December 31, 2010

SeEtta versus the Water Buffaloes

Look over in my "Southwesterners" blogroll and you will see Birds and Nature, the innocuous-sounding photography blog of Cañon City resident SeEtta Moss.

Actually, SeEtta is one of the most hardworking activists for wildlife, particularly birds, in this part of Colorado, and as the Pueblo Chieftain recently explained in a profile of her, she has waded right into the ongoing water wars.

Moss, who lives in Canon City, is the conservation chairwoman for the Arkansas Valley Audobon and Colorado Audubon societies, and her influence in water issues has grown in the past five years.

In 2005, she joined the Arkansas Basin Roundtable as the representative for nonconsumptive needs — the water that provides landscape and habitat for birds and other wildlife.

In that time, she has taught other members of the roundtable the importance of wildlife-related activities, helped develop a groundbreaking method of measuring the relative importance of nonconsumptive use in the basin and worked for state grants to study wildlife habitat throughout the basin.

She also spots birds that I have previously never known were in southeastern Colorado, such as the golden-fronted woodpecker, of which more can be learned here.

UPDATE: Oops. I was confused by the "Roselawn" and missed the part about it being in Texas, thinking instead of the Roselawn Cemetery in Pueblo.

December 30, 2010

Feliz Christmas

Some holiday photos from southern Colorado and New Mexico

In Magdalena, New Mexico, Santa drives a military surplus Dodge M37 truck. This is the gas station made famous in Querencia

At the Taos, New Mexico, fire department, the apparatus lanes are delineated by farolitos.

In Westcliffe, Colorado, the illuminated Main Street ends suddenly in blackness.

December 28, 2010

Los Matachines at Taos Pueblo

Taken several years ago with tribal permission, this Taos News photo shows the dancers led by former pueblo governor Ruben Romero

You hear different languages. There are French tourists, German tourists, and some guy in a Rasta tam. Another man looks like he came straight from the nearby Overland Sheepskin Co. store, pausing only to snip the tags off his coat.

I am not the only one in the artsy Anglo uniform of broad-brimmed hat, colorful muffler or scarf, and sunglasses. M. wears her leather jacket and dangling Hopi earrings—another Southwestern look.  Scattered piles of ash from the bonfires of Christmas Eve, when they process the Virgin with fireworks and rifle shots.

The air smells of piñon pine smoke mixed with coal smoke. The Indian crafts shops on the ground floor of the old Taos Pueblo are doing a modest business. (Tribal members are required to spend part of each year in the old 13th-century buildings, sans indoor plumbing.)

Old Tony Reyna, former Taos Pueblo governor, crosses the open ground, a red blanket around his shoulders, leaning on an ornate staff, and his elbow held by a younger man. He is a Bataan Death March survivor—so many of them were New Mexicans. (Jeez, he survived that.) But his appearance is not the signal.

Eventually, you see the phalanx of dancers pass by way up at the east end of the plaza. They pass behind the North House and ... nothing happens.

Half an hour or so goes by. Then they appear between some houses and the church, and somehow people know to follow them to a little side area. There is a string band, El Abuelo and La Abuela, the little girl (La Malinche in some versions),  El Monarca (the king, sometimes Moctezuma.)

No Cortés. El Toro (the bull) is a bison. This is Taos,after all.

The masked dancers wear veils—a curtain of black cords—and thin scarves wrapped to hide their lower faces, tied behind their heads. They carry small canister rattles wrapped in flowing scarves in one hand and a sort of small, decorated wooden trident in the other. Multicolor shawls cover their shoulders and streamers flow down their backs.

The dancers take direction from El Abuelo, the Grandfather. He wears an old man's mask with a long beard and is dressed like an old-fashioned Hispano rancher: blue jeans, shirt and leather vest, straw hat, and bullwhip, which he snaps for punctuation. He shouts in Spanish  His partner is La Abuela, Grandmother, definitely a man, in a head scarf and  long skirt, carrying a capacious handbag, who takes special care of the little girl in the princess costume who might be La Malinche. Or maybe not.

El Toro and La Abuela bring out a pole, like a Maypole but with woven sashes tied end to end descending instead of ribbons. The musicians play, the Bull and and the Grandfather hold up the pole—I  could go all structuralist here: Bull, Axis Mundi.

Everything means many things, I am sure, and the important thing is just to be there in your body, not to worry about "what it means."

At the end, El Abuelo shouts, "Le gustan?"  ("You like it?").  Everyone applauds, and the dancers go into a house. The crowd disperses, but some people in the know are walking towards the adobe church of San Geronimo.

Half a dozen old ladies, some in blankets, are lined up on the postage-stamp size stone-paved courtyard, surrounded by a low adobe wall. It is a good principle that where the old ladies are is where something will happen—and it will happen when they all get there.

Gradually people assemble around the outside of the wall. Half a dozen straight-backed chairs are brought out of the adobe church. Two at the church end of the court yard, two opposite, just inside the gate. A couple off to one side.

Waiting. My feet hurt. What about the feet of the old women standing on sandstone slabs?  Our Taos friends leave to go tend to their dogs. We will see them later.

And then the dancers arrive again, processing through the courtyard gate. The fiddler and guitarist sit in the two chairs at the church end and resume their tune, while the dancers form two files and dance various twirling figures, cowboy boots clomping on the slabs, while El Abuelo snaps his bullwhip and shouts, "Vámanos," ("Let's go!") etc.

La Abuela guides the little girl, and at one point the she and the king sit in chairs at the gateway end. A middle aged blanket-wrapped Indian man occasionally calls instructions in a loud whisper: "She's got to be behind him!"  and so on. He must be the real master of ceremonies.

Low, weak sun. It is chilly in the shade. Lucky people with pueblo connections stand on flat roofs looking down into the courtyard.  Occasionally a woman will step up to the line of dancers to straighten the streams on (her son's?) headdress.

We are spiraling past the solstice, and the dancers keep turning and turning. Most headdresses are decorated with squash blossom necklaces and other  tribal jewelry, but one displays two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, and when he turns I see that the ribbons down his back are green-gold-red like the Vietnam War service ribbon. Since the dancers appear to be young men, they must have been earned by his relatives?

The sun has well-passed its low zenith, and the dancers keep flowing as in a Virginia reel. At one point El Toro dances down between the two lines and makes a "pass" with each dancer individually. Then Abuelo and Abuela wrestle him comically to the ground and wave his (detachable) balls, which are offered to a woman standing in the church doorway, who smiles and hands them back. La Abuela puts them in her handbag.

Suddenly it's over with a final series of weaving movements. M. has grown chilly standing in the shade of the church .We will drive back to town, pick up food and gifts, and drive a short way north of El Prado to our friends' house for Christmas dinner. All is right.

December 23, 2010

Extinct Humans' Genetic Legacy Leads to New Guinea

I have posted occasionally here about the back-and-forth over whether or not Homo sapiens sapiens (that would be you, reader, probably) interbred with Neanderthal people or not. Now the verdict seems to be yes, to some extent.

Complicating the issue is the discovery of another group of archaic people, the Denisovans, whose genetic legacy is found in New Guinea.

Since New Guinea is famous for its huge variety of native languages ... nah, that would be expecting too much.

(The kool kids now say "hominin" instead of "hominid," but it means about the same thing.)

December 21, 2010

A Contrarian Predicts a Mini-Ice Age

If you have been following the news, you know that Britain is experiencing a severe winter: lots of snow and temperatures dipping close to zero F. in places.

On Sunday, thanks to certain bloggers, the most popular emailed story at one of the British national newspapers, the Independent, was one written ten years ago in which one Charles Onians proclaimed, "Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past," all about how little children would grow up never seeing snow.

Now the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is very interested in the work of Piers Corbyn, a maverick meteorologist who forsees a "mini-Ice Age," based on solar activity.

Johnson's piece appeared in the Telegraph, followed by a riposte by one of its house bloggers who accused the mayor of stealing his material, calling Johnson's piece "a bravura politician’s exercise in arse-covering."

Curiouser and curiouser.

December 17, 2010

Crossbills at Work

It has been years since we have seen an "irruption" of red crossbills down here in the foothills, but here is a video from the Cornell ornithologists about how the cross-bill feature works, using the related white-winged crossbill as an example.

December 16, 2010

Trinidad, Colorado, Loses Its Identity

After two different surgeons made it the "sex-change capital of the world" for decades, that surgical practice has relocated to (surprise) San Francisco.
The Denver Post article describes the multiple economic impacts of Dr. Marci (née Mark) Bowers' decision. (She took over the practice begun in the 1950s by Dr. Stanley Biber.)

It may not be the greatest cataclysm the town of about 10,000 has weathered. Mines have closed. Railroad hubs have moved.

But regardless of its eventual place in Trinidad history, Bowers' departure reverberates now, in ways big and small, throughout this rugged town in the Purgatoire River valley.

Gender-reassignment patients didn't fly in and out overnight. Their procedures kept them in town for days, if not weeks.

That's why restaurants, hotels and gift shops will all be hurt, said Karin Murray, co-owner of Hometown Pharmacy & Medical on Main Street.

December 14, 2010

We Are Tired of the 'Little Girl'

As predicted in October, that little girl is a problem child, weather-wise. Coyote Gulch, the Colorado water blog, rounds up the pitiful Southern Rockies snowpack situation.

The Denver Post ran one of its "places to go hiking" stories on Sunday. M. was reading it and said, "That sounds like a good trail to hike," to which I replied, "That's where we were cross-country skiing last winter." And the winter before that.

For a National Park Demoted, a Second Chance

I did not know that national parks were ever un-made, but it happened in Oklahoma in 1976, when the Platt National Park was demoted for lacking "scenic grandeur."
What started as local boosterism of hydrotherapy in cold mineral springs grew into one of America's most visited national parks by the 1920s. Despite its popularity, Platt lacked both scenic grandeur and political influence; it did not fit prevailing images of wild nature among NPS bureaucrats and the urban elite who formed the core of the environmental movement; it was too small, too humanized, and too ordinary. As images of people embedded in nature have gained wider acceptance in recent decades, would this small, geographically distinctive, and culturally rich “park of the people” have met a similar fate today?
It was added to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area but still considered noteworthy for its numerous examples of Civilian Conservation Corps "parkitecture." Now it is being recommended by a Park Service advisory board for national landmark status.
Chickasaw National Recreation Area, a very popular national park (1.2 million recreational visits in 2009) has managed the former Platt National Park as an administrative unit called the Platt Historic District. An important element of Chickasaw's mission is to preserve and interpret the Platt Historic District's physical resources (including numerous mineral springs) and cultural-historical resources.

The importance of the latter was underscored when the Landmarks Committee of the National Park Service Advisory Board voted unanimously on November 4 to recommend that the original Platt National Park portion of Chickasaw National Recreation Area be designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL).

Yep, Ken Burns missed that one.

(You're right: I am copying New York Times headlinese, just for the helluvit.)

December 11, 2010

Wyoming Papers Please Copy

From a listserv on literature and nature to which I subscribe comes this observation:

If such a thing [as "Footnote of the Year"] existed, it should surely go to this, from Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erickson's introduction to Queer Ecologies: discussing Brokeback Mountain as gay pastoral, they comment: "Although there are clear differences between Wyoming and Arcadia, both physically and economically."

Poking Poop with a Stick

Darcey at Metis Online looks past Sarah Palin-as-politician to see a deeper divide than Republicans and Democrats.

I am reminded of Edward Abbey's dystopian novel Good News (1980), which I have to admit that I never finished. In the part I did read, however, he has something about the "oldest civil war of all, that between the city and the country."

If Darcey is right, that is what we're seeing here. Her evidence is from Canada, but it sounds all too familiar:

A rural-urban divide? More then possible I think and to test the theory one doesn't have to look much further then the comment sections provided by Canada's own Globe and Mail and the CBC. Both news services think of themselves as being national but their readership tends to be anti-national. Ten minutes of scrolling comments and you would think that rural Albertans are all blood thirsty knuckle-dragging rednecks with guns and the constant tone of the despise gives one the shivers. It can also go the other way and I've been guilty myself of portraying Torontonians as being latte-sipping elitists living in their own filth.

December 10, 2010

A Book for Pronghorn Antelope

I was driving to Pueblo yesterday and passed a small group of pronghorn antelope at the edge of the prairie.

Again I thought, antelope get no respect. There is the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Mule Deer Foundation, Whitetails Unlimited, and other groups that organize conservation efforts, help to fund scientific research, and sometimes buy vital land for habitat for other North American ungulates. For antelope there is, for instance, the Arizona Antelope Foundation, but no national groups that I am aware of.

They often seem to be expected to just make it on their own, like jackrabbits. Some Westerners refer to them half-pejoratively as "goats."

The catalog copy for Cat Urbigkit's new book, The Path of the Pronghorn, states,
They are the fastest land mammals in North America, clocked at speeds of up to sixty miles per hour. Of all the world’s land animals, only cheetahs are faster.
A ghost hides in that paragraph. At one time cheetahs did live in North America, and pronghorn evolved to outrun them in a sustained chase, since cheetahs are mainly sprinters. Until humans built automobiles, there was nothing faster than the antelope for many centuries on the Western grasslands. 

(For more on this and other "ghosts of evolution," see Connie Barlow's book of the same name.)

Wyoming has more antelope than any other state. Urbigkit's text and Mark Gocke's photos  trace the migration of one herd in the Green River country, as they move from the sagebrush desert up into their high-country summer range and back down again in fall.

This particular herd, she writes, "participates in the longest land-mammal migration in the continental United States .... up to two hundred miles to spend the summer in Grand Teton National Park."

And it's not an easy trip.

Path of the Pronghorn speaks for antelope, then, and does it lucidly.

December 09, 2010

When Forestry Mixes National Identity and Spiritual Importance

This AP story indicates that in Israel, decided what to do after a forest fire--whether to "let nature take its course" or replant aggressively--is an even more emotional issue than it has been in North America.

A burnt forest is seen after a massive wildfire in the Carmel, northern Israel, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010. The fire broke out Thursday and burned a 20-square-mile (50-square-kilometer) area in the Carmel forest, a popular nature spot on Haifa's outskirts. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Of course, they have less forest to start with, and it is almost all regrown in the last century  since, as I understand, by the end of the Ottoman Empire, the countryside was pretty much grazed down to nothing.

Cleanliness is next to Depression?

At Free Range Kids, a link to a study claiming not only that too much childhood cleanliness leads to allergies, but it predisposes children to depression as well.

Something else to blame Mom for, right?

December 06, 2010

Walking the Arkansas River Conduit

 Years ago I picked up from Steve Bodio the phrase "an armed walk," meaning a stroll cross-country when you are ostensibly hunting, but spot no game.

In the winter, I sometimes modify that to "armed geocaching," since people will place caches in state wildlife areas.

Having just finished and uploaded to the printer a medium-sized editing project Sunday night, I had to get out on Monday.

Fisher the Horrid Dog had ripped a nail on a rear paw, and I could tell the paw was sore and swollen. I wanted it to heal, so I left him home.

But then I was a little lonely with no one to watch run and no one to scream at.
I walked the route of the old Arkansas River (or Valley) Conduit, which decades ago supplied industrial water to the CF&I steel mill in Pueblo.

It is not be be confused with the Arkansas Valley (or River) Conduit that has been on the drawing board for forty years, a pipeline to carry water from Pueblo Reservoir to towns downstream. (The river and well water downstream tends to be heavily mineralized.)

Most of it was an open ditch, but the top photo shows the ruined outflow of a siphon that carried water across a deep ravine.

The lower photo is the beginning of a different siphon, now crumbled. Was it deliberately blown up? The ditch parts are eroding fast. Less than a century old, and it is already a "relic of the Old Ones."

Found a couple of caches, saw no quail, missed my silly dog, left at home.

Modern Pagans Talk about Hunting

Since I was a boy,  I have wondered about the intersection of hunting and religion—primarily because in my younger church-going days, hunting was never mentioned in church.

It was important at our house—we ate a lot of venison—yet it was never discussed on Sunday, pro or con.

Indeed, the whole issue of our relationship with and responsibilities toward non-human nature never came up in church, although I got a lot of old-style conservation talk across the kitchen table.

Breaking that silence, however, here is an interview with three Midwestern deer hunters who happen to be followers of contemporary Pagan religions—Wicca, etc.

What they say about the experience of hunting is not too different from what you read in the more thoughtful, less "hook and bullet-oriented" outdoor writing.
For Jude the hunting experience affects his whole life, “ You can’t kill an animal and not have it effect you. It is like directly experiencing rebirth, recycling, respect for the animals and the plants, and living from and with the land. I feel connected to nature. When you are hunting you are not just observing or enjoying nature, you are a part of it. Many see a birth, and some may get to save a life, but as a hunter you take that ultimate responsibility when you end a life.”
Read the whole thing—you might find yourself in sympathy.

December 03, 2010