2017: Year in Review
It is hard to believe that another year has ended. When I stop to think about it, this felt like a marathon of a year. I feel tired. I would say that it was generally a good year. At the same time, I have the creeping sense that something in 2018 will go amiss. I suppose it is simply the regression to the means. I have had several good years, but nothing exceptionally good (or exceptionally bad) lasts forever. So, while I have an ominous feeling about the future, I will take a moment to reflect upon the past! And, I can only hope that 2018 continues the stretch of happy years.
154 Political Events:
I think that this year will mostly be remembered for the flurry of political events that I attended this year. In the end, I attended 154 political events this year, including meetings, marches, protests, vigils, etc. I basically did something related to activism every 2.37 days this year. In 2016, I attended just under 90 political events. Suffice to say, the presidency of Donald Trump has been the catalyst of a great deal of organizing, such as the Women’s March, March for Science, and Climate March, Immigrant Solidarity Marches, etc. But, there have been plenty of local issues that have warranted attention as well, such the program cuts at UWS, Homeless Bill of Rights, Graham Garfield domestic violence case. The largest expansion of social movement organizing was in the area of feminism this year. Unfortunately, there is next to nothing in terms of anti-war activism. I suppose war is just normal at this point, seeing as we have been in Afghanistan for 16 years. I appeared on the news several times for organizing/participating in various events. I was even interviewed by a British socialist newspaper. I spoke out at a county board meeting and also did a radio interview about domestic violence. So, I think that it was a big year of activism and I was in the spotlight far more than what is normal for me and this challenged me to be less quiet and introverted. Looking back, I can be proud of this and I am sure in the years to come I will remember this as a time of dutiful activism. For now, I am a little worn out and disappointed. There are massive, startling, systemic problems. Activists are rising up to challenge some of these- but so much more is needed. Most importantly, we need a political program capable of energizing and emboldening social movements beyond the status quo of our dual capitalist political parties.
A sign I made for the Climate March- one of the 154 events that I attended last year….
Central Asia Trip:
A major highlight of the year was that I spent most of June in Central Asia. It was an extremely fascinating part of the world. I saw astonishing things, like the Gas Crater in Turkmenistan, Ashgabat-Turkmenistan’s white marble capital, the remnants of the Aral Sea, Kiva, Samarkand, Bukhara, and Tashkent. Honestly, this was one of my favorite trips in my lifetime, simply because of all of the surreal and strange things that I saw. The world is always different and new, with many things to see and learn, but this part of the world is not heavily visited by tourists. It felt unique and much more remote than other places I have been. The trip also challenged me since it involved some bush camping and dry, hot conditions.
Camping in the basin of the Aral Sea
I saw over 200 species of birds this past year. I was very engaged in birding throughout the year. Highlights of my birding include attending an International Migratory Bird Day bird count at Wild River State Park, attending Hawk Weekend at Hawk’s Ridge, birding at the Sax Zim Bog for the first time, various return trips to both Hawk’s Ridge and Sax Zim Bog, birding at Rice Lake Wildlife Refuge, and casually birding in the Caribbean and Central Asia. I am impressed with the number and variety of birds that I have seen this year and that my birding skills are slowly growing. There are a number of species that stand out, but I was most impressed with seeing a Northern Hawk Owl and Great Gray Owl at the Sax Zim Bog as well as a pair of Spectacled Owls in Costa Rica. Interestingly, my very first bird of the year for 2018 was a Snowy Owl and the last for 2017 was also a Snowy Owl. I guess it is a good year for owls! Otherwise, Rosy Starlings, Red-billed streamertail hummingbirds, Yellow-crowned night heron, and Pied-Billed Grebes (since they are cute) are some of my other highlights for the year.
In December, I applied for and began a new part time job. I already work full time at domestic violence shelter, but on a whim I decided to apply for an additional part time job as a Patient Educator in the field of reproductive health. I will say that it is pretty exhausting working two jobs. But, back in my late 20s I worked four jobs, so…I know I can handle this. Really, I am pretty excited about this new position. I often feel that I am stagnating or that I don’t do enough- so this is a great opportunity gain new knowledge and skills. It is also a new way for me to learn more about reproductive health and an expansion of my feminist activism. I enjoy learning new things and this really is a wonderful opportunity. The job itself is unique. I do not have any experience working in the health field, but I have enjoyed challenging myself to pick up new information. Plus, I get to wear scrubs. I have some awesome sloth scrubs…as well as Ninja turtle and dinosaur scrubs. You know, because wearing fun scrubs is also important….
This is a pretty minor detail, but I got a new tattoo this year. I decided that when I hit my 200th bird, I would get a new bird tattoo. I chose a raven. I really love the tattoo. Now, I am just one bird away from my 300 th bird. What will I choose for my next tattoo? Perhaps a snowy owl?
For many years I have kept my hair black. This year, I decided to mix it up and dye my hair blue. Thus, I have had blue and black hair all year. This is another minor detail, but I have enjoyed the new color. It has inspired me to wear more blue (rather than my typical red and black). The only downside is that dying my hair black was far easier and took far less upkeep. Nevertheless, I am getting the hang of it.
Try Two New Activities:
Every year, I try to attempt at least two new activities. This year, I tried geocaching and snorkeling for the first time. As far as geocaching goes, I think it is a fun distraction and something easy to do when I am hiking. I began geocaching in March and by December I had already found 100 caches. As for snorkeling, I am not a water person. I don’t like swimming. I don’t like being wet. I am not a strong swimmer. I get sea sick. Water and me are not friends. But, I don’t want to live my life entirely in fear (even if I am not always ready to dive right into water sports). So, I went snorkeling for the first time. It was sort of neat. I was surprised by how many fish I could see from the surface of the water. I was also astonished by how salty salt water actually tastes (when I accidentally dipped my head a little too low for a closer look at a fish). I would go again. I am not in love with the water, but it interested me enough to give it another go. I saw some sort of parrot fish, which was a pretty sight. My goal is to try snorkeling again when I (hopefully) visit Iceland in 2018 (as tourists can snorkel between the North American and Eurasian plates meet). As for diving…hmm…well, baby steps.
Four New State Parks:
In recent years, I have tried to visit a new Minnesota state park each year. This year, I visited four new state parks. I visited St. Croix State Park, Wild River State Park, Savannah Portage State Park, and Mille Lacs State Park. At least two of them I visited when I was a teenager, but since that was so long ago, I will count them as “new.” They are new to my adult life anyway. I also visited Copper Falls State Park in Wisconsin as well, bringing the actual total to five. With the exception of Copper Falls, I visited all of these state parks by myself. These solo adventures were a peaceful escape from work and activism. I enjoyed Savannah Portage State Park the most, since I liked hiking around the lake, hiking the continental divide trail, and walking along the bog walk.
Solo Camping Trips:
I went on several solo camping trips to the previously mentioned State Parks. The first adventure brought me to Wild River State Park, where I hiked and birded for International Migratory Bird Day. I later went on a trip to Mille Lacs State Park. It rained during this camping trip, which I undertook shortly after my trip to Central Asia. Oh, it was also plagued with flies. I also went camping at Tettegouche State Park- where I went on a wildflower guided hike and hiked the second tallest peak in Minnesota (not that impressive, I know.) Finally, I went camping at Savannah Portage State Park, where it also rained, but I still had a lovely time hiking and enjoying the autumn leaves. My solo camping trips gave me a small dose of adventure and independence, offering escape and peace of mind.
Bog Awareness Week:
I celebrated the heck out of Bog Awareness Week. I did more for Bog Awareness Week than for…Christmas. But, bogs are cool. I went to Savannah Portage State Park’s bog walk, I participated in Sax-Zim Bog’s Bioblitz, and I convinced my friends to head to Cable, WI with me to check out a bog there. I bogged myself down with bogs. A highlight of bog week was realizing that Pitcher Plants produce flowers. I had never noticed this before.
A pitcher plant at Savannah Portage State Park
Color Run and Pride 5K:
This year I tried the Color Run for the first time. I love it, since it is not timed. Although it is crowded with enthusiastic runners and walkers and the que to begin is pretty long, it was a fun time. Various parts of the run are marked by groups of people who douse the participants with colors. There are also foam bubbles, unicorn mascots, group dancing, and medals for everyone. I loved it. I also ran the Pride 5k. The race was rather hot. It was timed. But, I did it! Even if I did it terribly, I ran it and hopefully next year I will do better!
At the start of the Color Run!
Go to the Ballet and Continue Ballet Lessons:
Speaking of things that I am terrible at…I continued ballet lessons this fall. Continuing ballet lessons was one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2017. Another resolution was going to the ballet. Well, I went and saw Stravisnky’s Firebird. It was super. I enjoy Russian folktales and liked how Koschei the deathless was portrayed.
Last year, I began writing poetry. My goal was to write two poems, but I ended up writing at least two dozen poems. It is a neat experience, since I never really cared for poetry when I was younger. I often objected to it because it was too flowery and emotional. A lot of poetry takes itself too seriously. I try to look at it differently now. To me, poetry is just a short story. A story about a moment, an emotion, a passing idea. It expresses what narrative does with frugal words but ample meaning.
To many of my friends, 33 books is a light reading list for the year. However, 30% of Americans do not read a single book in a year. The average number of books read in a year is 12. This average is skewed by some super readers, as the median number of books read each year is 4. All of the books that I read this year were non-fiction, which is something that I hope to change in 2018. The BEST books from this list include The KKK in Minnesota by Elizabeth Dorsey Hatle, Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime that Changed America by Mamie Till, An Environmental History of Russia by various authors, and Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation by Silvia Federici. I read four books about witches, eight books about Central Asia in preparation for my trip there, four books about the Caribbean, including two about Puerto Rico, two few books about mycology, two books about birding, and several books on a variety of topics. I will say that I came out of 2017 with greater knowledge of birds, mushrooms, Central Asia, the Caribbean, and witches. I would love to read 50 books in a year, but with my work schedule, other hobbies, and activism schedule, it would be difficult.
Some graffiti on a bridge in Superior
Create Four Works of Art:
Another resolution for 2017 was to create at least four works of art. I did this by dabbling with watercolor (the results weren’t awesome, but it was a start!). I also painted four bird houses for the Solidarity House. Beyond that, I framed some photos that I have taken. I will say that I am not especially great at watercoloring or photography, but it is worthwhile to shamelessly create. Through practice, I would like to improve my skills in these areas.
This watercolor painting is still wet! It depicts a magpie, mulberry tree, and fountain in Ashgabat.
One of my goals was to continue studying Russian, or at the very least brush up on it from time to time. Generally, I am not at all disciplined at studying languages. There were a few times throughout the year wherein I tried to teach myself some new words or review some old ones. Traveling through Central Asia helped me to brush off the cobwebs in my brain and try to remember how to speak some Russian. I was able to communicate a few times, so knowing some Russian was certainly pretty helpful. An elusive goal is to attend the Friday night Russian table at Sir Ben’s. Alas, I lack the confidence to go! I feel so foolish and incompetent when I try to string together what I remember. Still…I sort of worked on this goal, at least by using Russian on my trip.
Attend Yoga Classes:
Attending yoga classes was on my resolution list for the year. I squeezed in some yoga at the very end of the year.
Go Snowshoeing and Cross Country Skiing:
I did not go cross country skiing a single time in 2017. As for snowshoeing, I only went twice. But, the two times that I went snowshoeing were pretty awesome! Back in February, I went for a full moon snowshoe hike organized by UWS. I did not go again until Christmas Eve Day, when I went snowshoeing along a trail at the Sax Zim Bog. Each year, I try to make a point of doing both of these activities so that I can better embrace winter.
Snowshoeing over some icy, sand covered mounds at WI Point.
A major event of the year was purchasing a car in March. My car is a Volvo V70 and I love it! It is the first time that I have purchased a car/financed a car loan all on my own. I like my car. I like having reliable transportation and my car took me on many adventures this year- such as the camping and birding trips. I will say that the car is not great in the winter and since it is very low-set the passenger door bumps against the curb. However, I am generally very happy with the car. It has a moon roof and heated seats- which seem pretty luxurious compared to other vehicles that I have owned.
Not my actual car- but similar model, year, and color.
50 Blog Posts:
I actually wrote 77 blog posts in 2017 and had between 350 and 1000 viewers each month. My goal was to write 50. The numbers don’t matter all that much. However, I do like sharing my writing and opening up myself to others in this way. I have had quite a bit of feedback that people enjoy reading my blog or at least find some of the posts interesting.
In November, I went on a cruise to the Panama canal, which also visited Jamaica, Aruba, Curacao, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Colombia. I really wanted a vacation that felt like a vacation- where I could de-stress from the 150 political events I had attended/everyday stress of working with survivors/victims of domestic violence. In other words, I wanted a super easy trip. To that end, I went on a two week cruise. It was really wonderful to relax and feel a true sense of easy escapism- even if cruises are consumerist monstrosities. I saw many birds, especially in Aruba, which was an added bonus for the trip. I have a lot of happy memories from the trip. Once the trip was over, I spent a half a week visiting my brother in Texas. We once again hiked at Government Canyon and visited the Botanical Gardens. These are two of my favorite places to visit in San Antonio. My brother will be moving to Minnesota in May, so this will probably be my last opportunity to visit him in Texas!
Two spectacled owls in a public park in Costa Rica
Another highlight of the year, which also relates to my political events, was being more active in my union. I have been a union steward since November 2016 and this year, went through contract negotiations in October. I will say honestly that contract negotiations was extremely stressful. I worked night shifts, then would have to spend the morning to early afternoon in negotiations. It was hard to fall asleep after negotiations, then return to work for another night shift. Negotiations themselves were tense. The whole thing felt very intense. I was not overly fond of being on the negotiations team, but it is an honor to have the privilege of fighting for the interests of my fellow workers. I feel that the negotiations went well and the contract was better because of our hard work.
I often do not highlight this, but my year would not have been as great without my loved ones. Yeah, I am not the gushy sort. I am fortunate to have had some good times with Adam and Lucas. We went to Copper Falls together as well as on an adventure to explore the bog near Cable, WI. Of course, they also attend many political events with me. Adam probably went to 200 political events last year- but unlike me, he does not keep a tally. Another great friend is Jenny, who is my collaborator in feminist and bisexual activism. She pushes me to show my emotional side-but being a rebel- I usually stubbornly resist this. Dan is patient and supportive- sometimes even partaking in my adventures with some coaxing. Lonnie always offers a fun time when I visit him in Texas. I enjoy our long hikes together and that he humors my interest in birds and plants. I have wonderful coworkers, some of whom I have attended fitness classes with, invited to trivia, and invited to political events. They tolerate my eccentricities and listen to my newest ideas. This year, I went to the State Fair with my mother. I was crabby the whole time- as I was deprived of sleep. But, she did not let my bad mood get in the way of a good time at the fair. There are many others, like Chris, Angie, Amber, Carl, Jared, my grandma, Tiffany, Alexa, and many more. I can be a real weirdo and anti-social turd. I am fortunate to have people to enrich my life.