December 24, 2005

'Colorful Colorado'

Jenny Shank is right.

Our vaguely national park-ish "Welcome to Colorful Colorado" signs "evoke mountain lodges, cabins, and the beloved Western bears Yogi and Smokey."

OK, I might question the last, since I always assumed that Jellystone Park, like Yellowstone Park, was in Wyoming.

But her basic point is sound. The other day, I saw that one of the older motels in Salida, Colorado, advertised itself as "retro." Let's keep our retro welcome signs.

UPDATE: You can offer your opinion to the state Dept. of Transportation at "".

Who is really "green"?

As someone who cares a lot about non-human nature, I find political decisions are never easy. I have been a registered Democrat since I first walked into the Pueblo County, Colorado, courthouse to register, but that does not always mean that I am comfortable in the party.

More often, I feel trapped between the Party of Enron, the Party of Bible-Thumpers, on one hand, and the Nanny-State Party, the Party of Institutionalized Victimhood, on the other.

On the national level, the Democrats take environmentalists for granted, just like they take black voters or Hispanic (illogical category, that) voters for granted. In all cases, the limousine liberals that run the national party could be in for a shock.

On the other hand--the Republicans--well, the leadership has made drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge an article of religious faith. Not because it will end energy dependence, but just to show that if you can drill, then God wants you to drill.

Oh, there are Bull Moose/Teddy Roosevelt Republicans who believe in conservation, like my blogging buddy Steve Bodio, but they are in the same cold, dark, neglected corner as the gay Republicans.

It's interesting to look at other countries. In the United Kingdom, it's some Conservatives who are pushing an environmental agenda. Bull Moose Tories?

Wildlife agencies face retirement wave

For two weeks I've been mulling over this news story about the upcoming loss of game wardens (district wildlife managers, we call them officially in Colorado), foresters, and other outdoor professionals.

It's the first wave of Baby Boomer retirees of course--the ones who joined these agencies in the late 1960s or early 1970s and who can now retire. Retirement was even juicier for their parents, of course: my dad retired from the Forest Service in about 1971 with a full pension at age 55; and then at 65 his Army Reserve partial pension kicked in. But I digress.

The cultural issues mentioned here might be a factor. So is the higher cost of tuitition, at least here in Colorado, where Colorado State University, which produces our foresters (like Dad) and wildlife biologists, is no longer the cheap alternative to the University of Colorado. The alternative today is the community colleges, and which of them offers such programs?

Here's the article's opening paragraphs, since its link may expire soon:

FORT MORGAN - Dan Cacho walks through thigh-high weeds along the South Platte River, shiny badge on his chest, handgun on hip, watching for hunters as a Labrador retriever bounds through the brush, more interested in blazing a trail for Cacho than flushing out birds.

The self-described big-city boy is a long way from Cleveland and right in the middle of a dream come true. The 25-year-old Cacho is nearing the end of 10 months of training and will soon become one of six new district managers with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

"It's the best thing that's happened to me," Cacho said during a recent ride-along with veteran Bill Miles, whose district takes in some of the state's plains.

A declining number of people share Cacho's passion: Wildlife agencies across the country are struggling with the double-whammy of mass retirements and declining interest from young people seemingly disconnected from hunting, fishing and rural life.

The latest statistics available from the Government Accountability Office predict federal agencies will face big losses by 2007: The Interior Department will lose 61 percent of its program managers; the Forest Service will lose 49 percent of its foresters and 61 percent of its entomologists as Western forests are being ravaged by infestations of bark beetles; and the Environmental Protection Agency will lose 45 percent of its toxicologists.

December 18, 2005

Democrats back away from gun control, sort of

After twenty years or so of being painted, sometimes rightly, as "gun-grabbers," Democratic Party leaders are starting to become aware of the Second Amendment. Their perceived opposition to firearms ownership contributes to losing elections, notes the Boston Globe.

The problem with this article, however, is that it paints gun ownership as a Western issue, as if it didn't matter in Georgia or Minnesota or Vermont (the only state where you don't need a concealed-carry permit)--not just Montana or Colorado.

Here's the "money quote," to my mind, and the reason I am blogging this:

Democratic candidates in Western and Southwestern states say the gun control issue has become important because many rural voters, including many hunters, have grown more sympathetic to Democrats' support for environmental initiatives.

Hunters are as concerned about having a place to hunt as much as they are worried about keeping their guns, said Tony Massaro, senior vice president of the League of Conservation Voters.

"Politicians in the West need to be able to run in rural areas, in addition to urban and suburban regions," he said. "In order to do this, they need to protect habitat and not be seen as wanting to take away the ability to hunt."

December 17, 2005

Old animals

The Colorado Division of Wildlife has issued an obituary for a bighorn sheep.

The press release tells the story oddly. If this elderly ram lived in "cliffs along the Arkansas River," that's one thing. It's private land, ranch land for now, and difficult to access unless you float the river, which I did once with two other guys in the early 1990s.

"Then at that point, he traveled north onto property owned by Fort Carson where it died of old age." (pronoun confusion in the original).

That location would is a few miles away, on the other side of a four-lane highway. But he could have made the journey, I suppose.

Meanwhile, the world's oldest animal had a birthday. OK, the news is a month old, but it's a giant tortoise that we are talking about, so I see some poetic justice there.

December 16, 2005

Mutts and purebreds on the Big Rez

Tribal Employee, a Navajo blogger, talks about the dogs of Navajo Country:

Breeded dogs generally are not as tough and durable as those hungry dogs you see at Bashas' with their ribs sticking out. Breeded dogs tend to get hurt easily because of their high-maintenance. Have you heard about the Dobermans that were purchased to deter thieves in an enclosed car-lot in Chinle? Well, shortly after these dogs were put on duty, the dogs were stolen by the Navajo thieves as well!

Here at Owl House, we have one of each.

December 14, 2005

"Marginal countrysides"

In Bookslut's interview, Annie Proulx talks about writing That Old Ace in the Hole and her Wyoming stories, including the one that became Brokeback Mountain. Having just finished reading the former, I liked this exchange:

BOOKSLUT: I had a creative writing instructor in college, in Milwaukee, and I wrote a story set in West Texas, and I didn't have much landscape in it because I didn't think anyone would be interested. And the instructor told me the exact opposite, that there's beauty in it. That touched me, because it seemed like nobody had ever said anything nice about where I grew up.

Proulx: Right.

Especially people from Texas.

I found that about the whole panhandle. People in Texas would say, "What are you writing about?" And I'd tell them I'm working on something set in the panhandle. "Oh, the panhandle! Uggh!" Texans in particular really loath the panhandle.

That's been my experience.

I think it's a great place. I miss it badly.

Roger Gatham said in the January 2003 Chicago Sun-Times review of That Old Ace in the Hole, "Proulx loves to create highly eccentric characters to go with her highly marginal countrysides." First off, there's no such thing as "highly marginal," and I wondered if you would feel like they were marginal countrysides? Perhaps in an economic sense, but I thought that might not be your perspective.

Yeah, this fellow must be a city person.

The Vision of St. Bernard

Semester's end might be the dog days of blogging, so here is a fact-filled page on St. Bernards. An excerpt:

Christians, scorned by the pagan empire, were often thrown into arenas to battle St. Bernards. The St. Bernards, however, were noble and no friend to the corrupt emperors. They would usually swallow their enemy whole, only to regurgitate them back up later unharmed and somewhat drunk on brandy. Because of this, the image of a man emerging out of the mouth of a St. Bernard took on a pious association. To this day many churches feature statues and stained glass depictions of St. Bernards vomiting up Christians in lieu of traditional pietas.

Many believe that Emperor Nero orchestrated the burning of Rome out of jealousy towards the St. Bernards, the gods' most favored creature. Whether true or not, one cannot deny that the St. Bernard had a tremendous influence on Roman culture and history.

The dog genome

The Bark's blog summarizes recent findings on the canine genome project.

One question that raises some chronological implications--and affects the issue of matching genetic changes to the archaeological record--is just what is a canine "generation." The reseachers used a figure of three years.

December 13, 2005

A little good news

A united effort by hunting groups, local governments, and conservationists in general seems to have stopped (for now) the push by some House Republicans to make it easier to "patent" public land.

The future was too clear: Developers could form a bogus mining company, file a claim for anything (gravel?), do the tiny annual minimum of work required under the 1872 Mining Law to keep the claim valid and then, after a few years, take ownership of it at a low, low price. Then, ta-da! trophy homes! Anywhere!

The chief evildoer, to use the words of our Beloved Leader, is this character: Rep. Richard Pombo.

I need to call Senator Allard, in particular, and thank him for standing up for the good guys on this one. It's like the "Sagebrush Rebellion" nightmare of the Reagan years all over again.

December 08, 2005

"First Church of the Higher Elevations"

After attending The Colorado College, Peter Anderson spent a winter alone in the old Colorado mining town of St. Elmo, and wrote this essay. His head was stuffed with Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, and Han Shan; his experience was his own.

Compared to the Mary Murphy Mine and bunkhouse, downtown St. Elmo seemed downright suburban, even though I was the only full-time resident there that winter. Still, on a Sunday night in January, the silence at road's end could chill a heart as fast as it could fill one. It was often easier to stay for another draft at the Lariat Saloon down valley, than it was to follow the dark road home. At times the sky behind the stars seemed so dark and so vast as I pulled up to the cabin, that it was just plain overpowering. I'd slam the truck door just to break the silence, hustle into the cabin, throw the light on, and stoke the fire.

Reflecting on a summit experience in the Swiss Alps, an early 20th century mountaineer named Emile Javelle described the sensation of an "emptiness, terrifying in its vastness," that opened out around him. One "is struck," he said, "as in no other place, by this thought that the universe is terrible in its mystery, that no religion, no philosophy, can give us a true idea of what it is; that the further the vision of our eye extends, the greater does that mystery become.”

December 07, 2005

Cold weather

I came home Tuesday evening and found that M. was upset because one of the dogs was missing. Shelby is a collie-mix who was one step above feral when we got her, and although she has learned to appreciate having her own bed, regular meals, and belly rubs, she will still wander onto the national forest looking for carcasses to scavenge.

M. had looked for her already, but I volunteered to go out too. The temperature was about 10 degrees F. (-12 C.) and dropping. Light, powdery snow was falling. I changed clothes, grabbed a walking stick, and headed up the Forest Service road into the Mason Gulch Burn, stopping occasionally to call and whistle.

From last summer's forest fire to this: the snowy ground, the black skeletons of pine trees like nervous pencil marks on white paper, the lowering clouds, and the failing light. All was silent except for the whisper of snow on the fabric of my coat.

If any scene exemplified the phrase "dead of winter," that was it. But it was seductively beautiful too, I thought, as I scanned the white slopes for a moving black dot of dog.

When it started getting too dark to see, I went home, dogless. As it turned out, she was hanging around a neighbor's house. In her doggie brain, she must think like this: "Life is good now, but if these people fail me, I had better have a Plan B. And a Plan C. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again."

December 06, 2005

Added to the blogroll

Three Martini Lunch is the companion blog to Alpha Environmentalist, celebrating cooking with an emphasis on the locally grown and/or hunted, dogs (of course), and desert life.

November 26, 2005

Hunters, anglers, and conservation-2

Roseann Hanson comments on my previous post, "We haven't been members of the BINGOs (Big International NGOs) for years. Though we still get the mailings with the sandhill crane on them . . . which go right to the bin."

Driving to town this afternoon (hardware store--plumbing emergency), I was thinking that maybe my last post was too hard on the Sierra Clubs, etc. They do good work. But the one thing about them is that they don't "get" wildlife issues, unless said wildlife can be linked to a "landform" issue.

I had the same battles back when I occasionally wrote for High Country News in the late 1980s. Then-editor Betsy Marston loved Old West/New West stories, etc., but her eyes always seemed to glaze over when I proposed a wildlife story unless it involved the Endangered Species Act and politicians.

I'm thinking of one that I wanted to do on the wildlife refuge at Great Salt Lake--the areas described in Terry Tempest Williams' book Refuge--only a few years after the flooding that Williams writes about. By 1990, the high waters were receding and the birds were coming back. It was published, but in a fairly short version.

Another formative experience occurred in the 1980s when I was on the program committee of the Pike's Peak Group of the Sierra Club.

In my youthful naivete, I thought, "These people are outdoors a lot. We could educate them about poaching and how to spot and report poachers." So I arranged for a speaker from the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

BIg mistake. Blank looks from the audience. The DOW guy was just suffering at the podium.

I began to realize that for my fellow Sierra Clubbers, the mountains were scenic and uplifting and a great place for recreation, but they were not plugged into critters. They didn't know which person with a gun was a legitimate hunter and which was a poacher, and they didn't care to know, since the whole topic made them uncomfortable. (On a national level, the Sierra Club remains fairly neutral on hunting.)

M. contributes to the Natural Resources Defense Council, which does good work, but I saw something indicative in their latest "Nature's Voice" newsletter. It was an article about the "fight for Spirit Bear's rainforest home." What's really going on is a tussle with the provincial government in British Columbia over sustainable logging and old-growth protection. But it's headlined as being about the "Spirit Bear," an unusual white-colored black bear that supposedly lives only there. Talk about your "charismatic megafauna."

It's a land-use issue, and a legitimate one, but they drag in this unusual bear to put a face on that, not because they really have any relationship with bears.

Again, in NRDC's defense, I support their effort to protect whales and dolphins from powerful sonar blasts. When it comes to marine mammals, the hunters, alas, are not the conservationists in most situations.

November 25, 2005

Hunters, anglers, and conservation

Rocky Mountain News outdoor columnist Ed Dentry's cited Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the Colorado Wildlife Federation, and Colorado Trout Unlimited as the real "friends of the earth" in a recent column.

They would be the guardians of traditional values, natural values. Nature, wildlife, the Earth, remember? Few people do these days.

The guardians of traditional values are hunters, fishermen and conservationists. They are the latest dying breed as America grinds itself up in the latter-day throes of its Manifest Destiny tantrum. We seem bent on erasing the last pagan wild place and improving it with asphalt, big-box stores, rows of human chicken coops, cul de sacs and drilling pads.

These "hook and bullet" groups seem to be getting more done these days than the traditional big enviro groups, although the latter continue to send M. and me plenty of fundraising appeals.

Or maybe our focus has shifted to state and even county-wide issues over the big "Save the ______" issues.

Disclaimer, or maybe a confession. Around 2000 I spent a term on the Colorado Wildlife Federation's board of directors. I don't know how effective I was, other than as a voice from outside the Denver metroplex. I learned something about nonprofit organization boards--that they have to clear the deadwood occasionally, and that the best board members either bring specialized skills (geologists, wildlife biologists, etc. for CWF) and/or fat checkbooks to the meeting room.

Lacking the precise skill-set needed and not having a family foundation at my disposal, I rated myself as "deadwood" and stepped down.

November 14, 2005

The "Buffalo Commons" is here

In the 1980s, studying the falling population of the High Plains and the depletion of the Ogallala aquifer, slowly being drained for irrigation, planner Frank Popper and Deborah Popper suggested turning much of the area in the "Buffalo Commons," a combination of national park and giant ranch featuring the land's biggest herbivore.

Something like that is happening in southeastern Montana. Financing comes from the American Prairie Foundation, a Bozeman, Montana-based land trust, and the World Wildlife Fund.

In addition, several Indian tribes have begun tribal cooperative bison ranches on the Northern Plains. Some federal land-management agencies are participating too.

When the Poppers first proposed their idea, they were met violent disagreement and even threats against their lives. They toured the Plains back in the 1980s, speaking in towns like McCook, Nebraska, with armed state troopers in the audience in case of trouble. Anne Matthews' book Where the Buffalo Roam describes that era.

But now, piece by piece, something somewhat like what they proposed is being assembled.

November 13, 2005

Fleeced - 2

(Note that this story, blogged earlier, happened in Wales.)

Here is another story out of Wales, about a teacher whose pupils knew more than she did. It's the one under the headline "Unknown Knowns."

It helps if you realize that Leeds is an northern English industrial city, whereas north Wales has been sheep country since there were sheep. All the jokes that Coloradans tell about Wyoming ("Wyoming: Where men are men, and sheep are nervous") were probably told about north Wales in 4th-century P-Celtic dialects.

November 12, 2005

"Thinking like a refugee"

Ed Quillen, editor of Colorado Central magazine, asked me for 2,000 words of opinion on last summer's forest fire evacuation experience, so I wrote them. And here is the sidebar.

But after this fall's hurricanes, the earthquake in Kashmir, and other tribulations, all I can say is that we had it pretty easy, even though we feared losing our home.

The best part was getting to quote George Leonard Herter. Steve Bodio followed up with these observations.


A living-history show on the British Broadcasting Corp. had participants living like 17th-century farmers.

Sitting here in a cool house in a synthetic fleece sweater, I read this, one of several bits of wisdom that the time-travelers learned:

Dress for practicalities. Today fashion and social convention dictate our wardrobes. While polar fleeces and high-performance tramping boots may be all the rage when going rural, the wardrobe of 400 years ago proved more comfortable. "While the crew shivered in their modern garb, we never felt the cold in just two layers - a linen shirt and woollen doublet," says archaeologist Alex Langlands. Breeches meant no wet and muddy trouser legs, and staying covered up - rather than stripping off in the heat - prevented bites, stings, sunburn and scratches.

November 04, 2005

Bird flu and your bird feeder

The ornithology lab at Cornell University, one of the nation's leading places for research on wild birds, has this advisory about bird flu.

Summary: there is not much to be concerned about in terms of catching anything from wild birds. If it spreads into humans, than human-to-human transmission will be the problem.

It is unknown if the avian H5N1 virus can cause significant mortality in songbirds. If H5N1 does make it to North America and is spread in populations of wild birds, long-term surveys such as Project FeederWatch will help us assess the impact of the virus.

November 03, 2005

What were they thinking?

In what looks like a city park somewhere, a rabbit and two crows have a spat. (40-second video--fast connection necessary.)

"The Rabbit and the Crow" sounds like one of Aesop's fables, but if we are not going to anthropomorphize these animals, then what do you suppose provoked this encounter?

(Via The Wildhunt.)

November 02, 2005

November 01, 2005

The Alpha Bicyclist

The Alpha Environmentalist, Jonathan Hanson's blog, has a new bloggier formart, and he himself has a plan: to bicycle around the Grand Canyon and write a book about the trip. First consideration: What model to ride?

October 30, 2005

Evangelicals and the environment

A Denver Post feature on Ted Haggard, pastor of Colorado Springs' huge New Life Church, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and phone pal of President Bush, quotes him as saying that evangelical Christians should not make the same mistake on enviromental issues that they made on civil rights issues 40 years ago:

Haggard draws a parallel between the choice evangelicals face over the environment and a lost opportunity in the 1960s.

"We blew it with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," Haggard said. "My generation's opportunity to blow it is to say we shouldn't deal with the environment because that's a liberal issue. Well, civil liberties was a liberal issue, and we were on the wrong side of that."

Haggard has urged the NAE towards environmental activism--although without allying themselves with mainstream environmental groups like the Sierra Club.

The debate over Christianity's relationship to environmental harm really began in 1967, when medieval historian Lynn White Jr. wrote an influential essay blaming Christianity for nurturing a Western form of science that treated nonhuman nature as simply soulless stuff.

The response by many Christians was to angrily attack environmentalism as "false religion".

But maybe people like Pastor Haggard are looking for a different path.

October 27, 2005

The clock of the seasons: sandhill cranes

On Wednesday the 19th I left my building, headed over to the Humanities office for a cup of coffee, and I heard them. A flock of 25-30 sandhill cranes was passing overhead, southbound, calling loudly.

None of the people passing by on the sidewalk looked up.

That night, under the gibbous Moon, more cranes passed over my house, and the next day there were more, maybe 60, circling to catch a thermal and then swinging south along the Wet Mountains.

Finally, on the 24th, a bright, cloudless fall day, I thought I heard more overhead when I was working outdoors, but I could not see them. Either M. was right and they were "ghost cranes," or they were behind the ridge.

The cranes' migration is like Big Ben donging the hour: early autumn is ending. All I can say is "Good-bye--see you in December at Bosque del Apache."

October 15, 2005

East Texas Bigfoot

It's Bigfoot conference time again--not in northern California, Oregon, Washington, or British Columbia, but in Texas, where "believers" (a rather snarky word on the reporter's part) gathered in Jefferson.

"It's not a matter of believing, like faith, when you believe in something you can't see," said Daryl G. Colyer, a Lorena businessman who has investigated hundreds of reported Bigfoot sightings in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.

From the reporter's viewpoint, however, "believer" is code for "not rational, wears aluminum foil in his hat." I know; I once was one--a reporter, that is.

"You see one of these things and it changes your whole perception of reality," said Craig Woolheater, the office manager of a Dallas company who co-founded the Texas Bigfoot Research Center in 1999, five years after he said he saw a hairy creature walking along a remote Louisiana road.

Colyer and others estimate that about 2,000 are in North America today, reclusive nocturnal animals living in thickly wooded areas with waterways, eating meat and plants and making nests out of trees and brush.

So if you associate Bigfoot only with the Pacific Northwest, these people beg to differ.

I have no claims of Bigfoot sightings myself, but one rational friend had an interesting experience in SW Colorado. I honestly don't know what is out there, but there is nothing like a wild forest-dwelling humanoid to fuzz the boundaries between "nature" and "culture."

October 12, 2005

It feels like the 1970s again

Firewood sales up, new interest in solar panels, people buying locking gas caps for their cars--if you remember 1973, the year of the OPEC oil embargo, the social landscape is beginning to look familiar, says writer Mark Clayton in the Christian Science Monitor.

"The country spent about 20 years learning how to save energy and the next 12 years forgetting more than we ever learned," says Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, an energy think tank in Snowmass, Colo. Subsidies for fossil-fuel development, contained in recent energy legislation, will end up being a costly waste as the economy and the public move toward efficiency on their own, he predicts.

Meanwhile, it's a good time to be in the firewood business. (Link via What's in Rebecca's Pocket.)

October 08, 2005

Spinach Mother of Christ

In his comment to my earlier post, Steve Bodio mentioned the Virgin Mary's love of spinach.

This is as well a known fact in Nazareth today as it was 19 centuries ago. Her favorite music was that of the crude bagpipes of the time, and this also a well-known fact. . . . .On the eve of Christ's birth in the cave that was called a stable, Her only meal was spinach.

Thus speaks George Leonard Herter. That Dan Brown did not mention "Spinach Mother of Christ" in The Da Vinci Code is reason enough to suspect his scholarship. Maybe it will be in the movie.

Essentially, fresh or frozen cooked spinach is mixed with garlic cloves that have been sauteed in butter, and then the spinach mixture is pureed.

Today in Belgium and Germany a little nutmeg is sprinkled over the top of the puree. This, however, was not in the original recipe..

—From Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices, eleventh edition, 1967.

October 07, 2005

The clock of the seasons: Project Feeder Watch

It's not the golden blotches of aspen leaves on the Wet Mountains, nor is it the front porch thermometer reading 20 degress F. (-6 C.) when I got up this morning.

It's the fat envelope from Cornell University's ornithology lab Project Feeder Watch.

Project Feeder Watch is true citizen science. All over the county, people keep an eye on their birdfeeders for an hour or two--or more--every two weeks during the winter. They report the number of each species that they see...and that's it.

But there is no better way to watch for changes in the natural world than to look at the same thing in the same place, year after year, and record it.

October 04, 2005

The Anasazi Exodus

Writing in High Country News, Craig Childs profiles archaeologist Susan Ryan, who takes a new road between two views of the Anasazi, the ancient inhabitants of the Four Corners region. Not just refugees from drought or war, some of them apparently abandoned their pueblos in an orderly and ritualistic fashion.

Childs now can speak what archaeologists used to discuss only outside their offices: the evidence of war and violence, which has been known since the 1940s at least but which was not part of the official Park Service story of "peaceful ceremonialists":

[At one excavated site] The list of human remains revealed in the excavation reads like a war crimes indictment: infants, children, adults and elders, all found piled upon each other or scattered across the grounds and in the many rooms, their bones often disarticulated and thrown about. When the end came to this particular pueblo, it was sudden and decisive.

This tale of violence has become the new fashion among certain archaeologists. Evidence of prehistoric warfare has moved to the forefront: ancient towers found stashed with infants and children who were burned alive; skeletons discovered dismembered. Some researchers envision vicious thugs from Central America, roving gangs of cannibals overrunning pueblos weak from years of drought. Others imagine death cults and ritualized torture

Archaeologist Christy Turner finally blew the lid off that coverup in his book Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest , which reads like CSI: Mesa Verde.

Ryan, however, also found other sites where the burning of underground kivas seems to have followed the placement of offerings to the gods rather than violent attacks. She thinks some pueblos were depopulated in an orderly and planned fashion.

"There are all these theories about violence and drought," Ryan once said. "Why couldn’t it be as simple as it’s time to go? This culture is sedentary and nomadic at the same time. Maybe ecologically it makes sense so you don’t overstay your welcome. Sometimes you just up and go."

What impresses Ryan is that toward the end of the occupation here, the population skyrocketed. People were moving in from all around. Ryan thinks they might have been preparing for a mass exodus.

There is also a tale about a rattlesnake skeleton: Steve Bodio has more about it.

October 03, 2005

Thinking about disaster

The Mason Gulch Fire is still with us. Colorado Central, a magazine that I sometimes write for, has asked me for a 2,000 word essay on preparedness, evacuation, looters, and all of it. After hurricanes Rita and Katrina, a lot of writers are talking about "go bags, " cash stashes, food storage, firearms, and not letting the gasoline tank go below half full.

Survival literature has a long history in America. Just 45 years ago, during the height of the Cold War, George Leonard Herter, founder of Herter's Inc., (now part of Cabela's) had a few things to say in his eccentric cookbook Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices.

One appendix is titled “In Case of a Hydrogen Bomb Attack You Must Know the Ways of the Wilderness to Survive.”

Get out of town, he says, regardless of what the “would-be authorities” say. “Have a wood stove that can be set up in abandoned house or shelter.”

He continues with more suggestions: dried food, matches in waterproof containers, and .22 rifle with at least 1,000 rounds of ammunition for both small-game hunting and self-defense. “Bombings bring looting and the looting is done in most all cases by so-called friends who live near you. This is what happened in both World War I and II.” (Herter came from a Belgian family.)

Finally, after discussing medicines, Herter concludes, “Have 5 one-pound cans of tobacco. This is your fortune. If there is any food or material available that you need, the tobacco will get it for you when money will not.”

There is a peculiar thrill to imagining cataclysmic disaster of such a scale that money would be worthless and you would be picking off looters from the entrance to your cave.

Here in southern Colorado, though, I will stick to planning for forest fires and blizzards.

September 20, 2005

Arrowheads...who would have guessed?

What do rural tweakers ("speed freaks," to an earlier generation) do with their time? Hunt arrowheads, at least in Arkansas.

Via Coyote at the Dog Show, the "mild-mannered archaeologist."

September 18, 2005

Rags over the River

The Poet contacted me a while back, asking me to take The VIsiting Poet flyfishing. All right, I said, and let's ask Recent Graduate as well. Eventually, the Senior was asked to come along too, and the five of us spent Saturday on the Arkansas River.

September and October are the payoff for spring blizzards and summer heat. This day, the temperatures were warm, the rabbitbrush (chamisa) was in golden bloom, and the first leaves were turning golden on the willows too.

The water was low and clear, and the trout were spooky, but we all caught some. And we tested various rhymes for "Orvis," since Visiting Poet has done some product testing for that firm.

Part of the river where we fished is in the crosshairs of High Art. Christo and Jeanne-Claude want to hang fabric across it, a project known locally as "Rags over the River." How wonderful. I find myself agreeing with the Denver Post headline, "Locals say river is art in itself," placed on Rick Tosche's Sunday column (link may expire).

With any luck, however, we can drag this thing out until Christo dies.

September 13, 2005

On the Mushroom Trail

A recreational mushroom hunter blunders into an encounter with the real pros in this report.

“We haven’t actually learned how to work,” protests 14-year-old David. “We’ve just learned how to play and make money at the same time!” “And they learn a little about contributing to a household, which is something that no kids get anymore,” adds his dad.

“Dad, you might want to keep an eye out while you’re talkin’,” interrupts nine-year-old Stacy. “You walked right past a whole bunch, so I had to pick ‘em!”

September 11, 2005

Animism, Disney, and Morels

It started when someone passed on a quote from an article in the August 2005 issue of Vanity Fair about Disneyland:

I thought about everything it was and it wasn't, the cornucopia of image, illusion, and icon, and realized, very much to my delight, that Disney is a freaking pagan cult, that this goody-two-shoes American institution is promoting a primitive, animist religion dedicated to investing everything with life, to animating everything from teacups to trees, from carpets to houses, from ducks to mice, with the pulse of human aspiration.

Graham Harvey, author of the newly published Animism: Respecting the Living World, commented,

Interesting that 'animism' is still defined as the projection of life onto inanimate objects. Wikipedia's animism article and the discussion pages also evidence the same debate--well, it does now that I've added some stuff about the 'new animism'.

I also thought of what Colorado writer David Petersen said in On the Wild Edge: In Search of a Natural Life, published recently by Henry Holt:

These days, our annual morel quest has matured to the level of ceremony, complete as all hunting is for me, with rituals and taboos. This confession provides, I must hope, a passable transition into a brief explication of my own personal spirituality, which I call neo-animism . . . .In sum, here's how it seems to me: if you depend on wild nature for your physical and mental well-being (as we all do, whether we know it or not); if you desire a sustainable, workable, and healthy human society and crave a sense of belonging, spiritual permanence, and personal worth; and if you agree with Aldo Leopold that the collective human destiny is tied inextricably to the fate of the natural world, then you naturally become a homespun animist. (pp. 122-4).

And speaking of morels, here is a new book available on hunting them.

September 08, 2005

What's that Bug?

Got a digital photograph of an insect or spider that you cannot identify? Send it to this site--but check their photo archives first.

And if you have time, browse the worst bug stories.

What about the dogs (cats, hamsters, etc.)?

I cannot agree with uber-blogger Glenn Reynolds who said , " I think you should leave the dogs behind" when evacuating New Orleans (or elsewhere, I presume).

I have a contract with my dogs: You be good dogs, and I will see to your needs, take care of your injuries, and try to guarantee you a good death as well. There is a contract with the cat too, although some provisions are different.

Starving on a rooftop is hardly a good death, for one thing. I can see why some people would rather stay on than leave without their four-legged family members.

But dogs and other animals were left behind, and some people are trying to rescue them, although that effort does not receive the coverage of the people rescue. The Bark's blog has collected a list of Web links to organizations helping out, like the Louisiana SPCA.

September 05, 2005

The Literary High Plains

Setting out for eastern Nebraska, Boulder blogger Richard Martin mentally organizes a literary tour of the High Plains.

I’ll be heading out east from Denver on I-80 tomorrow, going to a family wedding in Omaha, making the same eight-hour drive I’ve been doing all my life between the city where I grew up and eastern Nebraska, where my extended family lives. I’ve never found the prairie and cornfield-lined stretches of I-80 to be boring, as a lot of people seem to—instead I see the landscape as the perfect canvas for day dreaming, and, if I’m not driving the car, a great opportunity to read. The New York Times Book Review recently constructed a Literary Map of Manhattan, plotting places in the city where fictional characters lived. I don’t see why we can’t do the same with the West—sure, our map will be a bit more sparsely populated, but that just gives the characters more room to loom larger-than-life.

September 04, 2005

Disco, disco toad

Hawaiian cane toads are not a problem here, but they are one in northern Australia, as I learned from the hilarious but sobering documentary Cane Toads. Now researchers discover that they can indeed be trapped--with disco lights.

September 01, 2005

Hello From Marc Boone

I'm a CSU-Pueblo student in Chas. Clifton's NatureWriting class and I'm trying out this software for the first time. I'll be posting more as time goes by, so make sure a watch out for my blogs and you can get out of the way( make sure you miss them. )Who would want to read my blogs anyway? Poor Chas. has no choice, but to read them.



Welcome, New Nature-Bloggers

A new group of bloggers is joining this blog: seven members of my fall-semester nature-writing class: Sara Kelly, Rhonda Turner, Valerie Gerlock, Terry MacArthur, Lindsay Goodman, Judith Martin, K. Chris Root, and Marc Boone.

August 31, 2005

No, Blame Bush for Katrina

A political scion shows his lack of historical knowledge. Perhaps he could blame the flood of 1978 on Jimmy Carter. Speaking of which, this is prophetic:

The average New Orleanian housewife, as Bunny once noted, has an internist's working knowledge of every possible disease that can be caught in these parts. The man who holds the attention of the barroom is the guy who can top everyone else's hard luck stories. The Great Flood of May 3, 1978 was the most exciting of recent times, at least until another Hurricane comes. Even Carnival is talked of by the Yat in the most matter-of-fact ways, only the abominations of tradition being noteworthy.

A few years ago, the "lost city of New Orleans" was being compared to Atlantis.

UPDATE: For news junkies, try the Times-Picayune's breaking news blog.

Blame the French for Katrina

A writer for the Los Angeles Times works the blame-the-French angle into coverage of Hurricane Katrina. (Registration required.)

In 1718, French colonist Jean Baptiste LeMoyne de Bienville ignored his engineers' warnings about the hazards of flooding and mapped a settlement in a pinch of swampland between the mouth of the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico, and a massive lake to the north [Lake Pontchartrain].

On the other hand, reading some of the comments to hurricane stories on the BBC's web site, I learned that Katrina apparently is punishing the United States for not spending more on foreign aid.

Ok, so Bienville picked a risky site. Who in 1718 would have guessed that more and more levees would have been built all up and down the Mississippi River and around New Orleans to regulate the water that used to spill into swamps and wetlands and to protect a growing industrial city? I wonder if anyone will have the political guts to say, "Let's rethink the whole plan before we rebuild."

August 30, 2005

Whack 'em and stack 'em

The Idaho Statesman reviews a Ted Nugent concert. (Via The Stain).

• The celebration of violence was disturbing. The quintessential bloodthirsty redneck, Nugent cherishes hunting and preached "the beauty of the sacred gut pile." Dandy. But when he gleefully touted the 60-year anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and "the Japs," adding that America will "melt" anyone who threatens this country? Gosh, terrific concert vibe there, Ted..

In some quarters, Ted Nugent is considered a spokesman for ethical hunting. But he has a literary style of his own:

He names a wild boar after Janet Reno ("the only thing missing was the purple dress and he-man haircut"), and describes the same boar as emitting a "Courtney Love-like squeal," while the remaining boars mill around like "a throng of stoned, lost Grateful Dead fans."

The God and Nature Blame Game

Terry Mattingly of GetReligion [as in, "the press just does not get religion"] summarizes coverage of religious responses to Hurricane Katrina. God hates New Orleans? God spared New Orleans? God hates Biloxi? Whose God is punishing America for whose sins?

August 28, 2005

"Uninhabitable for weeks"

The Mason Gulch Fire was bad enough here, but Brendan Loy is right, this National Weather Service announcement about Hurricane Katrina is truly apocalyptic.

UPDATE: Don't bother with the Weather Service link, as the information there has changed as time passed. Suffice it to say that the original warning included everything except an angel with a flaming sword.

Compare and contrast

In England, a victory of sorts for ramblers (hikers).

But somebody please explain this: "Under the new legislation half of Dartmoor National Park is now open to the public."

Who gets to use the other half, the Duke of Cornwall?

In Colorado, meanwhile, parts of the Pike National Forest southwest of Denver are a sacrifice zone for dirt bikes, ATVs, target shooters, keg parties, and child molesters with teddy bears. "Teens go wild amid Pike trees." (Link may evaporate.)

Re-valuing tree$

A mature urban tree in Washington, D.C. is worth $1,875, note enviro-blogger Joel Makower.

The value includes shade (reduced air-conditioning loads), carbon storage, and pollution reduction but not the improved mental health of associated hominids.

Prairie dog paratroopers

Yesterday, KRCC's "Western Skies" news program broadcast a segment whose historical resonance they failed to recognize--specifically, this segment. (Scroll down to "The rumor mill has been working overtime in Lincoln County.")

The broadcast transcript continues:

It turns out the discussion at the [county commissioners'] meeting was more of an informal inquiry by Commissioner Gary Beedy, who says he brought it up after his father saw something unusual one evening while checking his cattle.

Prairie DogGARY BEEDY: All of a sudden he saw a helicopter come down real quick and land in a pasture, a neighbor's pasture, and it was there for just a little bit and took off again. After talking around he found some other people who had also seen helicopters come in and land in pastures out in the middle of nowhere, and some have seen prairie dogs that are kind of off running around looking lost and aren't in a colony like they normally are.

Lincoln County! Mysterious helicopters and vans! Animal weirdness! Yikes, it's the 1970s again!

Lincoln County, on the High Plains in eastern Colorado, was the epicenter for many of the mysterious and never-solved cattle-mutilation reports of the mid-to-late 1970s. Stumbling out of college into reality's light in those years and returning to Colorado Springs, I was fascinated by it all. I wanted to be a reporter and investigate, but I was not hired (by the now-vanished Colorado Springs Sun) until 1979.

A couple of years later I did write a feature on the mutilations, but it was more in the nature of "What ever happened to?"

At the time, some people blamed warped Vietnam-vet helicopter pilots from Fort Carson for the mutilations (if they indeed were human-caused mutilations, which is debatable).

In general, you make a mistake to underestimate the paranoia of many rural residents. And a lot of old-time ranchers hate prairie dogs because they eat grass that might go into a cow. Baca County, in southeast Colorado, actually passed a law against importing prairie dogs.

Their target: animal-protectionists who were looking to save prairie dogs displaced by subdivisions on the prairie around metro Denver and to relocate them.

Put that together with the stereotype of black-clad Animal Liberation Front types torching research labs, and you have animal-rights commandos dropping off prairie dogs from helicopters at Gary Beedy's father's ranch.

And I would not rule it out. My sister once wanted me to help her do something similar--clandestinely reintroduce prairie dogs to South Park, a large intermountain valley in central Colorado, where they had mostly all been poisoned to death in the 1950s and '60s at the request of cattle and sheep ranchers. And although that plan never came to fruition, she took on other equally quixotic challenges.

I probably shouldn't mention this, but earlier in the summer our dogs killed a prairie dog in our little meadow. At the time, M. and I were mystified (and sad). We live in the wooded foothills, so what was a prairie dog doing here? The nearest colony is at least three miles away as the crow flies. Now I'm wondering...

August 24, 2005

Grizzly man, grisly death

Blogger Majikthise posts on Timothy Treadwell, self-proclaimed grizzly bear protector. She takes a fairly hard line:

We only see Treadwell when he knows he's on camera, usually when he's filming himself in the Alaskan wilderness. The disconcerting thing is that he never really breaks character--even when he's wondering aloud between takes about whether his hair looks okay, chasing a fox that stole his hat, or whining into his hand-held cam about how he's a nice guy who can't get laid. In between takes we see Treadwell addressing the camera less formally--but he's the same self-deluded narcissist throughout.

Some of the comments are more forgiving. I saw only ABC's Primetime broadcast on Treadwell. I think Treadwell is not the first to seek a sort of self-redemption among the griz--an Arizona writer comes to mind as well--but Treadwell apparently stopped seeing the bears as bears and more as extras in his movie--or at least that is the impression that I get so far.

UPDATE: Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Society offers a fierce defense of Treadwell and Amie Huguenard against an Alaskan editorialist who disparaged their efforts.

August 21, 2005

Local knowledge

The Pueblo Chieftain produces almost a eulogy in newsprint for the Bessemer Ditch. Odd as it may sound, I have always found irrigation ditches to be sort of romantic. Maybe that comes from playing with dirt and water as a kid. Maybe it comes from a past life in ancient Sumaria, who knows.

When I was a shareholder in the DeWeese-Dye Ditch & Reservoir Co., I spent long hours with a shovel cleaning the lateral ditch that served my house and my immediate neighbors' houses after some of them had given up on it. Eventually I got some help from some of them, and we lined part of the ditch with donated plastic pipe, thus delivering more water than we could use.

Even the annual meeting was fascinating, held in a 1940s (or older) community building with coal-burning stove and dangling light bulbs. Someone would walk around collecting ballots in a cowboy hat.

The federal government, in other words, you readers, contributed tens of thousands of dollars through the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service to our little operation. That's the dirty secret of "hydraulic civilization:" It's expensive and it takes a bureaucracy to run it, be that bureaucracy the priests in the big temple or the guys in Western-cut suits at the conservancy-district board meeting.

Those are the big guys. I always just liked walking along under the cottonwoods with a shovel on my shoulder. Don't ask me why.

August 17, 2005

Cheetahs in Colorado?

Not Pleistocene cheetahs, contemporary cheetahs. Some people think African species could use the American Great Plains as a refuge.

If Ted Turner adds elephants and lions to his bison, it could happen.

Endangered species

Even in Academe, where I hang out a lot, real honest-to-Marx Communists are an endangered species. Pretty soon ecotourists will have to go to North Korea to see them, I was thinking. But a new breeding population has been discovered, and Harry Hutton has pictures. See earlier entries also.

Now, back to dogs, forest fires, etc.

August 16, 2005

Local knowledge

Three cheers for Vera Stucky Evenson, author of The Mushrooms of Colorado. Those white mushrooms were indeed Agaricus campestris. M. and I ate them on last night's pizza, and we're still here 24 hours later. (Yes, I made spore prints too.)

The cat ate some too--he must have liked the oiliness of sauteed mushrooms--but he later left his on the bathroom floor. Cats and fungi: not a good combination.

Local knowledge can be hard to come by. When I taught an environmental-issues section of freshman composition, my student typically knew (or thought that they knew) more about the Brazilian rain forest than about the Wet Mountains, which they could see from the classroom windows, not 30 miles away.

The Pueblo Mountain Park Environmental Center has taken a good step with the publication of .Plants of Pueblo Mountain Park, which fits our ecological niche over here too. (Graphic design by Shawna Shoaf.)

This evening after supper I strapped on my authentic Lithuanian mushroom basket, and M. and I walked the ridge behind the house, picking boletes. "Probably the surest mushrooms to recognize beyond the Foolproof Four [morels, puffballs, shaggy mane, sulfur polymore] are the boletes," writes Lorentz Pearson in The Mushroom Manual.

My eccentric sister in Kaunas provided the basket. She bought it from a street vendor--it looks like an angler's creel, but it lacks the slot in the lid into which to deposit the spotted trout. Maybe it was supposed to be a creel anyway, but since the few Lithuanians I have met were mycophiles, it's a mushroom basket.

It was Germans who started us gathering boletes. Years ago, we were hiking the Horsethief Park trail on the west side of Pike's Peak when we encountered a group of elderly German women with shopping bags--typical Army brides from Colorado Springs--and they were doing some serious mushroom-picking.

They taught us boletes, and then they pointed us one way while they went another way.

One member of that particular demographic established an unfortunate reputation with the local Search and Rescue group. She was so busy one summer afternoon a couple of years ago looking down for edible fungi that she got lost and spent a chilly night in the Wets. And now the S&R people are convinced that all mushroom-hunters are distracted and easily lost.

"You look like a mushroom-gathering peasant," M. said as I scooped boletes from the pine needles. "But you're not colorful enough."

August 14, 2005

"In Search of the Buffalo Nation"

Today's Pueblo Chieftain begins a new series on reintroducing buffalo to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

I wish them well, but buffalo-ranching cannot support too many people either. The Indians at Pine Ridge and the other South Dakota reservations are in a double-bind in ways that were not even dreamt of in the 19th century when the reservations were created:

Land and climate wrong for farming. Not much surface water. No significant mineral resources. Too far from a city to commute. Not enough conventionally glamorous scenery for tourism, even with Badlands National Park. ("Badlands" --not exactly sexy.) So even if the Indians a century-plus ago had admitted that the 200 good years of buffalo-hunting were over and wanted to do something else, there is not much else to do there.

Nowadays, too far from a city to attract lots of casino gamblers (Think of that little casino between Valentine, Neb., and Mission, S.D., on the Rosebud Rez. You can't? Not suprising.) I spent much of my childhood in Rapid City, and it has grown more since then, but it is only a "major metropolitan area" by Great Plains standards.

If raising some buffalo and building wind-power generators can help, more power to them. I just do not see how the rez can be more than a retirement home for most of the tribe.

August 13, 2005

Six (biodegradable) feet under

It's not enough that "green burial" has arrived in America. We have to turn it into a marketing battle.

The presence of Fernwood, where the official hearse is a black Volvo S.U.V., in the cool verdant shadows of Mount Tamalpais, reflects Northern California's status as the nation's capital of alternative, artisanal death. The area is home to the death-midwifery movement, supporting home funerals, as well as a cottage industry in plain pine boxes and Funeria, a fraternity of funerary artists who have their own Biennale in San Francisco.

Cemetary entrepreneur Tyler Cassity's renovation of Hollywood Memorial Park was the subject of a recent documentary.

August 09, 2005

Bad News for the Sage Grouse

Guest post by Steve Bodio

As all news seems to be. The magnificent Sage grouse (now considered to be composed of two species, the Sage, Centrocercus urophasianus, and the Gunnison, Centrocercus minimus) is the biggest grouse in North America and perhaps one of the ultimate quarries for dedicated falconers because it is so good in the air as well as large and strong. It is one of the few grouse that can be seen passing high in the air, like some sort of lumbering waterfowl or flapping B- 17 rather than a ground bird.

It is, (or they are) probably a "recent" species as such things go, one that split off from common stock with more conventional grouse species like the Blue grouse (Dendrogapus obscurus) during the Pleistocene glaciations. The polygamous males perform for the inspection of prospective mates on "leks," communal display grounds, making an eerie hollow hooting sound and erecting plumes and tails until they look like dancing plains warriors.

I am not one for doom and gloom about species, but the Sage grouse is an unusually unlucky bird. It migrates over lage distances for a so-called sedentary species, neds riparian areas and insects for its chicks, and above all needs SAGE, a major part of its diet. The sage ecosystem has been broken up and turned into center-pivot agriculture throughout the Great Basin and the valleys of western Wyoming and Montana. Invasive cheatgrass, which has no value as a food plant, is spreading via fire throughout the sagbrush ecosystem.

Now comes more disturbing news from the Swarovski Birding e-bulletin:

"We again visit the beleaguered sage-grouse scene, now with warnings about West Nile Virus. Over the past few years, Greater Sage-Grouse have been found infected with West Nile Virus at a number of locations, including Wyoming, Montana, and Alberta. Ongoing studies have suggested that the species is highly susceptible to the disease. None has shown neutralizing antibodies, intimating that most sage-grouse do not survive WNV. Indeed, researchers have yet to find a Greater Sage-Grouse that has survived infection by WNV, a grave situation for a species already facing diminishing habitat. Even the smallest doses of the virus have killed sage-grouse during experimentation. There is also evidence that WNV, usually spread by mosquitoes, can spread directly between sage-grouse. A 2003 study found that sage-grouse survival had fallen by an average of 25 percent in two locations in the Wyoming portion of the Powder River Basin, as well as at another site in Wyoming and one in Alberta. Studies are ongoing".

Libby reminds me that irrigation can create better conditions for mosquitos as well. I am glad that I have had the privilege to see the males dance , courtesy of Matt Miller of the Nature Conservancy and Tom Cade and Kent Christopher of the North American Grouse Partnership. If anyone can turn the great bird around, these organizations are the ones--check them out.

And, for a future post perhaps: the habitat of Sage grouse lies mostly within the "impact area" of that slumbering but uneasy dragon, the Yellowstone Supervolcano...

Update: apparently the WNV situation may not be as dire as first reported. In a North American Falconers Assocation email which I cannot quote in detail it because it is confidential, a veterinarian doubts that there is any confirmed bird- to- bird transmission. Which doesn't mean that these two spectacular grouse species do not continue to face all of the other problems mentioned above.

August 06, 2005

More Canine Cognition

In the Big Science News: Korean scientists have cloned a dog -- to be exact, a rather handsome Afghan.

This is all very interesting, but other than the anti- cloning tizzy that it has thrown Bay Area animal activists into-- I'll try to find a link-- one of the interesting aspects is how self- elected "experts" have weighed in on how dumb a choice the Afghan is.

Says one, shrink and pop dog author Stanley Coren: "The Afghan hound is not a particularly intelligent dog, but it is beautiful." He ranked the Afghan hound last among 119 breeds in temperament and trainability."Many people who opt for the cloning technique are more interested in fashionable looks," he said. "Whenever we breed dogs for looks and ignore behavior, we have suffered."

Actually I would agree with him that far-- but he may be picking the wrong breed for the wrong reason. The modern show Afghan may be a shadow of its Asian ancestors, but the primitive wolflike habits and physiologies of the Middle Eastern and Central Asian sighthounds, which I have hunted with for twenty five years, do not easily lend themselves to simple analysis. They are not robotic, while some "intelligent" breeds like Labs can be.

My friend John Burchard, who studied at the Max Planck Institute and under Konrad Lorenz, and who has worked with salukis and falcons for forty- plus years, put it this way today: "In general the dogs that score highest for obedience, and thus for "intelligence" in Coren's system, do worst at problem solving. The best problem solvers seem to be wolves -- and Basenjis, who score very low in Coren's scheme. Don't know if anybody's tried sighthounds on the problem solving tests ... but those of us who live with them can't help noticing certain things..."

(One of our sighthound group describes a cartoon in which a bespectacled scientist stands at the top of a cliff demanding that a recalcitrant Afghan "Jump!". Below the ground is littered with the corpses of Labs, collies, shepherds....)

A few more comments from primitive dog aficionado friends-- both scientists incidentally. Vladimir Beregovoy wonders whether modern show and pet breeders who favor "placidity" would breed from what he calls "Houdinis " like my Kazakh female Ataika, who routinely escapes from 8- foot fenced enclosures though no bigger than a whippet. And Dr. John Burchard adds re genetic depletion:

"There is much talk of genetic diseases in purebred dogs.

"It seems the most serious one, ultimately fatal, is called "registration."

Mental maps of dogs

Shelby digs for an imaginary pack rat. M. sometimes teaches "lifespan development" to undergraduates in psychology, and she tosses around terms such as "object permanence," "symbol theory," and "mental maps."

Here, I think, is a dog with a mental map: our ninja-collie, Shelby.

The wood was stacked in the morning. In the afternoon, Sheby was tearing into the woodpile looking for pack rats.

Why? Because last winter a pack rat had nested in another woodpile built in about the same spot. Here is a woodpile; therefore, it probably holds a pack rat. That is reasoning of a sort.

Pondering canine cognitive development at least occupies my mind while I am re-stacking the logs that she knocked down.

"Ninja-collie"? We call her that because she can float up the creaky flight of wooden steps to the front porch without making a sound.

August 03, 2005

The Flycatcher Nest

M. and I were gone from July 24-30. When we came home, we checked the nest of the Cordilleran flycatchers that I mentioned earlier.

It was empty, except for the desiccated corpse of one chick--earlier I had noticed that one seemed to be smaller and weaker than the other two.

I was surprised that they had fledged so quickly, but this site seems to say that the time frame was correct.

Who Killed the Giant Ground Sloths?

A new paper seems to assign part of the blame for the disappearance of large prehistoric North American mammals ("megafauna") to human overhunting and part to environmental factors.

(I am linking to Tech Central Station, but their link to the paper itself is not working for me.)

"The large carnivores became extinct because their large prey disappeared," said Harris. "The larger herbivores digest their food in one of two ways: ruminants have a multi-chambered stomach and chew their food several times, known as chewing the cud, whereas non-ruminants have less complex stomachs and the bulk of their digestion takes place through fermentation in the hind gut.

"When you review the herbivores that survived you'll note they comprise ruminants (bison, deer) and omnivores (peccaries). Horses, ground sloths and proboscideans are hind-gut fermenters that failed to survive."

July 26, 2005


Scene: A "moose jam"--parked cars and people with binoculars crossing the narrow, twisting Moose-Wilson Road in Grand Teton National Park. A cow moose and her calf are resting in the shade under a boggy patch of willows nearby. Moose are sort of totemic hereabouts.

An SUV rolls by and the driver shouts, in perfect northern New Jersey intonation, "Th' fuck you lookin' at?"

I didn't know Tony Soprano ever made it out to Wyoming.

July 23, 2005

Forest Service must listen to citizens, judge rules

In a blow to the Bush Administration's so-called Healthy Forests plan, the Forest Service was told it must listen to public comment.

"The Forest Service tried to turn a law that only exempted actions such as mowing an office lawn from public comment and appeal into one exempting timber sales and other threats to the environment from citizen review," said Matt Kenna of the Western Environmental Law Center, which brought the suit.

Interestingly, Kenna is one of the founders of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a new group trying to bridge the green/blaze orange divide.

July 21, 2005

After the flames V

Previous forest fire entry

M. took a walk a couple of days ago into Babcock Hole, looking for a bit of unburned meadow with some shade, which she found after a time.

While she was resting there, a young mule deer buck (in velvet) came by. He looked all right, if a bit skinny. It was his behavior that seemed odd. Twice he nearly walked right up to her, she said.. He seemed disoriented or at least a bit dazed.

Not a quarter mile away--within a normal territory size for a mule deer--was an unburned hillside, with grass, forbs, and oak brush. But he was wandering around in the burnt area.

The official line is that larger animals have no trouble fleeing the fire. That is not always true; I have seen photos, at least, of deer who were unable to outrun a fire. It can happen, if not often.

We just do not always know what goes on with the other animals.

The Flycatcher's Paradox

M. and I came home from a trip in mid-June to find a Cordilleran flycatcher (formerly known as a Western flycatcher before the "splitters" got involved) building a nest under a rafter of our front porch roof, where a telephone junction box makes for a platform.

Back in the mid-1990s, another of the same species had built a nest in the same spot, but until this year, no flycatcher returned. It could not be the same female, surely, but we had to wonder if it was one of her descendants. Or maybe not.

She sat her eggs, even with big dogs barking on the porch, our comings and goings, hot days, thunderstorms, and all the rest. They hatched about a week ago, as the Mason Gulch Fire was coming under control. Two of the three chicks are barely visible in this photo, as sightless, gape-mouthed, little grey-feathered creatures.

When they hatched, the male showed up, and the adults both bring insects to the nest.

The flycatcher's paradox? When the female was sitting on the eggs, she would return to the nest from a hunting trip in stages. First she landed on the telephone wire that runs from the porch to a utility pole. Then she would hop about half the distance to her nest, watching for danger. Then she would hop half of the remaining distance. Her actions made me think of Zeno's Paradox--of Achilles chasing the tortoise. If the flycatcher hopped each time half of the distance to her nest, would she ever reach it?

July 17, 2005

July 16, 2005

An Eagle Problem in Arizona

Should Indian tribes be allowed to do as they wish with eagles? Ted Williams gives many reasons why not. Their justifications are religious; their reasons sometimes financial, their methods crude to say the least. "In New Mexico one member of the Jemez Pueblo claimed that he and his fellow tribal members had killed 60 to 90 eagles during the winter of 1995-96 and that he had caught six at once by setting traps around a dead cow. He explained that the best way to dispatch a trapped eagle is to sit on it, get it to bite a stick, then ram your thumb down its throat so it can't breathe. They jump around for 10 or 15 minutes, he said".

What, you think all Indians hold beliefs like the ones in that Chief Seattle speech? Sorry-- as Williams documents, that's a fake too: the creation of a TV screenwriter.

Falconers, who revere eagles without strangling them, can only take one from the wild with special federal permission, and then only in areas where they are preying on livestock.

July 15, 2005

Urban Coyotes

Denise at the Ten Ring blog has some strong things to say about urban coyotes. (Check earlier posts too.) Actually, her disagreement is not with the coyotes, who are just being coyotes, but with people who simultaneously want them gone but don't want to take drastic measures.

July 14, 2005

After the Fire Stopped

Another hot day was coming, so I got up early, fed the dogs, and walked up the Forest Service road to look at the burn. The good news was that Babcock Hole was not the blackened cauldron that yesterday's Chieftain cover photo (see July 13 entry) led me to expect.

LEFT: Babcock Hole four days after the Mason Gulch Fire. This area is mostly just out of the frame to the right in the aerial photo below.

The bad, or at least spooky news, was that at some point (early Friday morning?) the fire had crossed our road. Had the wind blown from the SE, the fire could have circled around into the houses. But it had stopped, whether on its own or due to slurry drops, I do not know. And then a hand crew had scraped a fire line along the edge of the burn.

Robert Hamilton, who owns the small ranch at the end of the road tells his experience. (He never evacuated.) Fire-fighting has cost $3.8 million so far.

And I was right about the the T-shirts: "A silk-screening outfit from Silver City, N.M., was doing brisk trade with T-shirts and caps commemorating the Mason Gulch Fire."

Fluorescent pink, yellow, and green plastic flagging is all over the place. One strip on a neighbor's driveway was marked as follows, apparently as instructions to firefighters defending the house: "VACANT. Broken slider window. Sited 7-9-05? Propane needs shut off. Scrape away duff from deck & structure. Remove wood pile against house front."

I came home after an hour. M. was just getting out of bed. "I have news for you," I said. "A hermit thrush is singing in Babcock Hole."

July 13, 2005

Definitely Winding Down

Coming home after a day in Pueblo I was thinking about something other than the Mason (Gulch) Fire when a Sky Crane helicopter tanker (the one with the proboscis) suddenly lumbered into the air beside the road (from the little heliport set up at Colorado 96 and Siloam Road, if you know the area).

Other helicopters with buckets were still taking off from the Wetmore helibase in Virgil Lawson's pasture, and the post office door was still plastered with fire maps and notices, but the excitement is over.

For the first time, I was not stopped by a sheriff's deputy when I turned onto our road. M., home all day, says some definite "tourists" have been up the road to view the burn. Lengths of yellow and hot pink flagging tape are hanging here and there, but the big Fol-Da-Tank portable water reservoir not longer sits beside Hardscrabble Creek, and someone has removed all the fire hoses.

I think that I am about finished fire-blogging, although I will post some more photos. I will, as the occasion presents itself, write about the changes in the land after the fire.

Fire slows down

"Mason Gulch fire on its knees," headlines today's Chieftain. Reporter Pete Roper also quotes a typical area resident. That's my neighbor Del Paulson, a stained-glass artist, in the photo.

This photo by Chieftain photographer Bryan Kelson shows where the fire was stopped by heavy air drops to keep it off the Hamilton Ranch, the green part. M. and I frequently walk a trail that follows the ranch boundary. It will be the Green-Black Trail now. The left side of the drainage that runs to the left (Middle Red Creek) was the site of the prescribed burn in 2000.

July 12, 2005

Media encounters

I have not been taking any pictures for the past couple of days, although I plan to hike (sneak?) into Babcock Hole in a day or two--I have to go to the university on Wednesday and try to figure out where I was with a couple of projects.

Meanwhile, try the Colorado Springs Gazette photo gallery.

Before we left Burro Camp this morning, I had a phone call from a Pueblo Chieftain reporter wanting colorful quotes. Having been quoted in Friday's paper by a different reporter, I thought that I had become the go-to guy for evacuated homeowner quotes for this area.

But then, after M. and I had come home and were leaving again for town, we were flagged down by an SUV with two Denver Post reporters and a Chieftain photographer in it. (He had already photographed us while we were stopped at the sheriff's checkpoint, but hadn't asked our names.) I recognized him, congratulated him on some of his photos, and must have disappointed the big-city reporters, who maybe thought I was not fresh and unsophisticated enough for them.

After the flames II: All just speculation now

Even before we packed to return home, M. was trying to come to grips with what had happened. "I don't like change," she admitted. She had not been down the canyon since Sunday morning, when it was still smokey, and could only imagine what her favorite patch of the San Isabel National Forest would look like.

When I lived as a boy in Rapid City, South Dakota, one of Dad's favorite hunting spots was the McVey Burn, site of a large fire in 1939. I remember it as a mixture of forest and open areas, in contrast to the rest of the heavily wooded Black Hills, where "scientific forestry" and fire suppression had created a landscape much more wooded that that of the previous century.

The largest mule deer buck I ever shot lived on the brushy Poverty Mountain Burn in Frémont County, about seven years after the fire--great deer habitat. Just driving through the Hayman Burn southwest of Denver (site of the 137,760-acre Hayman Fire in 2002), you can see new meadows, abundant summer wildflowers, and a landscape that in many ways is more interesting than the thick forest that was there before.

That doesn't mean I expect everything to be wonderful. Some steep slopes are now bare, which means they can erode. The Hayman Fire burned over mostly decomposed granite soil, and that stuff erodes if you look at it cross-eyed. Erosion into streams and reservoirs and across roads was a major post-fire concern, and a lot of money was spent on various temporary structures to control it. The soils here tend to be more clayey, yet strong thunderstorms could produce mud flows and washouts. I am curious to see if any plants will sprout before autumn.

Salvage logging, if it occurs, would be on a small scale, I think. I do not anticipate a political fight over logging. This part of the San Isabel NF never produced much timber, and it has not been managed for it. Slopes are steep, and the ponderosa pines and Douglas firs tended to be slow-growing and skinny--again, partly due to fire suppresison. Occasionally you do find on the lower slopes big stumps of trees cut in the late 19th century, when the woods must have been more "open".

As for the trees, Gambel oak ("oak brush") will regenerate from its roots most of the time. Ponderosa pine will re-seed itself, creating new stands of too-thick trees, although in some places there won't be many seed trees left. The piñon pine in the lower foothills might come back, but much more slowly. Douglas fir and some white fir might come back in the moister places. Junipers can re-seed too, slowly. Rocky Mountain and one-seed junipers are basically gasoline on a stick: they burn fiercely and their fallen needles usually burn right down to the underlying soil ("mineral soil"), whereas a layer of pine needles often will not burn all the way through. It depends on the intensity of the fire.

That said, I expect to see fire scars that last for decades. Because this is not a timber-producing area, I do not expect the Forest Service to be replanting trees. The reproduction will be whatever happens on its own, most likely. If I am wrong about that, I will blog about it!

Today's report: Fire grew 500 acres, but it is 40-percent contained. In other words, they have a fire line dug around that much.

After the flames I: Fighting back

The big national weather news while the the Mason Fire was burning was actually Hurricane Dennis. I thought at the time that the one good thing about forest fires over hurricanes, in this ecosystem at least, was that the fire cannot repeat itself in the same place right away. Hurricanes can come back next year.

Forest fires can be fought, at least some of the time. In the 1950s, I think there was discussion of fighting hurricanes by exploding atomic bombs in the them, back when some military types were optimistic about meeting every tactical problem with an atomic bomb. No one ever tried it.

Big forest fires usually slow down on their own. The weather changes, or the fire encounters some obstacle. This fire moved rapidly on Sunday, pushed by a dry west wind. On Monday a cold front pushed into the foothills, reversing the wind direction and raising humidity a little. With that change, fire fighters could move in closer, I expect, and try to cut fire lines ahead of the fire.

Pueblo Chieftain: "Firefighters gain upper hand"

I am waiting for the critiques to begin. Should they have brought in ground crews on Thursday, instead of dropping slurry and water only? Did all that aerial attacking really make any difference in where the fire went? It certainly did not stop it from running along the ridge toward our place. I never saw that edge of the fire being "bombed," although I only had a clear view when I walked up the road to see it. Did no one think the fire would move in that direction, or did it just march on despite the fire retardant?

I heard that a lot of slurry and foam was laid down to protect structures at the Hamilton Ranch in Babcock Hole, and that the main house, cabins, stables, etc. all survived because of it. Being on the ground in Babcock Hole would have been a touchy situation, because there is only one narrow gravel road up and out.

Back Home

We came home late this morning (Tuesday), with gratitude to a number of people.

Thanks first of all to Hal and Mary Walter, High (Altitude) Commissioners for Refugees, who let us park the trailer at their place, provided moral support, and took telephone messages. And thanks to Patrick and Shannon O'Grady, who let us turn their mountain retreat into an office so that we would be proper 21st-century refugees with Internet access--and for the enchiladas.

And . . .

Food Aid:
Candy's "Coffee &" café, Westcliffe.
Burro Camp Security: Ted (a small dog with a big responsibility), Jack, Shelby
Burro Camp Chorus: Clyde, Spike, Laredo, Redbo
Burro Camp Backup Vocals: Various cows, coyotes, great horned owls

Thanks to the Castle Rock Fire Department (from a far southern suburb of Denver). I found the business card of a fire lieutenant on the dining table, so evidently they were the ones at our house (and the cabin?) last Friday. They had come about 100 miles to be here. And of course to the Forest Service crews, the Wetmore VFD, and the other firefighters from various places.

And to everyone who called, e-mailed, linked to this blog, or otherwise showed their concern, our appreciation.

July 11, 2005

Not about the forest fire

Two morning radio DJs in Arkansas were suspended for suggesting that no taxpayer money be spent on the ivory-billed woodpecker's recovery.

In my experience, the key to success in that job is having an emotional age of 11, so I am not terribly surprised. But some pundits view with alarm. "Church of Holy Earth"--the horror of it!

A fire web site at last

The Forest Service finally put up a Mason Fire Web site. I will continue to supply "color commentary."

Conspiracy theories

First, for the people who have asked where we are staying, here is a photo of the camp. . It's really not bad; the house is about 300 yards away. Our nearest neighbors are cows and burros.

Officially, the fire grew to 8,000 acres yesterday. I am getting informal reports that it is really at least 12,000 acres and the truth is being suppressed. I hope not--that is to say, I hope that we are just seeing information-lag and other snafus and not a deliberate policy.

While I was still at the house this morning, the tanker helicopter thundered over at low level about 8:30 a.m., headed south. For those of you who know the area, it was clearly flying towards Custer County Road 387 and the North Creek Road, which leads into Beulah. Beulah is in the cross-hairs today, but there is fear that an east "upslope" wind could push the fire back towards us along CR 387.

I could tell that we had a typical bi-level wind situation. At the camp, which is something over 8,000 feet elevation, there was a typical westerly breeze. Down at our house, which is at 6,600 feet, the breeze was picking up from the east. Composite radar seems to show most of the smoke in western Pueblo County, but I not trained in interpreting those images.

Feeling sort of clandestine

I am blogging from our house, with a cup of tea by my side. It feels like a normal morning, except that I have to be out at 10 a.m., or the sheriff's posse will come looking for me. There was a checkpoint on the highway, and local residents are allowed to visit their homes from 6-10 a.m. today.

After awakening at six at "refugee camp," I briefly walked the dogs, fed them, and started down the canyon, so I arrived a little after seven. The sky was clear and the temperature about 45 F., but it feels like another hot, windy day ahead. Yesterday was hot and windy, and the fire jumped to 8,000 acres.

Now it is threatening the little town of Beulah, which is sort of a larger version of Wetmore. Beulah's 19th-century name was "Mace's Hole"--it is in a valley surrounded by forested ridges.

The fire is now a "Type 1" fire, and the information meetings have moved to Pueblo West, which is much farther drive.

Colorado Springs Gazette: "8,000 acres and growing"

Pueblo Chieftain: "Fire races for Beulah" (And a better map.)

Here there is only a little haze in the air, but of course no one has any idea when we can come back.

I am trying not to be so nervous, compared to yesterday. I watered the garden, cleaned up a little (only cold water--I left the propane turned off), and as a sign of optimism, reinstalled my iMac desktop computer, rather than leave it in a dusty Jeep at camp. M. gave me a short list of things to pick up.

July 10, 2005

Pinpricks for a giant

This photo shows the Mason Gulch Fire growing before the west wind. A helicopter base has been set up in a field just to the left of the photo. Helicopters with water buckets filled at a nearby rancher's pond or from portable reservoirs take off, fly to the edge of the fire, and drop a few hundred gallons in a swath.

The copters are just dots against the smoke plume. "Like ant bites on a giant," M. remarked as she watched.

We are in Westcliffe, but this cafe is about to close, so we might stop by the sheriff's office and see if there is any news. Despite all the public information officers, reverse-911 messages (that do not always come through), and so on, there information flow is not that great. I missed another meeting at the Baptist church on Saturday night--I had no idea that it was happening, since I did not drive the 10 miles down the canyon to look at the notice board.

UPDATE: The dispatcher knew nothing. All these highly paid Forest Service public information officers sitting around drinking coffee, and no one calls the sheriff's dispatcher?

UPDATE: The Colorado Springs Gazette headlines "Blaze doubles in size"