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Archive for the tag “H. Bradford”

Fighting the Plagues of Locusts and COVID-19

locusts

a version of this article can be found at: https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/04/17/fighting-the-plagues-of-locusts-and-covid-19/

Fighting the Plagues of Locusts and COVID-19

H. Bradford

Written 4/17/20

Posted 4/20/20


In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, parts of Africa, South East Asia, and the Middle East are facing another plague. A dangerous outbreak of locusts has ravaged multiple countries since last year, laying waste to crops and threatening millions of people with food insecurity. The current wave of locusts is the second this year and scientists predict it will not be the last. Currently, the hardest hit area is East Africa, where in February eight countries faced an initial swarm and now are hit by a second wave of the voracious insects. It is the largest locust infestation in the region in seventy years. This pestilence arose from the perfect storm of climate change, war, austerity, and imperialism.


The insect behind this scourge is Schistocerca gregaria or the desert locust. Desert locusts are a species of grasshopper found in North Africa, the Middle East, and Indian subcontinent. Owing to accounts in the Bible, Koran, and Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, they are the most famous species of locust, though various species are distributed around the world, such as the Australian plague locust, Migratory locust, South American locust, and High plains locust. Like other grasshoppers, locusts are often solitary, but under the right conditions they become gregarious. In their gregarious phase, they band together in large, devastating swarms which have plagued humanity for thousands of years.


Typically, swarming occurs when food becomes abundant due to wet conditions, resulting in a population boom. The perfect conditions for an outbreak of locusts began in 2018 when Cyclone Mekunu struck an area of the Arabian peninsula called the Empty Quarter or Rub’ al Khali, a sand desert which includes portions of Oman, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. Normally, this area of desert would dry out, controlling locust populations. However, according to a February article in National Public Radio the Empty Quarter was struck by a second cyclone in late 2018 and another in December 2019. “PBS NewsHour” noted that there were a total eight cyclones in 2019, an enormous deviation from the annual occurrence of one or zero. Prior to a year of flooding and heavy rains, there was three years of drought. Beyond the unusually wet conditions of the Empty Quarter, Space.com reported that the Horn of Africa received four times more rain than usual between October and December, in the wettest short wet season in 40 years. These conditions also fostered locust breeding once the insects moved into the region.


The rare and climate crisis driven bombardment of cyclones to an otherwise arid area increased vegetation and resulted in an explosion of the locust population. The Guardian reported that the second cyclone alone resulted in an 8000 fold increase in the locust population. Locusts reproduce with unstoppable speed as a single female can lay 300 eggs, which hatch in as little as two weeks and take only two additional weeks for larvae to mature and begin reproducing. Once mature, locusts can travel up to 90 miles a day. Their population grows exponentially, increasing 400 times every six months.


The locusts spread from Yemen, hitting Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia the hardest. National Public Radio reported that the locusts crossed the Gulf of Aden last year, arriving first in Somalia and Ethiopia.They were later spotted in Kenya in December 2019, some forming a swarm of over 192 billion insects in a mass three times the size of New York City. The United Nations has cautioned that a swarm the size of ⅓ of a square mile can eat as much food as 35,000 people in one day. The Guardian warned that East Africa is currently being hit the hardest, though owing to climate change and war, Yemen has also been hit hard. According to “PBS NewsHour” the latest wave of insects is 20 times larger than the February swarm, owing to heavy rains in March. It is currently planting season in East Africa and another wave of locusts is expected to hit during June, which is harvest time. Already, 33 million people in the region endure food insecurity.


The impacts of the infestation are already catastrophic. Al Jazeera reported that a half million acres of farm land in Ethiopia has been ravaged and 8.5 million Ethiopians experience acute food insecurity. As of early April, over 74,000 acres of crops were destroyed, including coffee and tea which make up 30% of Ethiopia’s exports.  In a Los Angeles Times report, Somalia had already lost 100% of  staple crops such as corn and sorghum loss by January. In Kenya, 30% of pastureland has been lost and as of mid-March, the pests had destroyed 2000 tons of food in the country. Over 173,000 acres of cropland in Kenya has been decimated, including corn, bean,and cow pea crops. Agriculture accounts for 25% of Kenya’s economy. Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Tanzania, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda are among the African countries currently under attack by locust swarms. As of late March, swarms were forming elsewhere in Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.140,000 acres of crops have been destroyed in Pakistan. The swarms are expected to hit Pakistan’s cotton industry hard, as the textile industry is the country’s largest employer and accounts for 60% of exports. In Pakistan, it is the worst locust outbreak since 1993.


Efforts to stop the spread of locusts have been hampered by COVID-19 and the social problems already facing these countries. Locusts are usually controlled with pesticides, which are either applied by aircraft that target adult locusts through aerial spraying or by ground crews which target eggs and young locusts that can not yet fly. Closed borders and a global slowdown of shipping has slowed the transportation of pesticides. Reuters reported that in Somalia, an order of pesticides expected in late March was delayed. Surveillance of locust swarms is conducted by helicopters, but lock downs have made helicopters harder to secure. In Kenya, helicopter pilots from South Africa have had to quarantine for fourteen days before they could begin work. On the economic side, 60% of Kenya’s GDP went to servicing debt before COVID-19 and locusts hit.The economic impact of both plagues makes this debt even more punishing than it was before. As of 2017, nineteen African countries were spending more than 60% of their GDP on debt.


Somaliland, a self declared republic in Somalia, has no resources to fight locusts. Keith Cressman of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN said that South Sudan and Uganda also lack programs for outbreaks. In South Sudan, 200,000 people live in UN camps, already in close conditions and at risk of food insecurity and COVID-19. Cressman noted that social distancing makes it hard to train new people to tackle the problem as this involves gathering people together in classrooms. Despite lockdowns and curfews, workers tackling the locust outbreak have been given exemptions for travel. Thus far, nearly 600,000 acres of land have been treated with pesticides and 740 people have been trained to do ground locust control. The FAO has obtained $111.1 million of $153.2 million it requested to fight the swarms. Because most of the world is focused on fighting COVID-19, additional aid to combat the locusts has been hard to come by.


Pesticides are an imperfect solution to the problem. When the pesticides are applied, villages must be warned to move livestock. According to a Kenyan news source, Daily Nation, one of the pesticides that the FAO recommends is Diazinon, which the U.S. banned from residential use in 2004. The pesticide works by affecting the nervous system of insects. However, human exposure can result in symptoms such as watery eyes, stomach pain, vomiting, coughing, and runny nose. Longer exposure can cause seizures, rapid heart rate, and coma. The Pesticide Action Network (Panna) warned that it can be harmful to children and can cause birth defects. A Pakistani news source named lambda cyhalothrin, chlorpyrifos, and bifenthrin as pesticides against locusts and cited worries that the chemicals could impact drinking water, cause respiratory problems, and irritate skin. Ground crews responsible for spraying the pesticides may be at risk. In the face of the COVID-19 outbreak and strained supplies of PPE, workers may not have necessary protections.


According to Science, the FAO has also used biopesticides in the form of fungus in Somalia. An article in the Zimbabwe news source, The Herald expressed concern over both pesticides and biopesticides, which mainly rely on spores from Metarhizium sp. The spores may not be as effective because they work best in moderate temperatures and high humidity, conditions that are not common in the areas most impacted by the locusts. The spores take fourteen days to take effect and are mainly used against young locusts. While it is unknown if this is the current practice, the French research program LUBILOSA, which developed the fungus, suggested that the spores should be dissolved in paraffin or diesel, both of which are carcinogens. Pesticides and biopesticides also risk harming other insects. Linseed oil and neem may have some potential as safer, natural insecticides. Likewise, The Locust Lab of Arizona State University has found that locusts prefer carbohydrate rich foods and lower carb crops may deter locusts. For instance, locusts do not care for millet. In the face of such the immediate, cataclysmic attack of locusts and the risk of famine, research into less harmful alternatives is something for future exploration.


A socialist solution to tackle locust outbreaks should begin with prevention. Unusually wet conditions and the bizarre frequency of cyclones last year was a catalyst for the current crisis. To stop the climate crisis, capitalism must end. Anything short of this will only result in more frequent and severe natural disasters and less predictable weather patterns. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that Africa will experience a 20% increase in cyclones, coupled with 20% decrease in precipitation. These conditions will make future locust swarms more likely. Droughts, mudslides, floods, and infectious diseases are all predicted to increase with climate change. Agriculture that relies on water could drop 50% in some countries and wheat production could disappear by 2080. Climate change will only make the continent more food insecure at the cost of countless lives.


Another immediate concern to socialists should be organizing against imperialist wars. The locusts spread from Yemen, which could have played a crucial role in halting their migration towards Africa. Yemen was in no position to tackle this problem because it has been beleaguered by a brutal war lasting over five years between the U.S. supported Saudi-led coalition and Houthi fighters. The country has suffered through outbreaks of cholera, diphtheria, measles, dengue fever and now COVID-19. According to Human Rights Watch, there have been two million cases of cholera since 2016. Last fall, when the locust population exploded, ten million people in Yemen needed food aid and were already at risk of starvation. When the swarms appeared, people in Yemen actually began to collect them in bags, sell them, and eat them. Locusts are eaten by people outside of starvation conditions, but after experiencing the worst famine in the world in 100 years, they were a welcome bounty to some.


The war has cost at least 90,000 fatalities and the U.S. is complicit in the destruction. The U.S. has provided weapons and logistical support to Saudi Arabia and its allies which have conducted over 20,000 airstrikes, of which ⅓ were against military targets. Hospitals, ports, mosques, and schools are among the civilian targets. Prior to the war, the Ministry of Agriculture was usually able to control outbreaks of locusts. Presently, control of locusts is divided by government and Houthi forces. Both lack the resources to adequately address the problem. Locust infestations must be caught early and perhaps with better infrastructure or the plethora of other social problems faced in Yemen, it might have been addressed more effectively. Several of the countries now facing the desolation of locusts have similarly been destabilized by wars. This hampers their ability to organize a response.


All of the countries impacted have been saddled with debt and stunted by their economic dependency to wealthier nations. The plague hits the economies of these nations particularly hard because of their high debt and dependence on agricultural exports such as coffee, tea, and cotton. The reason these countries lack the medical infrastructure to combat COVID-19 and means to fight locust swarms is a direct result of colonization and the subsequent export economies, austerity, and debt that maintain dependency. Africa will always be a continent of crisis as long as hefty profits can be extracted from it. In this moment, all international debt should be forgiven and aid given unconditionally to prevent the threat of starvation. But, development of impoverished countries cannot happen within the framework of capitalism. The wealth that has been taken from Africa should be reinvested with a commitment to build infrastructure and capital based upon relationships of solidarity over dependency.


Locusts are often imagined as an act of God, but they exist in a material reality like everything else. The reality is that the climate conditions of the planet are increasingly unstable. One hundred year floods, one hundred year storms, and even, one hundred year locust hatchings are becoming frighteningly normal. The ability to mobilize resources to alleviate hunger and fight these pests is obstructed by war, economic dependency, and a global pandemic which already demands what few resources might be marshaled. In a brighter, socialist future, this insect that has tormented humans for thousands of years might again be minimized to a solitary grasshopper, controlled by sustainable and diverse agricultural practices, early detection, and stable climate conditions. In the case of a swarm, food would be abundant enough to be shared, rather than left to rot in the anarchistic, false abundance of capitalism.

Chernobyl Fires Threaten to Unleash Radiation

a version of this article can be found at: https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/04/13/chernobyl-fires-threaten-to-unleash-radiation/

(It should be noted that yesterday the fires drew dangerously close to Pripyat and that conditions can change rapidly. )

Chernobyl Fires Threaten to Unleash Radiation

 

Chernobyl Fires Threaten to Unleash Radiation

Written 4/12/20

Posted 4/14/20

H. Bradford


April 26 marks the 34th anniversary of Chernobyl, the worst nuclear disaster in history. By some estimates, the ruins of the Chernobyl reactor will remain highly radioactive for 20,000 years. Decades after the catastrophe, the dangers of radiation persist as forest fires rampage across the exclusion zone. The recent forest fires are only the latest in recent years to threaten the region with radioactive ash and smoke. This problem is compounded by the dual impacts of climate change and capitalist profit motives.

 

The Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster occurred in the early morning of April 26th, 1986 when a safety check to test if the Uranium 235 fueled reactors could remain cool during a power outage went catastrophically wrong. At the time, there were four graphite-moderated nuclear reactors at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, with two more under construction. The reactors were situated two miles from Pripyat, a Soviet city of 50,000 people. Pripyat was constructed in 1970 with amenities such as quality schools, a supermarket, and sports stadium. The reactors were nine miles away from Chernobyl, a city of 12,000. In all, there were over 115,000 people living within an 18.6 mile radius of the power plant and five million people living in contaminated areas of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. During the fateful test, Reactor Four experienced a meltdown resulting in two explosions that unleashed 400 times the radiation of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The accident shrouded 77,000 square miles of Europe and Eurasia in radiation.

 

It took ten days for emergency workers to extinguish the graphite fueled fire, resulting in the deaths of 28 workers from acute radiation syndrome in the months immediately after the accident. Over 200,000 people were mobilized to clean up the disaster, exposing these liquidation workers to high levels of radiation. In all, 600,000 people in Soviet Union were subsequently exposed to high levels of radiation, including radioactive isotopes such as Iodine-131, Plutonium-239, Strontium-90, Cesium-134, and Cesium-137, which were unleashed during the explosion. As a result, there have been 20,000 thyroid cancer cases between 1991 and 2015 in people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the accident. 115,000 people were evacuated in 1986 and another 220,000 people were later evacuated and resettled. A 30 kilometer (approximately 18.6 miles) exclusion zone was established around the reactor. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, trees near the reactor died off, becoming what was called a “Red Forest” to denote the russet tone of dead pine. In the decades since, the exclusion zone has become a refuge for returned wildlife and a collection of desolate ghost towns slowly vanishing into the overgrown forest.

 

The cautionary tale of Chernobyl does not end with the return of nature or the story of countless generations tasked with stewardship over the sarcophagus encased Reactor Four. Recent wildfires threaten to release Chernobyl’s radiation. According to NASA Earth Observatory, wildfires in the exclusion zone began in early April and firefighters have been working to put out the blaze since April 4th. The impacted areas include Denysovets, Kotovsky, and Korogodsky forests. On April 8th, the fires blew towards Kiev, which is located about sixty miles to the south. On April 9th, people were evacuated from the village of Poliske. Poliske is a sparsely inhabited village located within the exclusion zone. A few hundred people, mostly elderly women in their 70s or 80s, reside illegally within the exclusion zone. According to BBC News, conflict in the Donbass region has sent some families to seek safety in the area just outside of the exclusion zone, where the housing is the cheapest in Ukraine. The New York Times stated that as of Saturday April 11th, 400 firefighters had been deployed to the area and 8,600 acres had burned the previous week. The article further mentioned that the blaze has increased radiation levels in Russia and Belarus. Live Science reported that the fire is near the abandoned village of Vladimirovka. According to Ukraine’s Ecological Inspection Service, radiation readings near the blaze are 2.3 microsievert per hour. Typically, the exclusion zone’s ambient radiation is .14 microsievert per hour and .5 microsievert per hour is the threshold considered safe for humans. This calls into question the safety of firefighters working to extinguish the blaze as well as the people living in the region.

 

At the moment, fires are not located near the entombed reactor. However, Uranium-238, Cesium-137 and other radionuclides jettisoned from Reactor Four and have since been absorbed by vegetation and dirt. Fires can unleash these from the environment and ash condenses the radionuclides sequestered within vegetation. NASA Earth Observatory stated that smoke plumes can carry radiation long distances and that the severity of wildfires has only increased over the years. According to a study published in Ecological Monographs by Timothy Mousseau of University of South Carolina, wildfires that broke out in 2002, 2008, 2010 redistributed 8% of Cesium-137 released by the original Chernobyl disaster. Wildfires in 2015 came a mere 12 to 15 miles from Chernobyl’s reactors.

 

The most recent wildfire has been attributed to local farming practices, wherein fields are burned in spring and fall. While this may contribute to fires, climate change is certainly the main culprit. A report released by the Atlantic Council in January 2020 noted that the 2019-2020 winter in Ukraine was mild with little snowfall. According to the report, 2019 was the warmest year on record for Kiev and the yearly average temperature in Ukraine was 2.9 degrees celsius higher than average. In 2019, 36 temperature records were broken. Last year, there was 25% less precipitation than average. Droughts have nearly doubled over the last 20 years in Ukraine. In 2015, an article in the New York Times anticipated increased wildfires in the exclusion zone due to drier conditions. Likewise, in 2015 New Scientist reported that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted more fires near Chernobyl in the future.

 

Climate change driven droughts are one of the catalysts for the fires, but radiation itself contributes to the problem. Radiation slows the decay of leaf litter and inhibits growth of microorganisms, which creates more fuel for fires. In the absence of people, forests have expanded, which also generates more combustible material. The danger is amplified by the fact that local firefighters have seven times fewer crews and equipment than elsewhere in Ukraine. The IPCC predicted a similar outcome for Fukushima, which also has significant forests. They also posited that there is no threshold of radiation with zero effect. Climate change driven droughts, expanded forests, slow decay, few local resources, and strained water resources to fight fires create a recipe for disaster.

 

Behind the climate crisis is capitalism itself. All manner of environmental problems can be traced back to the profit motive in capitalism. The drive for lower wages, unsafe working conditions, fewer environmental regulations, the endless creation of waste, the lack of storage for the waste created, the generation of pollution itself, the shuttling of hazardous production and wastes to the third world and oppressed communities, the anarchy of too much production, and the insatiable need for growth are all connected to endless drive for profits. Therefore, sustainability and safety are anathema to capitalism. In the context of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, logging trees within the exclusion zone garners tens of millions of dollars in profits. Since 2004, limited amounts of timber can be cut from the exclusion zone as long as it is scanned for radiation. 90% of this timber is used for furniture. According to a January 2020 article in Al Jazeera, fires within the exclusion zone are started purposefully to justify the sale of timber. In a report released after the 2015 wildfires, Mykola Tomenko, head of parliamentary environmental commission stated that fires can conceal illegal logging. Two thirds of illegal profits derived from the exclusion zone are from timber. In 2007, state inspectors also found radiation contaminated charcoal sold in Ukrainian supermarkets. While the more recent fires have not been connected to the timber industry, the search for profits brings capitalists to the radioactive wilds of the exclusion zone to extract resources no matter the impact on consumers or the threat of unleashed radiation.

 

The Chernobyl Nuclear Accident is a horror story in the closing chapter of the Soviet Union. It is a tale that will last for thousands of years, written in elements with the potential to outlive humanity itself. If there is a moral of the story, it is that nuclear power is dangerous. Despite the threats, there is little motive within capitalism to mitigate the dangers. The only motive, as always, is the profit motive. Fires will certainly revisit Chernobyl and potentially visit Fukushima, once again spreading radiation. Beyond Chernobyl, wildfires have threatened the Hanford Site, a former nuclear production facility in Washington several times. In 2000, the Department of Energy declared an emergency when fires neared a building where nuclear waste was stored. In 2017, a wildfire burned part of the Hanford Site,though no buildings were threatened. Again, in 2019, wildfires burned more than 40,000 acres near the site. The Hanford Nuclear Waste Site is the largest nuclear waste dump in the U.S. and contains 56 million gallons of radioactive waste. The danger of aging nuclear reactors in the United States, the question of where nuclear waste is stored, the connection to terrifying weapons of war, and the catastrophic consequences when things go awry are just a few of the many reasons why nuclear energy must be nationalized and ultimately abolished.

Abortion and COVID-19

 

a version of this article can be found here: https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/04/06/politicians-use-covid-crisis-to-restrict-womens-abortion-rights/

Abortion and Covid-19

Abortion and COVID-19

H. Bradford

written 04/04/20

Posted 04/06/20

As the COVID-19 crisis deepens, so does the suffering of the oppressed. The oppression of women has worsened during the crisis as they are confined to their homes with their abusers. Within the home, women shoulder the burden of unpaid labor cooking, cleaning, and caring for children who are no longer in school or at day care. As waged workers, women are on the front line of the crisis, as according to CNN, 70% of healthcare and social service workers are women. As women face increased violence, as well as hazardous and exhausting work, reproductive rights are also under attack.      

 

Around the country, the COVID-19 has been used to legitimate restrictions on abortion access. The first states to ban abortion during the crisis were Texas and Ohio. Ohio Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Fulkerson announced that abortions were non-essential medical procedures which should be suspended for the duration of the pandemic. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott ordered a suspension of non-essential medical procedures, which included abortions. Both abortion bans, as well as those which followed, were opportunistically framed as measures to preserve scarce medical resources. Abortion providers which failed to comply with the Texas order were threatened with a $1000 fine or 180 days of jail time. According to the New York Times the ban included both medical and surgical abortions. As a result, Whole Women’s Health in Texas had to cancel 150 appointments on Monday, March 23rd at their three locations. Some patients had already completed ultrasounds before the order went into effect, but could not have an abortion because of Texas’ mandatory 24 hour waiting period. 


Texas patients were referred to Oklahoma for abortions, but on Friday, March 27th, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt announced that abortions were included in his executive order banning all elective surgeries and minor medical procedures. Also on March 27th, the office of Iowa Governor, Kim Reynolds, announced that abortion was among the states’ suspended elective medical procedures. Elsewhere in the U.S. and also on March 27th, Kentucky attorney General Daniel Cameron called upon governor Andy Beshear to restrict abortion. Cameron pressed the state’s Cabinet for Health and Human Services to certify that abortion providers within Kentucky were in violation of the emergency ban on elective medical procedures. EMW Women’s Surgical Center is the only abortion provider in the state. The clinic continued providing abortions last week, as the governor’s order to halt non-emergency medical procedures did not specifically include abortions. Kentucky’s general assembly is currently considering legislation to expand the powers of the attorney general over abortion laws. The legislature is still open and currently pursuing eight abortion restrictions. Alabama also banned abortions on March 27th under the guise of pandemic response. As in Texas, patients had to be notified that their appointments were canceled. Finally, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves threatened action against the single abortion provider in the state if they did not follow the health department directive to halt abortions as elective procedures. While the pandemic grinds much of society to a halt, there is no end to the assault on abortion rights.


In response to the restrictions, on Monday, March 30th, federal judges blocked Texas, Alabama, and Ohio enforcing abortion bans. Planned Parenthood and the ACLU filed emergency lawsuits against the orders, arguing that they were unconstitutional. Lawsuits have also been filed in Iowa and Oklahoma. Yet, just a day after U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yankel had granted a temporary restraining order on the Texas abortion ban, conservative judges in the US Court of Appeals ruled that the ban on abortion would be reinstated. Once again, patients were informed that they would be unable to obtain an abortion and referred to other states. As other states move to ban abortions as medically unnecessary, these measures will continue to be challenged in courts. Even if the bans are successfully forestalled by court orders, they create barriers for patients who face uncertainty, confusion, and canceled appointments. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement that abortion should be considered an essential service. The statement asserted that a person’s life, health, and well being can be profoundly impacted by inability to access abortion and because abortion is time sensitive, suspension of services means that it can become riskier or unavailable due to legal restrictions. In addition to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, on Monday March 31, Xavier Beccara, California’s attorney general, sent a letter signed by 21 attorney generals to the US Department of Health calling for expanded telemedicine during the COVID-19 crisis. The letter demanded that the abortion medication mifepristone could be dispensed at pharmacies rather than requiring that clinics give the medication directly to patients.


Even without the efforts of anti-choice politicians to exploit the pandemic to limit abortion, the COVID-19 pandemic presents obstacles to reproductive rights. Economists at the Federal Reserve estimate that the pandemic could result in a 32% unemployment rate. With millions of Americans already out of work, many people seeking abortions will be unable to afford the the procedure. Because employer based health insurances may not cover the cost of abortions and increased unemployment will result both in loss of health insurance and the financial means to afford an abortion, many people may be unable to afford the procedure. As of 2018, eleven states banned private insurance from covering abortions and twenty two states ban insurance coverage of abortions for public employees. Due to the Hyde Amendment, federal funds cannot be used to cover the cost of abortions in circumstances other than rape, incest, or life endangerment. Thus, only sixteen states provide coverage for abortion through state Medicaid programs. The cost of an abortion already poses an enormous barrier. Now, more than ever, the Hyde Amendment must be repealed.      


Abortion funds are one way that activists and advocates for choice have sought to overcome the financial bariers to obtaining an abortion. However, these funds are already feeling the financial strain of the economic crisis. Alabama’s Yellowhammer fund reported increased need for funds due to job loss. Yellowhammer has begun sending gift cards to patients to reduce barriers to food access and transportation. Fund Texas Choice, another abortion fund, reported that because of canceled appointments, some patients must travel further to find an abortion provider. With fewer flights, bus tickets, and available hotel rooms, patients who must travel to get an abortion face increased financial costs of travel and a lack of ability to travel. Northwest Abortion Access Fund relied upon volunteers to house and transport patients, but now must rely on hotels and ride share companies. These funds are adjusting to the conditions, but the safety measures will certainly increase the financial strain on the organizations. Because the funds rely on donors, who themselves may be financially pinched, donations will likely diminish as the economy crashes. Finally, many abortion funds rely on fundraising through social events, such as the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) annual Bowl-a-thon. The NNAF Bowl-a-Thon, or Fund-a-Thon, is a national fundraising effort which occurs each spring between February and April. Around seventy funds have participated in the Fund-a-Thon, but this year many have had to suspend their fundraising efforts due to social distancing measures and economic uncertainty.    


Aside from funding, travel restrictions make it harder for patients to access abortion. Many parts of the country are abortion deserts, or areas which are not served by abortion clinics. For instance, patients living in remote or rural areas of Montana, Texas, Wyoming, South Dakota, and North Dakota must travel over 300 miles to the nearest abortion clinic. Half of women living in Alaska are over 750 miles from the nearest clinic. Banning abortion as part of the response to COVID-19 will only increase these travel distances during a time when it is unsafe to travel due to potential viral exposure and the resources to travel are more limited. Already, patients in Texas must look to clinics in New Mexico and Colorado to get an abortion. In addition to the barrier of travel, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 27 states require patients to wait a specific period of time between counseling and their abortion procedure. This generally ranges from 24 to 72 hours. Waiting periods, which are medically unnecessary and often require in person counseling, increases the risk of COVID-19 exposure and prolongs travel time. 


Travel restrictions also impact abortion providers because many rely on traveling doctors. Doctors may provide services to multiple clinics. For instance, Whole Women’s Health, which provides abortions in Austin, McAllen, and Fort Worth relies upon traveling physicians. The McAllen clinic is the only abortion provider for hundreds of miles. Flattening the curve of COVID-19 requires social distancing and restrictions travel, which is why it is essential that laws restricting telemedicine, mandating in person counseling, and requiring waiting periods be suspended. This protects patients, clinic staff, and physicians while ensuring abortion access. Texas Governor Abbott loosened telemedicine restrictions on other health care, but this did not include abortion. Texas is one of the states that requires a physical visit to a clinic. Ohio’s senate passed a telemedicine ban on March 4th, which is awaiting a House vote. Abortion is an essential service and should be available by telemedicine. An accompanying demand is expanded access to medical abortions. In an article in the New York Times, Dr. Daniel Grossman, a gynecology professor from the University of California argued that the need for personal protective equipment could be reduced by providing medical abortions up to 11 weeks, ending the requirement that doctors must meet with patients physically, and if physicians could send abortion medications via the mail. Currently, 18 states require that doctors be physically present when abortion medication is taken. Expanding who can legally prescribe mifepristone would also ensure abortion access during the crisis.  


The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased reports of domestic violence as women are made to stay home due to state mandates, social distancing measures, unemployment, and the need to care for children who are no longer in school. Women are at increased risk of sexual and domestic violence during the crisis. Although the exact number of abortions due to domestic violence is unknown, an article in Re.Wire suggested a range between 6-22%. Denying reproductive autonomy is one way that abusers control victims. Domestic violence often escalates during a pregnancy and according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 20% of women have experienced violence during a pregnancy. It is barbaric to restrict abortion during a time when women are at greater risk of violence, isolation, and control. It is inhumane to restrict abortion any time, as abortion is an essential service that is necessary for the health, well being, autonomy, and equality of women. While patient safety, the safety of health workers, preserving medical supplies, and preventing the spread of COVID-19 are vital concerns, there are many ways to maintain and even expand abortion access during the crisis. Telemedicine, removing barriers to funding, expanding the means of dispensing mifepristone, overturning medically unnecessary restrictions such as waiting periods and in clinic visits, and expanding the social production of medical supplies are a few ways to improve access during the pandemic. Public safety should not be pitted against reproductive rights. There are ways to secure both. Arguments to the contrary exploit the crisis to deepen the oppression of women.   

Lemonade

Layside Denim Co.

Lemonade


H. Bradford

03.24/20


We’re always making lemons into lemonade

Boiling sun, burning alive, chugging gallons of it

Smiling with a belly of lemons and a stomach ache

One of these days, we’ll move somewhere warmer

Quit that job

Quit that life,

All that lemonade fills the holes inside.

Makes us question if we’re really so unhappy

Or if we forgot to count our citrus flavored blessings.

Lemonade is the Kool-Aid of cult of optimism,

The can-do elixir of capitalism,

If you can’t make it better,

Make the most of it!

And when we die used up, dry, and exhausted,

We can lay our heads on a bed of all those lemon rinds that got

us through the grind

Life Becomes Empty: Covid 19 On My Mind

Life Becomes Empty_ Covid 19 on My Mind

Life Becomes Empty: Covid 19 On My Mind

H. Bradford

03/24/20


Last month, I was busy celebrating my birthday.  There were always things to do, new hobbies to try, events to attend, and a whole world to explore.  I went to the aquarium, saw Harriet at the library, attended VIP Comedy Night, learned about pollinators,  went to Drag Bingo, enjoyed snowshoeing, skiing, birding, various activist events, a Cat Video Festival, had Mexican food on my birthday, got a new tattoo, and read poems for a poetry night.  The world felt more like a smorgasbord.  Now, it feels like life is an empty grocery store shelf.  It has been shocking to go from a socially engaged person to a homebody.  Two weeks ago, I was thinking that I might be able to go on an international trip next month.  I thought maybe things would not be so bad.  Now, I had to cancel plans to see my brother on Friday.   Two weeks ago, staff at my job had a taco pot luck.  Last week, we started having staff meetings by zoom.  My world has become quiet, small, and uncertain.


Like most people, I really didn’t take COVID-19 seriously.  In the past, there had been Zika, H1N1, MERS, SARS, and other viral outbreaks.  These all seemed to pass without much impact on my life.   It was on my radar as a distant thing.  I was substitute teaching when Italy went on lock down and there was the first major stock market crash.  Even then, it didn’t seem like something that would impact me other than the fear that it would complicate my trip and that my meager retirement had lost over 10% of its value in a day.  Later in the week, I met with staff at my job for a potluck.  We ate Mexican food and laughed about the mystery of the missing green Jell-o.  Did a resident abscond with a giant container of Jell-o?  Trump’s travel ban for Europeans coming to the U.S. seemed mysterious and even excessive at that point of time.  I still worried about my trip. Within the next few days, there were more travel bans, closed schools, the cancellation of my trip, the sudden cancellation of meetings and community events, and mounting deaths in Italy.


I was slow to comprehend what flattening the curve really meant in practice.  I attended my final in-person activist meeting on March 16th.  It was bittersweet, since I knew it was the last activist meeting I would attend for a long time. I went out for Mexican food that day because I knew that the following day at 5pm, all the restaurants in Wisconsin would be closed. Had I really understood the importance of social distancing, I would not have gone out. But, there was not that many official cases in Wisconsin. It felt like one last opportunity as the sun set on something I enjoyed.  Within the course of a few days, almost everything that structured my life collapsed.  There were no more activist meetings.  There would be no more trivia nights, reading at coffee shops, eating out alone, going to movies, spending time with friends, no more community classes or lectures, no birding field trips or presentation, no side gigs as a substitute teacher or the Easter bunny, no more travel plans, no more plans at all.   I felt completely lost.  I felt as though a cruel wind had passed through and destroyed the scaffolding that held my mental well being together.  This existential crisis was coupled with my obsessive surveillance of the news for the latest terrible thing.


What is left when everything is gone?  I was left with work.  This is better than many people, who suddenly lost their jobs.  My job at a domestic violence shelter is more secure since it is an essential service.  This is something to be thankful for, but also gave me a sense of impending crisis. Work over the next few months will become harder.  The population at the shelter is often sick. With more people restricted to their homes and more services limited by closures, we will almost certainly be busier.  My shifts have been busier with hotline calls, more cleaning chores, and more intakes.  Residents will have a harder time connecting to services, finding housing, and finding employment.  Staff themselves may become sick.  There are challenges ahead. Normally, I could face these challenges with the hope of travel, escape, hobbies, or other distractions.  Many of the distractions and promises of escape are gone.


All of this has been rather depressing and paralyzing.  I thought that I was a more resilient person and have been disappointed by my response.  On March 17th, I had a panic attack, which is something I haven’t had for quite a long time.  I sat on the floor, trying to breathe.  I felt anxiety again on the 19th.  It was that feeling I would have before running in a track meet or performing in a play.  A fluttery feeling that my heart is too fast and my stomach is too empty.  It is hard to explain to other people.  My feelings are, after all, very selfish and privileged.  While people die, lose their jobs, become seriously ill, or face innumerable traumas as healthcare workers, I am thinking about when I will travel again or the emptiness of not having many of my hobbies, doing activism, or going to restaurants.  And other people seem to be coping much better.  They are watching more Netflix, trying new recipes, organizing online yoga classes, and creating online communities for mutual aid.  I haven’t felt as able to transition.


Eventually, I will rise to the occasion.  The abrupt end to a version of my self was bewildering.  I couldn’t look at my goal book until yesterday.  The goals are a relic of another reality.  I won’t be going to RSOP’s spring frog walk or nature photography class.  I won’t be on the Audubon warbler walks this spring.  I won’t be substitute teaching or taking hot yoga classes before the Groupon expires.  I won’t be going to union meetings or really, any other meetings. I might not be camping at new state parks this summer.  The list of 140 New Year’s will remain incomplete.  I need to find new things and exist in new ways.


Today, I felt a little better.  I had another activist Zoom meeting.  It was again bittersweet.  But, I am thinking more about the future.  Later, I spoke with a coworker who was stressed about her financial situation.  It snapped me out of the selfish mourning of the way things were and the things I hoped for. I have to start rebuilding myself with new scaffolding, so that I can be strong enough to weather this.  I have to be strong and dynamic, vibrant and capable.   I need to find the fuel to fight, support others, and do the things that need to be done.  I will attend educational meetings via Zoom.  There is a talk on Alexandra Kollontai in April that I don’t want to miss.  I can write and read more.  I can look for ways to re-engage in activism.  I can start some seeds next month.  I can join virtual yoga classes and write new to-do lists.  This doesn’t change the fear for the future.  The worry over death or that we are headed for conditions unseen in the U.S. since the Great Depression.  The social distancing seems to remove some of the sense that I have agency in changing society for the better.  Things just seem to happen.  There is endless happening and the powerlessness of being atomized into households.  Still, I think I can pass through demoralization and loss and discover the emotional means for mobilization.  I can do, and fight, and support, and find new ways to be busy.  I won’t be quarantined with my demons.

 

 

 

Fabulous Birthday Freebies

Free Birthday

Fabulous Birthday Freebies

H. Bradford

3.1.20


Despite the grandiose name of this blog post, most of these freebies were not actually fabulous.  But, getting something for free is still pretty good.  Hence, I decided that this year for my “birthday month” I was going to try to get as many free things as I could.  Now, there are certainly more free items that one can obtain for their birthday.  But, I feel satisfied with my efforts and what I obtained.  While they might not all be fabulous, I can’t argue with something given to me for free just for being alive!  So, here is the list of my free birthday loot.


Hot Topic: $5 Off


Reward Members can get $5 off of any purchase in store or online.  I chose to buy a pair of snake earrings for $5.90. Thus, the earrings cost less than a dollar plus tax.  You might think that I am too old for Hot Topic. The large amount of Disney products they sell seems to support this claim.  However, I learned that uneven sized earring sets and friendship necklace sets seem to be popular right now. Yep, I am old and keeping up with the trends of the youth.  The offer expires about one month after the birthday.  Free earrings are pretty fabulous, so I will have to try to get another pair next year! http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn%3AANd9GcSi1rJvbDt3d5dmEwRRr655-x5qoXEX0pg1OdtNK6iKbGCm8adiPG0pViyCE10&usqp=CAc

Photo from Hot Topic.


Olive Garden: Free Dessert


This is a pretty good deal, considering that desserts are over $7 at Olive Garden.  I almost forgot to take a photo. Like all of these promotions, you need to be a rewards member to obtain the free dessert, which appears as an emailed coupon.  The featured item is a Black Tie Mousse Cake. I don’t believe that a purchase was necessary, but I ate other food so I am not certain.  The value cannot exceed $8.50 and the coupon expires within a few days of the birthday. Image may contain: dessert and food


Starbucks: Free drink of any size


Starbucks rewards members can receive a free drink of any size.  I redeemed the offer on my actual birthday.  Unlike other promotions, it expires on the birthday, so it is good for one day only.  The pictured item is an Iced Matcha Latte with oat milk.  No other purchase was necessary.


Image may contain: drink and indoor


 

Noodles and Company: Cookie or Krispie


Noodles and Company Rewards members can get a free cookie or rice krispie bar for their birthday.  The promotion expires near the birthday. If I remember correctly, it expires within a few days. I redeemed the offer on my birthday.  No other purchase was required.

Image may contain: food

Qdoba: Free Entree


This is one of the better deals, since most places only offer a dessert item.  Rewards members can have a free entree for their birthday. I forget when it expires, but if I remember rightly there was at least a week after my birthday to redeem the promotion.  The pictured item is a vegetarian burrito bowl. No other purchase was necessary.

Image may contain: food Perkins: Free Magnificent Seven


I don’t really like breakfast, but hey, it’s a free meal.  I actually planned on letting my friend Adam eat this, but he was not feeling well.  So, neither of us was keen on eating the eggs, pancakes, and meat item (for Adam). I ended up eating some of the pancakes.  No other purchase was necessary, but I ate an appetizer and iced tea.


Image result for magnificent seven perkins

Photo from Perkins


Caribou Coffee: Any Drink


Caribou Coffee offers a free any sized birthday drink.  To access this deal, you need to be a rewards member. No other purchase is necessary, but the promotion expires a week after the birthday.  My drink of choice was an Iced Matcha Latte with oat milk.  It is less sweet than the Starbucks version.  It was pretty fabulous! Image may contain: drink and indoor


  Dairy Queen: Blizzard


This isn’t the best deal, since you must buy one to get one free.  But, if you happen to have a friend who wants a Blizzard or feel like eating two, you can get a “free” Blizzard for your birthday.  This promotion appeared in the Dairy Queen app. I forgot to take a photo until I was nearly done, but this is a Double Fudge Cookie Dough Blizzard.  This was the Blizzard of the Month for February.

No photo description available. Marcus Theaters: Soda


To my great surprise, when I went to see the movie Parasite, I was informed that because it had been my birthday, I could get a free junior sized soda.  Even a small movie theater soda is around $5, so this was a pretty good deal. To get the free soda, you must be a Magical Movie Rewards member.  I didn’t get a free movie, but I went for $5 movie night, so it was a pretty cheap visit to the theater.  That was pretty fabulous!

No photo description available.

No photo description available.


 

Subway: Cookie


The final free food item that I received for my birthday was a cookie from Subway.  To get a free cookie, you must be a rewards member, but no other purchase is necessary.  The coupon was valid until about two weeks after my birthday. It was not the most exciting birthday freebie, but nice to end the month with one final thing.  Yes, this was a bit anti-climatic, as my brother pointed out, but I was happy to add another item to my collection of birthday freebies.

Image may contain: food


It’s March now, so the birthday fun is over (mostly).  I had a fun time trying to find some birthday freebies and it gives me a starting point to up my efforts next year.  Other places with freebies include Applebees (dessert), Texas Roadhouse (appetizer), and Jersey Mike (sub sandwich).  Of course, none of this is really “free” as I am doing the labor of providing free advertising for these corporations by sharing this information.  I also get more advertisements from these companies because of my reward memberships.  The companies most likely recover the cost of these “free items” in my spending over the year.  Nevertheless, it is fun to get something for mostly free!


						
					

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

  

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.


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