“They hung with us”: Race and Community in a New Orleans Health Clinic

by Matthew Olson, originally published in the July/August issue of the New Orleans Tribune

In broken mirror pieces reads a sign, “Common Ground Health Clinic,” above the door where nearly forty patients a day visit this converted convenience store on an Algiers street within two blocks of the Mississippi river. Up a ramp and inside is a pristine waiting room with twenty-five chairs and along the short hallway is the social workers’ office, then four patient rooms, and an herbalist station toward the back.

Anne Mulle, the clinic’s nurse practitioner, spoke with me from inside one of the patient rooms where flyers on the walls promoted reduced-cost eye exams, healthy eating and early breast cancer detection. She stressed the importance of integrative health, relieving stress, and understanding people in their environment. To this end, the clinic provides social work, acupuncture, herbalism, live Spanish language interpretation, and supports community organizing. Weekly “Mind Body Medicine” groups focus on breathing techniques, visualization and other methods of relaxation.

“People typically think of health as blood pressure, weight, and laboratory results,” explained Mulle (pronounced MOO-lay). “We believe their health includes the complete picture: What’s going on with their housing, with their kids and their schools? What’s their stress level? What’s going on with their work: are they working multiple jobs or not able to get a job at all? How is their over-all well-being impacted by their community and their environment?”

Earlier this year, Common Ground Health Clinic received the highest level of recognition for national health standards as a “Patient-Centered Medical Home” by the National Committee on Quality Assurance(NCQA). The standards for the primary care applicants can include the use of best-practices, the quality of medical records and following up with referrals. While thirty-seven applicants from the Greater New Orleans Area received recognition, only two practices earned the prestigious level three: Common Ground Health Clinic and St. Thomas Community Health Center.

Unlike peer institutions, these two clinics are explicit about their intention to be community-integrated and anti-racist as a means to long-term community health. As a means to those goals, both organizations work with the nearly thirty-year-young and locally-staffed People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, which often facilitates weekend-long “Undoing Racism” workshops. The People’s Institute has worked with St. Thomas since 1991 and, in January 2006, the People’s Institute co-sponsored its first workshop since the storm with CGHC.

“They have incorporated anti-racism into their mission and vision,” said Dr. Kimberley Richards, CGHC board member and core trainer with the People’s Institute. “They recognize race in the health paradigm.” Part of this recognition is to turn the principles into practice beyond a single training. Accordingly, PISAB meets monthly with CGHC for strategy sessions and hosts quarterly trainings for patients, staff and community members.

“How do you incorporate anti-racist principles?” Richards continued. “You engage the community, establish partnerships, hire residents that fit, recognize the resource in the community, not just bringing in from the outside.”

“I think it made all the difference in the world,” said R. Noah Morris, a clinic co-founder and CGHC Board President, about the affect of anti-racist principles on getting the highest NCQA recognition. He added that the recognition should also convince the healthcare community that “free does not mean cheap.”

“There’s a notion that community clinics or free clinics provide a sub-standard quality of care. We’re here to show that doesn’t have to be the case,” added Mulle. The vast majority of people who come to CGHC, eighty-six percent, are without any form of healthcare coverage.

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Despite living only a few blocks away, Keith Jones’ first trip to the clinic came a full year after its opening. “What I had was simple,” Jones said of his knee injury. “I got advice beyond what I really needed: ‘Did I live by myself? Could I make it?’ I’m getting all this attention with a sore knee? And nobody knew me from the man on the moon.”

Soon after, he accepted the clinic’s invitation to attend an “Undoing Racism” workshop, which included staff and patients together. “It was on point,” said Jones, who began volunteering and is now on the clinic’s staff as a community organizer. “They recruited from the class and I’ve been there ever since.”
Several staff members were first patients, including Coleen Murphy. Murphy had lived in Algiers Point for four years when Katrina hit and hesitated to return after reading reports of vigilante violence. But with the news of a clinic, she found a clear reason to come back. “I have never had health insurance and had been a patient of various sliding scale clinics my entire adult life. Never had I been treated with such care and kindness,” wrote Coleen Murphy in an e-mail.

A few weeks later Murphy started volunteering at the front desk. Now, as the clinic’s Communications Coordinator, she assists in outreach and edits all of CGHC’s publications, including the coveted health resource guides—collated by geography, like the Central City Guide, or themes, like the Mental Health Guide. The overall guide, “New Orleans Community Resource Guide,” is so thorough that it is utilized by clinics, hospitals, and social service agencies city-wide, including the city’s health department.

On days when the clinic is open, Marie Romeo can spend up to five or six hours in conversations with patients about job searches to healthy eating to racism. “It’s revolutionary to have health care and racism in the same context. That’s not done anywhere. I think that utilizing anti-racist principles in social work is not only possible but it’s imperative to be effective,” said Romeo, the clinic’s social worker. The first crucial steps are to listen to “a person’s experience and understand them. What would be characterized as a pathology is a constant exposure to systemic oppression. People often come in saying, ‘can’t get a job. I’ve a got a bachelor’s and master’s degree and can’t get a job.’ There’s stress around making ends meet.”

Integrating social work and mental health services into the clinic in the fall of 2008 relieved a tremendous burden on the physicians and nurses to help patients with referrals, counseling, applications for other services and getting prescriptions filled properly. “A lot of that didn’t exist before, or it was falling on the primary care providers,” said Anne Mulle. ”In a healthcare system that is overwhelmed, having mental health and social work services in the clinic takes a huge burden off the patient visit and allows primary care providers more time for chronic disease management.”

At the Center for Mind Body Medicine training in January 2007, Anne Mulle met Antor Ndep, a public health doctorate student, and encouraged her to apply for the Executive Director opening. Ndep, who has lived in New Orleans since 1997, was hesitant, but committed to visiting before passing judgment.

“What hooked me is that it was almost a manifestation of everything that I’ve thought about establishing in a community health center back home,” said Ndep, who was born in Nigeria. “Here are a group of very young people on both sides of the race line saying we want to talk about racism because we feel that racism is what is making communities poor and ill. That is something that you just do not find anywhere. “Combating racism, gardening, monitoring the police. Pieces of the puzzle were all there, they just needed us to concentrate to put those pieces together.”

In two years as the clinic’s Executive Director, Ndep has overseen impressive growth through channeling the unique energy she felt on that first visit. Using her education in public health she formalized the organizational structure, revamped the clinic’s policies and procedures, and embraced the clinic’s non-traditional programs based in community organizing and engagement.

“Community engagement for us comes in many different forms,” said Ndep, who emphasizes consideration of patients as peers worthy of dignity and honesty. “It’s not sophisticated in any way at all. We talk, we make friends, look people in the eye and invite them to everything we do. It’s a way of providing healthcare that goes beyond sitting across from a provider and telling him what’s wrong and that’s the beauty of it..”

In contrast to its volunteer beginnings, the clinic now has an operating budget over one million dollars per year, a staff of more than fifteen, and a state-of-the-art electronic medical record system. While one co-founder of the clinic used to quip—“we’re building a plane while flying it”—the healthcare facility now seems to be a well-worn, thoughtful and precise collective.

Through the processing of those growing pains, the People’s Institute and the St. Thomas Community Health Center supported and guided CGHC. “St. Thomas Community Health Center has really been a model health clinic for us,” Mulle affirmed.

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In operation since 1987, the St. Thomas Community Health Center has been a model clinic of community inclusion and patient-centered health for CGHC. For instance, patients are a majority on St. Thomas’ board. Undoing Racism workshops have been a regular part of volunteering or working at the center since 1991. St. Thomas makes impactful partnerships with other health providers, including a unique cardiovascular surgery program for uninsured patients with Ochsner.

“At Charity, it’s just someone you don’t know. Here, you can talk directly to Mary,” said Barbara Jackson, a founding member of the St. Thomas CHC, of Dr. Mary Abell. Jackson said that after finding out why a patient came, Mary will ask, “‘But what else is bothering you?’ You could never do that anywhere else. It’s holistic problem solving.”

Executive Director Dr. Don Erwin, who chaired the Department of Medicine at Ochsner Hospital when he started volunteering at St. Thomas back in 1991, thinks the success in good health outcomes comes from an interdependence between the community and the center. “If you’re a patient of ours and we know that you’re sick and can’t make it, we’ll send a taxi for you. It’s not the clinic over here and community over here,” Erwin said, moving his hands from left to right.

Though St. Thomas is not free, but low-cost, they do have an open access policy to see a patient the same day they call. “The traditional appointment system has a forty percent no show rate,” explained Erwin. “If there’s no bus, you can’t come. If you can’t get a babysitter, you can’t come.” Switching to a walk-in or call-in system where patients can be seen the same day allows for flexibility in a patient’s environment—a crucial step to being patient-centered and anti-racist.
“Race is an independent risk factor,” Erwin firmly stated. It is a statement Antor Ndep repeated to me, and a lesson the Common Ground Health Clinic has taken to heart.

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CGHC has come a long way since setting up card tables to divide first aid stations inside the Masjid Bilal mosque in dry Algiers on September 9, 2005. Then, a few dozen volunteers saw one hundred patients per day and acted largely as an emergency first-aid location. Volunteers often drove people to the nearest open Jefferson Parish hospital or called ambulances when necessary.

Bay Love, a volunteer transplant who is now the clinic’s Financial Officer, remembered the intensity of those first few months. “It was inspiring, exciting, and thrilling, yet extremely humbling. I thought, ‘this is really bad, people are really sick, and there is nowhere for them to go,’” he recalled. What made the need for a permanent health clinic in Algiers urgent, at least for him, was the realization that people’s health and the healthcare in the city had been poor and broken due to systemic racism and poverty long before the storm.

On a recent April day, Algiers resident Ronald Ragas sat on the steps of Delille/Drexel Fellowship Center of All Saints Church on the opposite corner from the clinic. A middle-aged man, Ragas shook his head as he spoke deliberately about a bladder infection he had not long after Katrina hit. He paused between sentences. “I was short four units of blood. A walking dead man. They put me in the hospital. I wouldn’t have made it. A lot of people were saved by the clinic.”
The clinic might now need to be saved by the people. The clinic threw a fundraising kick-off dinner in April at their office, which is two doors down from the clinic. In the front yard, a DJ announced the event over loud speakers to passersby and added his own wisdom: “They were there for us, so now we’re here for them.”

The goal of the clinic’s fundraising campaign is guarantee the sustainability of the clinic and deepen the partnership with the patient community. They have set the bar high: the clinic wants to raise one million dollars by its fourth anniversary, September 9, 2009. For current operations the clinic relies heavily on a government grant that will end in December 2010. Without knowing how the Obama Administration’s will act, the conclusion of the grant could drastically alter the clinic’s structure. When community members heard that the clinic might have to reduce services, many enthusiastically brought up suggestions from church dinners to hosting a bazaar. “We’re trying to fundraise on three or four tiers, grassroots to the upper level to the internet,” said clinic community organizer Keith Jones.

Listening to the DJ, Bay Love danced on the porch and a young boy imitated him. An older girl laughed at them both. In the office’s first room, Anita Powell, wearing an impressive white straw hat with a black band, took money for the fundraising dinner. Powell shares her hat making skills in clinic-supported classes as a way for community members to relieve stress. In the kitchen, next to anti-racist principles written on the wall, Lanette Williams served up fried fish, potato salad, green salad and spaghetti. Everyone working at the fundraising dinner had volunteered their time.

“I got to get off my feet,” gasped Williams, who had been cooking for at least the past seven hours.

R. Noah Morris, a clinic founding member, pulled a cooler from under the dining table and put it in front of Williams as a makeshift footrest. He said, “I know how to take care of the caretakers.”

More than twenty people remained in the dining room and backyard sharing stories after dinner. Among them was Orissa Arend, who wrote about the clinic’s origins for this publication in 2007. She “gave somewhere between zero and a minus one to the chances” that the clinic would endure because of so many broken promises from other providers such as Red Cross, FEMA, and all levels of government in the fallout of Katrina.

But thankfully, as Ronald Ragas told me earlier in the day, “They hung with us. Didn’t show up for a week or two then leave.”

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After the Film Fest Sun Sets

The Sixth Annual New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival came to a close last night. It is coined as the intersection of art + social justice. This year, organizers dubbed the festival’s front name “Patois” as a means of embodying the various languages and perspectives and meeting of those cultures throughout the 10 day event.

It once again introduced me to films (and people) I would otherwise never have seen (until the DVD release) in this rather ghost town for film known as New Orleans. Of course, I missed several films that ended up winning awards and I’ll be catching up with at a later date: William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe, St. Joe (to be a doc feature: “Land of Opportunity”), Robot + Girl (by a friend of mine!), Some Place Like Home: the fight against gentrification in downtown Brooklyn (dir. by Families United for Racial and Economic Equality – FUREE)

I managed to see:

Homeless Power (short doc)
Katrina: man made disaster (feature doc)
Medicine for Melancholy (narrative feature)
Under the Bombs (narrative feature)
Made in L.A. (doc feature)
A Day in Palestine (narrative animated short)
Crips & Bloods: made in America (doc feature)
Hunger (narrative feature)

Exodus (narrative feature) presented some challenges as a viewer – a flat cliched script and meaningless direction – which is why I walked out, a first, after 30 minutes. The only potential going for it were the sets, which had the feel and ambition of “Children of Men,” but knowingly had to work with a severely smaller budget. I’m wondering how much of a coincidence it was that one of the actors was the pregnant woman from “Children of Men.”

Corazon del Tiempo (Heart of Time, narrative feature)
Nerakhoon (The Betrayal, doc feature)
The House that Herman Built (doc short, will be a feature)

Justice for All (doc feature) builds a compelling argument for the complete overhaul of the juvenile “justice” criminal system in the United States by meticulously detailing six or seven egregious cases in different states. For instance, one seventeen year old was sentenced to life in prison without parole in Texas for marijuana possession because a judge retained complete power over the sentencing. He was pardoned by the governor after a long campaign to win his release. However, the system took 16 years of his life. The filmmakers even visit the U.K. to see the rehabilitation programs available to youth as a method of introducing new ideas into our system. I liked the film as a historian likes primary documents–for new facts and stories that make a convincing case for change. The filmmakers inserted themselves too much for me, especially in the editorializing and occasional unprofessional phrases in the narration. But it would be worthy to watch for an educational purpose or in an educational setting.

Cajun New Wave (doc short) is a brief insight into the traditions of Cajun music as talked about by its rising generation of twenty-something musicians. Often hand-held and with sound and visual hiccups, this film might be better as a printed translation of the interviews conducted and released with a CD of the varying worthy musicians such as Pine Leaf Boys, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Beth Patterson, Amanda Shaw, etc.

Crips & Bloods, Hunger, Nerakhoon and Under the Bombs were my top picks from what I saw.

further comments to come…

UPDATE: Here is the lovely ROBOT+GIRL short by Erin Wilson that won the Audience Choice Award.

Published in: on April 6, 2009 at 6:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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If This is How it Starts: Report Back from the Citizen Participation Process Summit

Tonight, the “Citizen” Participation Process (CPP) Summit opened on the 11th Floor of the Pan-American Life Building in the Central Business District. Though this event was free with an advance registration, only about 150 people showed up in a city of nearly 300,000. This pales in comparison to the UNOP’s Congress Events, to which thousands flocked and where efforts were made to include displaced persons via teleconference.

Of course, civic participation may not be for everyone, but everyone must be offered the time and space to contribute and be a part of the decision making process from the beginning—for everything that starts at this summit will influence subsequent dialogue.

A potential pitfall is that residents who miss this summit due to conflicts or not being informed will not be viewed as legitimate—in effect people could become a victim of what’s known as “Founder’s Syndrome.” Or perhaps more simply, that certain attendees can say they were at the summit and can use this for political and personal power in influencing others in decision-making. Greater inclusion and

Some of these concerns were brought up throughout the night session. The session included questions to key note speaker Judith Mowry, a representative from the formalized Office of Neighborhood Involvement in Portland, Oregon.

Mowry’s last sentence–“Basically the world is run by those who show up”—showed considerable insensitivity to the context of post-Federal Flood New Orleans and to the logistics of low-income people. It makes invisible the difficulty of many New Orleanians who might work two jobs, have night shifts, or other conflicts and may not be informed, as stated above, especially by mass emails or by direct connection to a neighborhood association. (This is a pattern: The primary way to stay informed and engaged with the Master Plan and Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance process, which the City Council approved to put on the November ballot for popular vote on Thursday, is through its website. This is unacceptable in New Orleans, a place known for its digital divide and acquisition of news through those old-timey mediums like radio.)

In response to Mowry, Brad Ott, a health patient advocate and resident of New Orleans, immediately spoke to the necessity to involve the approximately 200,000 people who are not present. In addition, he later added how those directly affected by land grabs, such as the destruction of public housing and now the imminent VA-LSU teaching hospital plan for lower Mid-City—were and are currently left out of the decision-making process. The first public meeting on the teaching hospital came last month, more than two years since plans began. Ott’s determination is then that the CPP, as a burgeoning formal body, could put certain current issues on hold until a well established and inclusive participation process is in place.

After questions for Mowry, facilitators then continued the agenda wherein each table at the summit had two models of citizen participation. There were six models total across the participants. My table had models #2 and #5. The models described “Structure,” “Scope of Focus,” and “Funding.”
[Note: It should be mentioned that these models were meant to ignite discussion and feedback, not what the coalition organizing this summit actually want to see.]

#2: Essentially created a three-tiered system beginning with neighborhood groups, then to district coalitions, then to a Citizens Voice Council, wherein the scope was largely developmental and the funding decision-making power remained in the hands of the city council and mayor who would have to respond “in some way” to the Voice Council.

No one at my table thought this model would improve anything in the city. From their comments, it seems this would function largely as the system already does but formally, by granting authority to neighborhood associations alone and not including more informal community groups. In general, in all models, there were no specifics as to a standard of how decisions would or should be made—consensus? simple majority? two-thirds majority?—from the neighborhood association level all the way up to a Voice Council.

In my view, this tiered system continues the concentration of power into fewer and fewer representatives that is a mirror of our government, which we all know is largely out of touch with the priorities of its residents. We need to flatten out the decision-making power to include as many people as possible that will still be functional.

#5: Somewhat like #2, but more broadly inclusive and distinct in the fact that participants in the process could have decision-making power over the priorities of the budget.

We appreciated this distinction, but the process still remained vague. I noted that I would put more faith in this model if the budget priorities were determined in a city-wide ballot constructed like run-off elections in Ireland: if there are five priorities (or candidates) then you rank them from 1 to 5 for the ones you prefer (or give no rank for things you disagree with). The ranks are given weight in the ballot count such that a #1 priority would get 5 points, a #2 priority 4 points and so on…

Of course there could be thirty items on the ballot, each of which would have a paragraph description of what they mean…for this to be efficient you’d have to extend the number of days people can vote and you’d have to have an informed electorate.

Of course, in the larger analysis, even the word “Citizen” is problematic as it precludes migrant workers, incarcerated people and others who are and will be residents of the city and are affected by the decisions made in this process. Resident was preferred. People unable to vote, such as those under 18, should also be considered in the dialogue.

When groups reported back on other models, we had no concept of the context from which their comments sprung, whether critical or in support. The gap in communication and lack of a “crib sheet,” or list of participation process definitions, only produced confusion. For instance, in model #5, what is a municipal assembly? Who comprises it and how many people are on it? What is it accountable to and how does it make decisions?

I recommend any information, including all 6 models, intended to be commented back to the entire group should be included in the packet so all participants can read them and understand the comments in context.
We wished that we had a greater introduction and understanding of different models run around the country—their successes and problems—before engaging and brainstorming in this process.

Lastly, these are my initial observations and this entire process is new to me so I have much to learn, but I see pitfalls in the concentrating of power all around. I’m open to dialogue on this, please add your thoughts as comments.

Published in: on July 13, 2008 at 7:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Through the Neighborhoods, Riled Up in the Cold

On my way home from anti-racism meetings and couching at friends’ houses in the lower garden district, I pass many a sight.  I cross the barren nightly scene of the Central Business District, or CBD to locals, which, due to its proximity to the lively French Quarter, is akin to the ghost on the other side of your bedroom door or quiet monster under the bed.    From there, I usually travel along the perimeter of the FQ up Canal Street and turn right onto Claiborne, at the intersection where most of the public homeless congregate together.

And tonight I was outraged.  Because it stinks of urine over there.  I don’t say this for my sake.  I have no problem smelling urine for a good ten to fifteen seconds as I pass, but people have to live among that scent, which no doubt seeps into their clothes and likely stigmatizes them at work, creating further alienation with the rest of their working peers.

And I’m pissed because the city was responsible for changing out the port-o-potties back in December, January and February when Duncan Plaza folks were booted out and the homeless got front page coverage in both the Times-Picayune and the Gambit Weekly.  Soon it came to light that the toilets were overflowing with waste.  The city continues to lack the will and the heart to change out the port-o-potty and help maintain people’s dignity.  Maybe the responsibility is in other hands, or the city outright removed the facilities, but there ought to be some way for the area to be cleaned up so working folks who live there can feel secure that there is no chance of being discriminated against or harassed due to the ubiquitous scent of urine.

Anyway, traveling down Claiborne, thinking of all this, I come upon Lafitte.  The last public housing development to remain standing, Lafitte is now also being torn down.  It was a slow process. First, contractors and the Housing Authority of New Orleans claimed they were doing asbestos remediation as they removed beautiful orange beige terra cotta tiles from the rooftops, dropped them needlessly forty feet to their shattering death.  The roofs, left uncovered, were no doubt in danger of becoming moldy with any significant rain, a way for HANO/HUD to make demolition inevitable despite the mayor’s delay in signing the Lafitte permits.

However, soon enough, Nagin said he had been given all the information he had requested from HANO/HUD and signed the permits for demolition.  The first building came down last week.  Strangely, a dozen or so buildings on the river side of the development, close to Claiborne Ave. remain open (rather than behind a barb-wire fence) and some even have new doors installed.  This is due to Providence/Catholic Charities plan to demolish the buildings in stages.

Approximately 100 people will live fifty feet from buildings being torn down that look and feel exactly the same as the doorways in which they stand, watching the bricks fall.   Living, breathing, surviving, loving, growing, playing, eating in homes that HUD continues to claim were too damaged in the Federal Flood to renovate.

And onward home, I go full of hurt for people I hardly know and rage for cold political power in offices in other cities (and Nagin in Dallas…) that do not feel such hurt.

There is shame in deceit in plain sight without retreat.

Published in: on April 15, 2008 at 2:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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a winter of potential energy

from a trip north while looking out the car window on the highway.

a winter of potential energy
——————————–

waterfall of icicles
stranded against the chiseled rock.
along the highway bookends
even gravity can’t get you home.

tire tread, yelling with oldie road songs,
feet hanging out windows, hair in the wind,
elongated landscapes drenched in sun,
across hills and prairies from ocean to ocean.
these are the legends (myths?)
built in our heads from birth to death,
our mystical journey west.

the moving itch, ripping up roots
transplanting to a perceived oasis
seems in white america’s genetics,
anything to hit the road, away from home,
free from responsibility, accountability
some seek a defining experience,
a place to mirror sensibilities,
an individualistic tapestry of wondrous imagined communities.

bright,
flashy,
rhythmically spirited
in an open flow
beyond types,
genders,
borders.

a voice as soft as a pillow on an ear
calling out magnetically to the far corners,
frozen arms stretch to touch the granule texture below.
bulking up, leveraging and questioning
the tested tradition and girth of iced midsection
til the tipping point, the vibrations
from a paradigm-shifting earthquake.
a clean break from what defined
all that came before.
and as we, I, the icicle heads toward pavement,
what will the shattered scattered pieces mean
when they melt and coalesce
in a rebirth of form,
absorb in soil until collected,
cradled under the bedrock,
biding time as thousand-year erosion
turns to explosion!

Published in: on December 30, 2007 at 7:59 pm  Comments (1)  

Prior to a full on Into the Wild film/book review…

Though I am thinking/writing/observing on the subject of Christopher McCandless, the main (but not only) character of Jon Krakauer’s superbly written “Into the Wild,” I am just going to post my response to a film review by Kyle Smith of the New York Post. It is largely in reference to a brief paragraph on Timothy Treadwell, a man who spent thirteen summers alone with brown/grizzly bears on the Alaskan coast before he was attacked and eaten by a bear. The reason the bear attacked is still unknown. I recently finished two books on Treadwell, so I was compelled to share.

First, Kyle Smith’s comments about Treadwell:
Both the cruel beauty of the film[Into the Wild] and this quality of its main character[McCandless] call to mind Werner Herzog’s similar, and similarly brilliant, documentary “Grizzly Man,” about Timothy Treadwell, a nature lover who lived among the bears in Alaska and treated them as big fluffy pets, until they ate him. Treadwell claimed, not very convincingly, to have a girlfriend (a woman he brought along who also died but whom he almost entirely ignored in his many video diaries). He too seemed uninterested in sex, or any other kind of human interaction.

My comment:

I appreciate the mccandless observations, but i’ve just finished reading “The Grizzly Maze” and “Among Grizzlies,” two books on Timothy Treadwell, and wanted to append some info short-changed in Herzog’s documentary.

His relationship with bears was much more complicated than “big fluffy pets” despite how some of Herzog’s video footage plays side of Treadwell up. Treadwell certainly behaved in his own eccentric way to pass the time, but he also had a unique talent to discern bear behavior and intentions, often forced into split-second decisions (whether respectful retreats, holding ground or bluffing an attack) when a bear got to close to him or began to charge. His knack held up for thirteen summers, but all along it was a risky business to convince himself that he too was bear, as he often remarked on video and wrote in his memoir “Among Grizzlies.” More than anything else, McCandless and Treadwell shared an independent spirit and over confidence grown from previous successes. However, sometimes it is also terrible luck–running into a desperate, potentially mentally-ill bear or (spoiler alert!) eating seeds previously unknown to be poisonous.

Also:
Treadwell actually had several girlfriends over the years and never seemed to have an aversion to sex, self-described and collaborated in interviews with friends.

From what I gather, he had selective problems with humans depending on whether they were sympathetic to his mission and trips to Alaska every summer or not. His best friend in Alaska, Joel Bennett the filmmaker, was amazed that a person who enjoyed attention and social interaction would go into the bush for months at a time thirteen years in a row like Treadwell.

Published in: on November 27, 2007 at 10:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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