group.


Preparation:


As I mentioned, I didn’t prepare as well as I should have.  At the end of September, I went on a seven mile hike, which was supposed to be my kick off for “getting into shape.” But, the elusive “getting into shape” never happened.  I became sick with a terrible chest cold in early October that lasted into November. On days I felt less sick, I jogged or walked on the treadmill. While walking on the treadmill, I increased the incline to its maximum. However, this really doesn’t compare to the actual trail, since it lacks the exhausting altitude, weather and hygiene challenges, and endless steps. Had I felt better, I probably would have benefited from doing step machines, step classes, strength training, and more intense cardio. Oh well. Even had I felt better, I probably would have just ended up doing what I was already doing, but with more frequency and intensity.


I also tried to prepare by doing some day hikes.  To this end, I roped my friends into joining me. One Saturday, Adam, Lucas, and I visited Carlton Peak.  I have mistakenly thought for several years that Carlton Peak is the second highest in Minnesota. I don’t know where I picked up this false information, but really, it is not even in the top 20. False information aside, the tallest peak in Minnesota is Eagle Peak, which is 2,300 feet. Most of the tallest peaks in Minnesota are along the North Shore of Lake Superior, but it turns out that Carlton Peak is just a nice North Shore hike with a pleasant view. Carlton Peak is 1,532 feet high. Even this daunted my friends, who wanted to start in the middle! I became a little angry with them, goading them on that it was over 11,000 feet lower than what I would be hiking in mere weeks. This is when they concluded that the hike was probably going to kill me.  This wasn’t exactly the vote of confidence I needed.


I became worried that maybe they were right. I was woefully unprepared. Adam and I went on a hike up St. Peter’s Dome in Wisconsin, which was slightly higher than Carlton Peak and Ely’s Peak in Duluth. Unfortunately, none of these are very challenging hikes. I felt that it was better than nothing, but ultimately I am not sure if they improved my Inca Trail experience by much.


Day One:


Time slipped by and suddenly I was at the trailhead.  I began Day One with some anxiety over my fitness level. However, as an out of shape person, Day One was reasonably easy. I took it very slow, as I didn’t want to exhaust myself when there was still more days to come.  I also saw a trickle of hikers who for one reason or another had turned around. The scenery was nice, but it was also the hottest, sunniest day.  I hiked in late November, which is the rainy season, but all the days were actually clear of rain for the most part. The pleasant weather helped on the psychological front. Nevertheless, I severely scorched my arms in the sun, giving myself blistering burns that will probably leave light scars. I applied sunscreen, but it may have washed off, was applied unevenly, or sweated off. So, an important lesson is to apply sunscreen generously and several times to the areas of the arms that are in the sun all day (the top of forearms/wrists nearest to my walking poles was where it burned). The first day also featured flush toilets, so the physical, hygiene, and psychological fronts were not bad. It should be noted that toilets are mainly at campsites, so they are few and far between. Since I had already been in Cusco and Ollantaytambo for two days, but was also taking medication for altitude (Diamox), I didn’t have any negative effects from altitude, except trouble staying asleep and the fact that physical activity was harder.  Day One was fairly easy for my out of shape self. The main challenge of the day was not sleeping well that night (many animal noises) and that it turned chilly fairly quickly in the evening.

Image may contain: 7 people, including Heather Bradford, people smiling, tree, outdoor and nature

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Day Two:


Day Two was physically very hard.  It involved several grueling hours of hiking uphill for an elevation gain of 3,600 feet (I don’t know the exact elevation gain, but it is 3,000-4,000 feet) to Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point on the trail at 13,800 feet. This was made more challenging by the fact that the trail consists of long stretches of uneven stone steps. I counted the steps along the way to distract myself from the physical challenge. I counted over 1,100 stone steps. I lost count a few times. I also realized that a “step” is a more of a social construct than reliable unit of measure, as a step could be carved stone or it could be a few random rocks half buried in the dirt. Some steps only required a light lifting of the foot. Others were knee high monstrosities. I took it extremely slow, but also very steadily, with few breaks. I slogged along with another member of my group, Elise, who was also happy to go slow.


For the last hour, I felt that I was breathing through a straw with a hole in it while someone was sitting on my chest. Each plodding footfall was a laborious creep up the mountain. I thought that the altitude felt a bit like having an anxiety attack, but one without any end or relief. In other words, I felt that I couldn’t breath and my chest felt tight and heavy. It was a horrible feeling. I really couldn’t gasp for air, because I was too tired to gasp and it just felt like sucking harder on a holey straw. But, we both made it to the top of Dead Woman’s Pass. This was psychologically rewarding, as it meant that no other point would be that uniquely challenging. I also realized it was the hardest thing I would ever physically do and had done. It felt like my maximum. I felt that I would never be able to push myself to do more.

Image may contain: Heather Bradford, smiling, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: 2 people, including Heather Bradford, people smiling, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature


Of course, going up meant that we had to go down. This seems like it would be easy, and for many people, it was. I am afraid of heights, so I tend to not do well going down. So, again I took it very slowly and carefully.  This was mentally exhausting since it seemed like a giant puzzle of unsteady rocks. My brain became fatigued studying stones to put my feet on. Elise, my hiking buddy, had knee surgery in the past, so she also took it particularly slowly, as to go easy on her knees. But we made it and it was certainly a great accomplishment!


Day Three:


Day Three was psychologically the most challenging day for me.  Day Two was physically hard, but it was psychologically easy, since there was a long way up, but this upward hike had an eventual end point, followed by a long hike down. There was a finite end and reward of making it to the highest point. Day Three are more complicated.  For one, it began with another upward hike. Two, I was very tired after another night of tossing and turning. So, I did not wake up in the morning ready to take on another hike up. I was done with up. I was fed up with up. But, I had to force myself up (awake) and force myself up (uphill). And, once I was up, there was down, and then some more up and down. There was never a satisfying end point.

Image may contain: people standing, tree, outdoor and nature


To make matters worse, my cough became worse. Yes, the menacing and endless chest cold that afflicted me for six weeks returned during my hike. I had a lot of regrets about not getting it checked out and dismissing it as a virus. Even during flat, relatively easy areas, I coughed and struggled to breathe. I felt that my lungs were water balloons. I began to fear that there was something seriously wrong with me. I was overcome with dread that my lungs were filling with fluid and that I would have a medical emergency, for which there was no help. Coughing, tight chest, and shortness of breath are all signs of more serious altitude sickness, which can develop into High Altitude Pulmonary Edema or High Altitude Cerebral Edema. I lagged behind Elise, worrying that this was happening to me.


When we stopped for a break several hours into the hike, I meekly told her that I thought something was really wrong with me, then started to cry. She gave me one of her hydration salts in my water bottle. I told the guide how I felt, but he really didn’t care. He wanted us to keep moving, as we were going too slowly. This also made me feel that not only was there something seriously wrong, but the one person who might be able to identify these symptoms was indifferent. Thankfully, unloading how I felt on Elise made me feel better, as I got it this secret I had been carrying around off my chest. Her hydration salt also helped. I was probably dehydrated since I hadn’t stopped for breaks and the weather was cooler than the day before (so I wasn’t drinking as much). She also gave me some kind of cold or allergy medicine, which aided my breathing. The crisis passed and I was able to continue without further incident. This was the psychologically most difficult part of the hike by far.  For the rest of the journey, she shared her hydration salts and cold medicine with me (which I didn’t think to pack).

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The ups and downs of the first part of the day gave way to a very long descent. The guide said this consisted of 3,000 stone steps. I am not sure how many there were, but it seemed endless. We spent hours slowly traversing stone steps of every angle, wobble, height, and width.  This part of the day was physically and psychologically challenging for Elise, since her knee began to swell. The thousands of steps tested her knee replacement until many hours into it, her knee failed and she could no longer move it. Both of us were too psychologically and physically tested by the challenges of the day to enjoy the various ruins we passed.  At least she was only about twenty minutes from the campsite when she could go no more and needed some assistance from the guide and a porter. As for me, I had more pep in my step, having survived the earlier crisis and having seen many kinds of orchids along the way.

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Day Four:


Day Four should have invigorated me.  After all, that was the day we would arrive at Machu Picchu.  It was supposed to be a short and easy hike. We arose especially early, since we had to wait in line at the control station to hike the final segment. Once again, I didn’t sleep well. By Day Four, hygiene conditions had deteriorated. The toilets were squalid squat toilets that made me gag. Beside the toilet was an overflowing basket of used toilet paper from countless hikers. When squatting, the basket of many wipes was at nose level. After three days of hiking, no shower, and raunchy toilets, morale was low on the hygiene front.  I was physically exhausted. I had also used up whatever “pep” my brain could give my step. I was not a happy camper when I set out on the final part of the journey.


Image may contain: one or more people, people standing and outdoor

 


I walked slowly again and fell behind the group I was with. They were energized by the prospect of finally arriving. I was hesitant since I didn’t have any energy to expend and wasn’t entirely sure how long the hike would be or if it would have any difficult segments. I kept myself moving by doing an army march in my head.  Left, right, left, right, left. But the path became uneven and full of steps again, so the marching orders became jumbled, left, little right, big step up, right, another big step, left, right, left, screw it. At one point, I was met by a wall of almost vertical steps which seemed about the size of half my foot. I stared at this wall of about fifty tiny steps and mumbled, “Jesus F*ing Christ” before scaling them like a money on my hands and tip toes.  I clawed my way to the top, and actually laughed at the absurdity of this final challenge. Of course, after four days of hiking, there would be a wall to scale up. Of course. But, not long after, I surprisingly arrived at the Sun Gate.


From there on, it was a simple jaunt to Machu Picchu.  The complex was shrouded in clouds when I arrived, but as the sun ascended and warmed the morning, the mist gave way to a verdant complex.  The sun, of course, continued to grow higher and warmer, until it was uncomfortably hot. The awe inspiring scene became another endurance test as we toured the ruins under an unforgiving sun.  I wanted a shower, to sleep, and to just stop moving for a while. So, I didn’t absorb the tour as well as I could have. It was just an obstacle between me and a hot shower, a shower I would not get to experience until the late evening. But, I enjoyed spotting birds, insects, flowers, and mammals among the ruin, even if I couldn’t appreciate their history in that moment.  I could certainly appreciate the effort it took to get there. In that sense, the tour was a bit surreal, as it was the final culmination of all of that effort.

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Conclusion:


I made it and for that, I am proud.  I felt accomplished, even if the hike was not fast or fit.  In the end, it really is only four days, two of which aren’t that hard.  Most reasonably fit people should be able to finish the trail barring no major medical issues.  90% of people DO finish the trail. But, the question is, what is reasonably fit? I can’t imagine someone a lot LESS fit than me managing it very well, considering how I struggled.  But, a lot of the struggle is psychological. Physically, it requires a lot of steps and cardio (going up) but these in themselves are not impossible if done slowly and with breaks.  On the other hand, no matter how hard it is, it is difficult to remember pain and discomfort. Even now, just over a month later, I can’t really remember what the struggle felt like.  I remember the orchids and ferns, the camaraderie, and the sense of accomplishment, but the heavy lungs and blistered toes fade deeper into my memory of pain.  Physical pain and discomfort is only experienced in the moment. It is immediate, then vanishes like the fog lifting off of Machu Picchu in the sun. Thus, no matter how out of shape one is or how hard the struggle, memory doesn’t favor pain…or at least my memory didn’t!  Maybe that can be a comfort to anyone who attempts it while not quite in shape.  The hard parts will never be remembered as hard as they were in the moment, but the feeling of accomplishment and awe are long lasting.


Image may contain: mountain, sky, grass, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: mountain, sky, grass, outdoor and nature

Galapagos Oil Spill: Another Day, Another Disaster

Galapagos Oil Spill_ Another DAy, Another Disaster


Galapagos Oil Spill: Another Day, Another Disaster


Heather Bradford 

12/27/19

A version of this article can be found at:  https://socialistresurgence.org/2019/12/27/galapagos-oil-spill-another-day-another-disaster/


On Sunday December 22nd, a barge containing 600 gallons of diesel capsized in the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos Islands, which are a UNESCO World Heritage site, are known for their endemism, with 80% of birds, 97% of reptiles, and 30% of the plants found only on the islands.   This unique wildlife includes several species of Galapagos tortoises, lava lizards, flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins, and several species of Darwin’s finches. The specially adapted wildlife of the islands inspired Darwin’s thoughts on evolution. Because of its important place in the history of science, the fragility of its ecosystems, and exceptional biodiversity, even a relatively small oil spill warrants attention and concern.


The diesel spill occurred at the La Predial dock of San Cristobal Island.  San Cristobal is the easternmost of the Galapagos Islands and was the first island visited by Charles Darwin in 1835. During the Sunday incident, a crane that was loading a barge with cargo containing an electricity generator suddenly toppled over. In a dramatic video of the event, the crane fell into the water upon the barge, sending the cargo into the Pacific Ocean and capsizing the craft.  Several workers jumped into the water to escape the sinking barge. The barge, named Orca, was meant to transport the generator to Isabela Island, the largest island in the archipelago. Orca was used to ferry supplies and fuel from mainland Ecuador to the islands and was carrying 600 gallons of diesel when it overturned. Orca previously sank in February 2018 in the Guayas River due to a weight imbalance.


It is unknown how much of the 600 gallons of diesel escaped the vessel. The Ecuadorian Navy quickly moved to contain the spill by placing absorbent cloth and protective barriers in the water and President Lenin Moreno declared the situation under control via Twitter on Monday, December 23rd. The ecological impact is being assessed by the environmental ministry, but according to an article in Vice, oil can damage the salt glands of sea turtles, enlarge the livers of fish, and becomes ingested by birds as they preen. A local advocacy group, SOS Galapagos, warned that spilled fuel would reach nearby Mann Beach, a popular public beach in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galapagos and population center of San Cristobal. They also called for the illegal and dangerous operations to be moved elsewhere.

Dec. 2019 Galapagos 2 (Heather)

An image of San Cristobal Island


It is not the first time that an oil spill has occurred on the Galapagos. In 2001, an oil tanker named Jessica ran aground off of San Cristobal Island, sending over 150,000 gallons of fuel into the ocean. According to research conducted by Princeton biologist Martin Wikelski, within a year, over 15,000 Marine Iguanas, constituting 62% of nearby Santa Fe Island population, perished.  In a typical year, the mortality rate is 2 to 7%. Marine Iguanas are endemic to the Galapagos and sensitive to even small spills. This may be due to the fact that the previous spill killed the bacteria that aided in the iguanas in their digestion. Dead iguanas were found to have algae, their primary food source, in their stomachs, but starved because they could not digest it. Galapagos National Park sued PetroEcuador for $14 million in damages for the disaster.


Dec. 2019 Lizard 2

Marine Iguana


In another incident, a cargo ship carrying over 15,400 gallons of diesel became stranded off the coast of San Cristobal Island.  The Ecuadorian freighter, Galapaface I, had its 46 tanks of oil it was carrying unloaded and was drained of its fuel to avoid a disastrous leakage. The ship remained stranded for two months until it could be towed 20 miles away, then sunk in an area where it was deemed to have less ecological impact.  In 2015, a cargo ship named Floreana also ran aground near San Cristobal. Fuel and 300 tons cargo were unloaded, which prevented any major ecological impacts from occurring. Thankfully both incidents were not major disasters.


It is fortunate that no workers on the Orca were seriously injured and perhaps the impact on wildlife can be mitigated by early efforts to contain the spill, but the fact that the barge previously sank calls into question the safety of the workers and the integrity of the vessel in the first place. According to the Maritime Herald, the Orca previously sank in February 2018 at the Caraguay dock in Guayaquil, when it was being loaded with asphalt to take to the Galapagos. Protective barriers were erected to prevent the spread of fuel into the Guayas River. A 25 year old worker named Juan Jose C. was trapped inside of the overturned barge. It is uncertain what transpired between the February 2018 incident and more recent capsizing of the Orca.


Almost 87% of the cargo sent to the Galapagos arrives by sea since it is the least expensive means of transporting goods. Since only two of the islands have airports, maritime transport is a structural and geographic necessity. A 2010 report by the Governing Council of Galapagos cited several problems with maritime transport. Problems relevant to incident include the small and aging fleet of cargo ships utilized by the islands and the fact that docks in the Galapagos are multi-use, serving fishing, fueling, and inter island transport. Of course, maritime shipping within capitalism has some inherent risks, such as the introduction of invasive species through ballast water, dumping of sewage and waste, air pollution of sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide, and accidental spills. These risks could be reduced, but the profit motive incentivizes externalities such as pollution, oil spills, and shoddy waste management. Nearly all cargo ships use diesel engines and diesel generators for electricity, though the industry itself accounts for 2-3% of annual CO2 emissions. While it may be possible that some shipping could switch to zero emissions technology, such as hydrogen fuel cells or electric batteries, as some small research vessels have, technology cannot solve the fundamental flaws of capitalism. In the case of hydrogen fuel cells, this could increase ozone depletion and electric batteries rely on conflict ridden rare earth minerals and cobalt. Alternative fuels also exist within capitalism, the existence of which is predicated upon war and the drive towards the lowest wages. The Galapagos Islands have more environmental regulations than most places, but they still exist within a capitalist framework which relies upon fossil fuels, hazardous working conditions, and a drive for less oversight and regulation. Because of this combination, the islands, as protected as they are, can never truly be sheltered from ecological disaster, because this is the inevitable outcome of capitalism.


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Each day brings news of the endless stream of horrors inflicted upon the planet by fossil fuel driven capitalism. From wildfires and scorching heat in Australia to this year’s ravaging high temperatures in the Arctic, there isn’t anywhere in the world untouched by the impact of capitalism’s catastrophic dependency on fossil fuels. The recent diesel spill in the Galapagos Islands is one of the myriad of daily reminders of the dire need to end capitalism and build a planned socialist economy based upon renewable resources.


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The Sun is Dying

The Sun is Dying

The Sun is Dying

H. Bradford

12/25/19


The sun is dying

It’s middle aged.

There isn’t time for frivolous extinctions.

Earth lacks the billions of years that passed before us.

Before we unpacked the tombs of carbon fumes

from extinctions long ago.

So, that’s the end of it.

There isn’t time for more and new.

Just early death,

and the sterilizing embrace of a dying star.

 

Always a Man

Always a Man

Always a Man

H. Bradford

10.27.19


There’s always a man


On the corner by the clinic


Telling women what’s what with their bodies.


He cries about the babies,

The babies being killed in the baby killing factory

and how the remains get made into the chicken nuggets served in public school lunches.


Or at least that’s what it sounds like to me,

Since I’m about as sentimental as an old shoe

and as nurturing as an acid oasis.

And he doesn’t speak my language.



His language is the language of old men.

The language of burning witches

and marrying off little girls to old men like him.

It is the tongue of ten thousand years of silencing.

Ten thousand years of raping.

Ten thousand years of telling what’s what with women’s bodies.



There’s always a man on the sky,

telling the man on the corner what’s what

In a conversation that other men began long ago

In a language I don’t speak,

but always translates to

power over women.

And I won’t hear of it.


 

 

 

 

 

Joker through the Lens of Violence against Women

Joker through the lens of Violence against women

Joker through the Lens of Violence against Women

H. Bradford

10/26/19


October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.  This month also saw the release of Joker, a film which had a controversial release due to fears that it would incite violence.  The film is the story of how Arthur Fleck, a solitary, impoverished man with mental illness, becomes the infamous Batman villain.  Joker centers on the experiences of the titular character, whose perceptions and narrative are unreliable.  The movie focuses on the perspective of a violent male and one that the sidelines experiences of the women around him.  The violence against several female characters in the film as well as Arthur’s own experience of domestic violence warrants attention because the film, like the character, is politically neutral on this violence.  Even the concerns that the film would inspire violence were gender neutral, as the type of violence feared was mass shootings rather than the everyday violence that occurs in households and in relationships.  There was no mass panic that a film would inspire this sort of violence, as it is beyond the cognitive horizon of most people to care.  Of course, mass shootings are themselves often carried out by men with a history of domestic violence and misogynistic attitudes.  In this way, the film offers some lessons about the ways in which violence against women continues to be normal, invisible, and misunderstood, as well as its place in capitalist patriarchy.


Domestic violence includes such things as physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and financial abuse, along with stalking and coercion.  The word generally applies to violence which occurs between intimate partners, but can also include violence in familial relationships, such as against children, parents, siblings, and elderly family members.  While the factors that cause this violence are complicated, a popular feminist theory is Power-Control theory, which originated with the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program in Duluth, Minnesota during the 1980s.  Through discussions with survivors of domestic violence, the Power and Control Wheel was developed based on patterns and themes in their experiences.  This is a widely used tool for identifying the ways that power and control are exerted by abusers.  Power-Control Theory posits that abuse is the outcome of the abuser’s desire to maintain power and control in their relationship(s).  While this began by examining the dynamics between individuals, it has been expanded to examine the ways that male power and control are maintained within patriarchy as a whole (Evolution of Theories of Violence, 2015).  Within patriarchy, men have had the lion’s share of power and control in society.  Control over women is expected and violence enforces their subservience.  Women and children are particularly vulnerable to violence because of their inequality in economic, political, and social status.  From a socialist perspective, violence against women can be understood as a means to enforce patriarchy, which historically hinged on the transmission of property from father to son and the fact that women themselves have been treated as property.  Violence enforces gender roles and a gendered division of labor.  Within capitalism, the lesser status of women and their economic dependence upon men, helps to extract their unpaid labor.  As such, prior to the efforts of the feminist movement, domestic violence was viewed as private problem within individual families rather than a social problem symptomatic of women’s place within patriarchy.  Today, one in three women have experienced some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime and 95% of the victims of domestic violence are women.


The film is set in Gotham, a fictional city torn apart by class tensions, an infestation of rats, cuts to social programs, and crime.  It is against this backdrop that Arthur Fleck, a white male in his 30s, tries to eke out a living for himself and his mother, who exist on the edge of the working class.  Along the way, Arthur becomes increasingly violent and through violence, becomes self-actualized as the vengeful, confident, smiling, and dancing Joker.  Arthur Fleck is immediately depicted as having little power and control in his life.  Early in the film, he is attacked by youth while working as a clown.  His employment itself lacks control as is based on the tenuous availability of clowning gigs and as his coworkers and employer are unaccepting of him.  He lives with his mother, Penny, who is the dominant figure in his socially isolated life, and dependent upon him for income and care.  To make matters worse, the medications that Arthur uses to try to control the symptoms of his mental illness become unavailable to him after social services are cut in the city.  Rats and the amassing garbage left uncollected due to a sanitation worker strike, create an atmosphere wherein the entire city seems out of control of patriarchal capitalist power.  As a malnourished, eccentric, mentally unstable, outsider living with his mother and barely getting by, Arthur isn’t privy to much of the power and control that other white males enjoy.  After sustaining a beating, Arthur’s coworker lends him a gun, which he is at first reluctant to take, but quickly becomes the key to accessing the power he has been exiled from.


A turning point in the film is when Arthur uses his gun against a group of young, wealthy white men who attack him on the subway.  Prior to the murder, the young investors are shown talking about a woman, then go on to harass a woman who is riding alone on the subway.  When she ignores them, food is thrown at her and she is verbally accosted.  She is called a bitch when she gets up and leaves.  This is a relatable scene, as 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime (Chatterjee, 2018).  The trio of men themselves are a patriarchal trope.  They are Brock Turner, Jacob Walter Anderson, or young Brett Kavanagh.  They are the kind of guys that wear black face at Halloween parties, bullied kids in high school, rape women in college, excel at sports, and probably get called Chads by Incels.  They are smug masters of the universe.  The woman’s escape is made possible by Arthur, who has a condition which causes uncontrolled laughing.  This draws attention away from the woman, but in turn, causes him to be beaten for laughing at them and then defending himself.  He kills two of the men as they beat him, but pursues the third after he flees.


The trio of murdered men work for Thomas Wayne, the father of Bruce Wayne.  Thomas Wayne represents the pinnacle of patriarchal capitalist power in the film.  He is a wealthy, robust, white, heterosexual, father who is running for mayor because only he can take control of the city.  When Wayne decries the murders of such bright, talented young men and calls the poor of the city “clowns,” his insult launches a movement of clown masked demonstrators who protest the wealth gap in the city.  Arthur becomes emboldened by the murders and the movement it sparked, but remains on his individualistic, anti-social path of violence rather than joining the movement.  This path culminates in the Joker’s live TV murder of Murray Franklin, a popular talk show host and icon of patriarchal power in the form of celebrity, self-assurance, wealth, and bullying.  Both Thomas Wayne and Murray Franklin are fallen father figures to Arthur Fleck, who lose their esteem in his mind as he loses his mind and violently take control of his life.  Along the way, several female characters are casualties in his brutal metamorphosis.


The first casualty is his mother, Penny.  Arthur’s relationship with his mother has unhealthy elements.  Although she is mobile, he baths her, and although she is capable of dancing, he cuts her food for her.  They also share the same bed.  The nature of her health needs are not specified, but the depiction of their relationship is strongly suggested to be codependent.  Penny is portrayed as incapable of meeting her own needs and those of her son’s.  She is verbally and emotionally abusive, as she shoots down Arthur’s idea of becoming a comedian by telling him that he isn’t funny and shows complete indifference to him when he says he went on a date.  His experiences and needs are secondary to her obsession with Thomas Wayne, who she believes will lift them out of poverty.  When Arthur discovers that Thomas Wayne may be his father, she fears he will kill her because she kept this secret.  He eventually kills her after discovering that he is not Thomas Wayne’s son and that she spent time at Arkham Asylum because of her role in the abuse he experienced as a child.  In searching for the truth of his parentage, Arthur learns from an asylum employee that his mother’s boyfriend chained him to radiator, beat him, and starved him when he was a child.  Upon learning this, he smothers her in her hospital bed.


Throughout the film, Arthur suffers from uncontrollable laughter, which is attributed to a brain injury.  This history of abuse is used to explain where this condition originated, as well as give insight to some of his other behaviors.  In 60-75 percent of families where a woman is battered, children are also battered.  Children are 15 times more likely than the national average to be neglected and physically abused in families experiencing domestic violence.  Exposure to domestic violence can impact children in a number of ways, including increased aggression, depression, lowered independence, social withdrawal, reduced social competence (Rakovec-Felser, 2014).  All of these are characteristics that Arthur displays throughout the movie.


When confronted with her son’s abuse, Penny says she didn’t know he was hurt.  She is charged with criminal neglect and sent to Arkham Asylum.  It is not known what happened to her abuser.  Although the film is not clearly focused on this matter, Penny is a victim of domestic violence.  The narrative focuses more on her failure as a mother to protect her son from abuse, but both characters are victims.  The blaming narrative of the film implies that Penny is at fault for failure to protect her son, which begs the question, “why did she stay?”  Why did she stay if her boyfriend was abusing her son? Why did she allow it to happen?   This blaming narrative is very real.  For instance, Ingrid Archie is a real life example of a California woman who fled domestic violence, but had her children taken away and was charged with failure to protect, even though she obtained a restraining order and went to a shelter (Albaladejo, 2019).  Arlena Lindley, was sentenced to 45 years in prison after her boyfriend killed her three year old son.  A witness testified that her boyfriend had threatened to kill her if she intervened and that when she tried to escape with her son, she was dragged back inside the home.  In another case, Robert Braxton Jr. was sentenced to two years for breaking the ribs and femur of a three month old infant.  Tondalo Hall, the infant’s mother, for whom there was no evidence that she had abused the child, was sentenced to thirty years in prison for failure to protect her baby (Banner, 2015).


There are many reasons why women remain in abusive relationships, even when their children are abused.  Fictional Gotham, like the real world, has substandard housing and a lack of social services, making it likely that if she left, she would have been homeless with her son.  The setting of the film is the late 1970s or early 1980s, which was before domestic violence shelters and community responses to domestic violence were well established.  The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when the victim leaves, so leaving might have further endangered them both.  Statistically, women have a 75% higher chance of being killed if they leave than if they stay (Banner, 2015).  Some women fear that their abuser will report them to social services and they will lose their children, which also causes them to stay.  Since failure to protect laws have punished women who have fled domestic violence, this is not an unfounded fear.  Abusive relationships are based on power and control, she may have felt powerless to leave or incapable of living independent of her abuser.  It is possible that she was prevented from leaving.  Whatever the case, Arthur clearly blames her for the abuse, which is not an uncommon response for children to have.  The blame took on its own fatally abusive character when he murdered her.  In the arc of the story, this was done for revenge over the abuse but also as part of his letting go of his life as someone controlled by his mother’s needs.  Rather than remain the care giving, weak, traumatized, and abused son, the murder ushers him deeper into a toxic masculinity wherein he has the power to inflict abuse.


As a final observation about Penny, the character may also have been abused by Thomas Wayne while she was employed by him.  Although there is no direct evidence of abuse, he could have certainly abused his power to silence her and as her employer, would have had immense power over her very livelihood.  Her mental health struggles and dependence upon him for her livelihood renders the relationship far from equal and consensual.  Wayne denies that they had an affair, though Penny tells her son that he made her sign paperwork to cover up the truth.  Arthur discovers his adoption certificate, which seems to support Wayne’s claim that she is delusional.  But in a flashback, Penny again claims that it was drawn up by Wayne.  Both Wayne and Alfred, the butler, insist that she is mentally ill.   While all evidence seems to indicate that this is true, Arthur later discovers a photograph with a message from Wayne on it.  Although he may not have physically abused her, he is able to exert patriarchal power over her without having to resort to violence.  Penny does not need to be beaten or killed to keep quiet, she only needs to be delegitimize.  By calling her crazy, her claims to reality are called into question.  It is an attempt to gaslight her memories and beliefs about the relationship, even though she retains the claim that they were together.  It is clear in the film that she experiences mental illness, but this could be either an outcome of abuse she experienced, a factor that made her more vulnerable to abuse, or both.  Women who experience domestic violence are three times more likely to develop serious mental illness.  Survivors of domestic violence are also three times as likely to have a history of mental illness such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia (Dyson, 2019).


The second victim of domestic violence is Sophie Dumond, Arthur’s neighbor and imagined love interest.  Even before he murders anyone, Arthur begins stalking Sophie and imagines that they are in a relationship.  In this imagined relationship, he has perfect control over her, as she laughs at his jokes, is never threatened by his eccentricities, supports the murders of the men on the subway, and offers comfort when his mother is hospitalized.  After the murders on the subway, he kisses her, as his sexual confidence was bolstered by violence.  The kiss never happened, along with the many other scenes.  This is revealed when he enters her apartment, begins touching her belongings, and sits on her sofa.  She is terrified that he has entered the apartment.  The outcome of this encounter is never depicted on screen, but her character is never seen or mentioned again.  It is easy to read this omission as she was murdered or sexually assaulted.  Certainly, by stalking her, entering her apartment, handling her belongings, and creating a fictional romance with her, Arthur behaves in a way that shows entitlement to her personal space, privacy, safety, and body.  Glimpses at his journal reveal disembodied and altered images of naked women and sexual scenes.  Again, this points to an unhealthy, sexual, and violent imagining of women.


Another woman in the film who is murdered by Arthur is an unnamed therapist.  At the end of the film, he is seen walking out of her office with blood on his shoes.  The fate of both Black characters is left up to the imagination, but statistically, Black women experience a higher risk of sexual assault and domestic violence.  In the United States, 20% of Black women have been raped and 40% have experienced domestic violence.  Black women are also two and a half times more likely than white women to be murdered by a man and 9 out 10 victims knew their murderer (Green, 2017).  It is also important to point out the racial dynamics of a white male perpetrator murdering at least one Black woman and perhaps murdering or sexually assaulting another.  Arthur attempts to exert control over Black women several times in the film, such as when he tries to verbally defend himself against a Black mother when he talks to her child, when he chides his Black social worker for not listening to him, through his imagined romance with Sophie, and through the murder of his therapist.  Angela Davis argued that violence by white men, especially sexual violence, was used to control Black women during slavery.  Their bodies and sexuality were the property of white men.  Sexual assault was used by the KKK as a weapon of terror against Black women. During the Civil Rights movement, white police officers raped Black activists they had arrested (Davis, 1990).  Black women are killed at higher rates than any other group of women.  Yet, Black women are seldom viewed as victims. Violence against Black women continues to be ignored and Black women blamed because they are viewed as violent, sexual, less innocent, their lives less valuable, or somehow deserving of their victimization.   When they defend themselves against violence, they find themselves punished by the criminal justice system, such as CeCe McDonald, Cyntonia Brown, and Alexis Martin (Finoh and Sankofa, 2019).


The violence inflicted upon women in the film goes without police or community response, though police response is often met with blaming, disbelief, or threats of violence and incarceration from the state itself.   Police themselves are often abusers, as 40% of police families report domestic violence, which is four times more than the general population (Police Family Violence Fact Sheet, n.d.).  Two incidents of violence against women occur off screen, whereas violence against men in the film is used to shock the viewer and drive the narrative.  As a whole, women are ancillary to the film.  They are not prominently depicted among the protestors, the violence against them goes unnoticed, several of their roles are unnamed characters, one role primarily exists in Arthur’s mind, and none of them are shown making it out of the movie alive.  Violence against women is canon, as in other iterations of the Joker, the character has raped Barbara Gordon and has an abusive relationship with Harley Quinn (Dockterman, 2019).  Gotham is a world of men and Joker is story of a beaten down male, beating down powerful men.  But, it is also a story of violence against Black women, domestic violence, narratives that blame mothers for their abuser’s actions, the intersections of mental health and victimization, and the continued normalcy of violent masculinity.


The universe of Batman is always a story about capitalism.  The hero, Bruce Wayne, is a capitalist who fights bad guys in the form of villains with mental illness.  He does this with the help of the militarized Gotham police force.  To side with the hero is to side with the ruling class and its enforcers against the dangerous elements of the lumpenproletariat.  Joker takes place before the advent of the central hero or the militarization of the police. If there is a central message of the film, it is that capitalism creates villains. If there is an argument, it is that austerity and trauma begets violence. Through the narrative of the film, Arthur Fleck’s violence can be attributed to childhood trauma, unmet mental health needs, social instability, isolation, and unchallenged misogyny.  But, the film says little about how this impacts women.  This part of the narrative is truncated. Capitalism may indeed create some villains, but it also creates its own grave diggers.  The power of workers and social movements against capitalism is depicted in the form of a sanitation strike and masked protest movement.  These mobilizations must ultimately fail for Batman to rise as the capitalist vigilante who keeps the order of capitalism and patriarchy.  As for the women in the movie, they too fade into Gotham’s eternal night. The dark city swallows their stories. In this way, art mirrors the life of many women.  If there is a feminist message to be drawn from the film, it is the need to Take Back the Night.  Rising above the erasure of capitalists, vigilantes, police, and misogynist villains means doing things that these female characters were unable to do: uniting together, being heard and seen, demanding social provisioning, fighting oppressive narratives of abuse, holding abusers accountable, and creating safety that doesn’t rely on punishing the mentally ill.


Sources:


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Banner, A. (2015, February 3). ‘Failure to Protect’ Laws Punish Victims of Domestic Violence. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/do-failure-to-protect-law_b_6237346.

Chatterjee, R. (2018, February 22). A New Survey Finds 81 Percent Of Women Have Experienced Sexual Harassment. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/21/587671849/a-new-survey-finds-eighty-percent-of-women-have-experienced-sexual-harassment.

Davis, A. Y. (1990). Women, culture & politics. Vintage.

Dockterman, E. (2019, October 8). The History of Joker Movies and Character’s Origin Story. Retrieved from https://time.com/5694280/joker-movies-history-origin-story/.

Dyson, T. (2019, June 7). Women suffering domestic abuse have triple the risk of mental illness, study says. Retrieved from https://www.upi.com/Health_News/2019/06/07/Women-suffering-domestic-abuse-have-triple-the-risk-of-mental-illness-study-says/8981559918365/.

Evolution of Theories of Violence. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.stopvaw.org/evolution_of_theories_of_violence.

Finoh, M., & Sankofa, J. (2019, August 22). The Legal System Has Failed Black Girls, Women, and Non-Binary Survivors of Violence. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/blog/racial-justice/race-and-criminal-justice/legal-system-has-failed-black-girls-women-and-non.

Green, S. (2018, August 7). Violence Against Black Women – Many Types, Far-reaching Effects. Retrieved from https://iwpr.org/violence-black-women-many-types-far-reaching-effects/.

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Rakovec-Felser Z. (2014). Domestic Violence and Abuse in Intimate Relationship from Public Health Perspective. Health psychology research, 2(3), 1821. doi:10.4081/hpr.2014.1821

 

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