September 28, 2007

Blog Stew with Dharma

¶ Saturday, Sept. 29, is National Public Lands Day. Take a walk on the national forest and pick up a discarded "energy-drink" can.

Coming down into Florence today, I passed what looked like every government wildlands fire truck in Frémont County headed up Colorado 96 toward the Wet Mountains. They did not seem to be in a big rush. Prescribed burn somewhere? Training exercise?

¶ Are we turning into Crestone East? Someone wants to build a Buddhist retreat center.

If the county bosses grant the [special use permit], the retreat off CR 358 will be the first Buddhist retreat center in North America.

Say what? How about Shambhala Mountain Center, for one? Maybe the reporter misunderstood. Or the applicants meant our kind of retreat center.

¶ Anthony Lioi solicits comments about the new Into the Wild movie. He says his students are interested in it: a "teachable moment."

Pluvialis recommends Tom McKinney's irreverent birding blog.

I got quite angry about not seeing this Buff-bellied Pipit and wrote a diary entry titled Fields of Shit, which I thought summed up the day quite nicely.

September 25, 2007

When Goshawks Are Outlawed . . .

. . . only outlaws will have goshawks, and Pluvialis is already turning into a Hereward the Wake of falconry.

It's been a while since I've gone hawking like this. I had forgotten the radical change in subjectivity. I had forgotten how the world simultaneously dissolves to nothing, yet is presented in a form so utterly real and tangible, it almost hurts.

(For the record, the UK has not outlawed goshawks. Yet.)

A Walk in the Wet Mountains

Precipitation gauge, San Isabel National Forest, photo by Chas S. CliftonOne area of the Wet Mountains--two named peaks and their connected ridges--has fascinated me since the 1980s and could occupy me for the rest of my life.

Although parts have been logged in cycles since the 1880s, much of the logged areas are covered with heavy second-growth timber. Other deep canyons have never been touched by logging, mining, or ranching--or barely touched.

It's indicative that an entire steam-powered sawmill was abandoned in the 1880s and officially forgotten by the Forest Service -- although it's on national forest land -- until about fifteen years ago. (Now there is a hiking trail to it, with appropriate signage.)

Taking one of our cross-country hikes on Monday, M. and I happened across this precipitation gauge. The hanging metal strips break updrafts that might interfere with rain or snowfall measurements.

Next to it was a concrete slab, dated 10/1970, with threaded rods sticking out of it, that might have held a similar little tower.

We should have climbed up to see if there was oil in this one, as this article explains, but we did not, so we are left wondering if anyone reads it, or if it is a relic from some study or project long since completed.

"That's what bothers me about the government," M. said. "They're always leaving stuff in the woods."

September 19, 2007

Blog Stew with Hedysarum mackenzii

Men's Journal called it "The Cult of Chris McCandless", the 24-year-old who sought wilderness solitude in Alaska and died there. Jon Krakauer's book, Into the Wild, captured the mythic dimension of McCandless' last months.

And now . . . the Hollywood treatment, directed by Sean Penn.

Krakauer's first article for Outside magazine is here. Chip Brown wrote about McCandless for The New Yorker (abstract online).

Some environmental lit. professors want to screen the new movie in class alongside the TV show Northern Exposure.

¶ Charlie Russell, who hangs out with grizzly bears in Siberia, is cast by some writers as what Tim Treadwell should have been.

His new film Edge of Eden has been praised a lot. Russell and his wife, as I understand, rescued orphaned cubs from so-called zoos and raised them.

¶ Blogger Mary Scriver opined on an environmental email list, in regard to all this stuff about seeking a wilderness rite of passage:

You know, it's not uncommon in the Pacific Northwest for the highway workers who occasionally clean out the vigorous jungly blackberry tangles along the way to find the bodies and even skeletons of adventurous young men who were on the road. Sometimes their bikes are with them.

Climate Change and the Spread of Astroturf

Climate change, whatever its causes, is increasing the spread of astroturf.*

For example, I get an email offering an opportunity to swap links with a blog on climate change and governmental responses thereto. The blog looked so slick that it made me suspicious.

What a surprise. The chief blogger, Kevin Grandia, is a former "provincial government event coordinator" and now on the staff of a big Vancouver, BC, public-relations firm, James Hoggan & Associates.

He has involved himself in public disputes over climate science. Some of his statements seem to be mainly about bashing Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper. Here in the US, of course, we know that climate change is the personal fault of George W. Bush. In Canada, however, it's all Harper's fault.

We are supposed to believe that the firm's "blog initiative" is done from the goodness of its corporate heart, but, having worked in that field, I really doubt it. Some client has to be paying the bills -- or this is all connected with B.C. electoral politics -- or both. Apparently the firm does work for the David Suzuki Foundation, so there is one clue.

What cracks me up is their claim to be "Clearing the P.R. pollution that clouds climate science" when, I suspect, they are generating their fair share of it. It's a case of do as we say, not as we do, or "deception is OK, because we're the good guys."

It all feels like astroturf to me.

As Colorado Central publisher Ed Quillen wrote, Some people act as though it's a religious issue and ask "Do you believe in Global Warming?" with the same fervor as others ask "Do you believe in God?" or "Do you believe in UFOs? . . . .

Whether we're actually in the midst of Global Warming or Global Cooling or Global Stasis, we know what we ought to do. We should be embracing healthier actions and habits so that we can enjoy living in a healthier society, with a healthier economy and healthier lives.

The global warming activists urge us to walk more and drive less, to drive slower on highways, to use energy efficient light bulbs, and unplug appliances when they're not being used. They want us to turn off lights when we leave a room, and use passive solar techniques and curtains and caulk to save on home heating, and keep our cars well-tuned and our tires properly inflated. In essence, they want us to live a little more frugally.

And you certainly don't have to "believe" in global warming to see the advantages in wasting less and spending less; or in developing cleaner technologies and establishing energy sources which don't require foreign oil; or in old saws like "Waste not, want not."

But that sort of frugality would not heat up political campaigns and put money into the bank accounts of slick PR firms.

*Astroturf is artificial grass, so it has developed a secondary meaning of "bogus grassroots political organization."

September 18, 2007

A Bus from the Past

Customized bus in storage yard, Taos, New MexicoThe trouble with trips to Taos is bumping into that annoying younger me in his denim jacket and white summer straw cowboy hat, drinking weak coffee in Foster's restaurant on the plaza (not there anymore) instead of cappucino at Caffe Tazza.

Was this bus running back then?

September 15, 2007

Blog Stew with Ethanol

¶ Rana at Frogs and Ravens posts on the perfect being the enemy of the good when it comes to "living green". Meanwhile ...

¶ The Freakonomics gang discusses the same idea from some economists' perspective.

¶ The Colorado chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has a new web site. I see some grey hair there -- these guys could be demanding their god-given right to drive around the woods on ATVs, but in fact they are doing just the opposite.

¶ Patrick Burns links to an interesting collection of outdoor/nature bloggers. Maybe I can be a "camera trap codger" some day.

The American Southwest Asthetic, Globalized

M. and I drove to Taos on Friday for the end-of-season sales. That is to say we drove here to buy inexpensive rugs that were made in India and sold in stores otherwise full of mass-produced Mexican folk art in a leading Southwestern art town.

In our part of the trade network, we are delivering Colorado-grown ponderosa pine seedlings to some friends who have a new and treeless house here. At our house, ponderosa seedlings are like weeds.

We know we're in an art town because the Taos News headlines include "Artist's Body found in [Rio Grande] Gorge" and "Another sculpture bites the dust at TCA [Taos Center for the Arts]."

From the other blog, an earlier meditation on Taos.

September 11, 2007

The Bedspreads of September

M. had planned a outdoor day yesterday, maybe taking the little boat to Lake Isabel, but we awoke to low clouds and steady drizzle. So we made it a city day instead in Colorado Springs.

Today when I passed a neighbor's house, I saw old quilts and bedspreads laid over the wire anti-deer fence and I smiled, because you would see the same thing here. Last night the skies finally cleared after dark, and M. went out to cover the tomatoes and basil. I think the low was in the high 30s F.

Sure, the Old Farmer's Almanac is calling for a mild winter, and I suspect they are just copying the Weather Service on their prediction for a La Niña winter.

But last night was autumn's envoy, and King Winter is making his stately progress in our direction.


In the quiet hours, his talk occasionally lost its exuberance and he became sad, regretting the passage of time, but like Denys he kept horror at bay by relentless adventuring.

The "he" is a British settler and soldier in Kenya, Tich Miles of Cole's Scouts, during the grueling and often forgotten East Africa campaign of World War One. "Denys" is Denys Finch Hatton, and the line comes from Sara Wheeler's new biography of Finch Hatton, Too Close to the Sun.

As I read that chapter, the search for Steve Fossett is still ongoing. Things don't look good at this point. Could that sentence just as well apply to him?

September 10, 2007

Blog Stew with Bluebirds

¶ The Center for Biological Diversity is suing the federal goverment over the willow flycatcher, which also nests in the San Luis Valley.

¶ Western bluebirds need some artificial cavities, i.e., nesting sites.

¶ So I bought a pair of Crocs after M. was dissing them -- and after a month of light use they broke. A rivet pulled out. Crocs did replace them under warranty -- I sort of used the blog posting as "proof of purchase." The Japanese are getting them caught in escalators, though. Crocs says, "Change your escalators." That's attitude.

¶ Two additions to the blogroll: Natural Patriot and Planetary, which is a new blog devoted to teaching the "environmental humanities."

¶ I am also starting a "favorite posts" list. Look at the bottom of the sidebar.

September 09, 2007

An Impressionist on the Purgatory

I want to see this exhibit by painter Michael Ome Untiedt of paintings from the Purgatory canyon country, now at the Sangre de Cristo Art Center in Pueblo. (Link from the Pueblo Chieftain may expire.)

Untiedt admits that he broke a social code:

I was kind of raised with the notion that it's a secret place," said Lamar native Michael Ome Untiedt. "You don't talk about it - you don't want to see spandex bicyclists down there. Part of the reason the Army can take over is because it's been kept a secret."

Ironically, the earlier acquisition by the Army of the ranches in the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site did create more public access to the area, and that access created more awareness of just what lies south of US 50.

September 05, 2007

Blog Stew with Hidatsa Beans

¶ Put the pot on the fire: the Museum of the Fur Trade is in the heirloom vegetables business. Unfortunately, what with finals week, I can't be there for "Beer and Baubles."

¶ I saw the dateline on this Denver Post story, and I was all ready to blog, "They are stealing our beavers!" But in fact we are getting more here on Hardscrabble Creek. I think I know which rancher requested some, and his stock just rose with me.

My first thought was because some beavers have been building dams closer to my house (downstream a couple of miles from that ranch), and I feared that someone had called for their removal because they threatened to flood a back yard or two.

¶ Sure you can whip up a prickly pear margarita. But I usually make the quicker "birder's margarita." Just pour a shot of tequila over ice, add lemon or lime juice, and then cut the acidity with some of the hummingbirds' sugar syrup from the refrigerator.

Rocky Mountain News columnist Janet Simons fingers sellers of bogus Hatch, New Mexico, chiles. She recommends this site for finding chile sellers.

But chiles matter more in Pueblo. And the Chili [sic] & Frijoles festival is the 21st-23rd of this month.

The Problem of Intelligent Dogs

Patrick Burns quotes a Victorian writer on dogs:

We hear constantly of prodigies of dogs, whose very intelligence makes them of little value as slaves. When they are wanted, they are apt to be absent on their own errands.

"It's time to go. Have you seen Shelby?"

"She was here a little while ago."

They are too critical of their master's conduct. For instance, an intelligent dog shows marked contempt for an unsuccessful sportsman.

Back in the mid-1980s, I went dove hunting near Westcliffe. One of our group borrowed a friend's golden retriever--just took him out of the yard. Knowing Chuck, I am not sure if he asked permission first.

I know, I know, a lot of people think that goldens are sort of dim-witted.

Not this specimen. He was as professional as a Swiss guide.

He always knew who hit a bird and always returned the bird to the right person.

But if you missed, he would look over his shoulder and sneer. It is humiliating to be sneered at by a dog.

"I want one of those," I thought. But then someone gave me a Chesapeake Bay retriever pup instead.

A Naturalist in Custer County

I am reading Theodore D.A. Cockerell: Letters from West Cliff, Colorado. (That is "Westcliffe" today, our county seat.)

Cockerell was one of the classic late-Victorian naturalists. He was born in a London suburb in 1866, and he and his brother used to visit William Morris, where they no doubt were caught up in pre-Marxist socialist fantasies of people living in organic communities and printing their own tasteful wallpapers.

He was passionate about natural history from an early age: "Very early, indeed, it was given out that 'Theo is found of animals," he writes in a memoir.

His brother Sydney, another boy naturalist, later directed the Fitzwilliam Museum. (Cambridge bloggers please copy.)

No one can write about Custer County in the late 19th century without quoting Cockerell, for the letters he wrote to his fiancee and her brother in 1887-1889 remain an important primary source for the social history of this county in that era.

Some lung ailment brought him to Colorado. It does not sound as though he had serious tuberculosis, but "lungers," many of them English, were a recognizable social group back then, particularly in and around Colorado Springs.

Working odd jobs to pay his bills and assiduously reading and collecting specimens, Cockerell founded his own Colorado Biological Association and solicited memberships. He returned to England in 1890 and obtained a curatorial job in Jamaica. (I lived there too, but in Mandeville, not Kingston.)

His lung trouble reoccurred, so he and his new wife returned to the Rockies, living and teaching in Mesilla and Las Vegas (I've been there). Then he moved on to Colorado College (I worked there too), and on to the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he finished his career as professor of zoology. (I went to graduate school there).

The young Cockerell is a little too much of a naturalist some times, proud of his learning. Disembarking in New York in July, he writes, "It is very hot and the place swarms with Musca domestica." Like just saying "flies" is not good enough for him. But his essential good nature comes through. ("The green banks of Staten Island look good for snails!")

Right now I am reading of his trip west, which includes the inevitable digressions:

• The difference between British and American trains.

• The difference in prices. The US was more expensive then, at least for meals and travel. How things change.

• American "misuse" of "shall" and "will."

• The presumption of all these struggling little prairie towns with "City" in their names.

Cockerell's letters were also collected in an edition called The Valley of the Second Sons -- in other words, the Wet Mountain Valley.

More excerpts coming from time to time.

Living Up to Her Bird Dog

Woman falls in love with Spinone Italiano puppy.

But the breeder won't let her buy a puppy unless she plans to hunt it.

The Spinone is a bird dog, and she had to promise to train this one to hunt.

So on a 90-degree morning in late August, a day when even the humidity had humidity, there was Hauser, wearing an orange vest and carrying a shotgun. Lumberjack, the dog she promised to train, and her three other bird dogs tromped through the fields of northern Delaware County at her side.

Somehow I doubt this story would make it in Bark magazine, even though it fits their slogan of "modern dog culture," or in Bark's Colorado knock-off, Colorado Dog. ("Your dog. Your family. Your lifestyle")

People want dogs, but they don't always want them to do what they were bred to do.

Of course, what dogs do is loudly vomit indigestible carrion onto the bedroom floor at 2 a.m., as Shelby demonstrated for us a couple of night ago.

(Hat tip: Hell in a Handbasket.)