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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Stop the War on Women!

Correct me if I'm wrong, but do we not live in the 21st century?

We do? That's what I thought. So why are women still under attack, not just in some tribal third-world country, but by Republicans and their allies in the United States?

A few examples:
  • Women's health care clinics are vanishing under pressure from the ultraconservatives.
  • Planned Parenthood doctors have been murdered and clinics fire-bombed. So much for respecting all life, huh?
  • Members of Congress demand that women pay for their birth control, rather than their medical insurance provider, while those same providers continue to pay for Viagra (a much more expensive medication) without a word being said.
  • Several Republicans have made comments that appear to excuse rape and imply that it is somehow the woman's fault. One even talked about "legitimate rape." Excuse me, but what the hell does that mean?
  •  A Republican official recently admitted to pinching the groin of a coworker. His attorney explained that this sexual assault was just "trivial." How about women start grabbing men by the balls and see how they like it? Would that act be considered "trivial"?
  • An Oklahoma Republican recently said women should not be able to have abortions without the written permission of their male partner because women are, after all, merely "hosts" to the embryo. He claims that once a woman becomes pregnant, she gives up all autonomy over her body and becomes a mere "host."
  •  Utah Republican James Green, in a letter to the editor, stated that "If businesses are forced to pay women the same as male earnings, that means they will have to reduce the pay for the men they employ, simple economics," Green wrote. "If that happens, then men will have an even more difficult time earning enough to support their families, which will mean more Mothers will be forced to leave the home (where they may prefer to be) to join the workforce to make up the difference." His comments created so much backlash, even from fellow Republicans, that Green apologized and resigned from his position as vicechair of a county GOP organization.
  • Former Arizona Republican lawmaker Russell Pearce, a true troglodyte, stated in 2014 that women seeking food stamps or Medicaid assistance should be required to be sterilized first. He made no mention of men being sterilized before they can qualify for these programs.
  • Republicans in Congress are dead-set on defunding Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that only a miniscule portion (3 percent of total services provided) of the organization's activities are abortion-related. And let us not forget that long-standing federal law prohibits the use of any federal funds to provide abortions. So what exactly is the point of removing funding for cancer screenings, anemia testing, diabetes and cholesterol screenings, thyroid and high blood pressure screenings, routine and emergency contraception, infertility testing,and many other services? I don't like the idea of abortion, but the woman involved, along with her physician, should make the decision based on what is best for her. No legislative body should have that power. And Americans should not be forced to live under the beliefs of any religion, Christian, Jewish, Muslim or anything else. 

  •  A US senator recently told Sen. Elizabth Warren to "sit down" as she read a letter from the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. opposing the nomination of Jefferson Sessions for a federal judgeship some 30 years ago as Sessions' nomination to be the US attorney general was being debated. The next day, two male senators were allowed to read the letter. Not too much hypocrisy, is there?
 
Although Republican politicians deny they are waging a war on women, their actions belie their claims. How else does one explain Republicans' continuing efforts to take away women's rights to make decisions about their own bodies? As several people have noted, Republicans are not 'pro-life.' They are merely 'pro-birth.' Once the child is born, Republicans for the most part wash their hands of ensuring that both child and mother receive appropriate health care, food, etc. Once the child is born, it isn't their problem any longer. 

I hope the current ongoing attacks on American women serve as a wake-up call for women and the men who care about them. We need to keep up the pressure on these misogynists and make sure to vote them all out of office at the next opportunity.

American women, we cannot return to the 'good ole days' when women wore pearls and high heels to do the housework and 'kept their place' at home, raising the kids, cooking and cleaning.  

We must let it be known that we have, and we demand, the same rights as men. We will not "sit down", we will not be silent, and we will not turn the clock back 50 or more years. 




Thursday, February 16, 2017

Be A Traveler, Not A Tourist

Recently I was asked to take part in an online interview about women's adventure travel by a well-known travel magazine . As a long-time adventure traveler, my name was put forward by one of the organizations I frequently travel with as an appropriate person to answer a few questions.
 
I began my adventure travel journey with Country Walkers, a Vermont-based hiking organization, more than 20 years ago. At that time, I met up with a friend from the other side of the country and we went hiking in Glacier National Park. Then we took other hiking trips together, meeting once a year. Then I started finding other places I wanted to visit, and without someone to travel with me (my friend and I had a falling out), I realized I had a choice of either going by myself or staying home. Clearly, staying home wasn't an option for me. Once I retired and my daughter was old enough to be left on her own, my adventure travels really took off. I usually take eight to 10 trips each year, to both domestic and international destinations.

I believe today's women have more financial opportunities to travel than ever, as well as the self-confidence to travel without a male companion. We realize that we can travel and go on adventures with or without a man, or even without a female travel partner. Women are an integral part of the workforce, and although the glass ceiling still limits our upward mobility at the very top, many women now have successful, high-paying careers. I have met numerous attorneys and physicians on my trips, as well as women with lower-paying jobs who nonetheless enjoy an adventure trip every year.

Organizations such as Country Walkers, Backroads and Natural Habitat Adventures, all of which I have traveled with repeatedly, provide us solo women with safe, well-organized adventure travel opportunities. I love to travel to other countries, but I wouldn't feel comfortable going to Turkey, for example, since I don't speak Turkish. But going with two experienced, English-speaking Turkish hiking guides takes away the worry. Even going to countries where many people speak English, I prefer adventure travel with a group so I don't have to worry about the logistics, finding the best places to hike or visit, where to stay, etc. Women have finally come into their own and want to enjoy the same experiences as males, and the numbers seem to prove it..


I was asked what the experience of being a woman on an adventure trip was like. My experience on more than 20 adventure travel trips has been wonderful. I never have had a bad experience. Some places and some guides I like more than others, but I keep going back for more adventures. I have taken 11 trips with Country Walkers, and I have a 12th trip coming up in a couple of months. I recently signed up for my 9th Natural Habitat Adventures trip, and I have traveled with Backroads at least twice, with another trip planned for later this year.

I always feel safe and well cared for with these groups. I appreciate knowing ahead of time what to expect as far as hike difficulty, mileage, etc. On my first overseas trip with CW, I met another American woman who was traveling solo and who was at the same hiking level as I was. We hit it off, stayed in touch, and have returned to Africa together for the past three years. (She can't go this year due to a health issue). Last year, while on a safari in Kenya organized by a London-based travel agency, I had a tentmate from Scotland. Again, we hit it off, and we will be returning to Kenya this summer, along with a British couple we met during that safari. And we have plans for a trip to Brazil in 2018.

I am an introvert, so sometimes it is a bit uncomfortable at first being with a bunch of people I don't know. But there have always been people who invited me to join them for dinner, or with whom I spent time on the trail, so I usually wasn't alone for long. On one trip three Jewish women took me under their wings. And I have met people who have become friends. I also stay in touch with some of my guides, both domestic and international. 

Solo travel requires a certain amount of pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, and a willingness to try new things, meet new people and experience places that may be completely different from what one is used to. It also requires the willingness to be flexible and to 'go with the flow.' I heard an expression during my first trip to Africa that pretty well sums up the experience: "It is what it is." We shouldn't expect things to be just the way they are in the US. Customs differ, the sense of time differs, the food is different. But that's part of the allure. I am hooked on adventure travel, whether I go alone and meet up with a group, or whether I go with a travel partner. 

Had I not gone on any of these trips, I wouldn't have been able to visit Petra or watch elephants swimming in Botswana, or heard an elephant trumpet just a few feet from my tent one night. I have had so many amazing adventures.

I also was asked why I want to go on an adventure trip rather than just on a vacation. For me, regular vacations are pretty boring. I don't enjoy visiting museums or looking at art or sitting on a beach. I am not one to 'sleep in' even if I could. I don't want to be part of a group of 40+ people. I like a more intimate experience. The camp where I stayed in Kenya last year has just six tents. I want to see new things, have new experiences, explore new places and try different foods. I want to go off the beaten path and be a traveler, not just a tourist. My adventure travels take me most often to places where I can get out of the rat race, enjoy nature and wildlife, and experience things such as river rafting.

I am an active person and I like to be on the move, whether hiking someplace new, going on safari in Africa, or walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. These adventure experiences not only expose me to new and different things in a novel way, but the experiences make wonderful memories. During part of my trip to South Africa last year, our group spent a few hours walking and getting as close as was safe to rhinoceros and elephants. We spent one night sleeping on a raised platform under the stars and hearing the animals at a nearby water hotel. This was a trip for travelers, not for tourists. I don't care about staying in a fancy hotel or going to a spa. Sleeping under the stars and falling asleep to the sounds of Africa is just fine with me.

And as an avid amateur photographer, adventure travel lets me capture things up close and personal. I have some amazing photos of an elephant emerging from the forest in the early morning light, and I have photos of elephants bathed in the golden light of the setting sun reflected in the clouds of dust they stirred up. I have the memories of finally spotting a cheetah family heading out for its evening hunt. I got to watch a family of elephants swimming in Botswana, something I had never seen, much less thought about, before. I saw a Bengal tiger in India carrying off the spotted deer she had just killed early in the morning.

These are adventures. They have opened my mind to a whole new world and made me so much more aware of what is going on in other countries. When I read about the problems of cattle invading the elephant habitat of Lakipia, Kenya, I can relate, because I flew in a helicopter -- with the door open -- over that area. When our helicopter landed on a sand dune in Turkana, Kenya, and we were approached by three AK--47-toting local men, our group leader (who is fluent in their language) was able to communicate with them and then explain to us why they were questioning our presence. One doesn't get this kind of experience from a simple vacation.

As chef and television personality Andrew Zimmern said: "Please be a traveler, not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what’s right in front of you."


For me, adventure travel is the only way to go!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

No Good Reason

Why do people hunt?

I understand that some people hunt to provide meat for themselves and their families. But what is the pleasure to be found in killing an animal for 'fun' or 'sport' or as a 'trophy'? I just read that in California's 2016 bear hunting season, 1,063 black bears were killed (grizzly bears were driven to extinction in California in 1922).

Another article noted that yet another mountain lion kitten had been shot and killed. Big game hunters pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege to kill an endangered African elephant or non-breeding rhinoceros or giraffe or male lion, all for bragging rights and so they can display the head or body of the murdered animal in their house. And that brings them pleasure?

If these people are so proud of what they do, why do they refer to the killing as a 'harvest'? Harvesting is what is done to corn and wheat and strawberries. Let's be honest here, hunters. You are killing, not 'harvesting', animals.

And don't give me that BS about saving the species by killing it. Really? That's the best you can do? Or how about the lie that big game hunting in Africa benefits local communities? Sure, the outfitter in South Africa or Zimbabwe and his employee rake in big bucks, but how much of that cash actually reaches people in the local community? When I go on safari in Africa, my money does benefit local people -- the drivers, guides, cooks, trackers, housekeepers and everyone else who helps keep the camps running and the guests looked after. 

Here's another favorite excuse: population control of predators. With the numbers of mountain lions, grizzly and black bears, and wolves, lions, cheetahs, leopards and other predators decimated by habitat loss, poaching and hunting, and human intrusion into the animals' habitats, do people really believe these species' populations need to be controlled by hunting?


How about the claim that hunters like to be part of nature and they love the animals they kill? Or they like the challenge? Right, shooting a lion that was raised by humans from birth and set 'loose' inside a fenced area so it can be slaughtered in a canned hunt is a real challenge, isn't it? 

I like to be part of nature, too, which is why I travel to Africa and to Yellowstone several times every year. And I, too, love the challenge of finding wild animals, but when I leave, the animals are still alive. If I'm lucky, I have captured the animal in its natural habitat by using my digital cameras and my skills as a photographer. And the animals survive to live another day.

I am sickened on an almost-daily basis when I see yet another photograph of a human, usually smiling stupidly, proudly posing with the dead body of a giraffe or zebra, lion or elephant, grizzly bear or wolf, that he or she has killed. And when I see a photograph of a man who probably weighs 400-500 pounds posing with the beautiful male lion he shot, I know for a fact that this obese person most certainly did not track this wild animal on foot before slaughtering it. He undoubtedly was driven up to the lion by a guide in a 4-wheel-drive vehicle before shooting it. Some sport in that, huh?

The bottom line is, these animals are killed either for profit or for personal enjoyment. So-called 'sport hunting' is decidedly not a sport, but a euphemism designed to make it seem more socially acceptable, much as is calling the killing of wild animals a 'harvest.'  

For another look at the hunting of predators, check out this article from 2014: frfhttp://www.jhnewsandguide.com/opinion/columnists/the_new_west_todd_wilkinson/we-hunt-predators-but-we-can-t-say-why/article_2c0adcf0-9705-5a62-990c-4bdd7af8dbf8.html 

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Powerful Reminder

I will be traveling to Cuba this year, my first trip to that small island nation just 90 miles from Florida.

For more than 50 years, American citizens were allowed to visit Cuba, if at all, only under the guise of educational or cultural exchanges. With the improvement in relations begun by former President Barack Obama, travel is now a bit easier, and commercial flights between Miami and Havana have started.

The pre-trip information packet sent to each participant on my trip includes a list of suggested items to donate to the people of Cuba for those who wish to do so. The trip leader will collect everything and donate the items to the appropriate organizations or youth centers. I am glad the leader will distribute the items, so they get to those who most need them. 

So today I made a shopping list and headed off to purchase some items to take along on my trip. I bought a collection of things, as we were advised to avoid bringing a large amount of any one thing. So I bought crayons, colored pencils and markers, regular pencils, erasers and a pencil sharpener. Moving to the personal care aisle, I got small bottles of shampoo, small deodorants, baby wipes, bars of soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, adhesive bandages and antibiotic ointment. I added a sketch pad and writing pens, plus a package of disposable razors and some tie-backs for long hair.

I love doing things like this, and the requested items for this trip served as a powerful reminder of how good we in the US have it. I know our country is horribly divided politically right now, and the future is uncertain, but what is certain is that we Americans don't have difficulty obtaining the items I purchased. 

Imagine not having access to essentials such as shampoo, bath soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant. In all I spent around $50 for these items. But more than pencils and soap, I left with a new realization of how fortunate we are to live in a country where, for the most part, basic needs can be met easily.

When I was younger and stronger, I used to go backpacking. I remember well how dirty I felt when I was unable to shower or wash my hair for a few days. Now think what it must be like to live like this day after day, particularly in a hot and humid country. I would think that human dignity suffers when people are unable to clean themselves clean.

I have read articles online that say either that these items are in short supply or that they are expensive. I don't know what the situation is, but I trust the organization with which I am traveling that the suggested items are needed and welcomed by the Cuban people. Other items on the list that I am not purchasing include sports equipment, baseballs and gloves, and things such as leotards and tank tops.

If there is room in my suitcase once I finish most of my packing, I will pick up a few more items. Regardless of the reason why these items are needed, if I and other visitors can make the lives of the average Cuban more enjoyable, spending a few dollars for things we take for granted is a small price to pay. And for me, the reminder that things we take for granted may be precious commodities to those in other countries is a priceless gift.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Lessons From Yellowstone

I recently returned from an eight-day photography trip to my favorite place in the United States, Yellowstone National Park.

While being driven back to Bozeman, MT, for my flight home, I was thinking about what I had learned during that winter trip to America's first national park. I believe there is always something to be learned, even from places we have visited several times before. 

This is what I learned from this beautiful, amazing wild place.

  • I realized all over again how much I love Yellowstone. It isn't just the wildlife -- wolves, bison, bighorn sheep, elk, bobcats, red foxes, cougars and more -- although the animals are amazing and the reason I go there so often. It's also the wildness of Yellowstone's 2.2 million acres, and its thousands of thermal features (geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, mud pots and more). It's also the mountains, the valleys, the many rivers and waterfalls, and the harshness of the place. And it's the lack of cell phone service inside the park.
  • I realized how passionate I am about wildlife and landscape photography.  Why else would I get up long before dawn to go into the park and stand outside in sub-zero temperatures, howling winds, sleet and snow to photograph bison? Why would I spend hours staring at a bobcat across the river, waiting for it to make a brief appearance?
  • I realized anew how being in Yellowstone makes my heart sing. It restores a long-lost connection to the natural world and it connects me to a world where humans are decidedly not the top species.
  • Yellowstone is one of those places that gets into the blood of many of its 4.25 million annual visitors. People take a temporary job in the park and end up never leaving. Others return again and again. This was my seventh trip to Yellowstone in just three  years. A German couple on the same trip was on its sixth trip as well. The woman told me that she cries every time she has to leave Yellowstone. I understand her sentiment. Yellowstone is just that kind of place.
  • Visiting the park in winter gave me an entirely new perspective from my previous visits. Even familiar places looked new and different. 
  • I saw the daily struggle for survival, particularly by the prey animals such as bison, elk and deer. Watching a 1-ton bison use its massive head to sweep away deep snow to uncover the dry, brown grass below was a sobering sight. So, too, is the knowledge that some 10 percent of adult bison will not survive the winter. For bison born less than a year ago, the mortality rate can reach 20 percent to 40 percent. The wolves, on the other hand, thrive during the winter, their prey weakened by hunger. 
  • I realized that millions of people love Yellowstone and want to protect it, yet we as Americans seem powerless to stop the relentless attacks by Republicans who want to open this treasure to mining or to sell these public lands to private companies for exploitation.
  • This trip also confirmed what I already knew -- that I am physically unable to handle a lens bigger than my 120-400mm telephoto zoom. After several hours of standing in the cold waiting for a seldom-seen bobcat to leave the safety of a log, my arthritic hands and the wrist I broke a year ago were hurting. I have had my eye on a 150-500mm or even a 150-600mm lens for quite a while, but this trip finally made me realize that bigger lenses are simply too heavy for me to comfortably handle.
  • Finally, after downloading my trip photos, I realize that my 120-400mm lens does a good job of capturing smaller subjects from a distance. With a bit of cropping, my photos of the bobcat and a red fox are fairly impressive. 



So thank you, Yellowstone, for teaching me valuable lessons. Thank you for your wildness and for you uniqueness. May you always remain wild and free.