Another Birthday Month
Well, February is ending. This means that my favorite month is almost over! I feel a little sad, as usually I meet February with such enthusiasm. I often have a long “to do” list of birthday activities. This month, I have found myself feeling sluggish, with less zeal for living. There were some days that I felt downright depressed. However, I still did my best to make the most of the month and celebrate my birthday in smaller ways. This is fine. Sometimes a celebration can look more like hibernation and the best gift is solitude and sleep. With that said, it was a pretty low key birthday month. Here are some of the highlights….
Sax Zim Birding Days:
On February 3rd, I braved the slippery roads and headed to the Sax Zim Bog to do some birding. I was even able to convince Adam to come along with me. Although the day was probably a bit long for him, I had a fun time. We drove around and visited several bird feeders. I even saw two new species of birds: snow buntings and Bohemian Waxwings. I almost missed the Bohemian Waxwings, but happened to turn my binoculars to a tree. I assume at first that they were Cedar Waxwings. The two birds look pretty similar. However, I grabbed my bird guide and was pleasantly surprised to see that the birds had a rusty coloration under their tails. This meant that they were Bohemian Waxwings. There are only three species of waxwings in the world (the other is the Japanese Waxwing). There is always something magical about identifying a new species of bird for the first time. There are many birds that I will confuse or forget, but I think I will always remember the plump and rusty Bohemian Waxwing. As for snowbuntings, I have seen these birds before- but not since I began birding a few years ago. So, they were a target species this year. I have driven around looking for them throughout the winter, but finally spotted a huge flock of them. They were too quick and white to photograph (as they blended into the field pretty well).
The birds were pretty far away so the photo quality is not awesome.
On February 5th, I returned to the bog alone and added two more birds that day. I was fortunate enough to find that a flock of Sharp-tailed grouse were active in the early morning. Later in the day, I moved on to Virginia, where I found a lone Canvasback duck. Both were new to the list. I also believe that I saw a Boreal owl as I was driving through Cotton, but I did not have time to stop as I was on a main highway. Thus, I was unable to add that bird to my list.
Since those dates, I have done some birding elsewhere, but have been unable to find any new species of birds. I have been trying to spot a long tailed duck and a spruce grouse- haunting HWY 2 and Agate Bay in Two Harbors. My field trips have yielded nothing, but with some days off in the near future- perhaps I will find them. Of course, birding isn’t about adding new birds to a list. This is “listing.” There is joy in seeing familiar birds and becoming better at identifying what is already known. But, as a person who likes lists and obtains a sense of accomplishment from setting goals- adding to the list motivates me to go out more often. This weekend, I will make my final winter visit to the bog when I go snowshoeing there with my mother. This is how we celebrated my birthday last year (even though this runs into March…escaping the neat borders of my birthday month).
One of the outcomes of visiting the Sax Zim Bog on February 3rd with Adam was that we were both impressed with how people living in the bog area set up public bird feeders. These individuals welcome people to view birds on their property. Feeders such as Mary Lou’s and Loretta’s attract both birds, but also large groups of strangers. It is inspiring to see people open up their yards to strangers. They also invest a lot of their time and money into maintaining these feeders which benefit both birds and people. I wish that more communities broke down the barriers between private and common spaces. This is something that the Solidarity House tries to do by offering a free garden, free books, as well as a variety of free goods on our porch. After we returned from the bog, we decided to set up more bird feeders in our front yard. I purchased two feeders and Adam purchased one. I also bought some more suet.
Our efforts have regularly attracted birds to the yard. Although we do not have a huge diversity of species in our small yard, we regularly have several cardinals visit the feeders. I have also seen black capped chickadees, a white throated sparrow, white breasted nuthatches, a downy woodpecker, and dark eyed juncos in the yard. I enjoy looking out the window and watching these birds. While this isn’t an elaborate way to spend my birthday month, I will say that I have enjoyed my quiet moments at the window. Holly, my roommate Elizabeth’s cat, also enjoys these moments.
Another bird related highlight of the month was getting a new tattoo. I reached my 300th bird in February, so I decided to get a new tattoo. I determined that the new tattoo would be a snowy owl, as this was the first bird that I saw in 2018 and the last one I saw in 2017. It has been an irruption year for snowy owls, so there have been more than usual in my area. I had not seen one before this year, so seeing them several times this winter has been special. I felt that the snowy owl was a good choice since it represents this year (due to more being around) and winter in general. I also thought that the white contrasted well with the black of my raven tattoo. Although the birds have different shapes, I wanted two birds that at least had a sort of imperfect symmetry with one another.
Another activity that I have engaged in this month is painting. I have no training in painting or in art in general, but I have always liked creating art from time to time. This month, I wanted to create a piece of art for an upcoming feminist art show called WTF! So, I created a painting about how capitalism depends upon the bodies of women to function. It is a little graphic, but it is meant to convey the idea that the reproductive power of women is used to create the next generation of workers. Of course, the unpaid care work done by women also ensures the continuation of the working class. The art show will begin on March 8th and it is my first time participating in a public art show! The same day that I painted that piece, I also painted the windows of the Solidarity House to look like a forest. I had promised Adam that I would do this a long time ago, but forgot all about it until recently. We had several ovenbirds crash against the window and die last fall. By painting the windows with a scene, we thought we might break up the empty space and prevent bird fatalities next year. Additionally, I am trying to create a second painting for another feminist art show at UW-Superior. The piece will also have a labor and feminism theme. Finally, Jenny wants me to create a painting for an auction that Critter Harbor is hosting. Critter Harbor is an organization that traps and neuters feral cats. These cats are returned to the outdoors, but are provided with food and water. Some may be rehabilitated and adopted. I think this is all exciting, since it pushes me out of my comfort zone. I know I am not a great artist. I know I have a lot of room to improve. However, I think that I should not be limited by self-doubt or imperfection. If I want to paint, I should paint- skill or no skill.
Every other Thursday for the past year, I have done trivia at Pizza Luce with a group of friends. We usually do okay, but not often well enough to place. On February 15th, we gathered for trivia again. I wasn’t going to attend since I was dead tired from working for nine days in a row and nearly 95 hours. It had been a hard day, I was extremely sleep deprived (I had slept about 3 hrs between a 10 hr shift and a shorter 4.5 hr shift and about 3 hrs before the 10 hr shift the day prior). Somehow I pulled myself together enough to show up for trivia with my friends. Well, we actually won first place at trivia- out of 24 teams. I am glad to be friends with a bunch of smarty pants!
I am going to be honest and say that I have had a very strong drive to sleep this month- though this drive has not always resulted in actual sleep. The drive to sleep has increased since the middle of the month. On my actual birthday, I skipped an activist meeting so that I could get a little extra sleep before my 10 hour shift. I don’t think I actually got any extra sleep, but it was nice to just stay in bed. This week, there have been days were I have done little more than sleep, eat, and work. Like usual, I am working an 8 day stretch of 10 hour shifts, followed by a bonus 9th day with a shorter shift. I have typically had a high tolerance for work and moderate lack of sleep, but lately- not so much. I slept 14 hours on one of my days off last week. I have been taking power naps during my 30 min work break. But, winter has been long. February has been cold and we had three snowstorms in the past week alone. Since I do have some very busy days, I think I am okay with allowing myself to indulge in sleep.
Like every month, there is always a schedule of activist events. This month, I have stepped back a little. Nevertheless, some activist highlights of the month include a union steward training and getting elected to the E-board of my union local. Another highlight was a small, but meaningful discussion on feminism and non-binary gender. On February 10th, I participated in a Valentine’s Themed Letters to Prisoners event. It was a fun event where several local activists sent Valentine Cards to prisoners. Socialist Action organized a modest rally for Immigrant Rights. This was followed by our monthly Socialism and Slice discussion group. The discussion group has grown so large that we will have to seek out another venue. I am also excited to help out with HOTDISH Militia’s Bowl-a-thon. Yeah, I will say that this month I was much less engaged in political activism. Usually, I have far more meetings and events to attend. But, one my New Year’s Resolutions was to step back a little.
I ate too much this month. The downside of my birthday month is that I justify going out to eat with the line….Well, it’s my birthday month! I ate a lot of Mexican food. I treated myself to sushi and green tea tempura ice cream. I had Indian food. I really don’t want to think about how much I treated myself in the form of food. It is little wonder that I have ended the month a little chubbier. Now, as a feminist I should be fat positive. I should allow myself to take up space, fully enjoy life, and not sweat my size. That isn’t the case. While I don’t obsess about it and have come to terms with the fact that I won’t be a thin as I was in my 20s, I am not a huge fan of the scale going in an upward direction. On the other hand, I sure did enjoy all that Mexican food. I guess March can be a month of moderation…
Zumba and a Sauna:
I wasn’t as physically active as I would have liked to have been this past month. But, I at least took time to attend a zumba class and take a sauna. Zumba is really a fun way to engage in fitness. As for taking a sauna, I think it feels so primal and rejuvenating.
One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to make sure that I hike, bike, run, kayak, etc. 365 miles this year. I don’t think it will be that hard of a task, but it is not something I have ever actively tracked before. Right now, I am behind on my miles. But, February was both cold and snowy. I ended up with fewer miles in February than in frigid January. As of today, I have hiked about 47 miles in February and January combined. Usually, these are pretty mild three mile jaunts. Because I was falling behind this month, I was going to try to do five miles- in a snow storm last week. This did not pan out. It was cold. Snow whipped my face. The wind was wicked. I made it about two miles total. This snow storm was followed by two other snowstorms later in the week. While I should have 59 miles by the end of the month to keep on track, I will likely end the month 10 miles behind.
I had a low key birthday party on February 17th. Years ago, in my late 20s, I would host giant, extravagant birthday parties with pinatas and trivia. For the most part, I have smaller, less involved parties in recent years- if anything at all. I already do a lot of planning and preparation for Marxmas, so I have lost the energy to host two large parties so close to one another. But, honestly it was nice to hang out with a few people without a whole lot to do. Jenny hosted an Arbonne Party for her birthday in January. I actually did the same this year- since I wanted the free protein powder (which costs $60 a bag in their catalog). Yep, so I had a product presentation themed party. This was an unusual choice, but it wasn’t bad. We had some snacks, soaked are feet, and listened to a presentation about products that I don’t NEED but somehow felt compelled to buy because well…it’s my birthday. I think that “it’s my birthday” can be a bit of a dangerous mantra- since it has encouraged me to be excessive all month….
I worked on my actual birthday, but one thing that I did on my birthday for myself (aside from sleeping) was book my flight to Romania. I will be visiting Romania in late August, spending some time in Romania, Moldova, Macedonia (with a day trip to Kosovo), and then ending in Iceland before heading home. I am trying to hit a few European countries that I have not yet visited- but I think that all of them will be interesting. I will be gone for about three weeks. I am excited for an adventure in the lands of Ceausescu, Vlad the Impaler, break away semi-autonomous states, the social construction of Alexander the Great, and geothermal wonders.
Another highlight of the month was seeing Black Panther with Dan. I love Marvel movies, even if they are predictable and cautious. Black Panther was unique in that it was set in Africa with few white characters. It had great costumes, engaging characters, and a story line that wrestled with racism and colonization. Now, I would like to write a longer review. I will say that I wasn’t satisfied with the political conclusion that the best bet is to work within system to uplift the oppressed through charitable institutions. I felt that the character Killmonger had some great lines and was far more politically relateable than a princely and privileged isolationist (or was until the conclusion of the film). Killmonger wanted to arm the oppressed- even though his vision of revolution also involved an expansion of Wakanda as an empire. That is the annoying thing about Magneto/Killmonger type characters is that revolutionary philosophies of liberation are often coupled with authoritarianism/supremacy in comic book movies. There are many visions of how to overthrow systems of oppression and radically alter society- yet so few are represented. It creates a villainous strawman out of radical politics. Oh, and another very annoying aspect of the movie was the fact that the CIA character was a good guy! Come on! The Wakandan characters are very aware of colonization and slavery, but somehow the United States- and the the CIA no less, ends up playing a heroic role. Never mind the assassination of Patrice Lamumba, support of the coup against Kwame Nkrumah, support of Mbutu Sese Seko, assisting in the arrest of Nelson Mandela, fighting MPLA in Angola, supporting the overthrow of Gadaffi in Libya, etc. But this was a Marvel movie and these tend to fetishize secretive organizations (i.e S.H.I.E.L.D) and align the good guys with America. Still, I did enjoy the movie and I don’t want to take away the joy that Africans and African Americans have experienced by seeing positive representations of Africa and Black people. Also, I did enjoy the movie and feel it is one of the better films in the Marvel universe.
Well, there you go, that was my birthday month. There were some positive things, such as fun times with loved ones, birding, painting, visions of travel, time spent outdoors, trivia, and activism. There were some not as positive aspects of the month, such as over-eating and sleeping too much/too little. Looking back, I think I made the most of my month without exhausting myself trying to zealously seize each day. Yes, there is a limited amount of time in a lifespan. Birthdays are a good reminder of that. But, I guess if from time to time, I want to just spend a whole day in bed or eat Mexican food three days in a row- that’s okay too. It would be cool if I ran 4 miles on my birthday or did one celebratory thing each day of the month- but that would be exhausting. Despite some lows, I think the month had a good balance of fun, friends, work, and hiding from the world.