Thursday, January 14, 2021

Birmingham, AL: Land Acknowledgement

I first heard the term "land acknowledgement" at a November 2020 seminar called The Role of ADR in Disputes Involving Gender-Based Violence, hosted by the Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution. (I learned other new language at that event, too.)

I heard the term again in Northwestern University's first event in its Dream Week series of virtual events leading up to Dr. Martin Luther King's Day. 

Mariame Kaba presented the keynote for the first event. But before she spoke, Chantay Moore presented a land acknowledgement. Ms. Moore is a member of the Navajo Nation, and is also of African-American heritage.

What is land acknowledgement? 

From Northwestern University's land acknowledgement page, I've gleaned this definition: 

"A Land Acknowledgement is a formal statement that recognizes and respects Indigenous Peoples as traditional stewards of this land and the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories. ....

.... [A land acknowledgement] is an expression of gratitude and appreciation to those whose territory you reside on, and a way of honoring the Indigenous people who have been living and working on the land from time immemorial. It is important to understand the long standing history that has brought you to reside on the land, and to seek to understand your place within that history. Land acknowledgements do not exist in a past tense, or historical context: colonialism is a current ongoing process [emphasis added], and we need to build our mindfulness of our present participation."

The Native Governance Center offers a rich, reader-friendly, practical guide here for presenting a meaningful land acknowledgement.  Another good explanation is at Native Land Digital here.

Michael Redhead Champagne, author of North End MC, shares an interview he conducted in 2015 with Native Land Digital founder, Victor Temprano, about why it's important for all of us, "settlers" in particular, to educate ourselves about indigenous peoples who live(d) where we live: 

MC: Why is it important for non-indigenous people to involve themselves as respectful allies in the indigenous struggle in 2015 Canada?
Victor:  It’s important for settlers to engage with Indigenous history and nations on many levels – spiritual, physical, emotional, and more. It’s not to ‘help’ Indigenous people or cultures (at least not in the traditional sense of ‘charity’), but to help settlers get educated, to grow and to begin the hard process of decolonization. I don’t know what decolonization really looks like or feels like in our settler society, but I know it needs to happen, whether for moral, environmental, spiritual, legal, or historical reasons (or more). It is a inter-generational struggle to decolonize, and it’s already been going on, and now is a good time as any to find a way to engage one’s skills in a meaningful way.


The Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities offers a piss-poor, self-serving, so-called land acknowledgement here.


Before removal, enslavement, or extermination, what indigenous families and communities lived - and live - in what are now called Birmingham and Alabama? 


Here is an interactive map that shows us which indigenous peoples lived (live) in Birmingham and Alabama (and throughout the world).

From Encyclopedia of Alabama

Alabama's indigenous history can be traced back more than 10,000 years, to the Paleoindian Period. Cultural and technological developments brought changes to the societies that inhabited what is now Alabama, with the most visible evidence of those changes being the remarkable earthen mounds built by the Mississippian people throughout the Southeast, in Alabama most notably at Moundville. By the time European fortune hunters and colonialist explorers arrived in the sixteenth century, the Indian groups in the Southeast had coalesced into the cultural groups known from the historic period: the Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks, and Chickasaws, and smaller groups such as the Alabama-Coushattas and the Yuchis. As more Europeans and then U.S. settlers flooded into the Southeast, these peoples were subjected to continual assaults on their land, warfare, the spread of non-native diseases, and exploitation of their resources. In the 1830s, the majority of the Native Americans in Alabama were forced from their land to make way for cotton plantations and European American expansion. Today, the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians maintain their traditions on portions of their tribal homelands in the state.


Trail of Tears

  A map depicting trails from southeast US to Oklahoma.


Alabama is not only the terminus of the Appalachian Trail, it has what some called "ends" of the Trail of Tears, for example, at Waterloo Landing.

In the article, Traveling the Trail of Tears in Alabama, Joe Cuhaj notes: "During the time of the Trail of Tears, Waterloo Landing, which is located in the town of Waterloo in the extreme northwest corner of Alabama, was situated on the banks of the Tennessee River. Since that time, the river was dammed to form Pickwick Lake, and the landing was flooded over. Because it was a final departure point for Indians from the South, Waterloo Landing was known as the "End of the Trail." Now, a historical marker denotes the location, and in September of each year a commemorative Pow-Wow is held here with traditional music and more.

Alabama has five "certified sites" that acknowledge the Trail of Tears. 

Cherokee Walking the Trail of Tears, by artist Sam Kitts. Source: NPS Trail of Tears Alabama
Cherokee Walking the Trail of Tears, by artist Sam Kitts. Source: NPS Trail of Tears Alabama

A grim prĂ©cis of the Trail of Tears, and the motives that drove it, is on the History Channel's Trail of Tears page. 

In September 2020, PBS premiered a movie, DIGADOHI: Lands, Cherokee, and the Trail of Tears



Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Birmingham, AL: Roaches


Louisiana, July 2015.

Trigger alert for the squeamish. (Hell, I'm squeamish.)

They don't pay rent, take out the trash, or engage in entertaining conversation. They are squatters in my quarters.

Since being rootless, I've become familiar with these characters. Different sizes and shapes, different colorations. Some can fly, some are grounded.

But roaches, every one.

The first time I saw a roach in my Birmingham apartment was when the landlord showed the apartment to me as a prospective tenant. I gasped. The roach was big, it was fast, and it projected attitude. The landlord remarked placidly that his daughter had similar reactions as I when she encountered a roach like that. In negotiations about the apartment, the landlord agreed to one pest control application. 

After I moved in, I discovered two populations living rent-free in my place: the American and, most likely, the German

There were two communities in my Tucson apartment also. Their skittery populations surged and receded like high and low tides of the sea, dependent on the ins and outs of adjacent tenants and regular sprayings by the apartment management. The Tucson arthropods were small and swift. I never knew when a singleton would dart out from under my dishcloth as I lifted it from the sink edge first thing in the morning. So startling. But both varieties succumbed quickly to an assertive spray from my bottle of Clorox Clean-Up All Purpose Cleaner with Bleach Spray. (I may be lethal, but I'm no sadist.)

I can deal with the Germans. The Clorox spray is effective for spontaneous responses. And in Birmingham, with a landlord who doesn't care about pests in their tenants' apartments, the Hot Shot Ultra Liquid Roach Bait seems effective for ongoing, passive (to me, not the to roaches) control. 

But the hulking Americans! They laugh at the Clorox spray! They don't fit into the roach traps because they are too big. Finding the right shoe or other blunt weapon for a more personal, shivery kill takes too long in response to a sudden assault by one of these behemoths. So I bought a can of roach spray, which, if applied with vigor, ends them almost immediately. 

Thank goodness, I've never seen an American roach up on my kitchen counter or in my cabinets. Doesn't mean they didn't (don't) go there, I've just never seen one there. Consequently, my brain can deploy the "not seen, so doesn't happen" wash, and I can move about my kitchen in blithe serenity.

The Birmingham American roach prefers to loiter in the bathtub, so I have learned to open the shower curtain briskly, look quickly for an encroacher, and be ready to jump for the spray. 

I was not ready to see what I saw one day, something my brain can never un-see. 

Be prepared to be as grossed out as I was. 

In my self-care regimen, I strive for baby-smooth heels. To aid in this, I have a foot file. It has a steel grater on one side and sandpaper on the other side. 

I kept it on the side of my tub. 

Until .... 

 .... that one morning when I walked into my bathroom and I saw a GIGANTIC AMERICAN ROACH GRAZING ON THE DEAD SKIN REMNANTS ON THE FILE!!!!!!


Gross, gross, gross. 

I killed the beast and then sanitized the file. 

These days, I wrap my file in plastic. 

But I have wondered, what else do they eat? Do they eat soap? 

Yes, apparently they do. 


Other stories about roaches and me

2011: Ethiopia: Nazret: Introduction and a Brush With Fame

Later, I walked into the bathroom just in time to see a cockroach skittering toward me, the size of which I've only seen in a museum with a pin in it. I screamed.

2011: Ethiopia: Nazret: Saturday in Nazret

Oh, and evidently Azeb's absence was noted by Those That Creep In the Dark. When I turned the bathroom light on and counted to my usual 10 to allow furtive creatures time to scoot out, I encountered TWO of the gigantic cockroaches. Furthermore, they CHALLENGED me in such a way that I got out the broom to let them know who was (sort of) boss...... I considered several lethal options.

2011: Ethiopia: Hyenas, Fresh Goat, and a Crispy Roach [on my pizza] in Harar

Decided to lunch instead at the reliable Fresh Touch down the street. Ordered the vegetarian pizza. When it arrived, I dressed it with their wonderfully spicy chili sauce. Oh. Wait. I did order the vegetarian pizza, right? So what's with the crispy-curled roach sitting so perkily atop a pepper? Waiter! 

 2012: New Mexico: Roaches and Other Unpretty Neighbors 

Now that I'm in my apartment, it seems I see one roach per evening scuttling through my place, each a different brand. I've smashed all but one of the unwanted pests.

2013: New Mexico: Insect Life


2013: New Mexico: Arthropod Museum 

There were a couple of live Madagascar hissing roaches and Graeme was willing for me to hold one in my hands. I wanted to be willing, but I couldn't guarantee that once it was placed in my hand, I wouldn't immediately fling it across the room in squealy fear. Ryan had the good idea for me to place my hand on the table and let the roach creep crawl walk on it. I did do this, all the while giggling in the way one does when one is actually scared and not amused.

2013: New Mexico: Cup o' Roaches

2014: Louisiana - A general note about the insect situation: 

"South Louisiana is a giant sponge. That's why we keep in constant motion. If you stand still, you'll either sink or be eaten alive by giant insects."  Dave Robicheaux, Pegasus Descending, by James Lee Burke

2015: Louisiana: Creepy Crawly Day at Chico State Park  

Why do I feel compelled to look at things that make me go "ewww"?

2019: New Mexico: The Jump

The first time I walked through the passageway ..., I saw the enormous, segmented exoskeleton of the arthropod above, and I jumped like a cat surprised by a cucumber. 




Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Birmingham, AL: An Annoyance of Facts


Room temperature, Birmingham, Alabama. January 2021.
Room temperature, Birmingham, Alabama. January 2021.

In my apartment, I have been confronted by an annoyance of facts. 

An annoyance of facts. Like a conspiracy of lemurs. A crash of rhinoceroses. A murder of crows. A deceit of lapwings. A gang of turkeys. 

An annoyance of facts. The facts are the lighthouse and I am the ship, so I'm the one who has to move.

There is no central heat in my apartment. 

Instead, I have:

  • A poorly-functioning window unit that purports to both cool and heat,
  • An oil-filled portable heater, and
  • A "ceramic element" heat fan. 
  • A whopping first-electric-bill-of-the-winter.

Furthermore, wind billows through and around the window unit. 

The front door has a gap in the upper left corner that perfectly aligns with the gap in the upper left corner of the storm door. Long fingers of cold air swoosh through between the door and its frame. The windows are single-pane relics of the 1950s held in place with leaky metal frames.

So when winter hit, I felt fucking cold. And coldly resentful. 

I  knew from experience regarding my apartment's malfunctioning refrigerator and malfunctioning stove (since addressed), that the landlord would question my definition of cold, so I bought two small room thermometers. 

Well, fuck all. 

 I discovered that the low temperatures were in the upper 60s at 8:42 in the morning (after three hours of electric heat when I arose for the day), with a low of 65 during the previous night. 

On one hand, this annoyed the hell out of me because, absent any objective data, I had felt very, very cold, and it just didn't seem possible that this could be the accurate temperature. 

But now that I had temp facts, I still felt cold, but less so.

How annoying.

Room temperature, Birmingham, Alabama. January 2021.
Room temperature, Birmingham, Alabama. January 2021.


Monday, January 4, 2021

Birmingham, AL: The New Abolitionism: A Birmingham Connection


Angela Davis mural, Avondale neighborhood, Birmingham, Alabama. December 2020.
Angela Davis mural, by Tim Kerr, Avondale neighborhood, Birmingham, Alabama. December 2020.

In November I attended a dispute resolution workshop hosted by the Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, which featured keynote speaker, Mariame Kabe

Ms. Kabe and others in the workshop spoke a language new to me:

After the workshop, I sought more information on abolition feminism .... 

.... which led me to Angela Davis, who, until I visited the Avondale neighborhood recently, and saw her image on a mural, I had no idea was from Birmingham. 

Sidebar: Or that the Girl Scouts had played a positive role in her life as an activist, oh, let's go ahead and say it - a revolutionary. An aside from this 2019 Washington Post article

 “[Angela Davis is] someone who, from a very young age, has provoked enormous controversy over whether her ideas were good or bad,” says Jane Kamensky, director of Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. “She cast herself as a revolutionary. And we have liked our civil rights activists firmly in the reform tradition, and we have liked our revolutionaries male.”

Abolition feminism

My current understanding of what it means to be feminist has expanded beyond my introduction in the 1970s and my membership in a Women's Political Caucus chapter in the 1990s. A sampling of new-to-me influences, learned since 2010, include:

1. Audre Lorde:

"I am a lesbian woman of Color whose children eat regularly because I work in a university. If their full bellies make me fail to recognize my commonality with a woman of Color whose children do not eat because she cannot find work, or who has no children because her insides are rotted from home abortions and sterilization; if I fail to recognize the lesbian who chooses not to have children, the woman who remains closeted because her homophobic community is her only life support, the woman who chooses silence instead of another death, the woman who is terrified lest my anger trigger the explosion of hers; if I fail to recognize them as other faces of myself, then I am contributing not only to each of their oppressions but also to my own, and the anger which stands between us then must be used for clarity and mutual empowerment, not for evasion by guilt or for further separation. I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. And I am not free as long as one person of Color remains chained. Nor is anyone of you."

Source: Black Past


2. Women's Revolutionary Law of the EZLN in Chiapas, Mexico: 

  • "First, women have the right to participate in the revolutionary struggle in the place and at the level that their capacity and will dictates without any discrimination based on race, creed, color, or political affiliation.
  • Second, women have the right to work and to receive a just salary.
  • Third, women have the right to decide on the number of children they have and take care of.
  • Fourth, women have the right to participate in community affairs and hold leadership positions if they are freely and democratically elected.
  • Fifth, women have the right to primary care in terms of their health and nutrition.
  • Sixth, women have the right to education.
  • Seventh, women have the right to choose who they are with (i.e. choose their romantic/sexual partners) and should not be obligated to marry by force.
  • Eighth, no woman should be beaten or physically mistreated by either family members or strangers. Rape and attempted rape should be severely punished.
  • Ninth, women can hold leadership positions in the organization and hold military rank in the revolutionary armed forces.
  • Ten, women have all the rights and obligations set out by the revolutionary laws and regulations."  
Source: Wikipedia


3.  Criticisms of the 2017 Women's March

"The expanding dialogue about rape culture, and the indictments of patriarchy are inspiring, but they don’t change my ambivalence about organizing with White women, or my discomfort with the assumption that when White women organize for their freedom, they are organizing for mine too. They are not, and cannot, until they unpack the ways in which they have been taught to ignore the oppression of Black and Brown women – and continue to benefit from our oppression. Within hours of the March, some attendees Tweeted about how there were no arrests made that day at the major marches. Clearly, they lacked analysis or sensitivity for why peaceful protests where attendees are majority Black or Brown would be targeted for arrest.

"Fifty-four percent of White women voted for Trump. “Protecting” our borders and emboldening White supremacy were more important to them than autonomy over their own bodies and families." 

Source: Katina Parker in A Charge to White Women


4. The 1950s Mine-Mill Strike in Grant County, New Mexico

OK. So what does holistic feminism have to do with PIC abolition? 

From Angela Davis: 

1. "When we look at women in prison, we learn about the system as a whole, the nature of punishment, the very apparatus of prison." 

Source: Angela Davis in Windy City Times article by Yasmin Nair.


2. "Davis influentially condemned feminist approaches which emphasized incarcerating perpetuators, or carceral feminism Instead she and other abolitionist feminists focused on how the state mirrored intimate partner violence and abuse as it punished survivors for self defense and forcibly sterilized hundreds of thousands of women."  

Source: UCLA's Rebel Archives article, Angela Davis and Abolitionist Feminism.


3. "Confronting and abolishing the power relations embodied in PIC required a Black feminist approach that addressed the interwoven nature of state violence and people’s struggles. 

"Davis’ Black feminist theory took shape in the everyday work of organizations like the Santa Cruz Women’s Prison Project and the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, which helped the voices and experiences of incarcerated women break through prison walls. Rejecting the machismo that characterized earlier prison struggles, women and their allies revealed the gendered violence and trauma both led marginalized women to prison and was exacerbated by state violence. As Californian prisons became infamously overcrowded, incarcerated people faced medical neglect and abuse even more extreme than the conditions described at Soledad years earlier. All these circumstances and the will of incarcerated women to struggle for their own survival built a new inside outside movement that continues to this day." 

Source: UCLA's Rebel Archives, Introduction to series Sisters in Struggle: The California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Feminism, and Abolition

Women In Prison
Women in Prison, by Lydia Crumbley, 2009. Find it at Justseeds.

I have so much to learn. 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 888: 2021 Travel Resolutions


A ship approaches on an afternoon in an Istanbul park. June 2012.
A ship approaches on an afternoon in an Istanbul park. June 2012.


Before COVID

Gosh, hard to believe that it was only last year that I wrote Travel Resolutions for 2020, with corona barely a blip on my radar. 

These were my 2020 travel plans: 

  1. Regular carV practice in Chez Prius before the big road trip to Alaska
  2. Road trip to Alaska
  3. Road trip with my mother
  4. Loose ends closure: New Mexico: A hike in the Bisti Wilderness
  5. Loose ends closure: Drive to the southern end of Highway 1 in Louisiana
  6. Indirectly related to travel: When I leave Tucson, I will have slashed my inventory of belongings to the point where I can carV in Chez Prius as I migrate on the way to whereversville
  7. A second trip to Nogales
  8. A trip to Yuma, forever riveted into my brain with The Devil's Highway
  9. A trip to San Luis Rio Colorado, MX, which is just south of Yuma
  10. A trip to Naco, Sonora, MX, which is south of Bisbee
  11. A trip to Agua Prieta, Sonora, MX, also south of Bisbee
  12. While still in Arizona, push out of my comfort zone by staying solo on public lands
  13. Push out of my comfort zone by hiking solo more often

 2020 held such promise! 

Dubai boats, United Arab Emirates. January 2012.
Dubai boats, United Arab Emirates. January 2012.

My 2021 travelutions

Assumption: COVID will still be an active agent among us for most of 2021, but solo travel, conducted with prudent precautions, will be relatively safe.

  1. Visit all of Alabama's state parks
  2. Camp solo on public lands at least once, i.e. dispersed camping, not in a campground
  3. Loose ends closure from 2020: Make that trip to Grand Isle, Louisiana, before it disappears
  4. Hike on the Appalachian Trail - distance unimportant
  5. Venture into Florida a bit, camp on a beach there 
  6. Fingers crossed that I can take one of my descendants on his first trip out of the US, maybe toward the end of 2021

A modest list, as you can see. 

There are travel plans that await the demise of COVID, but ....


Saturday, January 2, 2021

10 Years Ago: Slow Travel


Lake Martin in June. Near Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. June 2015.
Lake Martin in June. Near Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. June 2015.


Ten years ago, I published this post on slow travel.

When you finish reading it, I invite you to slump back, allow your limbs to go limp, release a deep sigh, and steep yourself in the song you'll find at the end, Mouneissa.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Slow Travel

According to Slow Movement,  "slow travel" is "the opportunity to become part of local life and to connect to a place and its people. Slow travel is also about connection to culture."

In the April 2010 Wall Street Journal Magazine article, Easy Rider, author Nancy Keates examines the term from several perspectives. "You settle in. You have to go to the grocery store. You get to know the people who run the cafe ... " says one interviewee.

Here is a slow traveler:

Phil in the ______.  Don't start reading Phil's blog if you have an appointment to keep. You're sure to miss it, as you'll be completely sucked into such stories as:

Before I leave Phil, below is one of the songs from Phil's Sonic Tour of Mali, by Malian singer, Rokia Traore:




Friday, January 1, 2021

Word of the Year 2021: Joy

My newborn. Some decades ago.
My newborn. Some decades ago.

Joy alights on us for an instant, an hour, maybe a day. 

A sweet ambush of fragrance from a flowering tree

A vista that grabs your breath

A communal dance, thrumming with a primordial beat

A companionable walk with a loved one, arms entwined 

The slow-motion grace of a heron gliding over a long ribbon of water

A narcotic rush of soaring energy that arcs from your spirit to another's - that first time you lock eyes with your newborn - or that first moment you discover - surprise! - you are in love with a partner

No matter what else might be happening - to me, to the people in my circles, or around the world - I can watch out for moments of joy. 

 I can gobble them up guilt-free, for otherwise, they will go to waste, and that would be a sin. 


I like these quotes that touch on joy

Attention! Here and now, boys, here and now.  From Island, by Aldous Huxley

Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy. By William Butler Yeats

Make a joyful noise upon the Lord ... From the Old Testament of the Bible, which I apply enthusiastically to the joys of dance and music

We have been speaking to you of serious, sometimes tragic things. We have been dealing with alcohol in its worst  aspect.  But  we  aren’t  a  glum  lot.  If  newcomers  could see no joy or fun in our existence, they wouldn’t want  it.  We  absolutely  insist  on  enjoying  life. From the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book

This, too, shall pass. A 12-step slogan that applies not only to bad things that are happening, but to good things that are happening, too. So when something joyful appears, I need to savor it like a stunning sunset, as it is transitory. 

Music that gives me joy

Spring, in Vivaldi's Four Seasons, does something to my brain chemistry. It induces joy. 

Here is a performance produced by Voices of Music, featuring Alana Youssefian.