January 31, 2007

A stronger climate-change consensus?

USA Today featured today an article on a growing--but not completely solid--consensus that human doings have more to do with current climate change than changes in solar radiation and other fluctuations outside of our control.

Climate scientist Roger Pielke Sr. of the University of Colorado at Boulder has suggested that development and deforestation, rather than the burning of fossil fuels, are the main drivers behind global warming. He says on his climate-science website that the IPCC should recognize the importance of these other factors.

In contrast, Australian scientist Tim Flannery has complained in his 2005 book
The Weather Makers: How Man is Changing the Climate and What it Means for Life on Earth that IPCC estimates downplay the impact of warming.

On a related note, I am glad to see that the Democrats in Congress have started hearings on political interference with government scientists working on climate issues. It is bad enough that the issue becomes politicized. ("Global warming is a hoax!" "Global warming is the personal fault of George W. Bush!")

Pielke's group has a climate-change blog, which I am adding to the blogroll for occasional study.

January 29, 2007

Dolores LaChapelle

Dolores LaChapelle of Silverton, Colorado, died January 22 at an advanced age. (She was still skiing deep powder in her seventies.)

She begins the preface to her 1992 deep ecology book Sacred Land, Sacred Sex: Rapture of the Deep: Concerning Deep Ecology and Celebrating Life by stating that it does not fit into any categories:

it's neither psychology nor philosophy, neither history nor anthropology--not even social anthropology. It's most certainly not "eco-feminist," "new age," or "futurist." Yet it takes in all this and much more.

So did she.

The University of Utah has an online collection of her skiing photographs. She was a pioneer of ski mountaineering, among other things.

The Durango Herald ran this feature article about her in 2002.

LaChapelle became renowned in skiing circles for her powder skiing prowess. [While at Alta] she even earned the nickname “Witch of the Wasatch” for her uncanny ability to predict storms.

Look at her article "Ritual is Essential" for an understanding of how she connected human ritual with living "in place"

Ritual is essential because it is truly the pattern that connects. It provides communication at all levels - communication among all the systems within the individual human organism; between people within groups; between one group and another in a city and throughout all these levels between the human and the non-human in the natural environment. Ritual provides us with a tool for learning to think logically, analogically and ecologically as we move toward a sustainable culture. Most important of all, perhaps, during rituals we have the experience, unique in our culture, of neither opposing nature or trying to be in communion with nature; but of finding ourselves within nature, and that is the key to sustainable culture.

January 26, 2007

How PETA 'helps' animals in North Carolina

A PETA executive's lame response to my earlier post (see comments) led me to this deceptive site about how they claim to help animals in North Carolina.

From the ongoing trial of two PETA employees on animal-cruelty charges, we know how they really operate:

1. Approach an animal shelter and lie about how you want to adopt a dog or cat.

2. Load the animal in your van and give it the needle.

3. Dump the carcass in a supermarket Dumpster. Let someone else worry about the final disposal problem and paying the bill.

4. Repeat thousands of times.

5. Start another fund-raising campaign.

Lying to the underpaid and overworked shelter employees is acceptable, because PETA people are morally superior to the rest of us. Just ask them.

If you care about what happens to domestic animals, instead of giving money to PETA, support your local humane society or animal shelter. Don't give money to big national groups like PETA or the Humane Society of the United States, which spend most of what they collect on still more fundraising and lobbying--and very little on actual animals.

January 25, 2007

Not here you don't

We are in the wrong hemisphere to see this.

"Pleasures of the Hard-Worn Life"

From the New York Times interview with one of my favorite writers, Jim Harrison.

Mr. Harrison pointed out that it was important not to overcook doves, lest they turn into “billiard balls,” and after pondering a bit, pronounced the antelope more delicate than the elk, even if some ranchers think that antelope are little better than prairie rats, eating up all the hay. Then he declared: “Food is a great literary theme. Food in eternity, food and sex, food and lust. Food is a part of the whole of life. Food is not separate.”

January 24, 2007

Trial in PETA animal-dumping case

Two employees of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are now on trial in a high-profile case. (Earlier post here.) They are accused of tossing garbage bags full of euthanized cats and dogs into a Dumpster behind a Piggly Wiggly in Hertford County, North Carolina.

Adria J. Hinkle and Andrew B. Cook, both of whom work in PETA's Norfolk office, are charged with 21 counts each of animal cruelty, a felony that can carry prison time, along with littering and obtaining property by false pretenses.

It is a strange turn of events for PETA. The group's supporters have often been prosecuted for their radical efforts to protect animals -- breaking into fashion shows to throw blood on fur-wearing models, liberating lab animals, showing gory videos outside the circus -- but PETA has never been accused of hurting animals. . . .

A PETA spokeswoman, Kathy Guillermo, said PETA never wanted to get into the business of euthanizing animals. But she said the group couldn't ignore the horrible conditions in animal shelters around Norfolk and in northeastern North Carolina. The group now euthanizes thousands of animals a year.

"Euthanasia is a better alternative to sitting in a stinking pound," Guillermo said.

PETA opponents are drawing attention to this little-known facet of the group's work.

On Monday morning, the Washington D.C.-based Center for Consumer Freedom, an anti-PETA group funded by restaurants and meat producers, drove a mobile billboard truck reading "PETA: As Warm and Cuddly as You Thought?" past the courthouse.

I wonder how PETA will try to spin this in their fund-raising. Lawyer David Hardy thinks that charging them with fraud would be better.

After all, Hinkle and Cook pretended to be adopting the dogs and cats before they killed them.

Their opponents are watching the trial closely.

January 23, 2007

'Spoiled Brats'

Evangelical Christian blogger and pastor John Smulo praises Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin and his family, but he is still waiting for environmental consciousness to grow among his fellow Christians.

I've been encouraged to see some growth in the Christian environmental movement. But overall it seems to me that most of us, not to mention most Westerners, act like spoiled brats when it comes to living and non-living creation.

Our Dad made it, and we don't care if it gets ruined. Instead, we think He'll clean up the mess we're making or another generation can deal with it.

Some of the commenters agree, while others argue that they are involved.

January 22, 2007

Teaching Nature Writing - Part 2

As I mentioned, this blog started out as a nature-writing class blog--a group blog--and it is about to become one again for the next three months.

So please welcome a dozen or so new voices whose perspectives definitely will not be always the same as mine.

I will try to train them to always put in hyperlinks where possible.

Colorado snow dogs

What? We have go to home now?

A year later, Jack's thoughts on bipedal locomotion on snow have not changed. But there is a lot more snow here in central Colorado than there was in early 2006, so we are enjoying it while we can.

January 16, 2007

Another Neanderthal-modern skull?

I posted last September about research and theories on possible interbreeding and conflicts between Neanderthal people and our sort of Homo sapiens sapiens

A Romanian cave has produced a skull that has kept the question open.

The skull was found in Pestera cu Oase - the Cave with Bones - in southwestern Romania, along with other human remains. Radiocarbon dating indicates it is at least 35,000 years old and may be more than 40,000 years old.

The researchers said the skull had the same proportions as a modern human head and lacked the large brow ridge commonly associated with Neanderthals. However, there were also features that are unusual in modern humans, such as frontal flattening, a fairly large bone behind the ear and exceptionally large upper molars, which are seen among Neanderthals and other early hominids.

While you are thinking about Neanderthals, visit Virtually the Ice Age. (At least these Stone Age people are shown wearing sewn garments, not the cartoonish shaggy skins.)

Which reminds me of today's headine in the Pueblo, Colorado, Chieftain: "The Iceman Stayeth." If only.

January 14, 2007

Colorado's lost ski resorts

Many of Colorado's failed ski areas could be summed up in this quote about the Stagecoach area near Steamboat Springs, which operated briefly in the early 1970s.

The whole rationale for the ski area was to sell condos and home sites, but the area was such a ragtag operation that the real estate folks had no traction at all.

"To sell condos and home sites" was also the rationale of the sometimes snow-starved Conquistador area near Westcliffe, which lasted from 1976 until the late 1980s. I can think of two other small day areas here in Custer County, such as Silver Park on Colorado 96, which also came and went fairly quickly. Now another is planned near Lake Isabel, but the developer keeps missing meeting dates with the county zoning board.

One area not mentioned is Ski Broadmoor, where at least two generations of Colorado Springs kids learned downhill skiing, if they were not at the Pike's Peak ski area, which is also gone as well.

This trend troubles me: I have not gone downhill skiing for years, just Nordic, but where do people go who don't have the bucks for the Vails, Breckenridges, etc.? Where can you learn to ski after school if you do not live in a bona fide ski town? That was the important niche that areas like Ski Broadmoor filled.

In skiing, like hunting, there are plenty of opportunities for the well-heeled, but the entry steps are getting higher and higher, unless you are connected through a club or something.

Right now, another ephemeral ski area is open, right here at Owl Lodge. After three feet of snow in the last three weeks--not that all of it is still on the ground--we have reopened our Nordic ski trail system that involves our driveway, the sloping lawn of the rental cabin, and a little bit of the 1870s Siloam Stage Road that runs through the property.

Apres-ski activities include writing book reviews and syllabi, but the bar is open.

January 13, 2007

Teaching nature writing - Part 1

This blog started as a class blog for English 325, "Nature Writing in the West." The class is on a three-semester rotation, so if you were to look at entries for spring 2004 and fall 2005, you would see some student-written entries.

It only became my individual blog when at the end of spring semester 2004 I hated to see it die and kept on writing my own contributions during that summer.

In some cases, however, as student "team members" were added and dropped and the blog was republished after template changes, my name ended up on some of the entries that they wrote. No matter.

Now I am working on the syllabus for another semester. That is a two-glasses-of-wine job at the least. I hate writing syllabi (and grant proposals and book proposals) but, unfortunately, I cannot always just go into the classroom and extemporize brilliantly.

It's a Tuesday-Thursday class, 90 minutes each time. That means I see the students only 28 times, plus a field trip or two. With so many students having job and/or childcare responsibilities, additional times are a problem. Maybe this year I could do something over spring break—but M. and I like to flee the area during spring break ourselves.

And there is so much to do. Familiarize students with a group of writers of whom most of them have never heard. (Gary Snyder or Deidre Elliott or Reg Saner or SueEllen Campbell or Ken Lamberton or whoever.)

Toss out new words like "ecocriticism" and "bioregionalism" and the famous Lynn White, Jr., essay that blamed our environmental crisis on the Judeo-Christian-Marxist matrix.

Talk about historical events like the Dust Bowl, which happened literally just down the road in SE Colorado, but which is forgotten in popular consciousness of most people younger than my parents' generation. Or about how the Forest Service's recreation program got started just outside of Pueblo, partly to counteract leftwing organizers in the old CF&I steel mill.

I look at nature writing as a type of creative nonfiction mixed with contemporary literature, but it is more than that. It is philosophy in the classical sense ("How shall we live?"). It is self-discovery ("What ecological and geographical factors led to my living where I do?"). It is history—the Dust Bowl, for instance,
as I mentioned.

It is also my favorite class to teach.

January 12, 2007

Death: It's the government's fault

Better signage and management of hundreds of miles of backcountry roads could have prevent the Kim family tragedy, says James Kim's father.

I don't mean to be harsh, but as the article says, "Many involved in search and rescue feel that the people who get lost also bear responsibility."

Anyway, there will be a task force.

At the request of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is looking at why a gate blocking the fork down which the Kims got lost wasn't closed and locked, as it was supposed to be, and is reviewing its policies on access to roads on the public lands it manages.

You know what the bureaucratic response will be: Lock the gates! Cover your ass!

January 06, 2007

"When ostriches attack"

A few years ago, lots of people were trying to raise emus, ostriches, and such. They were one of the get-rich-quick schemes of the Eighties.

In some places, people just turned them loose after they got tired of the bird-farming game.

I don't, however, know the backstory to this absolutely amazing post.

But when I saw it, I thought that every addle-brained believer in literal creationism and the co-existence of humans and dinosaurs ought to read it too.

Pueblo man takes blame for blizzard

My wrists are tired from shoveling snow from the latest 10-inch dump.

Colorado life is all about the snowpack, and right now it looks pretty good.

December's weather contributed to a dramatic shift in snowpack patterns across the state. Usually snowpack is highest in the mountains, but recent storms boosted snowpack to high levels on the Eastern Plains, while the figures taper off to below average across the mountains of Western Colorado. In addition, the lower elevations of the Rio Grande, Arkansas and South Platte basins show greater snowpack than the mountainous headwater regions.

"Lower elevations . . . of the Arkansas." That means our wells here on Hardscrabble Creek, with any luck.

But here is the hidden truth. This last snowstorm is the fault of a Pueblo contractor with the initials S.M. He has been working on our rental house, and the last job to do is to install a new, forest fire-resistant, metal roof.

Rather than put if off to spring, he wanted to charge right ahead and get it done. So he hired a neighbor of ours to come in with a front loader and clean out the snow around the house that piled up during the December storms, in order that he could set up his ladders.

One day later, whoomp! Today he has been over there with a brand-new Troy-Bilt snowblower trying to re-do the job, while I dug out the buried metal panels with a shovel and otherwise did what the blower could not reach. I will try to nibble away more at the big drift on the north side tomorrow.

He admits that scheduling a roofing job in early January may have affected the weather. It's like washing your car to make it rain.

But with the Arkansas drainage snowpack at 118 percent for this time of year, maybe S.M. should get at least some of the credit.

On a slightly related note, Dave Hardy passes along a more stoic response to blizzards. No FEMA trailers. No $2,000 cash cards. No celebrities arriving by helicopter. How can those people survive?

Goatheads are good for something?

Every gardening writer likes to write about reading seed catalogs as the midwinter snow falls.

So I won't do that. I will just mention that I was perusing the new Richter's catalog as ten inches of fresh powder--well, OK, it is more than a cliche. It happens.

"What the hell," I said. "They're selling goatheads!" Also called puncturevine. Tribulus terrestis. Nasty, invasive, spreading Eurasian weeds whose multi-pointed seed capsules can bring a dog to a whimpering standstill, not to mention being hard on bicycle inner tubes.

M.'s response was to pass me a copy of Tucson herbalist Charles W. Kane's Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest, which she had just brought home from the Pueblo library. (We may have to buy it.) She held it open to the section on puncturevine.

It turns out to be helpful for moderate hypertension, to increase male libido (herbal Viagra?), and to contain some natural steroids.

Many men using the plant often notice a related sense of increased physical strength and will -- a good tonic for older men and the metrosexual alike.

I consider Michael Moore (not the filmmaker) to be one of the best Southwestern herbalists.

He contributed the foreword, noting, "Charles has written an impeccable book."

Here is Kane's border-country spin on the usual herbalists' advice on wildcrafting--gathering plants in the wild:

Collect away from roadsides, inner city areas, industrial sites, agricultural areas, and heavily traveled foot trails -- explaining yourself to every busy-body hiker gets to be tiresome, although visibly packin' heat usually limits conversation to furtive glances.

Although a short drive takes us to eastern Fremont County, Colorado, which is sort of the last outlier of the Chihuahuan Desert, a lot of Kane's plants are hundreds of miles away. But about half of them are here.

Methods of preparation are clearly described, and the plants are illustrated with color photos and Frank Rose's meticulous botanical paintings.

If you live in the Southwest and you like to take care of some minor ills yourself or learn some herbal first aid, you should have it.

January 03, 2007

Don't expect your dog to help you

Poster for the 1954 movie
Timmy fell down the old well? Don't expect Lassie to go for help, says Bill Roberts, a psychology professor at the University of Western Ontario.

Do not expect your loyal canine to stage a Lassie-style rescue if you are ever injured or in trouble. Researchers at the University of Western Ontario devised an experiment to test whether dogs can understand emergencies and react appropriately, and not one of the dogs sought help. A toy poodle was the only pet to even touch a bystander, and that pup simply curled up in the person's lap, apparently seeking comfort for himself rather than help for his owner. "It appears that they don't understand when an emergency has occurred or what to do about it," said psychology professor Bill Roberts, co-author of the study that appeared recently in the Journal of Comparative Psychology. (Credit National Post.)

Sometimes M. lets out a shriek if she drops something or has a small accident, and the dogs come running.

It's not that they want to help her, I say. It's more that they think she is wounded and so they might be able to eat her.

And then one of us quotes Bridget Jones: "I'd finally die, fat and alone, and be found three weeks later half-eaten by Alsatians."

Now with Web cams

I have added SLV Dweller to the blogroll. It's a news blog for the San Luis Valley with a new format, weather information, and Web cams.

I also was going to muse more on Mall-Wart's embrace of fluorescent light bulbs, but Dexter's Lab has already done it.

The fluorescent light bulb, I think, will be the "Big Environmental Solution" of the next few years, the way that recycling was promoted in the 1970s.