broken walls and narratives

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

Archive for the tag “Heather Bradford”

Yurt Camping at Cuyuna State Recreation Area

Yurt Camping at Cuyuna State Recreation Area

Yurt Camping at Cuyuna State Recreation Area

H. Bradford


I learned this summer, while visiting Glendalough State Park, that some Minnesota State Parks have yurts for rent.  Only three state parks feature yurt rental including Glendalough State Park, Afton State Park, and Cuyuna State Recreation Area. I decided this would be a fun adventure, so I set out to rent one at Cuyuna State Recreation Area.  However, as it turns out, the yurts are pretty popular, so there were no reservations until late October. I nabbed the available reservation, which was for Monday, October 26th. At $70, the rental is not exactly cheap for one person, but would be a pretty good deal for a group. The yurt at Cuyuna State Recreation Area can sleep up to seven people!  In my case, I had the whole unit to myself. 

Winter came early to Minnesota, so there was snow on the ground and cold temperatures by mid-October. The night that I planned on camping was particularly cold, with a low of 16 degrees F.  I was a little worried about the wintery conditions.  But, I set out anyway, hoping for the best.  The park itself was a former mining area from the early 1900s to 1960s and is pocked with deep mining pits. It was also the site of the deadliest mining accident in Minnesota history, when a mine shaft of the Milford Mine suddenly filled with water and mud on Feb. 5th, 1924, killing forty one miners. There is still mining equipment, historical markers, old buildings, and of course, the landscape itself, which mark decades of mining history in the park. Some of these historical areas were closed for the season.

The Cuyuna State Recreation Area is located about 100 miles west of Duluth. Many of the trails at Cuyuna State Recreation Area were closed until the ground was frozen, as to avoid damage. In better weather conditions, the park is known for its mountain bike trails. I had thought of bringing my bicycle, as there are also flat trails, but, it worked out better that I didn’t. During my visit, I was the only person in the park. The yurts are located at Yawkey Lake, where there are three yurts and a few trails. My yurt was named Manganese. It was the furthest from the parking lot and the outhouse restroom. Campers can use a cart found at the yurt to haul in their items. Instructions of where to find the key are sent with the reservation, so there is no need to check in at an office. I carted in my items from my car, grabbing firewood along the way. There is a firewood station near the outhouses, where free firewood is available for the wood stove during the winter months. A hand pumped water spigot is also located in that area, but I packed my own water.  I was definitely glad that there was plenty of  free firewood to use in the stove!

My first order of business was setting up LED candles in the yurt. Actual candles are not allowed and I wanted some source of light during the dark evening ahead. I set up a dozen LED candles, unpacked some things, took a few photos, then set off to do some hiking before sunset. As I had mentioned, many trails were closed, but there were a few nearby trails which I explored before it got dark. Upon my return from hiking, I started up a fire in the wood stove. That was my first time using a wood stove, but it was pretty easy to figure out, with a single lever used to control the oxygen to the fire.  The stove was small and it took over six hours for the yurt to become semi-comfortably warm. I also started a fire outside in the fire pit, where I joined a weekly socialist meeting via zoom and ate s’mores. I was happy that my cell phone actually had reception and it is interesting how a person can be in the middle of the woods but also on a video conference.

After sunset, it definitely felt cold. The yurt has a pretty large area to heat, so I found myself huddled by the wood stove for hours in my winter jacket. I even pulled my mattress off one of the bunks so that I could sleep on the floor by the wood tove. It was also dark. The many LED candles, my camping lantern, and small flashlight didn’t provide nearly enough light. I managed to spend a few hours reading, but the room beyond my book was very dark and cold.  Outside the yurt, I could hear many nature noises, such as the yipping of dogs or coyotes from across the mining lake and the flutey call of a saw-whet owl.  I didn’t sleep well, as I woke up throughout the night to feed wood to the stove. A few times throughout the night, I stepped out into the cold and looked out at the stars. By morning, the yurt was toasty and comfortable. I went for another hike in the morning, then packed up my things. I made the mistake of trying to clean out the ashes from the stove, which only brought them back to life and filled the yurt with smoke. I had to fan out the smoke with the door. Outside the yurt, the sun shone brightly on the cool morning and there were many chickadees and juncos fluttering about the campsite, perhaps eating leftover crumbs from my s’mores.

Overall, I had a fun time. It was my first time “camping” in cold weather and my first time using a wood stove. Although many of the trails were closed, I enjoyed the time spent hiking alone. There wasn’t a single car in the whole park. The early cold weather really seemed to scare people away from nature. I was happy to hear a saw-whet owl and would try winter cabining again. My main advice would be to bring plenty of light. The night is long and dark. While the LED candles provided some ambiance, they did not shed a lot of light. I relied on my camp flashlight for my reading. Another thing I learned was not to clean out the ashes in the morning. I was trying to be thoughtful, but it ended up being a smoky mess. Also, I went through a lot of wood! I used almost all of the wood that I had carted in, which was more than I expected to use. So, I would definitely try to overshoot the amount of wood needed, as it wouldn’t have been fun to fetch more in the middle of the night. On the way home, I stopped in Aitkin, where I ate lunch at the Block North Brew Pub. I had a PLT sandwich (portabella, mushroom, and tomato) and it was great! They also have a wild rice black bean burger. I would definitely recommend Block North for a post-camping meal.


The Struggle for Abortion Rights in Poland Continues


The Struggle For abortion Rights in Poland continues

The Struggle for Abortion Rights in Poland Continues

Heather Bradford



A version of this article can be found here:


Abortion rights are once again under attack in Poland and women have turned out in full force to fight back. On October 22nd, the Constitutional Tribunal, Poland’s highest court, ruled that abortion in the case of severe fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional. Poland already has the most resitrctive abortion laws in the European Union. Prior to the court’s decision, abortion was only permissible in cases of rape and incest, threat to a mother’s life, or severe fetal abnormality. Fetal abnormality accounted for 97% of the 1,100 legal abortions performed in 2018. This effectively bans abortion in the country. The decision arose from an initiative by MPs of the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) to review the law. The party has made several previous attempts to ban abortion. Reproductive rights advocates argue that the new law will force women to endure non viable pregnancies. On account of hundreds of thousands of people joining in protest, the government announced on November 3rd that it would delay publishing the ruling to offer more time for discussion. 


The public backlash against the ruling was immediate and massive. On Sunday October 25th, activists converged on churches to express their outrage over the restriction. CNN reported that protestors at Poznan Cathedral proclaimed that Catholics need abortions too. They also took to the altar of Our Lady of Perpetual in Warsaw with a slogan calling upon parishoners to pray for the right to abortion. Around the country, mass was disrupted and canceled, with sits-in staged at some cathedrals, statues of Pope John Paul II defaced, and some churches graffitied with slogans such as “Women’s Hell.”  Protesters also poured red paint on Warsaw’s Lazienkowski Bridge. Demonstrators wore Handmaid’s Tale robes and carried coat hangers. In actions rich in symbolism, women have also donned a red lighting bolt, which is an emblem of the Women’s Strike movement. The protesters targeted the church to demand separation between church and decry the church’s support of the government and its support of abortion restrictions. Women’s Strike, the main organizing force behind the protests, called for continued demonstrations on Monday, October 26th and a strike on Wednesday, October 28th.


Protests on Wednesday October 28th were held in over 400 cities and by police estimates numbered over 430,000. Across the country, women left work to join the strike and in Warsaw, activists blocked traffic. Warsaw alone had over 100,000 protesters turn out. Some carried umbrellas, a symbol from the 2016 mobilization to defend legal abortion. Military and riot police were deployed against the Wednesday marches.  The New York Times reported that the massive demonstrations that occurred later in the week on Friday October 30th were the largest since the Solidarity movement of the 1980s. One popular slogan was “I think, I feel, decide.” Another slogan was, “this is war.” Young women make up the largest demographic of these abortion activists. Demonstrators gathered in front of the government headquarters, headquarters for the ruling party, main square, then city center. The main demand of the Women’s Strike has been for the ruling to be declared invalid.  Protesters have also come out against the Law and Justice government, which won last year’s parliamentary elections, with slogans such as fuck off and fuck PiS (Law and Justice Party).  In response to the largest protests on Friday, President Andrzej Duda suggested that he was open to compromise and that terminal fetal abnormalities might be permissible and the government missed a November 2nd deadline to enact the decision by publishing it.


The protests have been marked violence from right wing extremists. During the Friday protests, military police guarded Warsaw’s Church of the Holy Cross and the far right protesters within the police cordon. Anti-choice activists played the sounds of crying babies on a megaphone as abortion rights marchers passed. Of the 37 people arrested in Warsaw Friday, 35 were nationalists. Black clad men attacked one of the protesters, but demonstrators fought back with what appeared to be pepper spray.  Some of the men arrested were carrying batons and knives. The New York Times reported that abortion rights activists have been attacked with flares. Two female reporters from Gazeta Wyborcza were attacked earlier last week. On Monday, October 26th, two women were struck by a car, which to observers looked intentional, as they participated in the protests. During the Sunday, October 25th protests, a woman was thrown down steps at Church of the Holy Cross in central Warsaw as abortion rights activists clashed with far right militants. Men from the group All Polish Youth attacked activists in Wroclaw, Bialystok, and Poznan on Wednesday the 28th. All Polish Youth have been behind attacks on LGBTQ marches. In 2019, the group attacked a pride march in Biyalastok with bottles, rocks, and firecrackers. Robert Bakiewicz, a right wing extremist leader, threatened that his supporters would form a national guard of a Catholic self-defense force to confront what he called “neo-Bolshevik revolutionaries.” The far right group Falanga has also made threats of violence. The Law and Justice Party has encouraged and empowered the far right since coming to power in 2015. Early last week, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the party, called upon supporters to defend the church at any cost. This rhetoric has been criticized as a call to arms to violent right wing extremists. He later stated that even fetuses with no chance of survival should be born so they can be named, baptized, and buried. Activists have been called leftwing fascists on state television. CIVICUS and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) have both stated that protests have been met with excessive force from both the state and far right groups.


The Law and Justice Party (PiS) is a right wing populist party which won the 2019 elections by running on a socially conservative platform which includes nationalism, opposition to migration, traditional family values, Catholicism, Islamaphobia, homophobia, anti-communism, and anti-Semitism. They have increased the teaching Catholic values in public schools, attacked LGBT rights, and ended state funding of in-vitro fertilization. Yet, they won over less reactionary voters and the support of labor by making promises such as doubling minimum wage by 2023, increasing payments to retirees, and had already enacted a popular subsidy to low income families called 500 plus. In July, Andrzej Duda, of the PiS, won a second presidential term by a narrow margin of 51% of the vote over 49% for Rafał Trzaskowski, Civic Platform (PO). Like the U.S. political elections, these are not vastly different parties, though the PO was framed as the more liberal party. When PO was last in power, it increased retirement age and lowered pensions and ran a campaign that was mostly against PiS rather than for any particular program. 


Law and Justice Party (PiS) has made several effots to ban abortion, including an attempt in October 2016 to pass a law which would have banned abortion and imposed prison terms on abortion patients and providers. Hundreds of thousands of black clad women joined a “Black Monday”general strike from work, school, and domestic labor to defeat the legislation. According to Madeline Roach reporting for Foreign Policy, in July 2017 the government passed a law making emergency contraception available only by prescription. In 2018, school textbooks were issued which called embryos unborn children and claimed that contraceptives were a health hazard. Even without the government’s anti-abortion campaign, due to the clause of conscience, doctors do not have to perform abortions on moral grounds. In the region of Podkarpackie, more than 3,000 doctors signed the clause, which renders abortion unavailable in that area. Only 10% of hospitals perform abortion according to FEDERA. In 2014, Dr. Bogdan Chazan refused to perform an abortion on a deformed fetus on moral grounds nor tell the mother that the abortion would be illegal after 12 weeks.  Because of this, she was forced to give birth to a baby without a skull which died nine days later. Abortion is certainly a contentious issue in Poland, yet according to Rueters, a 2018 opinion poll showed that only 15% of the population supported tightening the already restrictive abortion laws.


Despite public opinion against this, in April 2020, Law and Justice Party lawmakers again debated banning abortion, this time in the case of fetal abnormaities. The government also considered citizen initiated legislation which would have equated homosexuality with pedaephilia and criminalize sex education for minors with up to three years imprisonment. In response, activists held socially distanced actions with their cars, social media, and bicycles. This forestalled the passage of the legislation, as the lower house of parliament sent the bill back to a parliamentary commission for more work.  Previous attempts to ban abortion through legistlation have failed due to the efforts of abortion rights activists, which may be why the Law and Justice Party sought a review from the constitutional tribunal. Fourteen of the fifteen judges on the court were chosen by the Law and Justice Party to serve nine year terms. Three judges are believed by legal scholars to have been appointed by illegal means. Aside from the this new tactic of using the high court to ban abortion, some activists believe that the abortion ban was a reward to the Catholic church and far right for its support in the previous elections and a distraction from the government’s poor handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.


Covid-19 has presented serious challenges to abortion access and activism. According to Euronews, when the Polish government closed its borders, Justyna Wydrzynska, an activist with Aborcyjny Dream Team reported the phones of the organization were ringing non stop. The organization normally receives ten calls a day.  Many callers were worried about accessing abortion pills, which are illegal in Poland. According to Hannah Summers for The Guardian, Polish hospitals have already turned women away who are seeking abortion. The Federation of Family Planning has been inundated with phone calls from panicked women who have had their appointments cancelled and whose fetuses have abnormalities. Abortion without Borders, an organization formed in December 2019 to help Polish women access abortion but has been challenged by border closures and quarantine. The thousands of women who travel to Germany, Czech Republic, and Slovakia have been blocked off from this access. Nevertheless, Abortion without Borders has managed to help twenty one women access abortion in other countries since the ruling. It should be noted that offering assistance in obtaining an illegal abortion can result in a three year prison sentence. Yet, the vast majority of abortions in Poland are illegal, with activists estimating that although the number of legal abortions is only around 1,000, there are over 150,000 illegal abortions each year. Aside from travel, abortion is accessed through doctors or other providers who provide high cost abortions in secret.


With 20,000 new Covid-19 infections each day, politicians have been quick to shame activists for protesting the court ruling.  Like Trump, even President Andrzej Duda has been diagnosed with Covid-19. Large gatherings are prohibited and bars and universities are closed. The government issued a ban on gatherings of more than five people, which was implemented the same week of the court ruling. Organizers have been threatened with eight years imprisonment for violating the ban and causing what the government has deemed an epidemiological threat. Activists have been told to consider the elderly or vulnerable people they may sicken. At the same time, Poland has the lowest ratio of health workers to population in the EU. Over the years, austerity and privatization has gutted the Polish health care system, rendering it incapable of meeting the pressures of the pandemic in terms of staffing, testing, and intensive care beds.  


Law and Justice Party’s aggressive attacks on abortion rights are only the most recent and certainly won’t be the last. According to Wanda Nowica in the book SexPolitics: Reports from the Front Lines, the end of communism in Poland marked the beginning of attacks on reproductive rights. The current laws are actually similar to the 1932 Criminal Code in Poland, in which abortion was only legal if the pregnancy was result of a crime or if women’s life and health was a risk.  These laws remained in effect until 1956 when abortion was decriminalized,but required the signatures of two doctors. At the time, abortion was legalized on the basis of the health risks imposed by illegal abortions. Abortion law was further liberalized in 1959 when abortion became available upon demand. This ended in1993 with the Act on Family Planning, Human Embryo Protection and Conditions of Permissibility of Abortion, which removed the social grounds for seeking an abortion. Doctors also played an important role in ban, as the General Assembly of Physicians ning abortion, adopted the Code of Medical Ethics, which only allowed abortion on medical and criminal grounds. The was an effort to organize against abortion restrictions, as the Committee for a Referendum on the Criminalization of Abortion garnered 1.3 million signitures demanding a national referendum on abortion, but this was ignored by the Parliament in 1992. Lech Wałęsa vetoed an attempt to liberalize abortion laws in 1994.  In 1996, when abortion laws were amended and and abortion was again briefly legal on social grounds. The Solidarity Trade Union challenged the new law through the Constitutional Tribunal, which determined that abortion on social grounds was indeed unconstitutional. In the early 2000s, Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union promised to liberalize the law, but never made good on the promise. Parliament refused to take up the issue in 2005. Recent years have seen attacks on abortion rights, but the decades since communism have been marked with broken promises, compromises, neoliberalism, and pandering to the Catholic church. This is not to idealize communism in Poland, but to highlight that abortion was a casualty in the transition to capitalism and that liberals, social democrats, and conservatives have upheld abortion restrictions.   


The spectacular turn out of Polish women has temporarily suspended the enforcement of the court ruling, but there is a long battle ahead. In Poland, as in all capitalist countries, there will always be social pressure for women to reproduce. In this sense, reproductive rights are never secure so long as capitalism persists. Capitalism requires the oppression of women as this ensures workers are cared for, babies are born, and children are raised with unpaid labor and the most meager social provisioning. Nowica noted that in 1988, the fertility rate in Poland was 2.4, in 1993 it was 1.8 and by 2005 it was 1.22. In 2020, it is 1.39.  Replacement fertility is 2.1, but forced birth combined with austerity is a particularly brutal method of ensuring social reproduction. This brutality is masked by the sanctity of life rhetoric of the Catholic church, but this itself has changed over the centuries with different theological debates regarding ensoulment. The hardline stance against abortion after conception only came about in 1869. It seems that women in Poland have had enough and are willing to stand against both the church and the state, which in Poland are deeply interconnected. Both of these things are malleable and can be changed through struggle. Ultimately, this struggle must tear up the economic roots of oppression for reforms to be lasting.  It is little wonder that the Law and Justice Party seeks to divide, pitting reproductive rights against the rights of people with disabilities to be born. But it is capitalism, not women, which ultimately devalues the lives of people with disabilities. It is within the framework of capitalism that impairment is made into disability, as it is a system which cannot accommodate different needs and places value on regimented labor capacity above all else. The struggle in Poland is part of a struggle for all oppressed people to control their bodies and destinies.  

When Inessa Armand Died


When Inessa Armand Died

H. Bradford


Everyone cried

When Inessa Armand died.

Robert Service said 

She kept her figure into her forties.

A woman must be notable in these ways.

A carriage carried her casket 

to Red Square.

And she was interred there,

behind red bricks.

How could Lenin know the Caucasus had not been tamed

when she was sent away for healing waters and clean air?

Who thought of cholera and conflict?

So, everyone cried when Inessa Armand died-

Still young, and pretty, and beloved,

in a world that was still revolutionary

and alive with possibility.

Untouched by purges, reaction, and Georgian diseases.

Only Cholera,

which knows no party line.

The Hunt for the Brittle Prickly Pear

The Hunt for the Brittle Prickly Pear

The Hunt for the Brittle Prickly Pear

H. Bradford


Although it may not seem like the ideal habitat for cacti, Minnesota is actually home to three native species of cactus: the Plains Prickly Pear, the Brittle Prickly Pear, and the Purple Ball Cactus.  The Brittle Prickly Pear or Opuntia fragilis, which ranges into northern Alberta, just four degrees from the Arctic circle, is the northernmost cactus in the world. These northerly cacti have several adaptations which allow them to survive extreme conditions.  Although they flower and produce fruit, they can also reproduce from pads that have detached from the plant.  In the winter, they shrivel up to avoid freeze damage. They can tolerate a variety of soils and are fire tolerant, as long as their roots survive.  Prickly pears in general photosynthesize at night to avoid loss of water. These tough cacti can withstand a temperate range between -58 F and 131 F. Since I knew that this cactus could be found at Quarry Park in St. Cloud, which isn’t too far from where my brother lives, I was determined that this summer I would find this cacti.

The first attempt to find the Brittle Prickly Pear was this past June.  My brother and I spent over three hours at Quarry Park in St. Cloud searching the rocky outcrops for the cactus. Perhaps part of the problem was that I expected it to be larger. I have seen prickly pears before, and they are usually somewhat large plants with pads the size of my hands. When blooming, they have large yellow flowers. The Brittle Prickly Pear is remarkably small. The pads are about two inches tall and a half of an inch to an inch wide. They grow in small clusters on bare, southern facing rocks. While they tolerate many conditions, they do not tolerate shade, so they will not survive where they are crowded or shaded by other plants.  The area which we focused on the most was the State Scientific and Natural Area. This seemed like the most obvious place, since it featured a sign with information on the Brittle Prickly Pear. We scoured the rocks, but found nothing.  This isn’t to say that there are no Brittle Prickly Pear in the SNA, but we were not successful in this area.  Even though we didn’t find any cacti, we had a nice hike and even got yelled at by a man who looked like Santa Claus for talking too loudly out on the far end of the SNA (where we hadn’t seen any hikers for at least an hour).

SCUBA dive in St Cloud MN at Stearns County Quarry Park and Nature Preserve

My brother and I visited Quarry Park again in mid-August.  This second visit was cut short when I suddenly got a fever and had to turn around on the hike.  The cactus hunt turned into a Covid-19 scare that sent me back home.  I was quite disappointed that I had to abandon the quest, but my brother cheered me up by painting me a prickly pear portrait.

A week later, after my Covid-19 test came back negative, I visited my brother again.  For this third attempt to find the cactus, I prepared myself for the hunt by wearing a cactus shirt, mask, and earrings.  Clearly this outfit helped, as this time we were successful early in our hike.  We once again headed towards the SNA, but along the way my brother saw a trail which said, “Do Not Enter” or “Wrong Way.”  I believe that this was near number 11 on the map.  He thought we should enter anyway, which we did.  We came upon some rocks and I found a tiny cactus the size of my pinky lying on its side on a bed of moss. I found a cactus!  A tiny, uprooted cactus. A few feet away at the south end of these rocks were several other patches of small cacti.  We took many photos of our discovery, feeling very satisfied that we finally found the cacti. They were much smaller than I had imagined them.  In a way, it is easy to understand how such tiny cacti survive against the harsh winters. The are small, keeping close to the warmth of the rocks and insulating moss. These ones don’t appear to fruit or flower, struggling at the very edge of cacti survival.  And, while this guide is not precise because I don’t have a good memory of the layout of the park, hopefully this helps others find them as well.  As another clue, the spot where the cacti were located was near a quarry pond with trout on a trail which lead onward to the SNA.  I hope, of course, that no one digs up or destroys these cactuses.  They are not protected in Minnesota, but they are in other states and it would be nice to keep a healthy population of these unique plants.

Quarry Park is just one area where these cacti can be found. Some of the places where Brittle Prickly Pear are known to grow include Jeffer’s Petroglyphs, Pipestone National Monument, Blue Mounds State Park, Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, granite outcrops around St. Cloud, rock outcrops of Big Stone County, and southern sloping rocky outcrops at Rainy Lake near Canada.  Having found one species of cactus in Minnesota, I hope to one day find the others as well. The Purple Ball Cactus is considered endangered in Minnesota, but can be found in Big Stone Wildlife Refuge and its populations outside of the refuge has been threatened by granite quarrying.  The Plains Prickly Pear is more common, but still rare in that it is confined to the south western parts of the state. Blue Mounds State Park seems like a great destination to see both the Plains Prickly Pear and Brittle Prickly Pear.  In any event, my brother and I were elated to find the prickly pear on our third attempt and I look forward to future cacti adventures.

A few sources:

Click to access 2012%20CSSJ%20Minnesota.pdf,cactus%20species%20in%20THE%20WORLD.




Pictured Rocks: Things I Ate

Pictured Rocks_ Things I ate

Pictured Rocks: Things I Ate

H. Bradford


Like most people, I like to eat.  Earlier in July, I visited Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  The trip was about two days of sightseeing and two half days of driving (over five hours each way).  The following are some highlights of the foods that I ate while on this mini-road trip.

Vegetable Pasty:

One of the first things to welcome visitors to Munising, Michigan is Muldoons Pasties.  The award winning pasty shop has been serving pasties since 1989.  A pasty is a meat and vegetable filled pastry from Cornish cuisine.  Cornish immigrants working in the mining industry introduced pasties to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  A larger wave of Finnish immigrants later moved to northern Michigan and adopted the pastry, as it was a convenient and filling food to sustain them while working long shifts.  Thus, pasties have important working class and Michigan history.  Muldoons Pasties feature a few different varieties, but to my delight, they had vegetable pasties.  It is unusual to find a vegetarian friendly pasty.   It was delicious!  It had a thick, flaky crust and was packed full of carrots, potatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower.  Dan tried the chicken pasty, which he said was the best he had ever tried.  Since the shop is small inside, patrons take the pasties to go or eat them at picnic table outside.  I was very full after eating it and it fueled me through my long hike on the Chapel Loop Trail.  We came back later and tried an apple pasty, which was also tasty.

Image may contain: food

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

Sweet Potato Quinoa Burger:

Another place in Munising that I tried was Falling Rocks Cafe and Bookstore.  This cafe featured a small selection of gifts, dining area, ice cream, coffee, and a vegetarian friendly menu.  There were several vegetarian sandwiches on the menu, but I chose the sweet potato quinoa burger.  I took this item to go and unfortunately it got a little squished by the time I ate it.  Although the photo is a bit blurry and the sandwich itself was crushed, it was fantastic!  The soft patty was served on a pretzel bun and was topped with sweet chili sauce.  Overall, the sandwich was sweet and tender, with the lettuce and red onion adding a little crunch.

Image may contain: food and indoor

Image may contain: indoor

Iced Latte from a VW Bus:

While checking to see if the Gitchi Gummi Agate Museum in Grand Marais was open, I noticed a VW bus parked by the museum (which was closed).  I almost walked away, but decided to turn around and get an iced latte.  The van is called The Dream Bean Machine and serves a variety of caffeinated drinks.  It is parked outside of a larger coffee shop with indoor seating, but I am uncertain if it was closed due to Covid-19.  The coffee shop/bus also offers yoga lessons on the beach. I ordered an iced latte with oat milk, which I found to be very smooth and not too bitter.  It was the perfect pick me up for the drive back towards Munising.

Image may contain: tree, house and outdoor

Mackinac Island Fudge Ice cream:

I will admit that I only went to The Frozen Flamingo in Munising because I liked birds and was attracted to the flamingo themed building.  I was a little disappointed that inside it was mostly a gift shop with a selection of ice cream in the back.  There are several ice cream flavors which originated in Michigan.  One of them is Mackinac Island Fudge Ice Cream.  Mackinac Island is know for its fudge shops, which emerged in the 1880s when the island became a tourist destination.  Moose Tracks is also a Michigan ice cream flavor along with Superman and Blue Moon (an ice cream associated with Michigan but actually from Wisconsin ).  There were several varieties of Mackinac Island Fudge Ice-cream and I believe that they had Superman and Blue Moon ice cream as well.  While the selection was not extensive, it is an opportunity to try Michigan themed ice creams.



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

Image may contain: dessert, food and indoor

Blueberry Zucchini Panini

The Iron Bay Restaurant and Drinkery in Marquette, Michigan is a really neat restaurant located in a building that once housed the Iron Bay Foundry.  The restaurant has outdoor seating with a view of Lake Superior and markets itself as ecofriendly by seeking some locally sourced foods, using recyclable containers, and sending food waste to animal farms.  It was closed on Sunday when I first arrived, so it was the last place I ate at and the grand finale of the trip.  I wanted to try the Blueberry Zucchini Panini since I like that zucchini and panini rhyme.  The panini featured arugula, goat cheese, swiss cheese, blueberry ketchup, and zucchini.  I will say that the blueberry was more overpowering than I expected. I thought it would be a bit more savory, but instead, it tasted like blueberry syrup for pancakes. It was good, but not what I expected.  Perhaps ordering the blueberry ketchup on the side would have been a good idea (to control the amount). According to Michigan Grown, the state ranks third for blueberry production and most of the berries are grown on family farms (575 of them).  I am not sure if the blueberries were local, but I certainly saw a lot of blueberries while hiking.  Dan tried the white fish and chips.  There are a few white fish dishes, which feature Lake Superior caught fish.

Image may contain: food and indoor


This isn’t as exciting as a zucchini panini, but I also bought some groceries from Econofoods.  Econofoods is a Minnesota based grocery chain and was open 24 hours (in Marquette).  The double rainbow image of Econofoods actually comes from the store’s Facebook page.  I feel that this is quite an epic photo for a grocery store…


There you have it, some of the highlights of things I ate on my trip to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  Because I only spent two days adventuring in the area, I didn’t get the opportunity to try too many things.  I would have liked to have tried Eh Burger in Munising, which featured a veggie burger on the menu and burger eating Velociraptor statue by the front door.  The restaurant closed early so I didn’t get an opportunity to eat there.  I also would have liked to have a picnic at one of the many Lake Superior view rest areas between Marquette and Munising.  Alas, there was no time.  But, I was otherwise satisfied with the foods that I tried!

Restaurants in Munising, MI - Updated Spring 2020 - Restaurantji

I did not take this photo…but it was a good gimmick for Eh Burger.


Glacial Lakes State Park with My Brother

Glacial Lakes State Park with My brother

Glacial Lakes State Park with My Brother

H. Bradford


One of my goals is to visit every state park in Minnesota.  To this end, I try to visit a few new state parks each year.  The most recent park that I visited (this time with my brother) was Glacial Lakes State Park, which is located about an hour and a half west of St. Cloud, Minnesota, five miles south of the small town of Starbuck. The drive from St. Cloud is a pleasant journey across farmland, bypassing Sauk Center, and passing Glenwood and Lake Minnewaska.  Sauk Center is the birthplace of Sinclair Lewis, and features an interpretive center, plaque, campground, and park in his honor.  I recently read, “It Can’t Happen Here,” a fictional account of fascism arising in the United States under the leadership of a Trumpish president named Buzz Windrip. We didn’t stop in Sauk Center, but if I visited the state park again, it might be worth a brief visit. In fact, one of his books might be the perfect reading material for a camping trip to the park! Image may contain: tree, grass, outdoor and nature, text that says 'GLACIAL LAKES STATE PARK'

Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and nature

Glacial Lakes State Park appears as a bit of an anomaly in the landscape. Until arriving at the park, the landscape was mostly flat farmland.  But, as we turned off HWY 29 to HWY 41, we were suddenly met with a landscape of rolling hills. These conical hills are called kames and were formed when sediments accumulated in depressions located within the ice of a retreating glacier. Other glacial features of the park include eskers and kettles, which can be read about on interpretative signs. According to “Roadside Geology of Minnesota,” the glacial features of the park were formed by the Des Moines Lobe. The Des Moines Lobe was the largest lobe (blobby, jutting feature) of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. The Laurentide Ice Sheet was a large sheet of ice which covered most of Canada and the Northern Midwest United States. This itself was a part of the Wisconsin Glaciation, the most recent glacial period which lasted until 11,000 years ago.  I have not studied geology or climate history, but suffice to say the park features interesting glacial formations and history. Because the park is a transition between hardwood forests and prairies, it is also a unique ecosystem which blends flora and fauna of both ecosystems. To a science novice like myself, it feels like a special place, with wooded and prairie hills, lakes, and diverse plants and birds. My immediate impression when I was greeted with a view of rolling hills from the visitor’s was that the park indeed deserved to be a landscape set aside as a nature reserve. My brother and I were both glad that someone had the foresight to create the state park.

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

Image may contain: plant, sky, mountain, grass, flower, tree, outdoor and nature

While visiting the park, my brother and I explored two trails. The first was an interpretive trail/boardwalk which hemmed the east side of Signalness Lake.  The boardwalk was partially submerged, so watch out for water! This shorter trail leads to the Oakridge Campground and then to the High Peak Trail. The High Peak Trail offers two loop options and we opted to take the slightly longer loop, which nears an unnamed lake on the map. The unnamed lake featured ducks, great egrets, and other birds. There were also many butterflies fluttering amongst the prairie grasses and flowers. A highlight of the hike was the discovery of a patch of Showy Lady’s Slippers near the lake.  According to the DNR, these orchids are uncommon in the state,but can be found in bogs, wet prairies, damp woods, and wet meadows. It was my first time discovering Minnesota’s state flower in the wild. They can live 100 years and takes 15-20 years from germination to flower. Because they need particular soil and fungus to grow, have lost habitat over time, and were once over harvested, the flower is uncommon, but not rare or endangered. It is illegal to uproot or pick them in Minnesota. Image may contain: flower, plant, nature and outdoor

The High Peak Trail continued along to an overlook at the top of a hill. At 1,352 feet, it is the highest point in the park. The overlook offers a bench for resting and a view of Kettle and Baby Lake, as well as the hilly landscape.  From this high point, we took a .5 mile loop back to the main High Peak Trail, this time taking the shorter route back to our parking spot. This brought us back through the campground and across the soggy boardwalk once more. Along the way back, my brother raised the question on why the last ice age happened in the first place. I didn’t know at the time. According to the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, over the past 2.5 million years, the Northern Hemisphere has fluctuated between warm and cool periods. Over the last 700,000 years there have been 100,000 year climate cycles of warming and cooling. This is related to shifts in the axial tilt of the earth and the shape of earth’s orbit around the sun. The most recent ice age began about 100,000 years ago and ice sheets didn’t retreat fully from Minnesota until about 11,000 years ago. So, there you go. The earth’s axial shift and orbit is believed to be the cause of these ice ages over the last few million years.    

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

After returning to the parking lot, we decided to explore Mardy’s Trail.  Mardy’s Trail flanks the west side of Signalness Lake.  This trail was less interesting, but brought us past a boat landing and by a number of thirteen lined ground squirrels. We did not do the complete loop, as this would have circled us back to the High Peak Trail. We hiked as far as a second overlook, which was less impressive than the first, but offered an overview of the other side of the park. The only downside of this was that my brother decided to trail blaze his own path down the hill, as a shortcut back to my car.  He boldly proclaimed that it wa “Lonnie’s Trail.” Unfortunately, “Lonnie’s Trail” was a guantlet overgrown poison ivy.  I was wearing long pants, but he was wearing shorts. Thankfully, he was able to avoid a rash by immediately applying rubbing alcohol to his legs. He dabbed his legs with hand sanitizer, which may have broken up the urushiol.  So, as a note to other hikers, pack rubbing alcohol or a preventative cream to avoid a rash. We weren’t really prepared, but both narrowly avoided a rash (I washed my clothes after).  From now on, we will take poison ivy more seriously! Image may contain: grass, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: 1 person, plant and outdoor

After a fun day of hiking at Glacial Lakes State Park, we headed off to Morris, Mn, where my brother went to college. I never visited him in Morris, so we took the opportunity to venture there as it was 30 minutes from the park. Although the campus was closed, we wandered the grounds and past the buildings where he embarked on his life journey. There is something melancholy about touring the places of long ago, where new, young, hopeful students will gather in the fall. It is sad to think of all that was or wasn’t and how time moves us forward, relentlessly towards death, change, and loss. But, on a happier note, we also enjoyed some delicious Mexican food at Mi Mexico. Mi Mexico was a Chinese buffet when my brother was in college. Although I never visited him while he was at Morris, at least we revisited it years later after a pleasant day of hiking. I was happy for the opportunity to visit a new state park and spend the day with my brother. I hope that we have many years of hikes together!   

Image may contain: sky, outdoor and nature, text that says 'GLACIAL LAKES STATE PARK A'



Birding in Suchitoto

Birding In Suchitoto

Birding in Suchitoto

H. Bradford


In January 2019, I traveled to Central America with Intrepid Tours.  I had a great time, as there were plenty opportunities for free time exploration, choices of things to do, and included group activities. One of the highlights of the tour was time spent in Suchitoto, El Salvador.  The time spent there was marked by an extensive walking tour, visit to the columnar basalt formations of Los Tercios, and a hiking and historical tour of Cinquera Rain Forest Park to learn more about the civil war in El Salvador from an ex-FMLN fighter turned park ranger.  Suchitoto is a great place to learn about history, see colonial architecture, go for a stroll, spend time in nature, enjoy  local art, eat pupusas, and learn about the history of indigo.  If that isn’t enough, another highlight of Suchitoto was two birding tours that I participated in!

No photo description available.

Los Tercios

The two birding tours that I enjoyed were organized through Intrepid with a local tour operator.  I believe the local tour operator was called Suchitoto Adventure Outfitters. One tour involved a birding boat trip around Lake Suchitlan and the other was a kayaking birding trip also on the lake. It is important to note that Lake Suchitlan is an artificial lake which was created in the mid-1970s to serve as a reservoir for the Cerron Grande Hydroelectric dam. The lake bed was once served as a home and farmland to over 13,000 people who were displaced by the project. Thousands of acres of land were flooded in a project that the government claimed would solve the country’s energy problem. The life of these farmers was meager to begin with, as they worked subsistence plots in an area dominated by large sugar cane estates. They attempted to organize for land distribution, price controls on agricultural inputs, and better wages during the 1960s and early 1970s. Organizers were imprisoned, tortured, and sometimes murdered. The thousands of displaced peasants were compensated poorly or not at all, so it is little wonder that the area became a stronghold for the FMLN.  During my visit, many houses and streets in Suchitoto waved FMLN flags. Thus, although Lake Suchitlan is a tranquil haven for birds, it is not a natural lake and is a lake connected to the political and economic struggles of El Salvador.

No photo description available.

Decades later, Lake Suchitlan is the largest freshwater body in El Salvador and consists of over 100 miles of inlet pocked of shoreline and 33,360 acres of water surface area.  It provides habitat for many native and migratory birds, including the largest duck populations in El Salvador. The first tour that I participated in left early in the morning. Participants were offered coffee, juice, and a light snack, as well as binoculars, life vests, bilingual guides and access to bird guide books. I kept a list of the birds that we saw during our journey around the lake.  Among the first birds that I saw were a large number of barn swallows, mangrove swallows, and a few Gray breasted martins. It is honestly difficult for me to differentiate these quick moving birds, which perched on a line across the lake. The branches hanging over the lake hosted a few species of kingfishers, including Amazon kingfishers and the more familiar Belted kingfishers. Several species of flycatchers also made an appearance, such as the Great kiskadee, Tropical kingbird, and Scissor tailed flycatcher.  I have seen Scissor tailed flycatchers in the southern United States and they are always an amazing bird to see. Various species of herons were also easily spotted along the shoreline,  including Green herons, Great blue herons, Cattle egrets, Snowy egrets, and Great egrets.  The lake is home to twelve of the fourteen species of native fish found in El Salvador, which provide a tasty meal to many of these birds.

No photo description available.

No photo description available.

There were also many raptors spotted during the boat ride.  A Laughing falcon, ospreys, Black hawk, and Roadside hawk were among the raptors we saw. Innumerable Neo-tropical cormorants, Black vultures, and turkey vultures were also seen. Another highlight was a White-bellied chachalaca.  As a matter of reference, I brought the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Northern Central America with me. This was one of the same guides that the birding guides used in the tour. The guides were very knowledgeable about birds and seemed to be glad to have someone who was excited about birds on their tour.  The other guests on the tour were not avid birders nor as interested in birds, but seemed to enjoy helping me spot birds and the opportunity to enjoy nature.  As for myself, I had tried to study the bird guide before and during the tour, so I was happy that I was able to identify some birds I had never seen before. In all, we were on the lake from before 6am to nearly 10 am.

No photo description available.

A not so great photo of a Laughing falcon

The second tour included another early morning adventure, this time combining bird watching and kayaking. I found this a little harder to balance, as it was hard to paddle, use my binoculars, take photos, and take notes of the birds that I saw.  We used tandem kayaks and explored a different area of the lake. I was unable to multitask.  Again, this was a morning tour. Highlights of this tour included large numbers of Red winged blackbirds. Although this is a common bird in Minnesota, it was a treat to see and hear these familiar birds in early January. While Minnesota was enveloped in the silent cold of winter, the beloved birds of spring and summer were enjoying their winter in the warmth of El Salvador. Trees of wood storks, orioles, warblers, flocks of pelicans, shy Northern jacanas, and many of the birds seen the previous day marked the morning journey.  The kayaking adventure ended with a trip to a hot spring, where I searched for more birds as others in the group enjoyed the springs.  Near the springs, I found a Turquoise-browed motmot, Golden fronted woodpecker, Ruddy ground doves, and parakeets. The Turquoise-browed motmot is the national bird of El Salvador.

No photo description available.

No photo description available.


Lake Suchitlan is an important wetland area, but it is also heavily polluted. Several rivers empty wastewater and sewage into the reservoir, including the Suquiapa, Sucio and Acelhuate rivers. Untreated sewage from at least 154 municipalities flow into the lake, resulting in an astonishing monthly flow of 8.5 million tons of fecal matter. This is a sad testament to the underdeveloped water and sewage management systems in El Salvador, where this waste typically flows into bodies of water. Scientists have found mercury, copper, cadmium, and aluminum in the water, plants, and fish.  According to The Social Life of Water, 90% of rivers in El Salvador are polluted with industrial waste.  Water issues, such as insufficient waste management, lack of access to clean water, and industrial waste are connected to neoliberal policies imposed upon El Salvador by the World Bank and Inter-American Development bank since the 1990s.  Neo-liberal policies seek to reduce the role of the government in providing and regulating socially important services in the interest of privatization and corporate profits. Lake Suchitlan is one of the most contaminated bodies of water in Central America.  The pollution has resulted in overgrowth of invasive water hyacinth and algae.  I would also be suspicious of the safety of swimming and fishing in the lake, even though locals do fish on the lake.  Investment in the infrastructure and regulations that can keep the water clean, provide ongoing habitat for wildlife, and secure a healthy life and potable water for residents means challenging to the dominance of the neoliberal policies and institutions which advance U.S. imperialism.

No photo description available.

Birding in Suchitoto was a wonderful experience. The area is abundant with bird life.  At the same time, it is a location of resistance. From farmers who were removed from their land to FMLN fighters who hid in the local mountains,  the area is a geography of exclusion. Today, it is a tourist destination and upcoming birding destination, but submerged beneath the surface of fun and recreation is struggle. In 2007, Suchitoto residents peacefully protested the privatization of water and demonstrators were attacked with rubber bullets, pepper spray, and tear gas.  Seventy five people were injured. In 2008, a local water rights activist named Hector Ventura was stabbed to death after meeting with the mayor.  This is always the dilemma of being a tourist.  A tourist passes through the world, enjoying nature, birds, historical sites, art, foods, or any number of the wonders this world offers. But for all the wonders the world offers those who can enjoy them, it is also a world of suffering and struggle.

Image may contain: 1 person


A Black Hole

Copy of I've Made Mistakes

A Black Hole

H. Bradford

A lost friend is like a black hole,

But maybe they were a black hole to begin with.

There was always a darkness there,

Even when there was the life and light of friendship,

There was a gravity of past crimes and an event horizon where no one really grew or changed.

Frozen, just at the edge of the chasm.

Pulling away is hard, there must be some goodness in the all consuming darkness.

And what is the space around us, but the endless expanse of black?

Objects that stay lose their integrity, 

until they become black holes themselves.

There is still memory in the space between us.

Stars die, but old habits die harder.

Time is space and space is time,

The universe may reinvent itself in endless incarnations,

But mistakes repeat themselves,

when everything stays in orbit.

So, I am drifting away now.

I’ve been drifting away for some time

I found my escape velocity

When they shined a light on you.


Fighting the Plagues of Locusts and COVID-19


a version of this article can be found at:

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, 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:

(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.

Post Navigation