February 04, 2017

Out of Asia, Always Something Old

Float like a snowshoe, glide like a ski

At 145cm, Altai's Hok backcountry ski
is about the same length as my old Army
surplus trail shoes — but they glide, some.

When it comes to outdoor sports, Americans tend to favor gear over technique. We want to ride or ski on what the racers use, or what the pros use. "I know that this $1,200 fly reel machined from unobtainium alloy will make me a better angler!"

I chuckle a little at the converts to tenkara fly-fishing with their newly learnt Japanese vocabulary, because I think it is just the 17th-century English fly-fishing that Izaak Walton would have recognized — but with contemporary high-tech materials.

Yet I appreciate and support the minimalism of tenkara. A rod, a line, a few flies —go do it! It really works.

Getting around in the snow.

I have owned snowshoes since my teens, then got cross-country skis in my twenties (I wish that I had started sooner). 

Both let you move through snowy landscapes (not too steep). Both have long historical pedigrees. We identify snowshoes with North American Indians, but they were also used in Stone Age Europe. They are what you make with stone tools. 

With metal tools, you can cut and shape boards, giving you skis. Archaeologists suggest that skis were invented in Central Asia, but maybe they were invented independently in Scandinavia.

In a century, ski touring bindings went from simple straps that you slip your toe under (why Finns wore boots with turned-up toes) to these (or fancier). Synthetics largely replaced wood.

Ski like a Mongol/Tuvan/Kazakh/Siberian

Even as tenkara gets rid of the reel and the long fly line, a new Asian-inspired approach to ski touring takes a middle road between snowshoing (slow, utilitarian) and Nordic skiing (faster but trickier on steep slopes).

Some skiers are even getting rid of ski poles and returning to a simple stick, like these guys:


Or, more appropriately, like these guys — contemporary skiers in the Altai Mountains.
Contemporary Altai Range skiers. OK, I do see some ski poles there. (Photo: Alta Skis)
Formed in 2011, with offices in the US and Canada, Altai Skis revived the Central Asian style of wide skis with skins permanently attached. Their first model, the Hok (from Tuvan for "ski"), comes in just two adult lengths, 125cm and 145cm (and a 99 cm kids' model). It has metal edges and a permanently installed nylon skin with waxable Ptex tips and tails.

If you're more of a snowshoer at heart, you can buy bindings that fit any winter boot. If you come from an x-c ski background, you can get regular or cable 75mm three-pin bindings or adaptors for other styles, like NNN.

And for forty bucks, they will sell you a Tiak ("stick") if you can't make your own.

The problem with skiing here in the southern Rockies is that good snow and gentle terrain does not happen often enough. To get good snow, you have to move into more rugged forested areas and break trail. Lots of people use snowshoes with ski poles, which seems silly on level ground but helps when you're in powder on a slope.

After decades of flipping between speed (x-c skis) and flotation (snowshoes), I learned about the Altai Skis and bought a pair of 145cm Hoks (They also have a slimmer, faster backcountry model called the Kom,with fishscale waxless bottoms.)

I put three-pin cable bindings on them, because I have the boots, and in a nod to old-school skiing, have been using some old bamboo poles. I always wanted to be the last guy in Colorado with bamboo poles. One day I will cut a pine stick though; skiers with sticks do have an archaic silhouette. The stick is for balance and braking, but does not give the diagonal-stride push of the ski pole.

I took them out for two short test runs along the Sangres and then yesterday for a two-hour trip along the base of the Sawatch Range. My first thought was "Comfortable! I can go right into the trees with these."

The first two trips were more for familiarization and adjusting bindings. Yesterday I alternated between following a marked trail and going into untracked snow, up to knee-deep with some wind crust in places.

The Hoks certain held me up better than my skinny skis as I moved from soft snow to crusted powder to packed powder-and-ice. But unlike with snowshoes, I could get a little bit of a glide. Breaking trail is always work no matter what you use.

I have not yet used the Hoks in fresh deep powder, but an opportunity will come.

• • •

About that headline: The Romans used to say, "Semper aliquid novi Africam adferre" (Out of Africa, always something new.) They in turn got it from the Greeks, but to them it had the connotation of "Out of Africa, always something weird."

Aristotle, (384 to 322 B.C.), referred to the proverb in two of his books, Historia Animalium and Generatione Animalium, to explain the wild mélange of animals in Africa. He wrote that many of the animals unique to Africa were strange hybrids, suggesting that the lack of water forced the animals to meet at watering holes where they mated indiscriminately with one another.

February 02, 2017

When Bears — and Deer and Badgers — Wear Fur Coats

Fawn on furs (Wet Mountain Wildlife).
M. and I swung through Pueblo last week on a typical supply run and picked up some fur coats — one rabbit, one mink.

They are for the bears. Or the fawns. Or whatever other young animals turn up at the wildlife rehabiltation center west of town later this spring.

A program called "Coats for Cubs," run by resale clothing retailer Buffalo Exchange, collects unwanted fur coats for rehabilitation centers nationwide.
To celebrate a new year and a new you, donate fur to Coats for Cubs! From January 2 to April 22 (Earth Day), Buffalo Exchange locations across the country will be collecting real furs in any condition. We then ship them off to wildlife rehabilitators, who use them to create a nurturing environment for injured and orphaned animals. 
Our friends at the center here got a deluge of coats this summer. They have always put stuffed toy animals in with some of their orphans, such as foxes. But the furs were better.
In fact, Sanders was amazed how well the animals took to the furs, noting a bond that was formed between the baby mammals and donated items.

“I just couldn’t believe the response from the animals,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything bond with anything like that before. They really love them.”
After that story ran in the Pueblo Chieftain, a new donor got in touch with the center directly, hence our coat-transport.

So if there is an unwanted fur coat in your house, contact Coats for Cubs, which maintains a list of participating wildlife rehabilitation centers around the country.

January 31, 2017

Valley of Broken Dreams and Broken Owls

Owl tangled in a barbed wire fence.
Not today's owl, but similar.
(Colorado Parks and Wildlife)
.
.
You drive south from Westcliffe and after the shooting range, a subdivision with "Ranch" in its name, and the Silver West Airport with its 7,000 foot runway (handy for private jets), you pass over a hardly perceptible divide into Another Place, the upper Huerfano Valley.

I think of it sometimes as the Valley of Broken Dreams— there were the people who thought that they would make it as ranchers, and mostly did not, and in the 1960s, various artists and countercultural dropouts who thought it was the place to be. It still attracts some hardscrabble retirees. Fine if you want lots of solar power but do not plan to grow gardens.

Drop City, founded by art students from the U. of Kansas, is claimed as the "first rural hippie commune." The Libre community was also well-known. And there were others — read Huerfano: A Memoir of Life in the Counterculture.
All this is running through my mind as I blast south on Colorado 69 towards Gardner, which looks more like northern New Mexico than adjacent bits of Colorado — flat-roofted adobe or pseudo-adobe houses, piñon pine and juniper, no water to speak of.

My purpose is to pick up a great horned owl, found by a resident's daughter the previous day tangled in a barbed wire fence.

PRO TIP: If you find a bird tangled in barbed wire, do not peel the wire away. Take out your fence pliers or bolt cutters and cut the wire on either side, then bring wire and bird together to a raptor center or veterinarian. If you don't have fence pliers, stop at the hardware store and get some!

I found the house—acres of bone-dry pasture and a little house with good passive solar that was in the usual country status — never quite finished. As I walked through the crowded entryway with my gloves and pet carrier, the owner (70-ish, jeans and sweatshirt) asked me if I knew anyone who could help put some all these 4 x 8-foot panels of particle board that she had stacked up.

I wondered if she had come in the days of Drop City or if she had selected this as a retirement homestead more recently. She would have told me —she seemed lonely and talkative — but I just wanted to get some vet care for the owl.

Of course they had peeled off the wire. I asked if the owl had had any food, and she said that she had tried to give it some "baby oatmeal." But then (after a day) she had called the Raptor Center and been told not to do that. I silently agreed. Owls eat mice.

Its head was up, but it did not struggle much as I lifted it from her cardboard carton into my carrier. "They're going to help you feel better," she cooed to the bird.

I am not a vet nor even a trained Raptor Center volunteer. I just try to get the bird loaded with minimal handling and then drive hard for Pueblo, which was about 90 minutes away. Kind of like a 1950s ambulance driver — in the pre-EMT era. But I know that broken wing bones usually mean the final injection. The Center has enough one-winged birds on exhibition already.

Eventually I reached the interstate, accelerated up to 70 mph and hated modern life. Most of the time, we don't even to make space in our world for the other non-human peoples. There were no cattle around that house — why all the barbed wire?

As I think of that, I pass a cluster of bird-bashing wind turbines. And then at Burnt Mill Road a billboard for the Pueblo Zoo with some cute exotic felid kitten on it. I would rather see a healthy owl that belongs here than some exotic cat inside a cage.

At the raptor ICU, I did the paperwork. "Is this the owl from Gardner?" asked the ICU volunteer. "There's another one coming from Fowler."

There are three other great horned owls in the ICU. What is happening to them? This is their breeding season — are they just out and about more and getting into bad situations?

Paperwork done, I say goodby and start home. I have driven 167 miles (64 Spanish leagues or 534 li). The bird probably won't make it, but it was important to answer the call.

January 30, 2017

Look an Eagle in the Eye, February 3–5

Bald eagles at Pueblo Reservoir (Ron Drummond/CPW)
In our "wildlife taxi" volunteer gig for Colorado Parks & Wildlife, M. and I frequently make runs to the Raptor Center in Pueblo.

Too often, we are facilitating an injured hawk or owl's rendezvous with a hypodermic needle. But sometimes there is good news and we get to release a rehabilitated bird.
At the center of this whirl stands Raptor Center director Diana Miller, and the Colorado Springs Gaztte has an article about her: "Raptor center gives southern Colorado raptors a second chance at survival." 
 The ICU sees roughly 250 birds a year - about half of which are released back into the wild after a few months in captivity, said Diana Miller, director of the center.

"They get hit by cars, they get electrocuted on power lines, they get hung up on barbed wire," Miller said. "There's a million things that can go wrong. It's not an easy life when you're out and about."
Miller and some volunteers will be center-stage again next weekend during Pueblo Eagle Days on the 3rd through 5th.

Stop by the state park headquarters at Pueblo Reservoir and see if you have what it takes to look an eagle in the eye.

January 29, 2017

Colorado Wildife Commission Endorses "19th-Century Science"

Mule deer does in recently burned area — good habitat for them!
M. and I own a cabin in the Wet Mountains, near our home, which functions as a guest house, occasional writing hide-out, and which we also rent to tourists now then.

Recently a woman from Virginia whose family stayed there last summer wrote, "I thought Colorado was better than this."

And by "this" she meant the Wildlife Commission's decision to "capture and kill up to 15 mountain lions and 25 black bears each year in the Piceance Basin [and in the upper Arkansas River drainage] of northwest Colorado. beginning in the spring of 2017."

 From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

Wildlife crews will capture up to 15 mountain lions and 25 black bears each year using cage traps, culvert traps, foot snares and hunting dogs, then shoot them, according to CPW documents. . . .  The plan will cost about $4.5 million, according to CPW. Predator control is one of seven strategies identified in CPW plans to restore the state's mule deer population, which currently sits about 80 percent of wildlife managers' desired population of 560,000.

The first source, NPR, said,  "The state said it would also pay $435,000 per year for a nine-year study of the "effects of mountain lion population density on mule deer populations."

Times nine years, that makes $3.9 million plus change. OK, let's take the lower number. It is equal to selling 10,142 nonresident deer licenses, or 126,290 resident licenses.

Maybe. But is it good science?

"We find it surprising that CPW’s own research clearly indicates that the most likely limiting factors for mule deer are food limitation, habitat loss and human-induced disturbance – not predators,” wrote CSU biologists Joel Berger, Kevin Crooks and Barry Noon in a letter to the commissioners.

 "Nineteenth-century scicnce" is what they called the state's proposal.

But the designated "sportmen's representative" on the Wildlife Commission, John Howard, chose to mock the three biologists on his blog, calling them tools of "various groups on the left side of the conservation movement."

And he was upset that they did not cancel class or whatever and come to a commission meeting when it was held in Fort Collins.

The implication seems to be that unless the commenter kneels and kisses Howard's ring, then their comments, whether written, emailed, or telephoned in, can safely be disregarded by the commissioners.

If you want mule deer, create mule deer habitat. It's that simple.
Ironically, big forest fires create mule deer habitat — they like brush better than deep woods — so maybe the commission should hire some arsonists instead of hired guns from USDA Wildlife Services (Motto: "Trapping and poisoning animals is not all that we do.")

In 2014, I got a nice buck on a ridge that burned in  2012, and I had never seen so many deer there as I did that summer and fall.

So Colorado Parks and Wildlife scores a twofer: While dodging the real issue on mule deer populations, they have given the state a black eye noticeable all the way across the country.

UPDATE: Now there is a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians.
The lawsuit contends mule deer numbers in Colorado are rising at a pace that by 2020 could result in the population reaching CPW’s goal of 501,000 to 557,000 deer. It also says the agency’s population goals fail to account for loss or degradation of historical habitat due to development.

January 26, 2017

Trout 1, High Art 0: The Arkansas River Will Remain Undraped

Christo and his late wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude, in 2009
with a sketch of how "Over the River" would look (Keystone/Dominic Favre).
Zee artiste Christo has canceled his plan to drape miles of the Arkansas River in plastic sheets. 

He blamed Donald Trump of course, but locals who have fought the project since 1992 want some of the credit for his decision.
The controversial project that was first conceived in 1992 by Christo and his late wife, Jeanne-Claude, has been mired in legal battles as opponents feared the environmental impacts of the 14-day installation above the river between Salida and Cañon City that would take 2½ years to build.
Opponents' bumper sticks are often seen.
The Arkansas River is heavily used for whitewater kayaking and rafting, and many boaters (but not all) were not happy about the project.

The Denver Post quotes one opponent:
Colorado river activist Gary Wockner was equally excited, although more snarky. “This may be the first good thing Trump has done for Colorado’s environment,” he wrote in an e-mail.
The New York Times called the Colorado opposition the world's largest art protest, quoting Christo as blaming President Trump for his decision. In other words, from their point of view, it is not about Coloradans protesting Christo's decision to hang plastic over the river, it is about his protest of Trump's election.

Maybe that is just an excuse, and local opponents ran out the clock. In a Wednesday announcement, it was reported elsewhere, Christo did not mention President Trump but said, "After pursuing Over The River, Project for the Arkansas River, State of Colorado, for 20 years and going through 5 years of legal arguments, I no longer wish to wait on the outcome."

January 21, 2017

When Liberals Turn Preppers

A new meme has been going around news media lately, the "liberal prepper."
The signs of change are surely in the air. Groups that cater to gun-toting bleeding hearts — such as the aptly named Liberal Gun Club — say they’ve seen a surge in paid membership since the election. Candid talk of disaster preparedness among progressives is showing up on social media. Even companies that outfit luxury “safe rooms” — which protect their wealthy owners from bombs, bullets, and chemical attacks — attribute recent boosts in business to the incoming administration.
Terrified by the so-called "Trumpapocalypse," this (presumably) Hillary voter is stocking up on guns and canned food — example: Colin Waugh of Independence, Mo., an "unapologetic liberal . . . no fan of firearms."

Read the article, watch Colin Waugh make a string of newbie mistakes, but don't be too judgmental.

And remember, we don't say "survivalist" any more; we say "prepper." 

For instance,  Waugh has been "browsing real estate listings in Gunnison County, Colorado, which he’s determined to be a 'liberal safe-haven.'"

Does he know that the average low temperature this month in Gunnison is -6° F. (-21° C)?  Does he know how short the growing season is? Or how expensive the college town/resort-area real estate is?

In the event the "Trumpapocalypse" occurs, does he plan to drive 750 miles across lawless prairies to his Secret Mountain Hideout?

He would be a lot better off staying in Missouri. I recommend Moniteau County. It's close by, has no large cities, and land is much more affordable.

To protect himself against "state-sanctioned roundups of Muslims, gays, and outspoken critics," Waugh has purchased two guns, a 9mm pistol and an unspecified shotgun.  I hope that he gets some serious instruction and practice with them. Start with the assumption that everything you see in movies and TV about guns is wrong. (People do not fly through the air when shot, for one thing.)

But here's the thing. Planning for disaster is a good thing. Sure, there is plenty of apocalypse porn out there, even "Trumpapocalypse"-porn, but you don't have to wallow it it.

Taking care of yourself and yours is a good plan. Government cannot do it — at least when disaster first strikes. Even with good resources and planning, it takes at least 48 hours for the wheels to turn, and that is a best-case scenario. 

(As a member of my county's emergency services board, I have seen plenty of planning and discussion, not to mind that I have been evacuated from my home four times in the last eleven years.)

As blogger Liz Shield writes, "Are we sure this guy isn't one of us? . . . . Welcome to the world of 'taking care of yourself and your family.'"

Anyone who is serious about self-defense, about food, and about general preparedness — "keeping your wits about you," etc. — is going to be a more effective citizen and less of a drain on public resources.

Unfortunately, bullets will not stop a Missouri ice storm.

January 18, 2017

Eat Peppers, Live Longer? Also Prehistoric Cattle and Stuff.

Portuguese Maronsa, part of the gene stock (CNN).
Some people found these boots' tracks to be offensive. The designer has been sent to a social-justice re-education camp. Or would have been, but is probably in China, where they just move on to the next knock-off and counterfeit.

¶ If I can't have mammoths in Arizona (They used to live there), I will accept aurochs in Eastern Europe. I have seen some negative comment on the Tauros Programme though, although this CNN story claims,
The animals get closer with each generation, and the team have the advantage of being able to test the offspring's DNA against the complete genome of an auroch, which was successfully sequenced at University College Dublin.
¶ "Eat Peppers, Live Longer?" Well, yes, sort of, says the New York Times. Duh.

¶ In firewood, fat is good.

January 11, 2017

How Birds Survive the Winter



Happy to see some my favorite winter birds here, like pine siskins and evening grosbeaks.

January 10, 2017

No Farms at Chaco Canyon, Off-Road Vehicles, Lynx Surprise

A "great kiva," restored but roofless, at Chaco Canyon
¶ All boats, snowmobiles, and ATV's in Colorado have to be state-registered. Proof of ownership is required, but the state is fairly flexible about documentation.

¶ Chaco Canyon in northwest New Mexico is the site of a collection of ancient "great houses," multi-room dwellings. They were not built simultaneously, and it is unclear how many people actually lived there. And apparently they did not grow their own food, so apparently it was backpacked in by the Anasazi equivalent of serfs.  Or maybe they were willing pilgrims.

¶ With typical feline nonchalance, a lynx surprises skiers at the Purgatory ski area in southwestern Colorado. 

UPDATE, Jauary 10, 2017: A sad ending to the lynx story.

January 08, 2017

Colorado Snowpack January 1, 2017

Source.

Using Outdoor Electronic Technology the Right Way

In the current issue (Jan.-Feb. 2017) of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation magazine, Bugle, P. J. DelHomme talks about using electronic technology (smarphones, Google Earth, GPS gear, etc.) to draw kids into outdoor experiences.
If you have an area in mind to hunt, see if your kid would be willing to scout it for you via Google Earth. Turn it into a biology lesson. Elk need food, water, shelter, and space—lots of space. Have them pick out likely elk spots away from roads, mark them on the map, and then find a way in. You might just spark enough interest so they'll want to go with you to see if it pays off.
He also suggests geocaching, among other things, as a way to let the screen-obsessed do stuff outdoors. All good.

At the same time, however, you would want to educate those kids about "Death by GPS," the title of a recent article at Ars Technica.
What happened to the Chretiens is so common in some places that it has a name. The park rangers at Death Valley National Park in California call it “death by GPS.” It describes what happens when your GPS fails you, not by being wrong, exactly, but often by being too right. It does such a good job of computing the most direct route from Point A to Point B that it takes you down roads which barely exist, or were used at one time and abandoned, or are not suitable for your car, or which require all kinds of local knowledge that would make you aware that making that turn is bad news.
And J. R. Sullivan wonders at Outside, "Our Reliance on Technology Makes the Backcountry More Dangerous."
“One of the worst trends we’ve seen in the past 20 years is the proliferation of cell phones and technology in the backcountry,” says Tim Smith, a registered Master Maine Guide and the founder of the Jack Mountain Bushcraft School, which instructs students in brush living, guide skills, and long-term winter survival. “It gives people a false sense of security. It's the idea of, Who cares how bad of a jam I get myself into? Because if there’s cell coverage I’ll call and someone will come get me. But if you had no outside line, no way of contacting other people, you’re way less likely to take risks.”
And a neurologist suggests that using GPS instead of building mental maps affects the structure of the physical brain:
An integral component of brain organization is that it changes with experience. So yes, our modern lifestyle alters our brains. The important question, however, is not whether technology changes the brain, but whether our technology driven life damages our brain.
And did you remember to charge your phone? 

January 02, 2017

Hiking Makes You Smarter — Or at Least Less Depressed

So there is your New Year's resolution,  if you follow this line of thought:
To conduct this study, researchers compared the reported rumination of participants who hiked through either an urban or a natural environment. They found those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and they also had reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain related to mental illness. Those who walked through the urban environment, however, did not report decreased rumination.
 So there it is: 2017: The Year of Decreased Rumination

January 01, 2017

When Nature-Fakers Meet You Tube (and the Money)

Via The Mint (India). Photo by Arnab Mukherjee
"The Ugly Side of Wildlife Photography" — that title says it all. There is money-driven fakery . . .
In 2009, the image of a “jumping wolf” by photographer José Luis Rodriguez won for him the prestigious wildlife photographer of the year award conferred by the British Natural History Museum. It was later discovered that the wolf was trained for the shoot. Rodriguez was disqualified.
. . . and there is is ego-driven and money-driven fakery:
Insensitive photographers collude with greedy safari drivers and irresponsible forest guides to agitate and provoke animals for “action photography” for an award-winning shot. Conservationists opine that over time, such malpractices have altered the behaviour of large mammals, making them aggressive and stressful. This aggression is witnessed when the mammals migrate from one forest patch to the other through human-dominated landscapes.
And we're not even talking about drones here. 

EDITED TO ADD: Here is an example of the BBC manipulating video of birds to make them more attractive on the screen.

December 31, 2016

GPS Receivers versus Smart Phones

Don't expect a cell phone signal here.
Is your smartphone as accurate as a dedicated GPS unit? Some researchers at Skidmore College tried to answer that a few years ago (note reference to iPhone 4). Their conclustion: "The short analysis is that iPhones are still worse than a dedicated GPS, but not that much worse."

I am using an iPhone 5s, so not the newest, but I have noted that its GPS unit is about as good as my Garmin's . . . except that for geocaching, it is not so good, because geocaches are marked in hours/minutes/decimal minutes, and the built-in GPS reads hours/minutes/seconds.

Now there are decided geocaching apps that work fine, but they require a good cellular data feed, and when you are in a place like the Purgatory River canyon, you end up thinking, "What possesed me to leave the Garmin in the truck and bring just the phone?"

Bottom line: a dedicated GPS receiver does more stuff than a smartphone does. Using GPS sucks batteries dead, but it's a lot easier to swap in two more AA's than to carry a cell phone backup power source (although I have one of those too, solar-powered).