November 29, 2006

Medieval predators

While I flail against an avalanche of paper while watching the snow pile up outside, consider this page on medieval predators and predation.

The spiritual threat to the human soul was expressed in the lethal relationship between predator and prey – the devil and demonic beings appear as predatory wild animals hunting or threatening humans often represented by suitable prey animals, particularly sheep. This imagery was rooted in the Bible, where carnivores feature as both expressions of God's power.

And there is an interesting diagram too.

Link snagged from Stars for Eyes.

November 24, 2006

Life imitates cartoon

We ended a two-day train trip from Washington, DC, on Thursday morning, drove home, and napped. Sleeper cars are great, but I still like a bed that does not vibrate.

The day was warm for November, so M. spread a sleeping bag on the ground outdoors for her nap.

A strange sound woke her. She looked up and saw turkey vultures circling overhead--above treetop level, but circling.

When she sat up, they drifted away. It was like being in a classic New Yorker cartoon, she said

November 14, 2006

Into the Murk

I have just finished checking the Amtrak site to make sure that the Southwest Chief is on time. So far, so good--M. and I plan to join it this evening in La Junta, the first leg of a trip back into the Murk.

That's me being a little bit of a Western chauvinist. The East Coast is not known for strings of sunlit days, but the forecast for our destination, Washington, D.C., calls for a sunny weekend, amazingly, although we may arrive in "periods of rain and possibly a thunderstorm."

A storm is coming through the central Rockies. I'm currently in Pueblo, where the wind is howling across Baculite Mesa and a line of squalls obscures the Wet Mountains.

Another squall flares up in the Denver Post letters page, where Durango-based David Petersen of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers faces off against the NRA's Chris Cox over the Brown's Canyon issue.

The Post link will not last, so here are some samples:

Petersen: I too resent the fact that this pack of extremist paranoids claims to be America's leading supporter of hunting, and yet openly joins with the off-road motorized industry flak group Blue Ribbon Coalition to fight for the destruction and elimination of our last roadless public lands. The NRA isn't worried about access for old or disabled hunters, as it claims in its shotgunning of Chaffee County's Browns Canyon Wilderness. That's a convenient, if wholly transparent, lie.

Cox: Limiting access will not help hunters or our efforts to keep hunting alive in this country. Likewise, hunters with disabilities should be given equal opportunity to hunt on America's public lands.

It's so touching the way that the NRA always stands up for the rights of the disabled. (There is an in-house joke about the "NRA handshake," which is accompanied by cupping the left ear, indicative of hearing loss from too much shooting. "Sorry, I didn't catch your name.")

Blogging will probably cease for a few days. I have some things sitting on my desk at home that I would like to comment on, including a social scientific paper on hunter-and-hiker management.

November 11, 2006

It's a dead eagle either way

It looked like possibly a dead dog in the other lane of the two-lane highway between here and Florence.

But as we went past, M. and I were shocked to see that the body was that of a golden eagle.

I pulled off, turned around and came back. Miraculously, there was no traffic in either direction.

I was not going to take the dead eagle home. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has laws about that sort of thing. But I did not want to see it just ground flat into the asphalt, so I ran up, lifted the bird, and carried it down the embankment into the taller vegetation.

At least there it could decompose naturally. I put the dead prairie dog down there too.

The scenario was obvious: the bird had grabbed a prairie dog from one of the colonies nearby. Weighted down, it had flapped too low across the highway. What had the driver thought? Had s/he just worried about a damaged paint job?

Over breakfast in Florence, I read an AP story about a federal judge who dismissed charges against one Winslow Friday, a member of the Arapaho tribe in Wyoming who shot a bald eagle so that he could use its parts in a Sun Dance.

The FWS is supposed to furnish American Indians with legal eagle parts for ceremonial use, but the judge said that program is too slow and inefficient. (The eagles used are those killed by cars, power line collisions, and so on.) The federal attorney said that he would appeal the judge's ruling.

There is a federal "eagle repository" in Denver. But who would answer the telephone on Saturday?

I had never held an eagle before.

November 10, 2006

Stumbling into Brown[']s Canyon

Two Colorado political veterans, Sen. Wayne Allard and Rep. Joel Hefley, have backed a bill creating a designated wilderness area on BLM land bordering the Arkansas River to the NW of here.

The whole Colorado House delegation signed as co-sponsors, and the bill had strong local support.

Into the comment process stepped the National Rifle Association, on the anti-wilderness side.

Big oops.

When it comes to individual liberties expressed through the Second Amendment, the NRA is a powerhouse.

When it comes to public lands management, however, the organization often stumbles, and this is one of those times.

I can't do better than quote Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen, who happens to live in the same county as the proposed Browns Canyon Wilderness:

So why is the NRA opposing this? According to Ashley Varner in the NRA's Washington office, "We feel the bill would drastically reduce access to the area for hunters and sportsmen, especially those who are elderly," and, "Without roads in the area, it would make it nearly impossible to pack out big game." Apparently, the NRA has never heard of pack animals like mules and horses.

This isn't a Second Amendment issue, and it doesn't prevent anyone from hunting in the affected area. So why on earth is the NRA supporting more habitat fragmentation with loud and obnoxious vehicles?

I put the ['] in the title because the Department of the Interior seems to have a problem with possessive apostrophes. "Devils Tower," and so forth.

This reluctance to use proper punctuation is not an affectation of Early Modern English (17th century), but apparently an early-20th-century federal policy.

There was a simplified spelling craze around 1920. In an exhibit of historic college documents at Reed College, I once noticed that for a short time, phrases such as "an office in Eliot Hall" came out as "an ofis in Eliot Hal." But then the college went back to normal spelling.

Bureaucratic inertia is greater in the National Park Service and other such agencies.

Blog housekeeping

Or should that be "blog-keeping?" Anyway, I am re-doing my sidebar to include some blogs that I read but had not been linking too. One inactive blog has been removed. No mercy! Post, or else!

In touch with her wildness

"Do you really believe you are an animal?" Gary Snyder asks in his essay "The Etiquette of Freedom. "

"[M]any people who have been hearing this since childhood have not absorbed the implications of it, perhaps feel remote from the nonhuman world, are not sure they are animals. They would like to feel they might be something better than animals."

And he goes on to a section on wildness in the human body.

Shelby the dog has no problem with her own wildness. In the photo, she has happily interrupted one of my initial experiments in wildlife photography, using a cheap digital camera with a built-in motion sensor.

For bait, I had hung a beef bone from the pine bough above her head. (You can see the white string.)

Then M. took Shelby for a walk elsewhere on the same long ridge, only to come home saying that Shelby had "peeled off."

We walked back to the camera site an hour later. There she lay in the duff, happily chewing the bone, completely pleased with herself.

The camera told the tale. Sigh. Now that spot is useless.

Siccing terriers on el chupacabra

I thought it was interesting when M. came home 18 months ago saying that the dogs had chased a fisher, since there are not supposed to be any fishers here.

Now Patrick Burns posts pictures of a . . . chupacabra that his terriers brought down.

El chupacabra, "the goat-sucker," is a reliable mystery beast of Mexico and the Caribbean, sometimes reported in Texas as well. It makes frequent appearances in the pages of Fate magazine.

So what is that in his photographs? Stay tuned. The truth is out there.

The rest of the story: The clue is that the dogs found it underground. It is an unfortunate woodchuck with several large tumors that distort its body shape. The animal's swollen body caused its hair to be worn off. The purple color is pokeberry juice.

November 07, 2006

A ritual no more

I like living in southern Colorado. I like going down to the old schoolhouse to vote in a building where time seems to have stopped about 1950 (except in the two classrooms that are now a library).

I like seeing the election judges whom I otherwise might meet only at the post office, since the cafe closed and I don't attend the community church.

"Hi, Irene. How've you been, Alden?"

But after today, no more.

We used to vote on paper ballots that were marked and then fed into a scanner. With three or four booths and only a couple of hundred voters in the precinct, lines were always short. Go in, get registration checked, vote, grab coffee and cookie, and out.

But this year the county went to electronic machines. The machine works great--but that is machine, singular. County funds are short. Our precinct gets one machine, and this year's Colorado ballot is a long one crammed with referenda and initiatives.

Poll workers estimated 10 minutes per voter. I know that I was faster than that, but still, it was 8:20 a.m. and I was only voter number 12. (Polls open at 7 a.m., but they had some trouble getting the voting computer going, they said.)

M. stopped on her way to work mid-morning when the congestion was supposed to be less, and instead it was worse. She eventually gave up. Sorry, Congressman Salazar, that's one less for you.

After today, I resolve to vote early at the courthouse or else by absentee ballot. I will miss Alden, Irene, and the free cookies. I will miss the little civic ritual of climbing the steps of the old schoolhouse, ready to commit democracy.

A little piece of culture gone.

POSTSCRIPT The county clerk wrote an apologetic letter in the county newspaper this week: "The machines that we have now were purchased with funds we received from the federal government . . . according to their formula [it] was a sufficient number of machines for our total number of registered electors. It was very obvious at this election tht the formula was not correct."

At 4:30 p.m. on Election Day the state gave her permission to get out the paper ballots. Too late for M. to vote, though.

November 05, 2006

The tamarisk war

Pluvialis blogged her research trip to Uzbekistan and gave me a shudder, for she included a forest of poplar and tamarisk.

After years of regarding tamarisk as a horrible invasive pest in Colorado and elsewhere, you tend to forget that there is another part of the world where it is part of a functioning ecosystem.

Charles Bedford of the Nature Conservancy writes in today's Denver Post of the creation of the (deep breath) Salt Cedar and Russian Olive Control Assessment and Demonstration Act, now in Congress. (Salt cedar=tamarisk)

The photo shows tamarisk on the Colorado River in the lower Grand Canyon (Dept. of the Interior).

Tamarisk trees in lower Grand CanyonThe indictment:

Its prolific seeds and high salt content enable it to quickly replace native cottonwoods, willows, grasses and other plants, degrading the habitat for native wildlife, especially birds. Its spread also decreases forage for livestock and increases fire hazards.

But what drives the funding is the water it sucks up (as do cottonwoods, willows, etc., but let's not go there).

Today's Pueblo Chieftain had two articles: goats versus tamarisk and beetles versus tamarisk. I have mentioned the beetle trials before. (Links may expire.)

First the goats:

On cue, a few of the more media-savvy goats began furiously gnawing on small tamarisk plants by the river, knocking them over and munching down branches like so many French fries.

Which must be how they taste. Tamarisk, also known as salt cedar, are infamous for leaching salt to the surface. Their leaves increase the salinity of the very ground they grow in. Goats are one of the few animals that find them tasty.

As to the beetles, sometimes bureaucracy's right hand knows not what the left hand does:

In 2001, the beetles were released, but so far have not ventured far from the original test site below Pueblo Dam, because there are few large stands in the immediate area and their population has been knocked back by mosquito spraying.

However, if you view tamarisk as intrinsically evil, I suppose that the Uzbek ranger on horseback would like to have some words with you.

November 01, 2006

El día del Crocodile Hunter

Day of the Dead altar for Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter

I like this on so many levels, but mainly for the cheerful appropriation of the oh-so-seriously multicultural Day of the Dead event in the university's student center.

I bet that Steve Irwin would have gotten a laugh out of it too.

And all at the Colorado taxpayers' expense, since this is a state university.