broken walls and narratives

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My International Bog Day Bonanza

My International Bog Day Bonanza

H. Bradford

7/25/17

Last week at work I had a several stressful situations arise.  When I am stressed, I like to fantasize about my time off.  So, I determined that I was going to really enjoy my time off by celebrating International Bog Day.   International Bog Day was first celebrated in Scotland in 1991 in honor of a pretty unique ecosystem.  In the United States, it was first celebrated in 2008 at the Volo Bog State Nature Area in IL.  There are not a lot of bog related celebrations in Minnesota, even though Minnesota actually has more bogs (10% of the state or 6 million acres) than any other continental state.  The biggest celebration for International Bog Day in Minnesota appears to be at Big Bog State Park.  However, I didn’t feel like driving three hours to attend festivities such as the “bog jog.”  Maybe next year.  In any  event, I can’t say that I know a lot about bogs, but they are dear to my heart.  I grew up near a bog and have many great bog memories.   I can confidently say that bogs are my favorite ecosystem.  Thus, I relished the idea of celebrating International Bog Day!

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I like to invent holidays or holiday celebrations.  Some take off, such as Marxmas (which I did not invent, but have passionately planned a well-attended party for each year).  Others, such as Radon Awareness Month- don’t really pan out.   I felt that International Bog Day had a lot of potential.  I began to dream about visiting bogs.  Where would I go?  What would I do?  Oh, then there are the other details such as…what should I wear?  Each holiday needs special apparel.  So yes, I bought myself a “bog shirt.”  Yes, yes, shame on me for consumerism, but details matter.  And, it was hard to find a bog shirt!  I found a pretty cool shirt with a woman wearing a pitcher plant on her head.  Aside from this, I wanted a “bog cake” but this turned out to be too much work.  Then, there were the activities!  I decided that I would visit three bogs.  My first adventure would be a visit to the Sax Zim Bog in Minnesota to do some birding.  This would happen on “International Bog’s Day Eve” or Saturday.  Then, the following day I would drag my comrades Adam and Lucas on an adventure to Cable WI, to visit the Forest Lodge Trail.  I read online that the trail was the best interpretive bog trail in Wisconsin.   Then, on the day after International Bog Day, I would revisit Savanna Portage State Park for some camping…and you guessed it…a visit to a bog.   Three days.  Three bogs.  No one can com”peat” with this bog day bonanza. DSCF6115 (2)


Day One: Bog’s Day Eve

Located about an hour and fifteen minutes north of Duluth, the Sax Zim Bog is one of the best birding spots in Minnesota.  It happened that the Sax Zim Bog was hosting a Bio-blitz this past Saturday.  The goal of the event was to take visitors on various field trips to count the biodiversity of the wetland.  Field trips throughout the day logged such things as dragonflies, butterflies, spiders, wildflowers, birds, fish, etc.   I decided that attending the birding field trip would be a great kick off for Bog Day and a way to add more birds to my birding list.  So, I awoke very early.  In fact, I hardly slept at all.  I dragged myself out of bed at 3:30 am and headed out the door at 4:15 am.  The morning was foggy and cool.  I wanted to stop for coffee or a snack, but waited until I was out of Duluth to make a stop.  Unfortunately, I waited too long to stop and the gas stations near Cotton, MN were still closed.   I was the first to arrive for the 6 am birding field trip and felt a little groggy and thirsty.   I nibbled on graham crackers from a previous camping trip and found a single lime La Croix in my backseat.  Still, I felt that I was graduating into a more serious birder, as no normal person would wake up at 3:30 am for something they weren’t passionate about.

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The early bird catches….the bird.  (gray jay)


Our field trip began with a journey to where a Great gray owl was thought to be nesting.  The Great gray owl is the world’s largest owl by length, though it is mostly a mass of fluffy gray feathers.  Sure enough, we saw a family of Great gray owls.  The mother took flight, moving a little deeper into the woods.  It was astonishing to see an owl that looked to be the size of an eagle.  It was my first time seeing a Great gray owl.  We stayed there a while, also spotting a Black backed woodpecker.  That was also a first for me.  After observing two woodpeckers dart from tree to tree, we moved on to watch birds elsewhere.  Three hours of birding yielded quite a few birds, including Sandhill cranes, a sedge wren, a swamp sparrow, a group of curious gray jays,  a few alder flycatchers, black billed magpie, and others.  I learned that the Sax Zim Bog is the eastern most range of the black billed magpie.  I added seven birds to my life list.  Also, I was again amazed at the other birders.  They can easily spot and identify birds.  I feel pretty dumb sometimes, but hope that with effort and time I will someday be as proficient.

Not the best photos, but offers a visual of what I saw…Image may contain: plant, outdoor and nature

 

Sedge wren

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Black backed woodpecker–can you tell?  Nope.  I couldn’t.  But the other birders could…


Aside from the birds, I saw some pretty neat wildflowers.  These included purple fringed orchids and a purple fringed +ragged fringed orchid hybrid.  Another unusual flower was called Marsh grass of Parnassus.  It is not actually a grass but a fen dwelling flower that is threatened in WI and declining in MN.  I also learned that a lily that I had been calling Turk’s cap lily is actually called Michigan Lily (the former is found further south).  We saw some Michigan lilies as well as a black-eyed susan with a goldenrod crab spider perched on a petal.  I would have liked to have gone on the wild flower walk, but after birding for three hours on two hours of sleep (I could not sleep!) I decided to head home.  I had some other social obligations on Saturday as well.  Nevertheless, I hope that next year I can participate in the Bio blitz again- hopefully partaking in other field trips.

Marsh grass of Parnassus

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Purple fringed orchid

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Day Two: Forest Lodge Trail

On International Bog Day itself I set off with Lucas and Adam for Cable WI.  I had read online that there is a bog north of Cable, WI that is supposed to be the best interpretative bog trail in Wisconsin.  This is a tall order, but I had high hopes for an exciting bog adventure with my comrades.  Unfortunately, I started the day off in a crabby mood.  It was another early morning and I felt stressed out.  My cellphone does not get very good reception in rural WI or rural anywhere.  I had some printed maps, but I was the driver and no one was keen on navigating.  I could have forced the issue, but ended up doing 98% of the navigating myself.  Oh well, I should be proud of usurping gender roles as both the driver AND navigator.  AND photographer.  AND planner.  Okay, so I became a bit of a Swamp Diva as the day progressed, as in the moment I could not find the joy in being so empowered.  Sorry guys.

A comrade

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There were some snags in our adventure.  For one, we hiked the trail, but did not see a bog board walk…as I had seen online.  The bog itself seemed pretty ho-hum.  It was a long drive for a bog and board walk that didn’t seem to exist and certainly not to the degree that I would call it the best in Wisconsin.   However, the trail itself was nice.  There was a variety of terrain and only one other pack of hikers.  As we tried to find the trail, we stopped by the Gormusch Resort- a bizarre German themed petite-bourgeoisie lake resort.  But, for all of our trials finding the trail and traveling the trail itself, we saw little more than a blanket of moss punctuated with swampy puddles.  (I later learned that there is an extended trail…and the bog walk must be off of that.  I also learned that the Natural History museum has trail booklets as the trail does not have posted information on signs).

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Despite a disappointing bog, our spirits were lifted by a visit to Cable.  Adam bought us brownies, which he called “bog cake” (even though he never knew I had wanted to bake a bog themed cake!).  I found two geocaches and endured some teasing for my dorky, pointless hobby.  Lucas went as far as to call it a petite bourgeois past time.   The Natural History museum was closed, but we vowed to return and see it.  Otherwise, we also paid a short visit to a community farm, where we were impressed by the resources that the community had put into developing a farm wherein the produce was donated to local food shelves.   We decided to return to Cable again and set off to find the legendary Delta Diner.  This is where my Swamp Diva nature climaxed.  I was not paying close enough attention and had to back track twice.  I cursed and grumbled about my inability to find the Delta Diner, which seemed to be the Brigadoon of restaurants.  We eventually found it.  Had I been more patient and attentive this would not have been an issue.  As for the diner, it was a hipster oasis on rural WI.   Interestingly, the diner has a no-tip policy as the prices are inflated 20% to make certain that the staff make a living wage.  Despite my tantrum about getting turned around, I did enjoy the experience of eating there AND I did see a family of trumpeter swans along the way. Image may contain: outdoor, water and nature


Finally, we set off back towards Superior.  I was in better spirits.  We stopped by the old King’s? school and a marsh off of HWY 13.  We went for another short hike.  I did some more birding while Adam and Lucas hid in the bushes, pretending to ambush me or something.  I think they were planning military strategies.  In order to get Lucas more engaged in the birding I told him it would be useful for “the revolution.”  After all, it would improve his skills as spotting something unusual in the landscape, such as a bomb, mine, or sniper.  I have zero sense of what is a useful “revolutionary skill”, but it seemed to work.  Finally, we stopped by the Davidson windmill where I finally found my geocache (that I could not find before).  Adam and Lucas wearily rested in the grass while I searched around the windmill.   I also tried to convince Lucas that geocaching is a useful revolutionary skill, as it can help us become better at hiding and finding messages or packages.  However, it seems there is a limit to how well I can pitch my hobbies as “useful to the revolution” before my manipulations become obvious.   All and all, I had a fun day.  I exhausted my poor comrades though.

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Day Three: Savanna Portage and Rice Lake Wildlife Refuge-

Although my first two days of International Bog Day celebrations were rather exhausting, I didn’t feel that I had my fill of bogs.  After all, I had yet to see a carnivorous plant and the Cable bog was a little lackluster.  I mustered my strength for one final bog slog.  However, I decided that camping was too much effort.  So, I went on a day trip to Savanna Portage State park and the Rice Lake Wildlife Refuge.  I nixed the camping, since packing, setting up a tent, and sleeping outside seemed overly ambitious.

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I visited Savanna Portage State Park back in March, so I knew it had a decent bog walk.  I was eager to see it in the summer, so I set off for a hiking and birding adventure.  This turned out to be worth the drive, as once again, the park was pretty empty.  It is nice to go somewhere and feel alone.  I only met one other person on the trails, though a few people were there for canoeing and fishing.  The first order of business was checking out the bog walk.  This time, it was alive with vegetation.  I saw what I thought was an unusual orchid, but it turned out that it was actually the flower of the pitcher plant.  I never new that pitcher plants had flowers!  I always thought that the pitcher plant was simply a pitcher shaped trap for insects.  I was enamored with the elegant, nodding green and purple flower on a slender stem.   The usual suspects, like cotton sedge, sphagnum moss, and Labrador tea also blanketed the bog in green. Image may contain: flower, plant, nature and outdoor

Pitcher perfect!


After enjoying the bog, I walked around Lake Shumway.  It seemed daunting to walk the perimeter of the lake, but it turned out to be a relatively short hike.  Along the way, I saw what I thought was a hairy woodpecker.  Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was actually a yellow bellied sapsucker.   I think it was worth taking a second look simply because it will help me to pay closer attention to details and become a better birder.  After finishing the trek around the lake, I went on another short hike alone the Continental Divide Trail.  Water to the west of the trail flows into the Mississippi River, whereas water to the east flows into Lake Superior.  Again, it was nice to have the trail to myself.  I definitely want to return to this state park in the fall and do some camping as it is quickly becoming one of my favorite state parks.  It has nice trails, a quiet atmosphere, an awesome bog, and patchwork of lakes.

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As a grand finale of the day, I went birding at Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge.  I had planned on visiting my mother in the evening, but ended up staying at the refuge until sunset.  The refuge contains lakes, forests…and bogs.  It also is also a historically and culturally important area to Native Americans, who have inhabited the area since at least 1000 BC.  Rice Lake, as the name suggests, is a source of wild rice, which is still harvested from the lake by local Ojibwe.  On a previous visit last spring, there were Native Americans harvesting maple syrup at the refuge.   I saw quite a few birds on my visit, including common loons, Great blue herons, trumpeter swans, bald eagles, unidentified fly catchers, eastern kingbird, belted kingfishers, common yellow throats, etc.  Once again, I was the only person in the entire nature area.  It was liberating to explore the refuge in the joy and solitude of my own company.   The park closes at sunset, so I reluctantly left it behind and began the drive home. Image may contain: bird, sky, outdoor and nature

Eastern kingbird

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I had a fun, if not exhausting, three days.  Oddly enough, I spent today birding and hiking as well.  Tomorrow, I will return to work (though, I won’t get bogged down by the stress should it arise).  But, I feel that I have spent almost all of my time off in the outdoors.  Summer is precious and short, so I don’t regret this marathon of bogs and hikes.  As for bogs, I think they are worth celebrating.  For one, bogs have really unique plants!  As a child, I wanted to become a botanist- so bogs naturally interested me because they were home to carnivorous plants and orchids.  Tamarack trees are also common in bogs!  What’s not to love about a  deciduous conifer tree or a tree that sheds its needles and grows them back! Heather is a type of bog plant, so, even my name has a bog connection.  Although bogs are rich in peat, or layers upon layers of dead, slowly decomposed vegetation, they are acidic and oxygen poor-resulting in interesting adaptations for the plants that live there (such as carnivorous plants or stunted growth).   Bogs are important carbon sinks (though as frozen bogs thaw or peat is burned, the carbon is released) and soak up water, thereby preventing floods.  Culturally, bogs have been important as a source of fuel (peat) but also used to store food and a treasure trove of archaeological information (i.e. bog bodies).  While I certainly have a lot more to learn about bogs, I think that they are a fragile and unique ecosystem that deserve appreciation.

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Not a Happy Camper

Not a Happy Camper

H. Bradford

7/15/17

Back in May, I went on a short camping trip at Wild River State Park to enjoy International Migratory Bird Day.  I enjoyed this little adventure, as it gave me the opportunity to do some birding and hiking.  Well, I thought that it would be a good idea to do another little camping trip.  I have some post-travel blahs and this would be a way to enjoy nature.  To combat these blahs and take advantage of my time off, decided that I would head to Mille Lacs Kathio State Park for a little camping adventure.  As it turns out, it was a miserable time!

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The Plague of Traffic:

Mille Lacs Kathio State Park is about two hours from Duluth and located in an area steeped with Native American history.   The earliest signs of human settlement in Minnesota are found in the Mille Lacs area.  As for the lake itself, it is the second largest inland lake in Minnesota.   Like many state parks, I haven’t visited it, so it was another incentive to visit the area.  Thus, I set off for a short adventure.  It was raining when I left Superior, but the forecast indicated that the rain would stop.  It didn’t.  Most of my drive involved driving in the rain.  I took my time since there was no point arriving in the rain.  The rain did eventually stop, but I did not predict the enormous traffic jam by Mille Lacs Lake (which seems odd to say Lacs Lake, since it is “lake lake”).  It has probably been over a decade and a half since I was out by Mille Lacs and even then, it was never for anything tourist related.  The towns dotting the giant lake only have a few hundred people, yet, I was stuck in traffic for an hour as trucks with boats tried to merge into one lane.  I watched time pass by.  I watched the lake.  I felt annoyed by the mass of fishermen and women who were scrambling to return to the Twin Cities.  I also felt annoyed with myself for choosing to camp on a Sunday (when everyone else is returning home from the weekend).  Considering the throngs of traffic, it is no surprise that the lake is empty of walleye (well, that and climate change warming the lakes). DSCF7140DSCF7152DSCF7183DSCF7186


The Plague of Flies:

After suffering through the traffic, I set up my tent.  Despite the crowded herd of slow moving trucks, the park itself was nearly deserted.  There were very few campers in the park that night.  This was encouraging.  I decided that I would spend several hours hiking, so I went to the trail center and picked a trail that looped around one of the lakes in the park.  I immediately found that the trail was rather muddy and infested with swarms of flies.  The flies surrounded my head, buzzing loudly and getting tangled in my hair.  I picked out pieces of dead flies from my hair, swatting the others who seemed equally determined to meet their death in the snarls of my black and blue tresses.  It occured to me that perhaps I could use my super duper DEET 100 to deter them.  So, I doused myself in DEET.  The DEET was so concentrated that it took the nail polish off my nails.  I suppose this provides makeshift beauty advice.  While camping, DEET can be used to take the varnish off your nails.  While it removed my nail polish, it did not remove the flies.  The flies seemed completely indifferent to the chemical stench wafting from my body.  I even sprayed a handkerchief with DEET and wore it on my head.  The flies did not care in the least.  This cut my hike short.

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Not pictured: a plague of flies.

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(What could possibly go wrong?)

 


Instead of hiking, I made a detour to climb a fire tower.  I figured that if I couldn’t hike, I could at least climb up the tower.  This was a good challenge for me, since I really hate heights.  And, I actually had to tell myself out loud to keep going up after I was above the tree tops.  I focused on looking up and made it to the top without incident.  Though, on the way up I imagined getting stuck up there…too afraid to go back down.  Since I was all alone, it would begin my new life.  My new life on top of the fire tower.  It was completely fine.  The view from the top allowed me to see Mille Lacs Lake and several of the lakes in the park.   I felt a little accomplished. DSCF7119 DSCF7115 DSCF7122


After clambering down the fire tower, I thought I would take a short hike on the Interpretive Trail.  The flies continued to harass me, but at least I was distracted by the various signs about the history of the park.  It was interesting to learn that many of the campsites in the state park were places were Native American villages or camping sites were also located.  The park also contains burial or ceremonial mounds that date back to 3000 BC.  The park is filled with archeological sites, including the remnants of settler homesteads.   It was also interesting to learn about the ecological history of the park.  From about 300 BC to the late 1800s, the area was dominated by white pine.   The white pine forests were ended in less than 50 years with the arrival of white settlers and logging companies.  Deeper in history, the park was Oak Savanna, Aspen, and other variations of forests.   The park was at the edge of the glaciers of the last ice age, which carved out the lakes of the area.   Another highlight of the trail was seeing a catbird.  I heard a strange, crying noise from the bushes and spotted the catbird tucked into the foliage.

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  The Rain:

Since my hikes were thwarted by flies, I decided that I would venture out of the park back to the town of Garrison.  It would offer me the opportunity to take some photos of Mille Lacs Lake and explore some landmarks.  This went wonderfully.  I enjoyed the evening taking photos of the lake and watching some purple martins catch insects by a boat landing.  I even saw an immature eagle in a dead tree.  I watched the birds and lake until near sunset. Little did I know, that back in the park, it had rained.  The glossy pavement as I approached the park was a sign of the isolated shower.  I wasn’t worried, as my tent…should be water proof.  This would have been the case but part of the flysheet on the backside of the tent was not pulled down far enough.  Somehow this tiny slit had let a deluge of water into my tent.  I was astonished by the lake that had formed in my tent, soaking my sleeping bag and forming puddles on one side.  Thankfully, I had two emergency blankets in my car.  I was also thankful that I had a spare towel in my car as well.  I sopped up the soggy mess, but was not happy. DSCF7189DSCF7188DSCF7179


I went on to make a fire, where I sat and journaled.  I also spent some time reading various articles on a Marxist critique of Intersectionality.  I will try to write up my thoughts on these articles on a future blog.  Writing and reading restored by sense of peace.  I decided that I would devote several hours to hiking the next day and studied the map to see which trail I would chose.  There was something peaceful and restorative about taking time to delve into those articles.  I stayed up late, took a shower, admired the nearly full moon, then headed into my moist tent.  Yes, it wasn’t perfectly dry.  Sopping up the water had made it moist at best.

 

 


Then I sat there, tossing and turning, bumping elbows with something wet.  I pushed my soggy sleeping bag into the corner.  I stared up at the ceiling of the tent.  It rained again.  Even when it didn’t rain, the forest sounded like 1,000 leaky faucets.  I felt that somehow the moisture outside had penetrated by bones, making me feel chilled and uneasy.  The raindrops continued to pound the tent, drop by slow, torturous drop.  When it became clear that I wasn’t going to sleep, I took a Tylenol PM.  I hate taking these because they have been connected to dementia.  But, they work very well.  I dozed off and slept.  The next morning I continued sleeping.  I slept and slept…and slept some more…missing the opportunity to hike.


When I finally forced myself to get motivated, I decided the adventure was done.  My tent was still wet on the outside.  I packed it up, picking off a few slugs.  I felt wet and dirty putting everything away.  I had a feminist meeting later in the day anyway, so I was okay just leaving the park.  I was disappointed, but there were some highlights.  I enjoyed the fire and my time reading and writing.  I enjoyed my encounters with birds.  I can add purple martin to my life list, as I have not seen one since I started birding about two years ago.  I enjoyed climbing the tower.  So, even though I wasn’t a happy camper, I didn’t regret my mini-adventure.

 

Devouring Dictatorship: Reflections on Privilege and Travel in Ashgabat

Devouring Dictatorship: Reflections on Privilege and Travel in Ashgabat

H. Bradford

7-13-17

I was excited to travel to Turkmenistan.  I had read that there are only 9,000 tourists who visit the country each year.  By comparison, over 100,000 tourists travel to North Korea annually.   Of course, comparisons to North Korea are abundant on travel websites.  The idea of traveling to such a mysterious place filled me with fear and excitement.  I didn’t know what to expect.  Some travel websites warned that tourists had been denied visas upon arrival or faced harassment from the police.  Documentaries about Turkmenistan (from Niyazev’s rule) made it seem like a bizarre country where in women could not wear makeup on television, video games, opera, and the circus were banned, everyone had to get off the streets by 11 pm, and government officials were made to go on grueling marches once a week to ensure their health.  These kinds of stories made me worried that something might go wrong.  I began to feel real anxiety as my trip approached, as I would be spending a few days in Ashgabat alone before joining the group I would be traveling with.   If Ashgabat was truly like Pyongyang, as some websites suggested, it was a worrisome thought.  I was afraid that I might accidentally break a law.  The fear was unfounded.  The visit to Turkmenistan went beautifully.  Still, during my time there, I reflected on my privilege and my desire to see strange places.  Thus, this post is about both my experience in Turkmenistan but also the dark urges and privileges of a tourist.


The unusual nature of Turkmenistan began with my flight.  The flight from Frankfurt to Ashgabat made a stop in Baku.  I had never been on a flight that stopped to let off passengers before.  The plane landed and to my surprise, let off almost all of the passengers on the plane.  When we continued from Baku to Ashgabat, there were probably less than six people on the flight.  All of these six people were foreign tourists.  It was bizarre to be among the few remaining passengers and that all of us were foreign.   Foreign travel is somewhat restricted in Turkmenistan, as in order to travel the country a tourist must have a local guide and a letter of invitation.   However, tourists are able to travel to Ashgabat on their own without a guide.  As for locals, the economy of Turkmenistan is built upon oil and gas.  There is a wide gap between the very few rich and poor, with an unemployment rate of about 60%.   Poverty is almost certainly one of the reasons there was no one from Turkmenistan on my flight.  As for myself, I had a letter of invitation and a local guide accompanied our tour through Turkmenistan.  Thus, I breezed through customs without incident.  However, I arrived late (at midnight) and was one of very few people at the airport.  This meant that my bag was inspected for a long time.  After it was put through the x-ray machine, several workers sifted through my belongings.  They studied each medication, opened them, looked at the contents of each bottle.  They also took special interest in my snacks, making commentary to each other about my belongings.   I suppose they might have been bored.  I think my snacks were probably disappointing.  As for the thorough inspection of my medicine, opiate drugs are banned in the country, even with a prescription so I can only assume they were looking for banned medication.


Once I passed through customs and the baggage inspection, I had a feeling that everything was going to be okay and that I’d worked myself up watching too many documentaries or reading travel horror stories.  I was met by the local tour guide and driven back to the Ak Altyn Hotel.  By then, I was sleepy from my 20+ hours of airports and flights.  So, I barely paid attention to the city.  I dreamily looked back at the airport, a giant white structure shaped like a bird.  I also took note that there were other cars on the road, despite the 11 pm curfew.  I was informed that shops close by 11pm and also warned not to smoke outdoors (as it was illegal…though I don’t smoke anyway), but there were no other immediate signs of dictatorship.


The following day, I decided I would set out by myself and explore the city.  A few other tourists from the group arrived, but I gave them a cold welcome.  I was more interested in my own agenda of seeing the city than getting to know my future travel companions.  So, with a guidebook, map, and to do list, I set out walking.  I decided to walk because the buses seemed confusing (as there was no central map of routes).  It was hot.  I was disoriented at first and spent some time walking the wrong direction.  When I found my bearings, I turned around and set off for the statue of Lenin.  It was located about an hour or so walk from my hotel, provided one does not get turned around.  My walking brought me to a random amusement park with rides, a Japanese garden, and dinosaur statues.  People seemed to be having fun, though each few blocks seemed punctuated by a police officer.   Some meandered through the parks as well.  It seemed that despite the 60% unemployment rate, there was no shortage of police jobs or jobs sweeping or cleaning the many monuments.   Still, the city did not really feel like Pyongyang at all.  The fact that I could travel freely and solo, made it seem very different.  And, after wandering the streets alone for two days, I was only approached once by a police officer.  When it happened, my heart began to race, but…it was only to check the time.


Once I found Lenin, I spent several hours exploring other monuments and parks.  Lenin was only important because of my politics…but also because Turkmenistan has sought to distance itself from its Communist past.  Although Niyazov was a communist leader during the Soviet Union and his party was the reincarnation of the communist party after the Soviet Union collapsed, the iconography of communism as well as remnants of Russian colonization have been dismantled.   The Turkmen script was changed from Cyrillic and statues and images of Marx and Lenin were replaced with the images of Niyazov.  The guiding ideology of the nation was set forth in the Ruknama, a book by Niyazov on the history of the Turkmen people and himself.   Gas revenues were invested into creating a showpiece capital.  Thus, almost all of the buildings in Ashgabat are new and made of Russian and Italian marble.  The city is full of well kept parks and monuments.  It really is unique.  Still, despite the changes, a statue of Lenin remains…not far from the American embassy, in a less visited park.

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I spent the day visiting parks and viewing buildings.  Towards the end of the day, I visited the National Museum of Fine Art.  I was the only tourist in the three story building.  The staff seemed surprised to see me.  This was a common occurrence in Ashgabat.  The museum was filled with interesting Turkmen and Soviet art, such as giant carpets.  There were images of rivers, workers, giant melons, tractors, and happy people with musical instruments.  On the way back to my hotel, I wandered through Inspiration Alley, a park of various statues of Muslim scholars.  They were unfamiliar men, owing to my lack of knowledge of Muslim history.  The history is so foreign to me, it is hard to imagine that Al-Zamakhshari or Abu-Biruni might be household names and that not knowing them would be the same as ignorance of Einstein, Shakespeare, or Newton. Image may contain: sky and outdoor


The following day, I set off to visit the Botanical Garden, as I thought it would provide a nice opportunity to watch birds.  The Botanical Garden was closed.  This is a theme of my life.  When I went to Minsk the garden was closed.  When I went to Bishkek, I also found that the botanical garden was closed.  I feel that I somehow have very bad luck with botanical gardens.  Anyway, I instead visited the Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral.  It was a very hidden and modest orthodox cathedral.  I didn’t stay long as it was hosting a service.  Later I visited a bazaar and did some more walking, revisiting some sites I had seen the other day.   I was approached by two Russian speaking Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I was actually curious to talk to them (for the first time ever), but our conversation was cut short by two police officers and I was quick to walk away.  Jehovah’s Witnesses are illegal in Turkmenistan.  In all, the city is quite large and spread out, so I found it impossible to see some of the major sites by foot.  These had to wait until my tour actually began, as we were promised a sight seeing tour by bus and a night time tour to see the city lights.


The bus tours offered a wide array of strange sights.  We saw the largest indoor Ferris wheel in the world, the Arch of Neutrality, and the largest fountain in the world.  Once again, it is unsettling that the largest fountain in the world is in a country that is 80% desert!  The Ashgabat fountain is guarded by stern statues of the ancestors of the Turks: Orguz Khan and his sons.  We even passed by the Walk of Health, where government workers were expected to trek the 23 mile path through the Kopet Dag mountains once a year.  Perhaps the grand finale of the eccentric was a visit to the Turkmenbashi Mosque.  The mosque holds the remains of Niyazev and his family (his mother and brothers died in the 1948 earthquake that struck the city).  It also features quotes from the Ruhnama on the walls of the mosque and the eight pointed star.  The eight points represent the eight pillars of Islam.  Niyazev added three more pillars to Islam, including reading his book and visiting local holy sites in Turkmenistan.  These revisions were not welcomed by Saudi Arabia and consequently, Wahhabism is also banned in Turkmenistan.  We revisited the city later in the evening, when every building was lit up and the city looked like Las Vegas. Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor


All of this probably sounds pretty astonishing.  I thought it was astonishing.   Although Niyazev is dead and some of his monuments have been shuffled around, the country is still considered one of the most repressive countries in the world (by Human Rights Watch for instance).   Yet, as a tourist, it was…well, fascinating.  My detached position from it all and speaks to my privilege.   I believe that when we travel, we consume the exotic.   In Turkmenistan, it was the experience of dictatorship and the legacy of Niyazev.  If we consume the odd food or threat of danger, we can take on the qualities of the fearless or the bizarre.  Just as the flamingo becomes pink from eating crustaceans and algae, the traveler consumes experiences to become something more colorful.  As travelers, our privilege allows us to migrant from experiences.  We are not mired in the same realities of oppression.  When a tourist goes to jail or becomes very ill, the reality of the world returns.  This painful reality is framed as shocking.  It is framed as a bad travel experience.  Anything that is too real or too inescapable is not travel…it is a crisis or tragedy!  Hence, the case of Otto Warmbier in North Korea or Bakari Henderson, who was recently killed in Greece after taking a selfie…are not viewed as part of the travel spectrum.  Travel should be cushioned from the world’s harshest realities.

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Perhaps the exotic should be made normal.  In Turkmenistan, it may seem exotic that drivers are fined for having dirty cars.  But, are our own laws any more rational?  The fundamental assumption behind both is that laws exist and breaking them results in state administered punishment.  An alien might find little difference between the marbled fantasy land of Ashgabat and the red carpet of Hollywood or neon glow of Las Vegas.  One was built as a dictator’s legacy, the others built upon a similar fantasy of wealth and beauty.   The weird mosque of Turkmenbashi is only unusual because “legitimate” religion must be at least a few hundred years old.  But, these too were created by individuals and interpreted by other individuals until they were made normal by legitimizing power structures.  The excess seen in Ashgabat…with giant fountains and white marble statue are no more heinous than the same excess that is commonplace in advanced capitalist countries.  What about our giant malls, thousands of Walmarts and McDonald’s, and mountains of garbage?  Turkmenistan is a country smaller than Spain with a GDP that is smaller than Croatia’s, Lithuania’s, Kenya’s, and well….87 other countries and a population of less than five million.  Surely, even with its excess…the country has an ecological foot print far less than much of the world. Image may contain: sky


At the same time, differences do exist.  We are not all perfectly the same.  To glaze over difference by normalizing the strange, fails to recognize the social conditions which brought about a particular set of traits.  It is terrible that so much gas wealth was put into building the show case capital than building schools, hospitals, or housing.  It is also unfortunate that wealth and power in the country is concentrated into the hands of so few.  As for the social conditions that brought about Niyazev’s dictatorship, that is a long complicated story that I don’t have the time or knowledge to answer.   The political/economic development of the country…and the very existence of the country itself as a unique entity with a unified identity is a Soviet construction.  But, even this construction is a dialectical process as it was constructed in a world at odds with the Soviet Union.  Prior to this, its development was shaped by Russian imperialism- and that itself was shaped in reaction to British imperialism.  There are always bigger forces at play.  No dictatorship exists in a vacuum.

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Returning to privilege, to some degree, all travelers must exist in the fantasy land of their own ego.  My ego is hungry for experiences.  This is in part so I can patch together an identity that is not a disappointment to myself.  An identity that siphons as much living out of the world as possible.  The truth is, I am not wealthy and free.  I am oppressed.  I am a worker.  I will live and die like a billion humans whose stories will fade into the blurry memories of a few close friends or family members- before disappearing entirely.  In the grand scheme of things, I am not even here.  I never existed.  My importance is so minuscule, that for all practical purposes I am already dead.  Isn’t this the epitome of privilege?  Exerting what little power and freedom I have for the purpose of living selfishly?  The rest of the world be damned.  This is something all travelers do.  Many loath to return to work.  The most privileged don’t have to.  So, while we are privileged enough to enjoy some ego driven escapism, what are we escaping from?  For me, the gravity of wage slavery will always draw me back home.  Thus, I think my travels are fueled by escapism, ego, and existential crisis.  It is a combination that makes it hard for me to be perfectly mindful of my impact on the world and in this case, the wanton consumption of dictatorship.


So here I am.  Chronos eats its children.  Every human eats its reality when it becomes aware of its existential crisis.  Yet, we don’t all have the power and privilege to be titans.  Every titanic consumer is a blight on the environment, the lives of others, and the world around them.  There are moments when I am a titan.  But, usually I am just a proletarian.  I don’t know how to remedy this contradiction.  I love to travel.  I love a chance to get away.  When I am at home, I work very hard as an activist, worker, and human being.  I try to be engaged and mindful.  Then, when opportunity permits, I escape for a bit and consume piece of the world in the form of leisure and a particular form of selfish living.  I am hungry for the darkest, strangest bits.  Dictatorships, nuclear accidents, and spectacular tragedies.  Maybe there is a little cult of personality in each of us.

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A Little Solo Camping

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A Little Solo Camping

H. Bradford

5/21/17

I was feeling a little stressed out last week, so I decided that I was going to go camping.  The stress stemmed from the fact that I felt that my plate was a little full.  I sometimes put in a little too much effort into some activist activities.  For instance, I devoted more time than I should have to researching pollinators and Frida Kahlo for recent presentations.  While these papers were for informal settings with friends, it made my week feel a little like finals week!  I needed a little break, so I set off on a solo camping adventure.  Honestly, I have never gone camping alone before.  Really, until just last year, I had never even gone camping before.  My first real camping experience was my trip to Africa last summer.  I will be camping again this June in Central Asia.  Go big or go home, I guess?  Local adventures are also fun (and cheaper).  For a small dose of adventure, I checked the Minnesota State Park’s website and decided to go camping at Wild River State Park because the park was hosting two birding hikes in celebration of International Migratory Bird Day.


Wild River State Park is located about fourteen miles east of North Branch, MN on the St. Croix River.  I don’t recall visiting the park before, but I may have visited it while I lived in Cambridge, MN as a teen.  It was about a two and a half hour drive from Duluth.  I left on Friday at around noon and arrived by the late afternoon.  I stopped for lunch along the way and also picked up some DNR approved firewood outside of the park.  I had reserved a campsite that was several sites away from other reservations, as I wanted to be alone.  Upon arrival, I checked in, set-up my tent, and read a little from the Frida Kahlo biography.  The campsite was fairly busy, with many of the sites reserved.  I was a little surprised to see so many massive RVs, complete with trucks, bicycles, grills, and scampering hordes children.  From six to nine pm, each of the campsites seemed to be a Thanksgiving feast of grilled foods.  The campground itself was a little too chaotic to be relaxing.  I walked around a little to orient myself, then hiked for the next three to four hours along the various trails near the campsite.   Thankfully, the trails were quiet.  I only saw a handful of hikers once I was away from the campground.  I was immediately struck by the bountiful birdlife.  The forest was alive with the sounds of numerous birds, which flitted by with frustrating speed.  I noticed several bluebirds and a rose-breasted grosbeak during my hike.  I also heard an owl later on, but could not identify it.  Another highlight was a pair of noisy ravens.  Beyond the birds, the forest was teeming with trilliums and other wildflowers.  Since it was warmer than in Duluth, the season was further along, with more flowers and foliage than in the north. DSCF6175 I wore myself out with walking and settled back down at my campsite.  I build a fire, but didn’t actually pack any foods for cooking as I was only going to be gone for less than 24 hours.  Instead, I nibbled on the snacks that I had packed while watching the fire and listening to the sounds of the forest.  It was very calming and empowering, since it provided me mental space from the daily demands of work and activism.  It was empowering in that I felt proud of myself for hiking alone, driving there myself, setting up the tent and fire, and entertaining myself with my own company.  The only downside was that it would have been nice to pack a lamp or candle so that I could have written in my journal after sunset.  I also forgot to pack extra batteries.  I also managed to forget to pack my glasses and a pair of flipflops.  My headlamp went dead and it made using the restroom difficult.  Despite these shortfalls in my planning, I enjoyed staring at the fire and remained with it until it died.  I then retreated to my tent for sleep.  Even after using the bathroom twice before bedtime, I inevitably awoke in the middle of the night to contemplate answering nature’s call or trying to wait until morning. DSCF6192 DSCF6208 My sleep was uneasy.  I certainly felt worn out, but I tossed and turned.  My mind was full of thoughts and ideas.  I was also excited about my mini adventure.   I am not sure how many hours of sleep I managed to obtain.  By five in the morning, the birds were singing in full force, so I abandoned my efforts at sleeping.  I woke up early, packed up all of my things, and nibbled on granola while studying bird books.  I found a used book on warblers of the Midwest from the Superior Public Library book sale.  At about seven in the morning, I left the campsite for the boat landing on the St. Croix river, where a bird walk was scheduled.  I was the first birder to arrive.  Two seasoned birders began their work listening for songs and scanning the treetops.  They adeptly identified birds by their songs and picked them out even as they zipped through the sky.  I was not very skilled at identification, but at least saw some familiar birds and took notes on what the others saw and heard.  I am not sure how every birder I meet is so skilled.  There must be beginners like me.  It takes years of studying to identify birds.  Where are all of the novices?

(Some of the photos are blurry, but it should depict a Scarlet tanager, black and white warbler, American red start, yellow rumped warbler, and Eastern bluebird) Once more birders arrived, we hiked around for two hours.  The goal was to record all of the species of birds we saw that morning so that the data could be compared to other International Birding Day counts at the park.  There were bluebirds and Baltimore orioles.  We saw tree swallows living in bluebird houses.  A female wood duck flew overhead.  An Eastern kingbird showed off the white markings on its tail feathers.  A few house wrens had taken up residence in some ramshackle abandoned bird houses.  We also saw many warblers, including a blue winged warbler, yellow warbler, golden winged warbler, palm warbler, black and white warbler, and American redstart.  The warblers were quick and kept to the top of the trees.  A flash of yellow would sail by overhead and everyone immediately knew what it was.  Faint chirps were also readily identified.  I stood there, stupefied by the variety of quick moving, similar looking, yellow birds.  Since this hike, I have gone out birding around Duluth and Superior and managed to identify some more warblers.  Maybe someday I will know them as well as the other birders.  In all, I wrote down over twenty birds that were new to my life list.  The group counted over fifty birds for the total species count.


Following the count, I decided to go on a final hike.  I drove to the visitor’s center, where a scarlet tanager was hanging out in a treetop.  An ovenbird sang in the distance.  The visitor’s center was soon visited by a young black bear.  I wandered along a trail for a short final hike.  Along the hike, I saw several more scarlet tanagers and Baltimore orioles.  I also saw a yellow bellied sapsucker and a group of cowbirds.  With the final hike out of the way, I set off for the two hour drive home.  But, the birding adventures had helped me with my bird identification skills.  For the past several evenings since then, I have tried to memorize bird songs.  Auditory bird identification is not a skill that I have spent any time developing and I can see how useful it is.

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Learning to identify birds is challenging.  There is a lot of information that one has to gather in a short amount of time.  Birds are very quick, so size, color, beak shape, flight pattern, song, behaviors, etc. are some of the data that one must collect within a few seconds.  The reward is a better understanding of the inhabitants of the natural world and a keener eye for the hidden details around us (at least in regard to birds).  Another bonus is the ability to add a bird to a life list.  I like lists.  They make me feel accomplished, since it allows me to quantify and organize some aspect of my reality.     Even camping adds to my lists, as it added to my list of state parks I have visited.  More than an odd obsession with quantifying my life, camping offered quietude and self-efficacy.    It also offered a relatively low cost sample of adventure.

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Travel and My Fears

 

Travel and My Fears

H. Bradford

5/21/17

I am getting ready for another trip and I feel a little afraid.  This time, I am traveling to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan for three weeks.  Like always, I will go alone, though I will meet up with a group of strangers after a few days in Ashgabat.  From there, we will embark on an overland camping trip through the stans.  When I first fantasized about the trip, I imagined the wonder of seeing the dehydrated remains of the Aral Sea.  I imagined myself following the Silk Road through ancient, exotic cities.  I would traverse the rugged formerly Soviet states, admiring mosques, monuments, and a few remaining statues of Lenin.  It seemed very intrepid.  All winter, the trip was abstract.  I read books about the history of the region.  But, now that the trip is less than two weeks away, a new reality is setting in.  I am going to have to bush camp in the desert with scorpions, cobras, and several days without a shower.  I am going to have to navigate Ashgabat alone as a solo female American traveler.  Turkmenistan gets a fraction of the tourists that North Korea gets each year (about 9,000 compared to 35,000).  I am also moderately terrified of contracting dysentery, typhus, or any number of food or waterborne diseases.  (I do have some antibiotics from last year’s trip and was vaccinated last year against a variety of illnesses).   Also, ATM use in those countries is unreliable, so, I will have to carry a lot of cash and hope it is enough for the duration of my trip…and that I don’t lose it or have it stolen.  Internet is somewhat patchy in those countries and my cellphone does not work out of the country.  I have faced that same dilemmas before and fared alright, but, it does make me a little worried.

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The Darvaza gas crater in the Karakum desert- one of the places where I will be “bush camping” in just over two weeks from now.


Fear is not new.  I’ve always been afraid of travel.  Usually, there is this brave person inside of me, who is full of fantasy and confidence.  That person decides on some adventure, which looks great as a portrait in my imagination, but is not as fun as a lived reality.  Let’s call that person “Brave H.” For instance, when I was 19 years old, I decided that I would go to London and Paris alone.  I came from a town of 250 people and had never been on an airplane or road in a taxi.  Go big or go home, Brave H. says…until I am actually trying to figure out how airports work, on my first plane ride, and going across the ocean.  In retrospect, it is really no big deal.  That sort of travel seems easy.  But, to 19 year old me, that was a pretty big deal.  Over fifty countries later, I am still afraid, but the fear changes with new challenges.


Last year, I went to Southern Africa for an overland camping trip in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.  As the plane took off, I was pretty terrified.  I was terrified before then.  I had never actually gone camping, but somehow Brave H. signed me up for three weeks of it…in Africa.  I was afraid of being alone.  I was afraid of being the victim of crime- sexual assault in particular.  I was afraid of becoming very ill.  I was afraid that I was not up to the challenge of camping or the long days on bumpy roads.  I was a little afraid of insects, snakes, and animals.  Somehow, it wasn’t as bad as I feared. In fact, it was wonderful, fun, and even much easier than I imagined.  It took a few days of camping to come to the conclusion that I was going to make it.  Any small hardship was more than compensated for in the form of astonishing landscapes and animals.

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(A view of Victoria Falls from a helicopter.  I had a lot of anxiety as I had never been in a helicopter before.  But, overcoming fear and anxiety does have its rewards).

I was afraid the year before when Brave H. decided it was a good idea to visit Belarus and Ukraine, entirely alone.  After all, Brave H. wanted to see Chernobyl.  Brave H. wanted to visit a nature reserve outside of Minsk and partake in the weird splendor of the Cold War remnant.  So, that is where I went.  I don’t regret it.  Kiev was really beautiful and there was so much to see.  Minsk was not really pretty at all, but unique.  Neither place was teeming with tourists, adding a sense of bravery to my adventure.  I only spent a few days in each place.  I think that traveling often has waves of fear.  For instance, there is the anxiety of getting from the airport to the hotel without being ripped off or taken advantage of by a taxi driver.  Upon arriving at the hotel, there is elation after overcoming the first challenge.  After that, there are anxieties around finding a currency exchange, navigating the metro system, walking alone in the park, the other individuals staying in the hostel, the mysterious military parade, getting turned around, trying to find the monument to Baba Yar, etc.  It is like this on every adventure.  The ups and downs of figuring things out and staying safe in unfamiliar places.

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I have felt at least a little afraid during each of my trips.  I don’t particularly like being afraid, but I do like the feeling of accomplishment from figuring something out or successfully completing a task or adventure.  I suppose it makes me feel stronger and braver.  Of course, this only serves to inspire Brave H.to dream up bigger adventures and greater challenges.  I am not a robust, energetic, extroverted adventurer.  I am cowardly.  I like books and birds.  I enjoy museums and botanical gardens. I don’t really care for being dirty, lonely, terrified, tired, or sick.  Brave H. won’t stand for that.  Nope.  Life is too short.  I want to see interesting things and test myself.  Granted, there are people who test themselves far more.  For instance, there was a woman in her 60s on my last trip who went scuba diving with alligators in the Zambezi river.  Brave H. wants to be her.   Normal, nerdy, cowardly H. does not like water or all the pressure from being under water.  The same woman climbed mountains and scuba dived all over the world.  She also traveled to the “Stans” for an overland trip.  I will never be one of those amazing adventurers that I meet when I am out traveling.  The ones who inspire Brave H. to concoct an adventure or dream of new challenges.  I will always be afraid.  As I test myself, the boundaries of the fear extends to the next horizon.  I hope that horizon takes me to interesting places.  Maybe I will trek up mountains (at least smaller ones that don’t require actual climbing gear).  Maybe I will learn to scuba dive.  Maybe I will never do those things.  Maybe there is a limit to how far the boundary can be pushed.  It may be limited by experiencing disease or a discomfort so great that it pushes me back into my comfort zone.  Whatever happens, it is my hope that I can one day be that old lady who inspires others with her fearlessness and zeal for life.

dscf4256Brave H. thinks she is a bad ass.   Well, maybe someday it will be true.

Bird Nerding Notes: Birding with My Mother

Bird Nerding Notes: Birding with My Mother

H. Bradford

4/10/17


My mother and I don’t spend that much time together.  I keep a pretty busy schedule which doesn’t always align well with the schedules of others.  But, last weekend we both went birding together.  I wanted to visit Savannah Portage State Park and Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge for some birding adventures.  I invited her along and since she wasn’t busy, we set off together for a Saturday of bird watching.


 

The day began with a drive to Wright, MN.   It is only an hour from where I now live, but I only visit a few times a year.  We went to what once was the Wright Place Cafe, which I hadn’t eaten at in over a decade.  I was a waitress there for a summer, back when I was 19 years old.  In a way, it is surreal returning to where I grew up since it is very foreign to me, yet near.  I feel like a ghost.  That I was never really there at all, since the person I am now is so distant from that past self.   There are so many years between us.   Following breakfast, we set out on our birding adventure.


Our first sighting was just outside of Tamarack, MN.  We noticed a grayish, hawk-like bird on a power line, overlooking two pastures.  I turned the car around to get a closer look.  Unfortunately, this scared the bird away.  After a careful pursuit, I managed to get a photograph of the unknown bird.  The zoom capacity of my camera is not that great, but it is enough to aid in the identification of birds (even if the photos themselves are not that wonderful).   We flipped back and forth between the camera image and our bird book.  Finally, we determined it was an American Kestrel.  I wrote it down in my little notebook.

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Our journey continued towards Savannah Portage State Park.  The road wound around various lakes, where we caught sight of swans.  However, the shoulder was too narrow and the ditch to deep to stop and look at the swans.  My mother promised that I would see swans later, but it was frustrating to have to pass up so many of them along the way!  Finally, we arrived at the state park.  I bought a sticker for the year and a patch (I am collecting state park patches).  What should I do with my collection of patches?  My mother suggested that I could sew them onto a jacket, which I wear for my state park adventures.  This seems extremely nerdy, but also like something I might actually do.  I like having special apparel for various occasions.


Savannah Portage State Park did not have many birds.  The small lakes in the park were still frozen and it was the middle of the day by the time we arrived.  We went on a short hike by a lake and over a bog walk.  This was neat, since we found frozen pitcher plants and overturned trees (from the storm last summer).   I would like to visit again during the summer.

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We drove around Big Sandy Lake, spotting more swans.  In 1850, Sandy Lake was the site of a massacre of Native Americans.  Although I never learned this in school (and grew up just 30-40 min away), over 200 Ojibwe died there from illness, starvation, and cold.  They were told to go there to receive their yearly annuity payment and supplies from the BIA, which arrived late and in short supply.   There is a small plaque memorializing the events at a rest area along Highway 65.   This is a reminder that the area really doesn’t belong to settlers, even though it serves as a recreational area today.


After stopping at the Dairy Queen in McGregor, we continued on to Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge.  This is where we spotted many birds.  Our first encounter was on a small bridge, where we saw various ducks.  Of course, the ducks were shy and quickly scattered.  I used my camera to try to hone in on some of the distant waterfowl.  There were some unique sightings.  The first sighting was a duck with a light gray colored back, dark head, and black chest.  This was hard to identify and we wrongly identified it as a canvasback.  However, after re-examining the photos, it was actually a Greater scaup (or it could be a lesser scaup?).  The duck had a blue bill and yellow eye.  It was my first time identifying a Greater scaup.  Another duck, was a small, black and white duck which frequently dove underwater.  We identified it as a bufflehead.  This is the first time that I have identified one since I began birding.

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We explored the many lakes and roads of the wildlife refuge.  Interestingly, when we were stopped on the bridge, a friendly Native American man on a makeshift motorbike stopped by to invite us to watch him make maple syrup.  We didn’t take him up on the offer, but he said that there was a group of people making syrup in the park.  Even though the refuge is mostly used for recreation and bird watching, it was also a reminder that it also has cultural significance.   The park is still used by Native Americans for harvesting wild rice, which as the name suggests, grows in the lakes of the area.  The park also features burial mounds which may date back to as far as 1000 BC.


On Rice Lake itself, we spotted bald eagles, trumpeter swans, various ducks, a muskrat, and an Eastern bluebird perched nearby.  We heard whooping cranes from somewhere in the area.  The ducks were too far away to identify, but the area was teeming with life and I finally was able to see the swans!


We returned to my mother’s house about 20 minutes away.  Near her home, we spotted a killdeer and a turkey.  The turkey was quick to escape my camera, so I only obtained a photo of its rump.  We also saw two more trumpeter swans on School House Lake near her house.

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Overall, it was a fun day.  Birding can actually be tiring, since there are highs and lows.  It is definitely a high to see a bird that I haven’t recorded before.  The fact that birds move quickly or might be too far away to identify is a low.   It also requires some degree of focus and vigilance, since birds can appear anywhere and may be hard to spot.  By the end of the day, I was tired!

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Bird Nerd Notes: Early Spring Birding

Bird Nerd Notes: Early Spring Birding

H. Bradford

4/1/17

When I was a kid, I never had much interest in birds.  My grandma Bradford kept a feeder, which was visiting by pine grosbeaks and evening grosbeaks.  My grandpa Bradford would feed the ducks near his house old bread or cracked corn.   My grandma Walli loved bluebirds.   Growing up in the country and on a lake, birds were a part of rural life.  Birds were interesting, but never caught my attention.   Oddly enough, it was plants that captured my attention.  I remember in the first and second grade, I would draw pictures of the plants that I found growing in the woods near my home.  I folded these pages in half, making botanical guides.  I wanted to be a botanist.   Birds didn’t interest me much at all.


I enjoy trying new hobbies, so my new year’s resolution in 2016 was to try birding as a new hobby.  I simply wanted to try something new and expand my knowledge into a new frontier.    My first birding adventure was pretty lackluster.  I went to Jay Cooke State Park for a New Year’s birding hike, but we only saw chickadees.  However, later that month a wayward Ivory billed gull appeared in Duluth.  I set out early one morning before my work meeting to try to find it.  Spotting it and then being joined by other birders….all older people with fancy cameras and binoculars, was a neat experience.  We were all there for the same thing…though me with a lot less gear.   (I do have a camera and binoculars now, but certainly not expensive and i really, really wish I had more ability to zoom… )   I think what really cemented this hobby was my trip to Africa, where I saw over 150 species of birds.   But, birding doesn’t have to involve travel or expensive gear.  It can happen in the backyard or in nearby parks.

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I am still learning to identify birds and I am not terribly studious in my approach.   I treat this hobby more like an endless scavenger hunt.  It is exciting to add new birds to my list.  In the process of searching for birds, I learn more about them, how to identify them, when and where to find them, etc.  So, it is experiential learning.  It mostly involves seeing the swift departure of some unknown bird and the disappointment that I did not identify it in time.  That happened to me several times today.  But, when I do find a new bird, it is great!  Sometimes, I see a bird, but I don’t have my binoculars or camera.  Again, it is a missed opportunity!   Another frustrating aspect of this hobby is that most people my age…are pretty indifferent to birds.  So, I feel like a bird nerd…who prattles on about some bird that no one cares about.  I have to monitor myself to make sure I don’t bore others or put them off with this hobby that they have no interest in.

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No birds.  The story of my March birding endeavors.


One thing that I have learned this month is that early March is sort of the doldrums of birding.  Until this year, I never really paid attention to what birds are around and when.  Sure, I always noticed the spring and fall migrations, but I never really paid that close attention to the patterns of bird life around me.   In early March, I went to the Sax Zim Bog.  This was the last weekend that the bird center there was open for the winter season.  I had visited the center in mid-February.   The contrast was stark.  There were far fewer birds active during my my early March visit.   I saw a single gray jay, in contrast to the many gray jays I saw in February.  There were no more flocks of white winged cross bills.   However, I did see some pine grosbeaks at a feeder on the way out of the birding area.  Even though the birds were scarce, I enjoyed taking a snowy hike with my mother.   It is too bad that the Sax Zim Bog is so remote.  It takes about an hour to drive there and the roads are winding, dirt country roads.  Still, it is a great place to go birding.

In mid-march, I went to St. Croix State Park.  The goal was to try to do some birding, while reaching my OTHER new year’s resolution of visiting a few more new state parks.  I have never visited St. Croix State Park before, but it is only about an hour away near Hinckley, Minnesota.   The park was almost entirely devoid of birds, with the exception of crows.   I enjoyed a hike and had fun searching for agates in the parking lot with Dan, but as far as birding goes, it was a pretty uneventful day.    However, we did spot some immature bald eagles on the way to the park.  After leaving the park, we spotted two fields of what I assume were tundra swans.  I assumed they were tundra swans because they migrate through Minnesota in March as they head to the arctic to nest.   There were also other tundra swans spotted in area fields that week (which is why I made the guess that it could be tundra swans).  To really identity the difference, I would have had to see the beak, which is often yellow at the base versus all black (for a trumpeter swan).    They also have different beak shapes.  Tundra swans are also more numerous, and since there were two fields of swans, it seemed logical that they would be tundra swans over the less common trumpeter swans.

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These swans were too far away to perfectly identify.

Throughout the month, I went on various hikes, but did not see much bird life other than black capped chickadees, white breasted nuthatches, and crows.  However, with the warm weather this week, there has suddenly been an explosion of waterfowl.  Today, I went to Wisconsin Point intent on a short hike, but ended up trudging through swampy cattails to try to identify some unknown waterbirds.  I am sure there were new species of birds for me to see, but I could only positively identify a few groups of Common mergansers.  Still, this is a new bird for my list!  Otherwise, I saw many familiar birds such as Canadian geese and red winged blackbirds.  I also saw a gull with a black face, but it flew by too quickly to positively identity.  In any event, the sudden appearance of so many waterfowl heralds the end of my birding doldrums this month.   In all, my experience this month make me feel more attuned to the seasonal movements of birds in my region.  My goal was to see 50 new species of birds this year.  That may be a bit ambitious.  But, I can say that I am slowly becoming a bird nerd.

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Glow for Roe: The Importance of Being Seen

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Glow for Roe: The Importance of Being Seen

H. Bradford

1/28/17

    Visibility is important to any social movement.  For instance, Pride Festivals and parades make sexual diversity visible to the general public.  Offices, newspapers, fliers, and tables at events are ways that socialist groups make themselves visible.  The Women’s March on Washington, along with the marches elsewhere in the country, was a way to make the feminist movement visible across America.  It drew attention to demands and anger in the face of this administration, but also in response to the decades of failures and defeats in realizing gender equality in this country.  There are times when movements must strategically choose invisibility, such as when the violent repression of the state is so great that visibility risks death, injury, or imprisonment.  At this moment in time, this is not generally the case.  This is the time to be visible.  That was my reasoning for trying to organize “Glow for Roe.”  I think it is important for people who support reproductive rights to be seen.  The point of the event was to turn out for a “glowing” protest in support of reproductive rights.  It was one of several Roe v. Wade events last weekend, each of which raised the profile of reproductive rights activism in the Twin Ports.  The following is why it is important to stand up and be seen.


We are the Majority:

 

According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, seven out of ten Americans want to keep abortion legal.  In a 2015 survey from the Brookings Institute, 59% of women reported that they wanted abortion to be legal in all or most cases.  It is fair to say that most Americans want abortion to remain legal.  So, this is excellent!  By participating in events like Glow for Roe, the 40 days of Choice, Planned Parenthood support pickets, or the Hotdish Militia’s party/counter protest of the Jericho March, pro-choice activists can show other pro-choice individuals that they are not alone.  Those who are engaged in social movements are always a minority of those who actually support them.  As such, activists play a role in affirming the beliefs and identities of those who may not be visibly involved in the movement.   They also play a role in visibly countering the beliefs of those who disagree.

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Abortion is stigmatized:

 

While most people support keeping abortion legal, many people also support restrictions on legal abortions.  These abortions include such things as waiting periods, parental consent, funding barriers, restrictions on how late in a pregnancy abortion can occur, mandatory ultrasounds, hospital admission rights, etc.  According to the Guttmacher Institute, 338 abortion restrictions were introduced between 2010-2016, accounting for 30% of the restrictions passed since 1973.  So, while public opinion generally supports legal abortion, in reality, legal abortion has been eroded by an onslaught of restrictions.  Restrictions make it more difficult and expensive to obtain an abortion.  At the core of these restrictions is the idea that abortion is something other than health care.  While one in three women have had abortions, it is secret and stigmatized.  In the 1990s, Hillary Clinton popularized the idea that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.  By adding “rare” to the discourse, it stigmatized abortion and framed it as a moral rather than medical issue.  There have been 1,142 restrictions on abortion passed since 1973.  According to NARAL-Pro Choice America, states have passed 835 anti-choice measures since 1995.  This means that Over 70% of the restrictions have been passed since the mid 1990s!  Stigmatizing abortion or calling for it to become rare justifies restricting it, thus further limiting access.  Being visible, on the street, protesting for choice is a way to be seen as an unapologetic supporter of abortion and the women who make that choice.  It is a way to destigmatize abortion, bringing abortion as a word, idea, and medical experience into the public sphere.

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The Other Side is Visible

Another important reason to protest in support of reproductive rights is because the pro-life movement is large, well-funded, and enjoys a lot of institutional support from churches, social movement organizations, and even the government (through politicians, tax breaks, and state funded crisis pregnancy centers).  They are visible.  Not only are they visible, they are violent.   In 1994, arson destroyed a Planned Parenthood in Brainerd, MN burned along with several neighboring businesses.  In 2002, five shots were fired into the rebuilt building, breaking a window and damaging a wall and ceiling.  The building finally closed in 2011 due to losing Title X funding.  The location did not provide abortion services.  The Planned Parenthood in Grand Rapids, MN was also fired at in 2002.  Since 1993, at least 11 people have died in attacks on abortion clinics.  There are elements of the pro-life movement who seem to believe that they are at war.  Of course, even their peaceful demonstrating constitutes a war against women, but for some, there is a call to violence.  This is terrifying.  This is also a reason why visibly supporting choice is important.  Clinic staff and patrons need defenders who will visibly stand up for their right to life!  At some level, not mobilizing into a visible mass movement is irresponsible when abortion clinic workers life on the line each day they go to work.  Our visibility is the least we can do.

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Our Rights are Threatened:

It is important to be seen because our rights are threatened.  They have been threatened since 1973.  The barrage of restrictions.  The Hyde Amendment.  The Global Gag rule-again.  Here we are, forty four years after Roe v. Wade and it feels like reproductive rights are a fluke.  A set of rights that slipped past the goalie.  No one actually believes that women are human beings.  No one actually believes that women can have autonomy over their body.  No one actually believes that women should not be punished for having sex.  There are people in this society that want to see women go to jail for having an abortion.  Despite having the largest prison population in the world, this warped logic concludes the United States would be better if we imprisoned ⅓ of all women.  The only people who believe that the equality of women hinges upon their ability to control their bodies are feminists.  Like abortion, feminism has been stigmatized.  It is a bad word.  No one wants to admit to having an abortion OR being a feminist. Well, it is important to be visible as a feminist since no one else is going to advocate for women.  No one else believes abortion access is a fundamental and necessary conditions of our liberation.  We are the vanguard of all women.  Our rights are threatened.  They have barely been realized.  No one else will stand up for our rights, but ourselves.

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We Can be Visible:

 

There are places and times in history where women have not been able to be visible.  I imagine communist Romania, wherein women were forced to have pregnancy tests each month at their workplaces.  They were monitored by the state to make sure they did not have abortions.  At the same time, contraceptives were banned by the state.  Thus, women were given no choice.  Well, some chose illegal abortion, resulting in the death of over 9,000 women.  I consider death a choiceless choice.  Until last year, abortion was illegal in all cases in Chile.  This meant that an 11 year old rape victim was denied the right to abortion in a high profile case several years again.  Since many Latin American countries have very restrictive abortion laws, women at risk of Zika virus were told to abstain from sex for two years.  In Saudi Arabia, women can have an abortion only if pregnancy threatens their life, and then with parental or spousal consent.  We are fortunate that we still have some rights and that we are able to assemble and speak our minds without serious threat from the police (in most cases).  The Women’s March was criticized for its coziness with the police, but we can certainly use this to our advantage.  We should speak out while we can and because we can!

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The Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition

    The Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition

H. Bradford

(The following was written for the University of MN-Duluth’s Women and Gender Studies Department Newsletter)

Many people may not be aware that Duluth has its own feminist activist group, so I would like to take a moment to introduce you to the Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition (TPWRC).  TPWRC was founded in September 2014 by a group of activists who were involved with ad hoc protests of the 40 Days for Life.  For those unfamiliar with the 40 Days for Life, it is an international anti-choice event wherein volunteers spend forty days outside of abortion providers with the hope of ending abortion through prayer and protest.  The anti-choice campaign began in 2004, is organized through local churches, and happens in the fall and spring each year.  Last spring, the event mobilized 120,000 volunteers through 4,700 churches.  Locally, the 40 Days for Life is held in September through the end of October outside of the Building for Women from 8 am to 8 pm.  Counter protesting them is important because their presence shames women who use the clinic and seeks to sway public opinion against abortion.  Because 95% of Minnesota counties do not have abortion providers, defending our clinic in Duluth is essential for ensuring that women in Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin continue to have access to abortion services.  Furthermore,  over the last forty years, abortion rights have been whittled away by a relentless onslaught of anti-choice legislation that mandates biased counseling, parental consent, waiting periods, and funding restrictions.  With this in mind, the activists who founded the Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition have hosted regular protests of the 40 Days for Life since 2010.  We sought create an organization which could continue these protests into the future and organize other feminist actions in the community.  This is how the organization came into fruition in 2014.


Since its founding in 2014, the group has organized a variety of feminist events.  Aside from the counter protest of the 40 Days for Life, TPWRC has organized a support picket of Roe v. Wade.  Last year, this involved a “glo-test” wherein participants carried signs and wore glow sticks.  We have also organized “Chalk for Choice” events this fall, which entails using chalk to create positive messages and artwork in the plaza of the Building for Women. The group has also organized a feminist book club, which will resume this winter.  Other events include panels for International Women’s Day and Roe v. Wade and monthly “Feminist Frolics.”  Feminist Frolics combine education with outdoor adventure.  For instance, in August we went for a hike after listening to a brief lecture about how patriarchy shapes our relationship to nature.  In September, we went foraging for wild food while learning about the history and economics of foraging and gleaning.  Another exciting project that our group has been working on is launching a radical cheerleading group.  The Rah Rah Revolutionaries has participated in several local protests since their re-launch this fall.  Through these various activities, the TPWRC seeks to promote feminist activism while educate ourselves and our community about feminism.


Admittedly, our activist group is modest.  At many of our events, we have less than a dozen attendees.  Our level of activity ebbs and flows with the work schedules of our organizers.  However, the call to feminist activism has hardly been greater.  Feminism is misunderstood and misrepresented in society.  At the same time, women continue to be underpaid and undervalued in the economy.  They continue to be sexually assaulted and abused, then blamed and shamed for the violence against them.  Abortion rights are curtailed, while students are provided skeletal sex education, daycare is as expensive as rent, and we are the one of three nations in the world that does not provide women with paid maternity leave.  Shockingly, denying voting rights to women has become a popular demand in some circles!  It seems that even the most basic rights granted to women have been called into question.  Feminism should be not feared and averted, but should be reclaimed and asserted to make the powers of capitalist patriarchy tremble with fear.  If you would like to join this fight, the Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition can be found on Facebook or can be contacted via email at Hbradford@Css.edu


						
					

Just Four: Adventures in Four State Parks

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

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

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

The dump truck:

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The crowd goes wild!

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My prize:

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

  1. Tettegouche State Park:

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

3: Crosby Recreation Area:

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

  1. Tower Soudan State Park:

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

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

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

Tower Soudan Mine Park Images:

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