October 22, 2016

Linkage into the Wild

Other linkage:

¶ Alaska writer Craig Medred proposes some cures for "bus madness," in other words, the pilgrims and wannabes who turn the abandoned bus where Chris "Supertramp" McCandless died into a destination — and who often have to be rescued at public expense.

A sample:
Ransom the Bus: Americans, or at least some of them, seem to think there’s something mythical, mystical, magic, marvelous, mad or some other m-word about visiting a bus where some poor, foolish young man sadly starved to death. Let them pay to keep their shrine out there. Put out a press release warning that the cash-strapped state of Alaska cannot afford further rescues, and unless people contribute $500,000 this year to save the bus it will be blown up as public nuisance. Let America start a GoFundTheBus campaign.
¶ A new cultural history of the Great Plains for that mythical creature, the general reader: Great Plains Indians by historical geographer David Wishart. It's part of a new series from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, "Discover the Great Plains."

A retrospective of setter and pointer dogs in advertising art. That is not two different appreviations for "Colorado," but rather Delta County and the town of Cedaredge.

October 18, 2016

Take These Links with 100% Agave Tequila

¶ Without bats, no tequila? There is some motivation for conservation!
Aside from consuming loads of crop-destroying insects, bats are plant pollinators, and Medellín's prized lesser long-nosed bat pollinates the cactuslike blue agave plant, the single plant species from which Mexican tequila is produced.
Habitat destruction has been especially harmful to the lesser long-nosed bat, first listed as a threatened species in Mexico in 1994. By 2008 it was well on its way to recovery, thanks largely to Medellín, a tireless advocate who's been dubbed the "Bat Man of Mexico" for his work with bats. (Medellín, a Rolex Laureate and National Geographic grantee, has also worked to help a variety of other plant and animal species.
 ¶ A study showing that bear spray works better than bullets for stopping bear attacks.  Yes, there are exceptions. Some bears don't read the rule book. But we are talking about statistics here, not about individual bears.

Link to a video on fire in California forests, set by Indians (and some early Anglo settlers too!) until the Forest Service put a stop to "light burning," as it was called a century ago. Now the term is "cultural burning.

¶ Silly tourists and professional nature-fakers: the ugly side of wildlife photography.
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.

October 17, 2016

Moviemakers Come to Florence and Make an Odd Decision

A Florence school band marches past the real Rialto theatre in a parade scene from "Our Souls at Night."
Evidently the fictional Holt school district cannot afford uniforms.
The movie trailers, lights and reflectors, and the crew members with handheld radios have now left little Florence, Colorado, which for a couple of weeks became the fictional town of Holt, Colorado, the setting of Kent Haruf's novel Our Souls at Night, soon to be a Netflix movie starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. (Some scenes were filmed in Cañon City and the West Side of Colorado Springs.)

For that time, it was big news.  A local blogger wrote about a resident meeting Redford in the alley behind her home and how Florence's business district full of antiques-and-collectibles shops made life easier for set dressers.
Florence, being the antiques capital of Colorado, has dozens of stores full of things at good prices for the movie sets and props. Some of the crew members, most of them from other states, were also doing browsing and shopping for their own homes.

Until I witnessed it up close, I never realized how Florence is the perfect town for a crew to come in and purchase so many things for the movie, all on foot and within a few block radius. And since Florence is a small town, most shop workers know what is in their own stores as well as neighboring stores and can help crew members find the item that will set the mood for a scene.

The day I saw Mr. Redford from afar many times, working hard, I texted a friend and said,"Another boring day at work, watching Robert Redford so many times that I've lost count."
Businesses around town sported fake signage: an insurance agency became the Holt National Bank — fitting, since its building started life as a bank a century or more ago — while a Main Street pizza restaurant became the Holt Drug Store. The empty lobby of a historic hotel was reconfigured into a cafe.

The "Rialto" move theatre created for the movie.
One movie-set decision did seem odd to me. Florence's Main Street includes the Rialto Theatre, built in 1923, which has been undergoing a slow, painstaking restoration, paid for mostly by community members. The original marquee and entry are in place. A perfect set, right?

Instead, they turned a former bar (now a gallery) into a smaller, bleaker, fake Rialto. Maybe someone just fell in love with those moderne glass bricks.

October 16, 2016

A Café without Pretension

A customer (not me) wonders why the cafe is closed when its posted hours say otherwise.
I picked up a "travel mug" ( or "auto mug" if you prefer) at the local cafe here in [Small Town], North Dakota, today. It carries the inscription, " [Blank] Cafe: Where Great Food & Great Friends Meet.'

It might be more honest to say, "Where average food and the people you can't avoid seeing every day in the town's only cafe meet."

For this place, a corporate account with Sysco would be a step up. The idea of chefs working themselves into madness is as remote as Alpha Centauri.

Self-service coffee? At the [Blank] Cafe, it's "self-made coffee." As in there are coffee pots sitting empty over there —  fill one with water, put coffee and a filter in the machine, and hit the On button. You're not too special to make your own coffee that you are paying for, are you?

Part of it is just that eastern North Dakota Scandinavian thing: You don't want to act like you are too special. It's hard to tell the truck driver from the farmer who is actually worth several million dollars — until the farmer goes on an expensive vacation, or you watch who is buying what at the auction house.

October 09, 2016

Touch Not the Coon Bot a Glove

Raccoon #1 finally leaves the carrier.
The wind was blowing 40 mph, it looked like the Aryan Brotherhood was setting up a campsite on the road coming in, and the two raccoons would not come out of their carrier.

So there is no video of excited animals returning to the wild with this post. It's like they were saying, "We're basically nocturnal, and we don't know where we are, and we've been jostled in this box for a hour, and we don't want to come out. And what happened to our buddies?"

Even in hot weather they would sleep in a heap.
Our friends the wildlife rehabilitators had ended up with twenty orphaned young raccoons this year, through various circumstances.

By late September they were passing them out like late-season zucchini to game wardens and other people who could re-locate them.

M. and I agreed to take two to a state wildlife area in an adjacent county. It is surrounded by dry piñon-juniper forest, but through it runs a stream with an extensive riparian area of big cottonwoods and underbrush. There are raccoons there already, most likely, but maybe two more could find territories of their own.

The coons were getting big and rowdy. Our rehabilitator friends are a married couple, retired. She put on her welder's gloves and attempted to pull one coon out of the pile in the back of the Dogloo
Angry snarls erupted. She jerked her hands back.

"Get the noose pole," she told her husband. He fetched it, I held the carrier, and we soon had the day's two snarling release coons boxed to go.

"If they have a bad experience with humans, that's a good thing," she said philosophically.

At the end of a long gravel road, M. and I neared the bridge over that creek that I had mentally envisioned as a release area. But there was a newish vehicle parked there — angler? hiker?

Hmmm. Trash bags full of . . . stuff all over the place. Three well-fed pit bulls. Two young guys, one shirtless—not scraggly looking, but buff with crew cuts, not waving but giving us cold stares.

They seemed too clean-cut (in a hard-edged way) to be homeless campers defying the "No Overnight Camping" signs. It is the wrong time of year to be planting a "pirate" marijuana grow, and if they were harvesting such, why make a big production of it? Meth cooks? Everything I could think of was negative.

I kept driving, down to the parking lot half a mile further on. It was not as a great a release site, but there were clumps of willows along a flowing irrigation ditch, and if the coons followed the water upstream, they would be by the creek. No one else was there.

We put out some puppy chow and husked ears of corn, then opened the carrier door. No action. It took a gentle prodding to get them out, whereupon they ignored the food (for now) and slunk into the willows.

I put the carrier into the Jeep, started back down the access road — and there was a dead tree fallen across it. Did I mention the high winds, a bora, in fact?

My mental inventory of tools on board turned up only a hatchet, but M. hopped out and discovered that the branches were dry and rotten. We snapped off enough that we could drive between the tree and the barbed-wire pasture fence.

And then out past the two buff guys with the pitbulls, still giving us the hairy eyeball, and down to the nearest town for a restorative pint at the brewpub.

I tried calling the district wildlife manager (game warden) who I thought had that area in his territory, just to give him a heads-up, but the call went to voice mail. (It's typical of Colorado Parks and Wildlife that you have to dig and dig to find out which DWM has exactly what district and what the boundaries area. )

So I sent him an email later. No response. You would think that he or the wildlife tech who manages the irrigation might like to know that he had Aryan Brotherhood-clones hanging around the place, but see paragraph above.

The post title comes from the saying, "Touch not the cat bot a glove," in other words, "Touch not the [Eurasian wildcat] without a glove." It's supposed to be the motto of several Scottish clans, in the same spirit as "Don't tread on me."

October 07, 2016

The Southwestern Monsoon and the Vocabulary of Weather

 (Click for full-screen view)

First, via writer Peter Grant's blog, here is the Southwestern monsoon (chiefly in the Phoenix area), in video composite form.

The creator,  Mike Olbinsk, mentions in his commentary how glad he was to get shots of a haboob, otherwise known as a helluva dust storm.

TV weather people love to roll out new terms for weather phenomena. In the pre-video era, we got through the Dust Bowl of the 1930s with the simple term dust storm.

Likewise, monsoon has lost its quotation marks and become normal speech.

Now I hear the weather-nerds using bora for a strong downslope wind, like the one that hit last Monday and kicked the Beulah Hill Fire up to more than 5,000 acres in one afternoon.

A little Bulgarian to flavor your weather forecast. Will it catch on?

October 03, 2016

The Earth Is Trying to Kill You, Cabela's Is Sold, Trees Talk

¶ "Landslides in the United States cause approximately $3.5 billion (year 2001 dollars) in damage, and kill between 25 and 50 people annually." I think we need a cartoon character: Rocky Bear. "Only You Can Prevent Landslides." Sort of.

¶ Outdoor retailing empires merge: Bass Pro Shops is buying Cabela's.
The deal marks a dramatic expansion of the outdoor retailing empire controlled by Bass Pro Shops CEO Johnny Morris, who founded the company in 1972. The billionaire will lead the newly combined entity as CEO and will retain majority ownership.
Foresters ponder how trees talk to each other:
The main reason humans cannot perceive how clever and complex they are is because we exist in such short time scales by comparison. There's a tree in Sweden for instance, a spruce, that is more than 9,500 years old. That's 115 times longer than the average human lifespan.

September 29, 2016

"On the Wild Edge," Nature Writer David Petersen's New Film

An article from the Durango Herald on a film about bowhunter and nature writer David Petersen, On the Wild Edge: Hunting for a Natural Life.
The film leaves out Petersen’s work as editor for Mother Earth News and his many books including Ghost Grizzlies, The Nearby Faraway: A Personal Journey Through the Heart of the West, and A Man Made of Elk. His advocacy for Trout Unlimited and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is also omitted. Instead, Christopher Daley, the film’s cinematographer, sound recorder and editor, focuses on Petersen’s version of ethical hunting during archery season in early fall.
But then they published another article about him that covered some of those things!  

You can order the DVD here.

September 26, 2016

Mouse War 2: Ballad of a Deer Mouse

In the 1959 Russian movie Ballad of a Soldier, a young war hero tries to go home on leave only to be distracted by multiple plot complications until almost his entire leave period is used up.

Could there be a movie called Ballad of a Deer Mouse? The Mouse guerilla moves cross-country, through many interactions and adventures, returning to what he thinks is his new home.

Only it's my home, you cable-chewing little collectivists.

Know Your Enemy.

Further analysis reveals that deporting Mice a distance of, for example, 150 yards (or meters) from the house merely creates a "catch and release" situation. "When both house mice and deer mice inhabiting granaries in grassland in Alberta were displaced, homing behaviour was poorly expressed in house mice, but well developed in deer mice."

Some went 1500 meters, even crossing a river and bypassing areas of good habitat. 

Another researcher reports, "One [radio-collared Peromyscus] mouse was traced as it returned to its nest 300 meters in 1 hour. This rate of homing is many times more rapid than the rate usually determined by conventional methods for tracking small terrestrial mammals."

The owner of a cafe in Westcliffe, Colo., said last Thursday (as we shared Year of the Rodent stories) that her daughter and son-in-law, who live near the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, had live-trapped some deer mice and marked them with dabs of nail polish. These were released more than a mile from their house, and at least two came back to be re-captured.

It's Not About Us

When I was at CU-Boulder in the 1980s, I had a friend who moved from Nederland, up in the mountains, to an apartment in town. It was about twenty miles by car. Somehow in the move, her cat ran off and could not be found in Nederland. Some weeks later, it showed at the apartment  — where it had never been before!

We have all heard such stories. There was even a book and a Disney movie about one such "incredible journey."

Our collie-mix dog, the late Shelby, disappeared one winter — I was pretty sure that she was stolen and I had some suspects in mind, but they had disappeared from the area. Two months later, about 8:30 in the morning, she came walking up the driveway, skinny and with her claws worn down to nubs. We never knew where she came back from or how far she came.

These stories  are heart-warming because they show us that our companion critters are indeed incredible, and they want to be with us.

The Mice don't want to be with us. They just want what is ours.

I got five last night in one trap in the garage, all young recruits still in their gray basic uniforms. I was going to town, so they went five miles down the road to what may become the new deportation site, at the edge of a large pasture.

Maybe I should set aside some nail polish.

September 18, 2016

Mouse War: We're Kicking It Up a Notch

Photo credit Elizabeth Wolber, U. of North Carolina
This has been a yuge rodent year, deer mice (Peromyscus spp.) in particular. Some friends who live in a similar foothills ecosystem visited last week, and they agreed. One said that her mother, who lives next door, had trapped 66 mice this summer.

And we are just now getting to the cooler weather when they start invading our house in earnest, only it is more like last autumn's invasion never stopped.

I had set traps that I patrolled each day in the garage and connecting basement, but now the Mice are in the house upstairs.

When they ran around on the kitchen counter and gnawed on vegetables left out, we were annoyed.

When we found Mouse turds in the bookcases, we were a little disgusted.

When one got into the bedroom and awakened us at night with its rattlings and rustlings and chewing, we were highly annoyed, especially M. who is a light sleeper at the best of times.

And yesterday when I discovered that a Mouse had chewed the line between the telephone jack and my DSL modem/router, I was ready to declare war. Finding Mouse turds on my desk is one thing, but losing the Internet is serious to someone who works at home.

A red line has been drawn. There is no more "Reset" button with the Mice.

What has changed is that I must fight this war in a blue helmet, because the UN High Commissioner for Rodents (M. herself) has declared that only "humane" methods may be used. No more putting a snap trap baited with peanut butter in every shadowy corner.  Now I am becoming an expert in brands of live trap. (The Havahart two-door mouse trap works well but catches only one at a time.)

Thus the battle has begun. The first step in our larger strategy is to reclaim the bedroom, where Mouse forces had struck at our communications infrastructure. Repairs were quickly made and one of our best traps deployed in case the Mice return. Last night there were no Mouse disturbances.

As we reclaim the living space, having blocked a key infiltration point (where the TV antenna cable enters the living room through the floor) with steel wool, we will again take the battle to the Mouse beachhead, the attached garage. Some food caches have already been located and destroyed.

While sunflower seeds for the birds are stored in a lidded container, we had been leaving the feeders out when we brought them in at night (because of bears). No more! Now the feeders go into an empty garbage can with a lid so that they are not subject to nocturnal pilferage by Mouse insurgents.

At this point, some readers may ask, "You speak of wishing to involve indigenous forces such as Foxes. Why not deploy Cat commandos? They are silent, nocturnal, and effective."

Yes they are, but the High Commissioner, even though she has great affection for Cats, is worried about ethnic friction with the Dog element.

Unlike our previous Dogs, who lived side by side with Cats although they could never speak Cat clearly, this Dog (a/k/a Problem Dog or Rehab Dog) has had no previous Cat training. She fears the consequences of introducing Cat forces into what he considers to be his exclusive area of operations.

Therefore, rather than quick surgical Cat strikes, we fight a war of attrition, complete with holding cells and deportation back to Mousistan (a location about a mile up the road, where I left the rattlesnake).

September 13, 2016

Skis versus Snowshoes, Neolithic Style

(Photo credit: The Telegraph.)
I tend to think of skis as a Eurasian invention, while I associate snowshoes with North America. Well, I am wrong.  Proto-Italians worked out the "bearpaw" design more than 5,000 years ago.

Here is an older post about the "true" birthplace of skiing, but the photo link is dead, because this is the Internet.

September 11, 2016

You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive – Or with All Ten Fingers

I like to use scout cameras, although I am not as adept as the Codger. Some of my cameras have simply died, a couple were mauled by bears, and one was stolen.

But I have never had one explode.

This summer, exploding booby-trap (or as we say now, IED) cameras were news in Harlan County, Kentucky.
“Kentucky State Police Post 10 Harlan is investigating a case involving game cameras equipped with explosive devices,” read a press release from the state police. “These cameras have been placed in wooded areas in Harlan County. Kentucky State Police are asking for the public’s assistance with information on who is placing these cameras out in Harlan County.”
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives posted a warning:
In Harlan County, Kentucky, there have been three confirmed incidents of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) being hidden inside trail cameras, which exploded and injured people. An operation was conducted and nine IEDs were located and dismantled. Other devices, however, may still exist. Some of the trail cameras were found abandoned on paths in rural areas routinely accessed via the Dave Smith Drainage Area (Woodland Hills Subdivision, Harlan, KY), on the Little Black Mountain Spur in Harlan County.
A suspect was arrested and indicted, but in true Harlan fashion, chose to go out in a blaze of gunfire.

A man who had found one of the suspect's cameras lost several fingers and suffered other injuries. According to reports, the cameras were left up without batteries or data cards in them. When the victim took one home and put batteries in it, he completed the circuit to fire a small explosive charge concealed inside.
Sawaf, an avid hunter, owned and operated Harlan Counseling Inc. since 2014 and had a master’s degree in mental health counseling, according to court documents. The business was in a small strip of offices just off U.S. 421.
 And there is a "hillbilly heroin" angle too.
More than a decade before Sawaf’s arrest, his father, Ali Sawaf, was convicted on eight charges related to distribution of OxyContin and other painkillers. At the time of his conviction in 2002, Ali Sawaf was a urologist in Harlan County.
Pop culture reference in the post titleand here is the song.

September 08, 2016

Meet Timmy Woodhouse, the Segregated Scrub Jay

Timmy the scrub jay (Bureau of Land Management).
Some years ago, M. and bought a parcel of land — about an acre — adjoining ours, because we were afraid someone would buy and build on it, and we wanted some space. The purchase strained our budget, so we came up with the idea of soliticiting donations for a bird refuge — "Mission: Scrub Jay." (The name was inspired by these people.)

A little bourbon was required for the planning process. If Internet-based crowdfunding had been available in the mid-1990s, we might have gone for it.

Our spokes-bird was going to be Timmy the Scrub Jay. Western scrub jays are far from endangered, but we hoped that donors might confuse them with the Florida scrub jays, which are.

In the long run, the only result was that around here, all scrub jays are named Timmy.

Meanwhile, wheels were turning at the American Ornithologists' Union. All this time, Timmy had been under the impression that he was a Western scrub jay. But as of this summer, he is a separate species with a new name: Woodhouse's Scrub [hyphen] Jay. 

He is very pleased with his new surname. He might put up a "Don't Californicate Colorado" sticker. He is indifferent to whether you capitalize Scrub-Jay or not, as he favors neither an Audobon-ish "up style" nor an Associated Press "down style."

He does, however, favor acorns and sunflower seeds.

August 29, 2016

Where Are These Foxes When I Need Them?

It has been a major rodent year, building on 2015. First, the rabbits. For years we hardly saw a rabbit or a rabbit track, and when we did, M. and I would comment on the sighting to each other.

Now I see cottontails frequently in the woods. One hopped across the driveway this morning. Another was under a bird feeder. The greenhouse vents are now protected with chicken wire and some of the more vulnerable vegetable garden beds screened as well.

It's not enough. There are mice as well. Through the summer they invaded the house and garage in platoons; I was live-trapping three or four a night, night after night — and sometimes in the daytime.

These mice I dumped in a brushy gully about 150 yards from the house. (I hope that that was far enough to keep them from coming back.) It's a smorgasbord for foxes! Where are the foxes?

August 20, 2016

Why Mountain Bikes Don't Belong in Wilderness Areas

As its name suggests, the Wilderness Act of 1964 has been in effect for fifty years, long enough that most Americans have grown up with it.

From a campfire-argument point of view, I could say that our culture is weird if we have to draw lines around a small portion of the country — only 2.7 percent of the Lower 48 — and say, "In these places, natural processes are more important than the human ego."

In other words, plants and animals come ahead of human exploitation, whether that be for economic or recreational reasons.

(Like Gary Snyder, I define "natural" as those self-organizing processes not under the ego's control — including most of what your body is doing right now.)

On the ground, the "wilderness" designation usually means no engines, no wheels. If you want to do in, you walk, ride a horse (or other equine), paddle, or float. Some of these can even be done by people with disabilities!

Come now two senators from Utah, Orrin Hatch and  Mike Lee, who want to allow bicycles in wilderness areas.

Since I really doubt that either one of them lives for mountain biking, I suspect that this is just a thinly disguised attack on the very idea of designated wilderness. They don't care about bicyclists as such, they are thinking about oil wells etc.

As the "camel's nose under the tent," mountain bikers work pretty well, better than ATV riders, for example. After all, they are "using the quads God gave them," as a certain anti-ATV bumper stick says.

But they still don't belong in designated wilderness areas, not under the spirit of the Wilderness Act, which has pretty well proved its worth in fifty years.

Yes, bikes are quiet(er) than motor vehicles, but as they rush over the trail (go to get cool vid on that helmet-mounted GoPro camera, right?), they are still a disturbance.

Let's keep Wilderness Areas as they are, places where the needs of plants and wildlife come first. Sure, we can go there with respect, but our desires to put knobby tires everywhere in the name of recreation can be limited in these small slices of America.

If you think that mountain bikes are cuddly and harmless, you can make your case — but then you are opening the door for the next mechanical intrusion. And the next. And the next.