August 27, 2011

The Well-Traveled Sunflower

Sunflowers originated in the Western Hemisphere, yet one of the most popular varieties is called the Mammoth Russian. It's a plant with a transoceanic history.

August 26, 2011

Blog Stew with Disappearing Spiders

• An EMT's tips on keeping butt-crack spiders away.

• Re-thinking cosmic rays, clouds, and climate change: New evidence from CERN. Apparently current climate models leave out something big.

• M. and I will be going back to Yellowstone this fall, we hope. Evidence shows that concealed-carry in national parks has not led to an outbreak of violent crime. Quite the contrary.

August 25, 2011

Between Life and Death, No Balance

Out of its cardboard carrier, the red-tailed hawk heads for the trees
M. and I were on the road again this past morning to the Raptor Center in Pueblo, not bringing in an injured bird this time but with the happier chore of releasing a rehabilitated red-tailed hawk back to its home range in the Wet Mountain Valley.

At the edge of the prairie, some little birds (horned larks?) flew up from the road, and one thudded into the windshield right in front of M.'s face, stopping her mid-sentence.

A life for a life? I felt like an ambulance driver running down a pedestrian.

We ate brunch at the Coyote Grille, then went next door and picked up our hawk, already caught and boxed by one of the Raptor Center volunteers.

Driving into the mountains, I ran over a little ground squirrel that darted in front of the Jeep. They do that. The crows and ravens will clean it up, I tell myself. Balance,

A few more curves, and there is a porcupine lying in the road. OK, it needs to be moved off the asphalt if any scavengers are going to deal with it.

I parked and pulled on the welder's gloves that I had brought in case I needed to handle the bird (which I did not). I walked up to the porky—and it was still alive.

It looked to have been scraped or dragged by a car—quills missing from its back—and its hind legs were limp, not working.

Quick decision: I carried it off the road into the grass, drew my pistol, and shot it.

Porcupine quills in my glove.
Dad, an old-school forester, killed every porcupine he saw. They damaged the pine trees, the Forest Service's cash crop.  When I was old enough to shoot it, he would hand me his revolver. Then I got to be a little older and decided that maybe not every porky deserved immediate execution. But I did not think any wildlife rehabber could have saved this one.It was weak and immobile.

We had a somber drive to the Lake DeWeese State Wildlife Area, where I carried the boxed hawk off out of sight of the road, slit the tape, and whoa! it was ready to go!

The hawk flew up into a ponderosa pine tree and flapped its wings as it adjusted its position. After months in the big flight cage, where all the perches are fixed, maybe it needed to readjust to flexible tree branches.

We drove into Westcliffe and bought some homemade goat cheese at the farmers' market. Back into the world of human commerce.

Half a day, 120 miles driven. Three small deaths, one second chance for a hawk. It is probably a mistake to impose any desire for a meaning when you are dealing with wild lives.

UPDATE: Read more on death and the other-than-human world in the October 2013 Animist Blog Carnival.

Western Vocabulary Quiz: Drainages

Californian reacts to the place name "Schoolmarm Draw" in Colorado
The following terms are listed in alphabetical order. Re-arrange them in order from smallest to largest. Support your conclusions with examples or arguments.
  • Arroyo
  • Canyon
  • Coulee
  • Draw
  • Gorge
  • Gulch
  • Gully
  • Ravine
  • Valley

August 23, 2011

Afternoon on the Upper Huerfano

Here endeth ye brooke.
It's a dry year. The upper Huerfano River, on the national forest, just ended at one point, right at my toes as I took this photo. The water trickled over this emplaced log, fell into a plunge pool, and was absorbed into the cobbles.

Fortunately, there is more water down lower from springs and tributaries, and I caught some trout. (Sorry, no fish photos. They were browns.)
Wildflowers placed in a desiccating medium.
Our first goal was to gather some wildflowers so that M. could make a dried-flower arrangement for her sister's housewarming. Here are gentians and larkspur in a shoebox.
An out-the-windshield shot of retreating bear cubs
Driving out, we spooked a black bear and her cubs out of the roadside currant bushes. Here go the cubs running to catch up with their mother.
Mule deer fawn with summer spots. Another grab shot through the dirty Jeep windshield.
Mule deer fawns were much in evidence too, in ones and twos.

We stopped for bar burgers on the way home and tried to remember if we had ever heard of anyone with peanut allergies when we were kids. Like where did that come from?

August 21, 2011

Shelby 1, Black Bear 0

Shelby five years ago.
Once our dog Shelby was known as the Bandit Queen, hanging out here and there on the county road with her several canine followers (retrievers and rottweilers).

Now she is about 12 years old (we don't know for sure), and she sleeps a lot. She gets glucosamine tablets in her food, but runs with a stiff sort of rocking-horse gait. Her muzzle is graying.

Yet today she charged a full-grown black bear, and her "victory celebration" afterward suggested that she was sending a message—to somebody.

Shelby, Fisher the Chesapeake, and I started our walk about 8 a.m., up through our property and onto a narrow Forest Service road that runs through a small meadow, pines and Gambel oak on both sides, and a deep gully or ravine on one side parallel to the road.

As usual now that she is 12, Shelby poked along, sniffing things, eating a bit of grass, peeing beside the road. A "sniff walk," as one dog writer called it.

Fisher, by contrast, galloped about 70 yards up the road, came back, turned and galloped off again, just bursting with excess craziness energy. Then I heard an odd "Woof!" from him, a "Woof!" not of challenge but of alarm, a sort of canine "Ohmygod!"

I stepped past some trees and saw him on the far side of the gully, pursued by a bear. He likes to charge down into the deep gully and up the other side, but this time he must have come nose to nose with the bear, who was now chasing him at a half-serious lope.

I called him, "Fisher, come!!" He came out of the gully, the bear paused on the far side, I  kept calling. I had just one leash with me—for Shelby, when she is too pokey. After all, she was just strolling along, sniffing the roadside vegetation, the elderly dog.

She shot past me, full tilt, no creakiness, head down, tail streaming, barking a little. She zipped past Fisher, who seemed momentarily undecided whether to follow her back down into the gully or come to me. Fortunately, he came to me.

The bear turned and ran. Maybe all this yelling and dog action was too much for it. Shelby chased it into the thick oak brush. Visions of mauled dog ...

Then there was the black flag of her tail visible, and she came trotting out into the open, whereupon she squatted with her back to where the bear had gone and "marked," demonstrating with a few drops of urine her opinion of that bear.

(She has been known to pee on the door mats of houses wherein live dogs whom she despises.)

We went home then. Shelby has just lain around the house the rest of the day. The weather is hot, and she has that thick coat from the collie side of her ancestry. (The other side is Labrador retriever, we were told.)

She let us all know: she is still the Bandit Queen.

August 20, 2011

Radio-tagging Rattlesnakes

Once piece of folklore that I heard repeatedly after my rattlesnake bite five years ago was that baby rattlesnakes were more dangerous than adults. This researcher says otherwise.
Katie Colbert, a naturalist at Sunol-Ohlone Regional Wilderness, has often heard people warn that a baby rattlesnake is a greater threat due to the fact that they're unable to control the amount of poison they inject into their victim when they bite. According to Colbert, this is just not true: all rattlesnakes, babies and adults, can control their venom. In addition, Colbert says, "Baby rattlesnakes can only produce and stash a very small fraction of [venom] an adult can." This does not change the fact, however, that a bite from any rattlesnake, regardless of age, is a dangerous bite and requires medical attention.
Watch for the rattlesnake living in the wall of the visitor center. I don't expect that they tell all the little kids about that one.

August 19, 2011

Not Exactly the Civilian Conservation Corps: Politicians' Promised 'Green Jobs' Are Not Appearing

Certain politicians have been promising that "green jobs" will lead the way out of the recession.

So far it is not happening, not in California and not in Seattle, Washington.

But I have to wonder if the villain is energy conservation—that is hard to believe—or if it is clumsy, top-heavy government programs.
[Seattle Mayor Mike] McGinn had joined Vice President Joe Biden in the White House to make it. It came on the eve of Earth Day. It had heady goals: creating 2,000 living-wage jobs in Seattle and retrofitting 2,000 homes in poorer neighborhoods.

But more than a year later, Seattle's numbers are lackluster. As of last week, only three homes had been retrofitted and just 14 new jobs have emerged from the program. Many of the jobs are administrative, and not the entry-level pathways once dreamed of for low-income workers. Some people wonder if the original goals are now achievable.

"The jobs haven't surfaced yet," said Michael Woo, director of Got Green, a Seattle community organizing group focused on the environment and social justice.

"It's been a very slow and tedious process. It's almost painful, the number of meetings people have gone to. Those are the people who got jobs. There's been no real investment for the broader public."
People who go to meetings get jobs. People who might be climbing a ladder and turning a wrench don't get jobs.
In the Bay Area as in much of the country, the green economy is not proving to be the job-creation engine that many politicians envisioned. President Obama once pledged to create five million green jobs over 10 years. Gov. Jerry Brown promised 500,000 clean-technology jobs statewide by the end of the decade. But the results so far suggest such numbers are a pipe dream. 
The Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, whose benefits we still reap in state and national parks, national forests, scenic parkways, etc., started—so I am told—with a one-page document. Maybe someone needs to dig it out of the federal archives.

Forest Army is a blog about the CCC—no recent posts, but good stuff in earlier posts.

August 18, 2011

A Couple of Poisonous Plants & One Useful One

M. and I went looking for mushrooms on Monday, which was a bust. Although there were puddles on the dirt road leading to it, our favorite area was mushroom-less. Both edible and inedible species were missing, so it's not that someone else came in and cleaned it out—evidently the modest rains of the last few days up in the high elevations (about 10,000 feet) were not enough.

False hellebore pods
So we did what we the last time that happened and went looking for wildflowers, of which there were a few: a small stand of monkshood (in the hellebore family) managing to keep its feet damp,and also also some false hellebore (locally called "skunk cabbage," but not the same as the Northeastern plant of that name).

Rather than photograph the showy striped leaves, which you can see at the link, I snapped one of the pods. Too bad I did not catch it in bloom—but you can see blooms here too.

Monkshood, also known as wolfbane, has poisonous roots and leaves. The man who taught me to identify it was surnamed Bane (which means slayer, poison, etc.), so he got a kick out of that.

False hellebore is poisonous to sheep in particular.
The whole plant is poisonous, containing highly toxic alkaloids that affect the heart and nervous system."

Sheep which eat false hellebore while during the first trimester of pregnancy have lambs with severe abnormalities of the brain and face (known as Cyclopia).
This area is elk range, but apparently they are not bothered. One article I found while browsing suggests that deer, if not elk, not only eat some plants poisonous to livestock but follow the approach of "a little bit won't kill you."

Continuing our walk, we came to stand of firs that were a real Usnea (old man's beard) plantation, both live trees and dead ones.

M. wanted some for an herbal wound powder that she is making, so we partly filled what was supposed to have been a mushroom sack with Usnea.

August 17, 2011

Cowboy Talk

Nebraska cowboy, 1886 (Library of Congress).
Ptak Science Books blog links to a 1937 interview of a 19th-century cowboy. The interview was part of the Works Progress Administration's oral history project, which interviewed many ordinary Americans about their life experiences. From L.M. Cox of Brownwood, Texas:
Cowboys lay awake nights trying to think of "good ones" to play on the tenderfoot. We tied an old cowboy to a tree once and told the tenderfoot that he was a madman, had spells and was very dangerous. At the appointed time the cowboy broke loose and the new comer made it to town, five miles on foot, in a very short time.

"Boiled beef and Arbuckle Coffee was our standby. The boys used to say if old man Arbuckle ever died they'd all be ruined and if it wasn't for Pecos water gravy and Arbuckle Coffee we would starve to death.
And the work:
"I have known cowboys to ride one hundred miles per day. I know this sounds unreasonable but they were off before daylight and rode hard until after dark. Their usual day's work was to be off as soon as they could see how to catch their horses, throw the round-up together around 10 o'clock then work cattle or brand until dark and often times stand guard one-third of the night after that.
No wonder many cowboys were ready to look for easier work once out of their twenties.

Or you can just read the memoirs of E.C. "Teddy Blue" Abbott, who started cowboying in the 1870s. His book We Pointed Them North is available from the usual sources.

All that open-range stuff lasted just one generation, and by the 1890s late-middle-aged stockmen were getting all nostalgic about it, hence the Cheyenne Frontier Days, etc. etc. etc.

Greeley Schools Build a Better Burrito

The New York Times reports on how public schools in Greeley are going to back to making their own cafeteria food for better nutrition:
Consider the bean burrito: last year, in arriving from the factory wrapped in cellophane, each one had more than 35 ingredients, including things like potassium citrate and zinc oxide. This year: 12, including real cheddar cheese. Italian salad dressing went from 19 ingredients to 9, with sodium reduced by almost three-fourths and sugar — the fourth ingredient in the factory blend — eliminated entirely. . . . .

“The biggest myth is that it costs more money,” said Kate Adamick, a food consultant based in New York and co-founder of Cook for America. She said federal reimbursement rules could actually give poorer school systems some advantages in shifting back to scratch, especially for meat, which many districts buy with deep discounts. Cooking the meat themselves, rather than paying a processor, can drastically reduce total costs, she said.
They promise the kiddies their familiar bright yellow mac-and-cheese, but colored with tumeric instead of some industrial chemical.

August 16, 2011

Re-creating 1924 on Mount Everest

A year ago I blogged about re-creations of 1920s mountaineering clothing, typical of the type worn by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine in their doomed attempt to climb Mt. Everest.

Last year's documentary The Wildest Dream, which M. and I only got around to watching this year, offers a few sequences (filmed in 2007) in which climbers Conrad Anker and Leo Houlding test the old-style silk and woolen garb.

Their verdict: comfortable and all right while moving, but not so much insulation when one is standing still on the mountain. And the boots . . . Anker and Houlding are seen stripping off the leather hobnailed boots and frantically rubbing and blowing on their frigid feet. (Nails conduct heat out, for one thing.) When it comes time to free-climb the infamous Second Step, they opt for modern gear.

The Wildest Dream begins with Anker's discovery of Mallory's body on Everest in 1999. The rest is a two-track sequence in which the 1924 expedition is re-created through still photos, old movie footage, and voice-overs of Mallory, his wife, Ruth, and other participants.
[Conrad Anker writes:] On May 1, 1999, my life as a climber intersected with that of George Mallory. At an elevation of 27,000 feet, I came across his dessicated and frozen body. It was a humbling moment – for it was on his shoulders that future generations of climbers built their ability. As I gazed out across the Tibetan plateau I thought of the incredible journey these men had undertaken – stepping into terra incognita of the physical and emotional boundaries of human endurance. No one had been as high as Mallory and Irvine.

My life changed. Mallory was no longer a figure out of the history books. He was, although dead 75 years, a real person to me. I honored who he was and what he stood for. The maelstrom of press that followed the discovery was intense and heated.

With each passing year the mystery of Mallory and Irvine grew within me. The story of their challenge and disappearance haunted me. I decided that I would delve into their story, to seek out the minutaie of their expedition and find a thread of parallel events between 1924 and our current time frame of climbing. Addressing the challenges they sought, aspired to and eventually gave their lives for will allow us to appreciate who they were.
Interwoven with this historical chronology, Anker and Houlding set out to climb the mountain by the same North Col route. Obviously, the mid-forties Anker is analogous to Mallory (who was 37 when he died), while Houlding, in his late twenties, stands in for Sandy Irvine, 22 at his death—the difference being that Houlding brings more climbing experience to the mountain than did Irvine, although Irvine was strong, athletic, and presumably learned fast.

As an attempt to explore Mallory's psyche, the movie succeeds well enough. Anker clearly clings to the hope that Mallory and Irvine might well have made the summit before they died. Lacking the camera they are believed to have carried, which might possibly be with Irvine's as-yet-undiscovered corpse, this hope stands on three pieces of circumstantial evidence:

  • The photo of Ruth that Mallory said he would leave on the summit was not in his pockets.
  • His tinted sun goggles were, however, in his pocket, suggesting that the two were coming down at dusk, meaning that they might have summitted.
  • His oygen cylinders were missing, discarded somewhere when empty, again suggesting that they had not turned back early. (Various calculations of oxygen use versus climbing speed can be used to argue for or against this possibility.) Mallory's partisans argue that if he got close enough, he would have gone for the summit, alone or with Irvine.
A lot brainpower continues to go into the search for Irvine.

August 13, 2011

Late Summer Arrives

Out walking Fisher this morning, a faint whiff of humidity in the air, wind from the east, might mean something.

Climbed the ridge to where I had set two scout cameras—now that we own that land (which we treated as ours for nineteen years in terms of walking on it), I can leave them up for longer times, just changing out the rechargeable batteries weekly. Sitting in slippery pine needles doing just that when there is a thump and a wet nose in my ear—back from her self-directed walk, Sheby (the collie-mix dog) has come and found us.

No good images this week.

I sit the bird feeders on top of the Jeep's spare tire and fill them with sunflower seeds. Evening grosbeaks and mourning doves wait for me to arrive.

There is that change in the air that means Late Summer, a hint of coolness in the heat, a slight drop in the sun's power.  M. and I hope for a rainy weekend that will bring up some mushrooms on the fir-covered ridges. Some salvage for a summer that we just endured. And I am feeling edgy, like I want to get out of my weekly routine.

August 12, 2011

How to Fail at Hiding Out in the Mountains

Lee Grace Dougherty, failed camper (Associated Press).
Southern Colorado media are full of the capture of the "Dougherty Gang," also known as the stripper, her brother Darryl, and her other brother Darryl. Evidently they thought, like countless criminals before them, that they could out-run radio, the Internet, and cable TV news shows.

Their mother says, "I'm glad they were found," as though they got lost on a Boy Scout hike. But isn't that always part of the script?

Life in Walsenburg, Colo.,  was considerably disrupted yesterday.

Back from our supply run to Pueblo today, M. and I ate supper as the sun sat over Holt Mountain and chuckled at such lines as "the remote San Isabel National Forest in southern Colorado" from the Boston Herald

They camped one night in a pullout off a paved state highway. Not what I call "remote". Not more than two miles away, a road gave access into the heart of the Wet Mountains with many obscure little spur roads off it. But when they were shopping for camping gear and ammo in Colorado Springs and/or Cañon City, they evidently did not pick up national forest maps.

Then they drove down onto Interstate 25 and into their eventual fate. One night in the woods and their nerves failed them?

I tell you, it's sad. No one knows how to hide out in the mountains anymore.

August 11, 2011

No Simple Answers in Salvage Forestry and Water

Pity Forest Service hydrologist Phil Reinholtz trying to explain complex natural systems to a bunch of water buffaloes who just want an answer to their question: "Will bark beetle infestations on the Rio Grande National Forest increase streamflow?"
RIGHT: Butch Siegel, a contract logger, stacks trees cut down near the Wildernest subdivision in Silverthorne in January 2010. Foresters had hoped that the trees would be sold to timber mills near Montrose and South Fork and a government-supported pellet factory near Kremmling. (Daniel Petty, Denver Post file)

It's complicated. Different parts of the state have different beetle infestations. They affect mostly ponderosa pine around here, lodgepole pine in northern Colorado, and spruce in the San Juans and the Rio Grande headwaters. Reinholz was forced to reach back to the 1940s for an analogous situation—in yet a different part of the state:
One study that did look at the impacts of spruce beetle infestation examined the White and Yampa river basins over a 14-year period after massive blowdowns sparked the bug's rise in the 1940s.

The White saw a 22 percent increase in stream flow while the Yampa jumped 14 percent, but Reinholtz said the increases came largely at the latter end of the study.

He said water yields could also be dependent on whether spruce stands were mixed in with other tree species like aspen, which might absorb part of the water yield.
And then there is always the bright guy who wants to know if more logging would not have stopped the outbreak.
Forty-eight percent of the [Rio Grande National] forest's spruce stands sit in wilderness and backcountry areas that are off limits to logging or other forms of treatment.

Moreover, the nation's recession has not spared timber markets, shrinking the demand for the wood that's available, he said.
And one other reason goes unsaid in that article. There are a lot fewer sawmills in Colorado than there were two generations ago. Once every town seemed to have a sawmill. (And the smoke from teepee burners filled mountain valleys.) They could not compete with the big corporations shipping in lumber from the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia.

In northern Colorado, beetle-killed lodgepole pine logs are piling up with no one to mill them. (See Denver Post photo above.)
Dead-tree cutting across northern Colorado and southern Wyoming — to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires and of dead trees falling on people — has left an estimated 170,000 piles of trees and slashed branches, Forest Service supervisors said last week. Contractors contend they can't find markets because Colorado has few mills and Canadian timber imports keep prices low. . . . .
Federal foresters who received $40 million in emergency funds from Washington initially assumed that contractors would be able to sell cut trees to timber mills near Montrose and South Fork and a government-supported pellet factory near Kremmling.
So the logs have to be trucked a couple of hundred miles over mountain passes to a mill—or to a government-subsidized factory?  Don't you love the economics of it?

But there is always someone who thinks they have the simple solution.

August 10, 2011

Done with AmeriGas, I Hope

On July 11th, having switched to a local propane provider, I sent a letter to the AmeriGas manager in Colorado Springs, Rick Rivers, requesting that the rented tank be removed from our guest cabin.

Coincidentally, one of the neighbors also abandoned AmeriGas over pricing issues and switched to a different local propane provider.

That meant that two tanks were sitting in the tall grass waiting to be picked up. Some time last week they disappeared. Wonderful. If they try to charge me for that service, I may have to point out that I do not have a signed agreement with them. I don't think I had a signed agreement with the predecessor company either.

So is this the end of our saga of trying to get free from AmeriGas? I hope so.

Previous AmeriGas entries from last winter:

AmeriGas: We'll Let You Freeze

AmeriGas: Poor Customer Service—Nationwide! 

AmeriGas's Phony Fran Found This Blog

August 08, 2011

The Pleistocene Auto Tire Hunt

Archaeologists from the University of Arizona involve Indian tribes in researching ancient buffalo-jump sites.

For the practicum, old tires are rolled off cliffs.
The field experiments this year included reconstructing the final moments of a traditional bison hunt. Since using live bison was not an option, the researchers instead substituted old car and truck tires on the recommendation of Dale Fenner, an American Indian who is also one of the team's crew chiefs.
That is all well and good, so long as no one gets their head smashed in.

August 07, 2011

Scott Tipton—Not a Teddy Roosevelt Republican

Much to my disappointment, my Congressman, Scott Tipton, has co-sponsored "Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act," which is basically a way to destroy the roadless designations on public lands that the majority of Coloradans have been supporting since the Clinton Administration.

David Lien of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers lays out the issues in this letter to the Glenwood Springs newspaper, invoking the best Republican president ever*, Theodore Roosevelt:
Roosevelt would be turning over in his grave today at the prospect of HR 1581, which if implemented would open some 60 million acres of these backcountry lands to road construction, motorized recreation, mining, and oil and gas extraction.

Here in Colorado, 12 of the 15 most hunted game management units (the most productive ones) have over 100,000 acres of roadless backcountry. More than 70 percent of Colorado River cutthroat trout habitat is in roadless areas.

Build roads in these areas, and the elk migrations are hindered, the mule deer populations suffer, and the trout spawning habitat is negatively impacted. That means fewer hunting and fishing opportunities.

We understand the need for mining, oil development and other resource extraction activities on some federal lands, and even recognize the attraction (to some) of motorized recreation far from the glare of civilization. But when our forefathers landed on our shores in the 17th Century, 100 percent of the land was wilderness. Today, that figure has dwindled to less than 3 percent in the lower 48 states, and HR 1581 threatens what little remains.

When Teddy Roosevelt became president, one of his first acts was to begin planning a national conservation policy. Roosevelt implanted the idea of conservation into our culture and enriched our future prospects with 230 million acres of designated public forests, wildlife refuges, parks, national monuments, and game ranges.
* Some might say that honor should go to Abe Lincoln, but the Republic Party was still newly hatched in 1860 and had not yet coalesced across a broad range of issues other than abolishing slavery and preserving the Union. By Roosevelt's time it had.

August 06, 2011

Down on the Farm (?) at the Denver County Fair

Back in the late 1970s, when Colorado counties were designated by two-letter combinations on our license plates, I knew someone with AA "farm" license plates on his pickup truck.

That's right, he had a farm truck registered in the entirely urban city-and-county of Denver. I don't know how he did it, but he was proud of them. These days, the regulation for farm-truck plates reads as follows:
Used to transport to market or place of storage, raw agricultural products that are actually produced, or livestock raised by the owner of the vehicle transporting commodities which have been purchased by the owner of the vehicle for their own use or to be used in the operation of their farm or ranch.
If that 1960-something Chevy pickup were still around, it could be proudly driven to the Denver County Fair, where they judge urban chickens and home-decorated stiletto-heeled shoes.

August 05, 2011

Why I Will Support National Lemonade Freedom Day

In June 1989 I was driving hard on US 20 across the Nebraska panhandle, on my way to do an interview at the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge.

On the edge of some tiny town—Rushville?—I saw a little boy and girl sitting behind a table, selling lemonade. They had no customers.

I should have stopped. A photo of their stand on that sunny June day would have gone into my stock photo file. And I would have bought lemonade. I could probably have taken their picture in Rushville, Neb., in 1989 without being branded a pedophile/kidnapper.

But I did not. I was in a hurry. And later I kicked myself for that decision, all the way to Valentine, Neb., and subsequently.

So I made a vow, which I have mostly kept in the subsequent 22 years. If at all possible, when I pass some kids selling lemonade, I stop and buy a cup. (Even if it's watery, crappy lemonade made from the cheapest frozen mix full of high-fructose corn syrup. A little won't kill me.)

The most recent time was last month in Colorado Springs. Two boys raising money. One wanted an iPod; the other had no specific goal.

Yet some local-government idiots want to ban this little exercise in capitalism.  That is why, come Saturday, August 20, you should celebrate National Lemonade Freedom Day.

If you have kids who can set up a lemonade stand, help them do it. And if you are out and about and see a lemonade stand, buy a cup or two.

Selling lemonade is not a crime.

August 04, 2011

Another Attack on "Pack" Theory in Dog Training.

"Why Most of What You Believe about Dogs Is Rubbish" blogs Andrew M. Brown at The Telegraph. 

He would find something in the book under review that puts Germans in a poor light.

Another La Niña for Texas and the Southwest?

Temperature predictions for February-March-April 2012 from the National Weather Service.
 Residents of southern New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas might in for continued drought.
The U.S. Climate Prediction Center said Thursday that the La Nina weather phenomenon blamed for the crippling lack of rain might be back soon, just two months after the last La Nina ended. If that happens, the drought would almost certainly extend into 2012.
If you want to track the temperature and precipitation forecasts from month to month, the site is here.

August 03, 2011

The Fiction of Faithful Dogs

Statue of Greyfriars Bobby (Daily Telegraph/Rex Features)
My dad, after several drinks of bourbon and time spent staring into the campfire of his last backpack hunting camp, once pronounced, "Dogs have by nature qualities that humans struggle to acquire."

(I don't know if that was original or not, but it impressed me enough that I wrote it down.)

Last week M. and watched Hachi: A Dog's Tale because everyone needs a weepy dog movie now and then.

John D. Voelker (a/k/a Robert Traver) once wrote (I paraphrase from memory), all dog stories are sad because they do not live as long as we do.

But sometimes dogs outlive us. Hachi is based on a Japanese dog who waited every evening for his deceased master to descend from his customary commuter train—which is why the American Hachi is an akita.

The faithful dog. "Fido."

The original Japanese Hachiko was commemorated by a statue. Another faithful dog waiting for a master who will come no more is also commemorated in Edinburgh: Greyfriars Bobby.

But revisionist history sees a hoax perpetuated for commercial gain in that sentimental tale, including a substitution of a new dog for the original (cf. Marie Laveau).
Dr Bondeson reckons the story was fabricated by James Brown, the curator of the cemetery, and John Traill who owned a nearby restaurant.

Word soon spread and visitors to the churchyard increased 100-fold, with animal lovers from across the country flocking to see the faithful celebrity dog.

Many donated money to the kind-hearted Mr Brown for taking care of him and almost all dined in the next door restaurant owned by a John Traill.

Dr Bondeson insists pictures and portraits of the dog, as well as contemporary accounts of his nature, show that the original Bobby died in May or June 1867.

He believes it is likely that Brown and Traill then substituted the original terrier mongrel with a similar dog, a Skye terrier, to keep exploiting Bobby's fame.

Dr Bondeson, who has published his findings in a new book, said: "I knew the famous story of Greyfriars Bobby but the more I researched it the more I smelt a rat.
Read the whole thing. Ah, those canny Scots.

August 02, 2011

Rain, Feral Campers, and Late Summer Fire Calls

It is raining tonight. That is good, but rain means lightning, and lightning brings fire calls. Only neither of these was conventional.

First, around 6 p.m., wildlife blogger SeEtta Moss spots smoke on a ridge after a storm has passed over and calls it in. The dispatcher (the sheriff's office) alerts our department.

I jump from the dinner table, don my wildland gear and (given the reported location) head for the fire house, only to find several people standing out on the concrete apron lifting their eyes unto the hills.

That fire was clearly miles up into the national forest and consequently the Forest Service's responsibility, not ours. I filled out the incident report, listing everyone who responded. Paperwork must be done.

An hour later—another call. Why had I changed out of my fire clothes? I knew I should have just left them on.

This call was loosely tied to a mile marker on the state highway. We know this area well, for a very rough unmarked two-track road follows the bottom of a steep, forested canyon below the highway and seems to attract a feral sort of camper.

Several of our guys—two in the brush truck and one in his own Jeep—were cruising the canyon, looking for the reported smoke. The chief and another firefighter, having a high-clearance pickup, decided to drive the rough, rocky trail down into the bottom, while three of us paced up on the highway, looking and sniffing.

About the time we realized that we were indeed smelling smoke, we heard the pickup's engine—and then voices. Too many voices. Radio communication ensued.

Feral campers, the kind to whom "fire ban" is meaningless noise. The chief had told them to put out the fire a.s.a.p. If they did not, I think the rain would have done so. That spot seems to draw the people who don't want to be found, but smoke rises.

And another form to fill out. Our newly elected assistant chief was disappointed that there was no fire to fight. I am always ambivalent—I am ready to attack the fire, but not entirely disappointed to be sent home on a dark and rainy night.

Last year about this time I had grabbed a shovel and bashed my way downhill through the scrub oak to that exact same place to put out an unattended campfire.

This year, I returned to the episode of Mad Men on DVD that M. and I had just started watching when the telephone rang.

August 01, 2011

The Hikers, the Dog, and the Helicopter

Out-of-shape, unprepared dog? Unprepared owners? Genuine and appropriate use of your tax dollars and contributions to search-and-rescue or sheriff's department or whomever?

This story has so many opportunities for displaying one's moral superiority that one scarcely knows where to begin. The commenters, of course, already have begun.

In the position of authority, I probably would have gone ahead and sent the chopper too.

I Am 80 Percent a Coloradan

At least I have done only eight of the "must-do" items on this Denver Post list. Never been to those particular hot springs and, it's true, never attended a concert at Red Rocks.

But I'm ten for ten on the secondary list. So there.

Oh, Didn't They Ramble

The mountain lion that walked from South Dakota to Connecticut was not so unusual, say researchers.

The increasing use of GPS collars show that wild animals (chiefly predators in these surveys) cover a lot of ground:
A mountain-lion cub that fell into a north-suburban window well two years ago was hauled by rescuers back to mountains near Estes Park [in northern Colorado]. Then it moved east again, creeping through a dry creek bed to Greeley and onward across Kansas and Oklahoma prairie — sleeping by day in old barns, and eating birds and rodents but no deer, state biologists said. GPS plots show the cat has covered more than 700 miles and is in eastern New Mexico.
(I liked this post's title, but it does have a funereal connotation in some quarters—Louis Armstrong talks you through it here.)