May 28, 2006

Muscle, not machines: hunting, angling group promotes wilderness values

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is not your typical environmental group nor your typical outdoor sportmen's group, reports New West Network.

To counter [threats to roadless areas], BHA aggressively supports roadless area protection and Wilderness Area designation. It also, though, goes beyond these issues to also advocate for the reintroduction of predators such as wolves where viable, off-road vehicle restrictions, and minimizing technology for hunting and fishing -- all stances that stand in direct opposition to the messages conveyed in most modern mainstream hunting and fishing media, where wilderness “locks up” the land, roadless areas prohibit access to backcountry, predators steal “our” game, and ORVs and technology give you the edge up on those wily animals (while providing big advertising dollars in those glossy sportsman magazines).

I worked a short time for a now-defunct outdoor magazine, Colorado Outdoor Journal, as well as writing for others. It's sad that so much of their content is advertiser-driven rather than experience-driven, but, then, the same can be said for some of the birding magazines too. Try selling a photograph to a birding magazine where the people pictured don't have expensive optics draped across their bodies.

The changing language of weather

National Drought Map
At this time of year, I obssess over the couple of minutes devoted to the evening weather report by local TV stations, as well as over weather graphics like the drought map above. (Click the image for a larger version.)

It shows my home in the tan "moderately dry" belt, whereas the Hansons are in the "extreme," which they well know, and the Bodio+Tazi household likewise.

Listening to TV meteorologists, I am hearing another change in Colorado weather language. Here are three terms that have entered the language since I was a kid:

1. Monsoon. From Arabic via Portuguese and Dutch, it was originally a wind that brought seasonal rains in South Asia. Some time in the 1970s, I would guess, people started referring to the late-summer rains (when we get them) in the American Southwest as the quote-monsoon-unquote. Now the quotation marks are disappearing, you might say.

2. Upslope. Originally an adjective, "upslope conditions," describing the flow of cool moist air up against the Eastern Slope of the Rockies, producing overcast skies and either rain or snow. An ideal April combination for heavy snows involves high pressure over western South Dakota combined with low pressure over the Texas Panhandle.

But now "upslope" has become a noun, as in "I wish this upslope would go away, and we would have some sunny weather."

3. Overnight. This is the new one that they are teaching at TV-meteorologist school, I guess. No longer do we have "night" or "nighttime." In another case of an adjective becoming a noun, we now hear such pronouncements as "Expect clearing skies during the overnight."

What's with that?

May 25, 2006

When magpies attack

Yesterday I was talking on the telephone with a university colleague who lives at the base of Greenhorn Mountain in Rye, Colorado.

Suddenly she started screaming and calling out for her husband to "get it." Was there a rattlesnake in her study?

When she collected herself, she told me that a magpie had attacked and killed an oriole--an uncommon bird in that area--just outside her window.

It is well known that magpies eat the eggs of other birds, and they sometime attack songbirds themselves, although not with a high success rate. In the United Kingdom, where songbird populations are dropping, magpies sometimes get part of the blame.

Although I am no ornithologist, I wonder if attacking songbirds is learned behavior for some magpie populations.

My parents lived from 1990-2002 in Colorado Springs, in a house with large ponderosa pine trees and some deciduous trees (mostly maples) around it. Magpies were frequently present and sometimes nested on the property.

My dad fed the birds and kept binoculars and a field guide on the kitchen table. A retired man, he was often outdoors gardening as well.

Yet he never reported a magpie attack on any of the songbirds that he attracted with his feeder. Had "his" magpies just never learned to do it?

May 24, 2006

The Birding Road

Who comes up with this stuff?

Although M. and I are frequently in northern New Mexico, we visit the state's southern part less often.

Last Friday, in fact, was our first trip over NM 26, which cuts off some miles if you want to go from eastbound Interstate 10 to northbound I-25.

FIrst we pass a sign reading "New Mexico Birding Trail."

After that, a distance sign, something like "Nutt -- 15 miles. Hatch -- 24 miles."

Somewhere, a state highway department bureaucrat must be quietly chuckling at his desk.

May 22, 2006

A Misadventure in Crotalia

On Friday, May 12, M. and I drove through the little town of San Luis, Colorado, headed for Taos. I noticed an elderly couple sitting behind a folding table at the roadside. They were selling oshá (Ligusticum porteri), a high-altitude plant whose root is used by herbalists for treating viral infections.

According to southern Colorado-northern New Mexico folklore, a piece of the root carried in your pocket protects against snakebite.

But we had gotten off to a late start, and we were pulling the little trailer, and so I zipped on past, even though oshá root tea might be good to have if one of us catches a cold.

Four days later, a rattlesnake bit me.

Once I realized that it was a snake bite and not that I had kicked a loose joint of cholla cactus with my sandaled foot, I felt like a complete chump. I never saw the rattlesnake--it struck and then it buzzed after retreating under a bush. I think it was a little rattlesnake--I never actually saw it, but the bite was small.

I was looking at birds at the time--we had parked the trailer at Tucson Mountain Park and gone for an after-dinner stroll on the paved campground roads, spotting bird species that we never see at home. I was staring off into the middle distance at some white-winged doves, but M., who claims to watch the ground obsessively, says she never saw the snake either. (Back when we counted owls for the BLM, it was she who once nearly stepped on a large rattler.)

I walked to a nearby spigot and washed the bite. I had a Sawyer venom extractor pump, but it was in my daypack back at camp, maybe 300 yards away. At the trailer, I applied the extractor, although in retrospect, I wonder if I kept it on for long enough.

Tucson natural-history writer Jonathan Hanson, who stopped by our camp the day we left, commented wryly that perhaps the best thing about the extractor is that it keeps you sitting still and occupied, so that you don't panic and run around. But he owns one.

What to do next? I could have followed "The Cowboy Way"--a bottle of whiskey, 24 hours of delirium, and unspecified tissue damage, with a guest appearance by the paramedics. M., however, argued for the hospital. Thinking of the fact that snake fangs carry who knows what bacteria, I agreed.

I called 911 and asked for directions to the nearest emergency room. We both were thinking I would get an antivenin shot, be given some antibiotics against infection, and be told to rest and drink plenty of fluids. How wrong we were!

St. Mary's Hospital claims to have Tucson's busiest emergency rooom, and it was packed. I limped in, filled out a form, sat down, and was immediately called by an ER nurse. Celebrity treatment.

Nurse and doctor questions. Sudden dizziness. A wheelchair ride. Profuse sweating, such that the tape holding the two IV needles in my left arm kept coming loose. Blood pressure way up. Blood pressure way down. Nausea. My speech slurring from the morphine. Even more people popping in to look at the snakebite.

By the following morning, I felt OK--from the knees up. My right foot was a huge uncured sausage, painfully tender to the touch, and my ankle and lower leg were puffy. I got vial after vial of CroFab antivenin and antibiotics, plus gallons of plain solution, with a goal of flushing the toxins.

That afternoon I was moved to intensive care, and by the following morning, I was badgering the doctor to release me, which he finally agreed to do after three more antivenin treatments and a quickie physical therapy session.

Furnished with crutches, pain pills, and oral antibiotics, I exited St. Mary's almost exactly 48 hours after arriving.

As I write this, it's six days later. The swelling has gone down somewhat, but I have not tried to wear a shoe on that foot, just a soft moccasin. As for the pain, well, hurray for acetominophen and opiates. I can walk (slowly) without crutches, but I cannot stand still comfortably long enough to brush my teeth.

Someone once divided North America into two provinces: Crotalia, which has rattlesnakes (genus Crotalus) and Acrotalia, which does not. Arizona must be in the Crotalian heartland, and snakes have totemic significance.

In the hospital, I heard every nurse and technician's rattlesnake anecdotes and folklore. For instance, baby rattlesnakes supposedly have not learned to regulate the amount of venom in their bites. (I am not so sure that snakes can plan so rationally, though this article suggests that there is a learning curve.) And there is always someone who says, "I've lived here all my life and never seen one."

Right after the bite had occurred, we passed another coiled rattler at the edge of the asphalt. It might have gone four feet in length, stretched out. It buzzed a warning, and we avoided it. Maybe they do learn to rattle properly.

Coming back through San Luis, we watched out for the old couple, but it was Sunday, and they had not set up their oshá stand.

May 11, 2006

Dominance and dogs

The bloggers at The Bark are upset with Cesar Millan's school of dog training.

Millan, who bills himself as "The Dog Whisperer" is too focused on achieving dominance through physical force, the Bark-ers say.

The battle in the "comments" column has already begun.

Disclaimer: I've never watched Millan's TV show. Nor, to move to the other camp, have I ever used a clicker to train dogs either. Most of my dogs have been retrievers, and training them means encouraging them to do what they are bred to do--but to bring the bumper or duck to me, damnit.

This morning's behavior issue, however, involved coming outside and finding the Chessie eating the gut pile of a . . . rabbit? I don't think he killed whatever it was himself, since "dogs probably evolved as semi-solitary scavengers in the vicinity of human settlements." That's our Jack, all right.

UPDATE: The June 5, 2006 New Yorker carries a more sympathetic portrait of Millan by Malcolm Gladwell, who himself is interviewed here. Gladwell interviews some dance teachers, who comment on Millan's command of body language compared to the hapless dog owners'.

Hail cannon-use divides farmer, ranchers

In the San Luis Valley, hail-dispersing "cannons" used by commercial vegetable growers annoy neighboring ranchers, who want all the moisture they can get, whether it comes as rain, snow, or hail, reports The Valley Courier. (Via SLV Dweller.)

See a hail cannon photo on the Web site of this Nebraska tomato grower

Here, meanwhile, a guy from Pueblo is installing electronic controls on the inadequate well that serves our rental cabin and three full-time households. Supposedly then we can automate our rationing plan, turning the pump off and on and shifting the flow from one line (to two houses) to the other. Cost: about $300 per household.

So far, everyone has been mellow about the rationing plan, but it means someone has to be climbing down into the well house and turning valves at least twice a day.

The fact is, all those people will be paying to have water delivered by tanker truck from Florence before the summer is out.

May 10, 2006

Western wear, Western worn - 2

Part 1

In the early 1980s, I was a young reporter at the Colorado Springs Sun (since subsumed by the Gazette).

One summer--perhaps in conjunction with the annual Pike's Peak Rodeo--the order came down to "dress Western" for the day.

I was a business/financial reporter, and my usual working dress was khaki trousers, button-down shirt, tie, etc. On the staircase, someone--maybe the head of advertising--confronted me about my failure to dress as per the memo.

"Look," I said, "I'm a Colorado native, born in the San Luis Valley. If I'm wearing something, it's 'Western.' Now, if you don't mind, I've got work to do."

Cheap sophistry, to be sure, but he had no comeback for me at the time.

Even though it was invented by commercial interests in the 1940s, I have no problem with "Western wear," as long as it is not turned into a corporate dress code.

What other part of the country has a true regional look? Hawaii, maybe. Coastal Florida. Wisconsin (plaid on plaid).

Take the bolo (also "bola") tie, another product of the 1940s. I think I picked up my first one when I was 21, working on a sort of arty Taos, New Mexico, construction crew, and I needed something to wear to dress-up events, like poetry readings at RC Gorman's gallery.

Of course, an event like that, sponsored by a gay Navajo artist . . .. whatever you wore was always on the edge between hip irony and "Western". That's Taos.

So I had my cheap stabilized turquoise bolo, and later my more expensive turquoise bolo, not to mention the 1980s hip, ironic, cast-resin longhorn steer bolo, perfect for Austin music venues, had I ever gone to Austin.

I steered away from the massive beadwork variety, generally worn only by Indian tribal council members and certain anthropologists, and also from those proclaiming membership in any organization.

This being America, bolo ties became politicized on several levels. Some East Coast fashionista once said they reminded her of shriveled genitalia, which comment led, as I recall, to some diatribe about retirees in Sun City, Arizona.

A recent photo of Sen. George Allen, R-Virginia, showed him wearing one at an informal fundraiser. Democrats seem nervous about the "Country-and-Western" connotation, unless they are Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colorado). (Note top left photo.) You figure that everything a politician wears has some calculated connotation.

Is it OK to just "dress Western" now and then?

May 05, 2006

Texas Ranch House, we hardly knew ye

Texas Ranch House has ended. I admit that I was sucked into it. You see, I worked for the Cookes, in a way, only the surname was different and the business was publishing, not ranching. By the show's end, I was thinking, "It's Lady MacCooke."

When all the cowboys left angry and joined the Industrial Workers of the World, I was not surprised at all.

OK, I made the last part up. The IWW was not formed until 1905, and the show was set in 1867. (A sort of shadow IWW still exists.) But as someone once said, "A cowboy is just a factory worker on horseback."

The Cookes' problem, aside from poor gardening and an ungenerous spirit, was that they did not know where to set their boundaries as ranch owners. Sometimes they wanted their hands to be surrogate sons, and sometimes they treated them like peons. And then they were shocked! shocked! when the panel of judges told them that their ranch would have failed in real life.

I always had the feeling that Bill Cooke felt handicapped because he could not just project a PowerPoint presentation on the bunkhouse wall and explain all his goals in purest corporate-speak.

May 04, 2006

Bird-feeder Bear

The dogs barked in the night. At least Shelby did, a few "woofs." I think that Jack, the elderly Chessie, was deep in sleep in his kennel crate by our bed.

In the morning, the evidence. We have four hanging birdfeeders at different places in the small Gambel oak trees in front of the house: two plastic tube-style feeders for niger thistle seeds and two house-shaped wooden feeders for sunflower seeds.

One of the wooden feeders bore signs of being smacked by a bear paw. The nearest thistle feeder was simply gone.

This has happened before. Every few years one of the local bears develops a taste for sunflower seed. Then all summer long we must take in the feeders at night and put them out again in the morning. Last summer was one of those times, so I am tempted to think that the same individual bear is making its rounds after dark, but, really, who knows?

One more I repaired the wooden feeder with Gorilla Glue and drywall screws. I looked around for the plastic tube feeder but found no sign of it.

I have this image of a bear walking through the woods with a Duncraft thistle feeder in its mouth like a stick of candy. (Something like this but without the plastic dome.)

Some people claim to sell "bear-proof" feeders. I'm skeptical. I think you would have to make them of concrete and sheet steel.

Who reads blogs?

Blogads presents a survey of blog readers, with a focus on politics.

Blog readers tend to be politically engaged middle-income people.

Via Kate at Small Dead Animals, a Canadian political blog, who asks, "Why does mainstream media continue to stereotype political bloggers and our readers as "tech savvy" twenty-year-olds?"

May 02, 2006

Western wear, Western worn - 1

M. and I are being drawn into PBS' latest living-history show, Texas Ranch House, an attempt to re-create post-Civil War west Texas life.

Our PBS station, KTSC in Pueblo, is now a mirror of Denver's KRMA, with the same idiotic programming. They run hours and hours of Antiques Roadshow, bland travel programs, and Lawrence Welk. (News flash: Lawrence Welk is dead.)

Then when they get something new like Texas Ranch House, they run a month's worth of episodes in two days. Go figure.

The producers seem to have taken care with costumes, right down to the cowboys wearing long underwear in the heat. The thing is, "Western wear" as we know it did not exist back then. Aside from his high-heeled, undecorated boots (with his pants usually stuffed into them), the average teenaged or twenty-something cowboy wore most anything.

Look at the pictures, like this 1880 studio photo from the National Cowboy Museum. You will see more variety of hats than you would see at the average country-music bar today. Some had high-crowned "10-gallon" hats, but the next guy over might have on a derby (a/k/a bowler). (More old photos here.)

And no one wore Wrangler jeans. Often they didn't wear denim at all, but checked wool pants, parts of Civil War military uniforms, or whatever they could get their hands on.

"Western Wear" was invented after World War II for musicians and rodeo performers, especially the "singing cowboy" movie stars such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. It was popularized by city tailors: the film and music stars like "Nudie suits," while in Denver, Jack Weill of Rockmount popularized the snap-front "Western" shirt.

After fifty years or marketing, some kid from Lamar, Colorado, or Torrington, Wyoming, is brainwashed into thinking that he is not authentic if he doesn't have his black Western hat and Wrangler jeans. If he wants to be "authentic," he should keep his long underwear on all through the summer.

Some years back, someone wrote a letter to High Country News opining that no environmentalist should wear Western shirts because they were associated with the Evil Livestock-Raising Ideological Enemies. Sheesh. I just love the way that "progressives" know how to build coalitions.