broken walls and narratives

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

Archive for the month “July, 2015”

Just Four: Adventures in Four State Parks

I have over thirty goals for this year.  One of my goals was to visit four new state parks.  Honestly, this is a fairly simple goal because there are many area state parks which I have never visited.  This has been a great goal that injected some fun and learning into my summer.  So, here is my review of four regional state parks:

  1. Moose Lake State Park: I went on a Moose Lake adventure. The adventure began with a trip to the Fire and Depot Museum.  The depot did not interest me as much, but the information about the 1918 fire was certainly gruesome, sad, and compelling.  The fire was the worst natural disaster in Minnesota history, destroying communities, hundreds of people, and injuring tens of thousands.  The more interesting thing in the museum was the personal accounts from survivors of the fire.  These were tales of people burning alive in cars or suffocating in root cellars.  I visited the museum during Agate Days.

Agate Days is a celebration of agates.  I have never attended before because it seems to occur on the same date as Wrong Days in Wright (which I attended as a child).  I was shocked to see that every side street was clogged with cars.  People are much more enthusiastic about agates than I had imagined.  The highlight was watching two dump trucks unload loads of gravel onto a main street.  Hundreds of people waited for a gunshot to signal that they could descend upon these piles of rocks on the street.  Hidden in the rocks were agates and quarters.  Adults and children carried water, buckets, and shovels for sorting through the rocks.  I am not very aggressive so I stayed out of the fray.  I ventured in briefly and nabbed a single agate.

The dump truck:

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The crowd goes wild!

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My prize:

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After Agate Days, I headed to the Moose Lake State Park. This was pretty appropriate for the theme of the day because there is a small geological museum at the park.  At the center, I learned how agates are actually formed.  Basically, a billion years ago North America was being split apart (just as Africa is today along the East African rift).  A bell curve shaped mid-continental rift formed were Lake Superior now exists, extending southward through Iowa and westward towards Nebraska.  This splitting allowed for magma to seep upwards to the surface of the earth. Air bubbles formed within the lava, creating space for agates to later form.  The agates are basically iron stained silica deposits that formed in these gas bubbles over time.  When glaciers later scoured the landscape, the agates were dislodged from the surrounding rock, broken up, and moved about.  This is why there are agates in this region (and other regions along the mid-continental rift or where glaciers moved these agates).  So the best thing about the Moose Lake State Park is the small geology museum.  I love to learn and though I am not versed in geology, I felt that I learned a lot that day!

  1. Tettegouche State Park:

I review this in my blog post about ferns.  I went to this park for the purpose of learning about ferns.  Since then, I have purchased a fern guide and borrowed a guide from the library.  Even with the guides, I have a very difficult time distinguishing ferns from one another.  However, I believe I can identify about five common ferns and a few “friends of ferns”.  I will continue to work on this skill as it is on my list of goals for the year.

3: Crosby Recreation Area:

I reviewed this in another blog post as well.  It isn’t exactly a state park, but because it is a recreation area I thought I could count it.

  1. Tower Soudan State Park:

This park was super!  I visited the park in early July with Adam and Lucas.  It is unique because it is a state park that offers mine tours.  So, of course, we shelled out the $12 to go on the mine tour.  The Tower Soudan Mine is the oldest and deepest mine in Minnesota.  The tour begins with a rather bland video which discusses the “Cadillac of Mines.”  As a socialist, I was a little skeptical about the shimmering safety of the mine.  However, apparently it was a fairly safe mine compared to others as it was dry (unlike the Crosby mines which flooded, leaked, and were muddy), cool, and solid (the Ely greenstone is strong enough that mine did not require lumber supports in shafts).  After the video, we put on hard hats and squeezed into an elevator, where we made an exciting two minute decent into the mine.  Actually, the guide for the tour was Bill Lah, who was a student at UWS with me.  So, it was interesting to see someone I knew.  Bill was a great guide.  After loading us onto an underground train, he told us that the iron from the mine was of particularly high quality as it was derived from specular hematite.  Some of the specular hematite was still visible on the walls of the cavern in blotches of glittery gray.  It was used as an additive in making iron, though this became obsolete with the invention of oxygen tanks (which could add oxygen to the iron).  The new technology resulted in the end of the mine, as extraction from the vertical underground mine was no longer cost effective.  Bill discussed the working conditions of the mine and was clear to note that although the mine was safer than other mines, it was never easy or safe work.  He also sang a song in Slovenian, as his grandparents came to the U.S. from Slovenia and his grandfather was a miner.  After the mine tour, we milled around the park, where there is an assortment of mining structures and equipment.  Generally speaking, the tour helped me to learn a bit more about the process of iron mining.  On the nature side of things, the mine is home to a healthy population of bats (which have not had white nose syndrome).

Aside from mining tours, the Soudan Mine is a research center for physics experiments.  There are science themed tours wherein visitors can learn more about the neutrino research at the park.  We only had time and money for one tour, so I was not able to learn about the neutrino research.  Oh well, I could always return sometime!

Etc.

Visting the state parks has been great.  It has made for an educational summer.  Aside from the four listed, I have been a frequent visitor to Jay Cooke State Park this summer.  There are many free lectures and hikes on topics related to identifying trees, wild flowers, geology, etc.  As a result, I believe that I have increased my knowledge of nature quite a bit this summer…but that can be the topic of another blog post.  For now, I have enjoyed these little adventures.

Tower Soudan Mine Park Images:

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Jurassic World Review

When the original Jurassic Park came out, I was obsessed with it.  I watched it numerous times.  I had some Jurassic Park comic books.  I had dreams about it.  I even wrote a fanfic…Jurassic Mall.  In this story, as the name suggests, a shopping mall featured dinosaurs…which inevitably escape and eat people.  Interestingly, the dinosaurs preferred to eat bearded people. Despite this past obsession, when I saw that a new Jurassic movie was coming up, I wasn’t excited.  The previews looked terrible.  The velociraptors are on our side?  Really?  There is a giant genetically modified super dinosaur?  There is a velociraptor whisperer character?  Ugh.

Well, I saw it anyway.  And…I liked it!  Here is why:

I liked the premise about the genetically modified dinosaur.  As a business, the park was aware that consumers want larger, more exciting attractions.  This notion touches upon a couple of interesting concepts.  The first is the notion of bigger and better.  Obviously, as a sequel itself, the movie must be “bigger and better” than the original.  To this end, the movie includes a bigger threat (the GMO dinosaur) and the park has a bigger attraction (again, the GMO dino).  In this way, the movie is self-aware of the bigger, better sequel phenomenon.  Where are the roots of bigger and better?  Is this a part of Western narratives that range from the adventures of Odssysus following the Trojan War to Ultron after Loki’s failed attempt to subjugate earth?  I don’t want to make a narrative about narratives, as “the sequel” may or may not culminate into a bigger story.   At least in many recent movies and stories there is a culmination that each subsequent story must be bigger in some way than the last.  It reminded me of an article I read in grad school by Gottchalk called “Hypermodern Consumption and Megalomania.”  Hypermodernity is described as intense, instant, urgent, and excessive consumerism.  I will not waste time exploring if we are in a postmodern society or hypermodern society or if these things really even matter (as certainly there is a lot of modernism and even pre-modern institutions, ideas, and economic relationships governing the lives of individuals).  For the purpose of the review, consider hypermodernity as an adjective rather than a political position regarding the struggle against capitalism.  With that said, hypermodern consumption is described as more self-gratifying than status expressing.  That is, people go to Jurassic World for the emotional experience rather than the status it grants them.  Gottchalk also argued that there is a certain megalomania in the language of most advertisement, inasmuch as ads use superlatives such as biggest, best, most and obsess over quantities of time and space.  This was evident in the film through the counting of dinosaur teeth (we need more teeth) or the general notion of more (more cool, bigger, scarier, etc.)  The “Indominus Rex” really captured the linguistics of megalomania in advertisement.  So, in this way, the film captured a dominant theme of consumerism and advertisement.

The film also raised issues about authenticity.  Dr. Wu in the film pointed out that all of the dinosaurs are genetically modified and that if they weren’t, they would look much different.  In this sense, nothing in the park is real.  The Indominus Rex is just less authentic.  Authenticity does not matter in the amusement park as people are there for the experience and what they experience becomes real.  Again, this reminds me of some old sociology reading from grad school from Baudrillard (I believe) regarding Las Vegas.  In that environment, Cesar’s palace, pyramids, the Eiffel tower, etc. are not historical places (or people).  To the people who see them they become as real as the originals.  These monuments are divested of their original meaning and become authentic as simulacra.  So, in the park the dinosaurs do not have to have feathers or bear any scientific accuracy to the original.  They become reality.  Interestingly, the dinosaurs of the film are also our reality for how dinosaurs are experienced.  While I was in China, I visited a museum where I saw dinosaur fossils with ashy black feather imprints.  The reality of dinosaurs is more like this than those of the film.  Like the visitors to the park, film dinosaurs become the reality…and really, this reality is preferable to authenticity (a downy dinosaur might not thrill in the same way a more reptilian one does).

Beyond this hodgepodge of authenticity, megalomania, and consumerism, the film does touch on some old time themes (such as fear of science and the creation of monsters that turn on us).  A person could view the film as having an anti-GMO message.  After all, the movie touches on the privatization of life (a corporation owns the dinosaurs) and some fears of GMOs.  For example, one fear regarding GMOs is that they cannot be contained.  Because corn is wind pollinated for up to a two mile radius, Monsanto corn can contaminate other types of corn (reducing biodiversity and resulting in legal troubles for “stolen” property).   The Indominus Rex is four miles from other attractions, but escapes its cage and goes on a rampage.  The island itself is off the coast of Costa Rica.  If the dinosaurs escaped, this would wreak havoc upon not only human life but the animals, plants, reptiles, and birds of the tropics.  However, because this life is also capital, no one wants to destroy the dinosaurs because this is destroying money.  So, even as the Indominus Rex is clearly a threat there is a hesitance to stop it.  Instead, other dinosaurs are used to try to stop the Indominus Rex.  In real life, this doesn’t work out well.  The cane toad was used in Australia to fight the cane beetle, but became an invasive species itself.  Likewise, the rosy wolf snail was introduced to Hawaii to stop the invasive giant African snail, but decided instead to attack endemic Hawaiian snails.  But, since this was a move…the T-rex, surviving velociraptor, and mosasaur team up together and stop the Indominus Rex.  Nevertheless, they part ways…perhaps going on to cause their own trouble elsewhere.

Otherwise, I liked the nostalgia of the movie (with continuity with the other film, a visit to the old park’s visitor center, old vehicles, Jeff Goldblum images, similar dinosaurs, and a Jurassic Park T-Shirt).  I also like that the movie was filmed in a similar fashion, so that the movie has a 90s feel with bright lighting, bright colors, dark jungle, and out of focus shots (not everything is digitally crisp).

There are some parts of the movie that are pretty ridiculous and the characters are not as likeable as those from the original film.  Some parts are quite satisfying, such as the sudden death of the Simon Misrani the owner of the park and Vic Hoskins the head of security.  The raptor bond to Owen Grady was a little silly and the final dinosaur battle was obviously not the most likely outcome of three dinosaurs meeting in a park in the dark.  I wasn’t thrilled with career woman Clair’s longing for children.  However, I was seated in a theater with children behind me…one of whom decided it would fun to kick the back of my seat and make commentary.  The kid eventually did stop kicking my seat and actually cried when the Apatosaurus died (kids…so terrible and sweet).  Still, as an audience member I felt that Clair should find children half as annoying as I did in that moment.  As a whole, I enjoyed the film and found it more thoughtful than the previews suggested.

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Crosby: A Commie 4th of July Day Trip

On the 4th of July, I set out with my friends Adam and Lucas to Crosby, Mn for a day of exploration.  Crosby, Mn is famous for having the first communist mayor in U.S. history.  It is also the site of the worst mining disaster in Minnesota history.  This history attracted us to the city, located about two hours west of Duluth, to do a little exploring.  We didn’t have a set agenda or defined expectations of what we would find there.  I had the general idea that we would explore the Cayuna State Recreation Area to explore the many mine lakes in the area.

We arrived in Crosby, a town of about 2,400 people, as a 4th of July parade was travelling through.  The main street was blocked off and we threaded through side streets until returning to HWY 6 and coming upon the recreation area.  The area was full of bicyclists there to enjoy the bike trails.  We were pleased to find a park by the parking lot, which was full of old mining equipment and plaques about the area’s mining history.  The Cayuna Range was named after a surveyor named Cuyler Adams and his dog, Una.  He is credited with finding iron ore and mining in the area began in 1911.  The ore deposits are located deep underground, so most of the mines were underground mines or deep pits.  The plaques mentioned information about Cuyler Adams as well as the mining operations over the years.  We meandered the grounds reading the information and taking photos by the equipment and memorabilia.  My favorite was a rusted “Work Safe” sign.

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As we explored, we stumbled upon a museum!  We assumed that the white building was empty, but it was actually full of more information and mining artifacts.  Interestingly enough, it was also staffed by a lonely local guide who didn’t seem to get many visitors.  Assumedly, most visitors come for the biking trails rather than mining history.  Mr. Stokey, the museum guide, informed us about the  Milford Mine Disaster.  According to Stokey, unlike the Tower-Soudan mine, the mine shafts on the Cayuna range were largely vertical rather than slanted.  These vertical shafts tunneled deeply through glacial till to reach the rich iron deposits. However, they were soggy, drippy tunnels with poor ventilation and a need for constant water pumping.  One such mining site was the Milford Mine, which began operation in 1917.  The drifts of the mine (tunnels where extraction of iron occurred) extended towards Foley Lake.  On Feb. 5, 1924, near the changing of the shift, the lake burst through the drift flooding the mine and killing 41 miners.  According to Stokey, it took almost nine months to recover the bodies and to this day there are oral histories of ghost/horror stories about the mine.  As an atheist, I am not prone to such superstitions, but it was interesting to hear his stories about the haunted mine.  I was more haunted by the horror of a watery death and the desperate escape from a flooding mine.  Seven miners managed to climb out of the mine…which of course…was not shut down and eventually re-opened so more profits could be rent from the earth.

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Beyond the museum, there is the Croft Mine Park and a network of biking and hiking trails.  The trails wind around various mining lakes.  One of these lakes is the Portsmouth Mine Pit Lake.  Upon seeing it, I was certain it was a natural lake…since it seemed much too large to be a mine pit.  However, after conferring with the map, I learned that it was indeed a pythonic mine pit.  It is in fact, the deepest lake in Minnesota (entirely within Minnesota) at a depth of 450 feet.  We also learned that before the pit filled with water it was a site for upper atmosphere flights during the space race.

Stokey was very knowledgeable and kindly told us where we could find the old communist hall as well as the actual site of the mining disaster.  This is where we headed to next.  Of course, mining resumed after the disaster and resulted in a large crater that is now filled with water.  So, the actual site of the disaster cannot be visited as it is in the middle of a lake that is located a few miles up the road from the park off of CTY RD 33 and Milford Mine Rd.  However, we were able to view the site from the shoreline.

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Following a somber visit to the mine disaster site, we headed off to find the communist hall.  It was a boarded up building next to a Holiday Station.  We didn’t spend too much time uncovering the communist history of the area, though as mentioned earlier, Crosby was where the first communist mayor was elected.   More information about him can be read at: http://collections.mnhs.org/mnhistorymagazine/articles/58/v58i03p168-186.pdf, but to summarize a little about his history, essentially he was originally from Iron Belt, WI and the son of Swedish Finnish immigrants.  His father was a miner who moved to Crosby for work.  There were many radicalizing influences around him, such as strikes, IWW activity, and the arrest of Finns who did not register for the WWI draft.  He attended college briefly at UMD, where he was a starving student and met Marxists (among them sociology students!).  He ran for mayor twice, but lost, then finally won in 1932 on his third try after his demands regarding unemployment, poverty aid, and a city audit.  He served as mayor for one year and that was his only elected position.   We did not search for his grave and indeed, he is likely buried elsewhere as he went on to spend most of his life Becker County.  As for the radical history, it was mostly invisible.  In fact, we saw a confederate flag hanging from a window on the main street.  Times change.  Mine pits look as natural as lakes and are stocked with trout.  Still, it was a fascinating adventure and a great way to inject worker history into a revolutionary holiday!

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