December 26, 2014

How Deer See Blue Jeans

Depth of concealment . . . not.
At his Hits and Misses blog, Gerard Cox discusses another study of deer vision and human camouflage:

"Within this blurry focus, however, some colors are better perceived than others.lue, violet, and near ultraviolet light are seen more clearly by [whitetail] deer than other colors. Near sunrise and sunset, blue and UV makes up much of the light available, and that's what deer see better than other colors. So keep those jeans at home, boy."

And if you say that you have shot plenty of deer and elk while wearing blue jeans, well, I have done that too — from a distance.

At left, a photo from an old experiment of shooting pictures of hunting clothes in B&W to try to simulate deer vision. The model's camo sweater is black/blaze orange, and shortly after this time, Colorado changed its regs to forbid blaze orange camouflage — you had to have a solid color. He is wearing blue jeans.

As I understand, this is all about color-blindness in men, not about deer or elk. If a man is color blind, he can still see the blaze orange as a light color, even better than he could see "safety green," which is right in the center of the human visual spectrum.

For a time in my early twenties I sold menswear in a department store, and I was surprised how often a customer would select a shirt, for instance, and then say, "I'm color-blind, so could you pick out a tie to go with this shirt for me?"

Edges of reflective hat band catch your eye.

Yet some say that color-blindness has evolutionary value, giving those men affected a sort of predator-type vision, an ability to spot movement against jumbled backgrounds.

More information:

• "Behavioral measure of the light-adapted visual sensitivity of white-tailed deer" (abstract only).

• Camopedia: The Camouflage Encyclopedia.

• Kamouflage.net, another compendium of military camouflage from around the world.

• "Portraits, Cubists, and Camouflage" — how pre-World War One artists influenced military camouflage design.

• The U.S. Army's ongoing camouflage controversy.

• A history of digital camouflage development, focused on the United States and Canada.

December 12, 2014

Fortuna Runs Free

video
Colorado Parks & Wildlife officers releasing a bear into the wild at an undisclosed location.

When you hear the woman's voice say that this bear has not run that far in six months, that is because she (the bear) had been in a large cage all summer and fall. And if she looks a little chunky, that is a Good Thing, since she is on her own to find a den site for the winter.

I will let the wildlife rehabilitator tell the story.
Members of the Bear Aware program were with the game warden that came to her rescue. Bear Aware volunteers educate the public on how to live with bears without conflict. 
They gave her the name Fortuna because she was fortunate enough to get the attention she needed. Close inspection could not find any breaks or serious injuries to the leg. She weighed only 40 pounds [18 kg].
Within a week Fortuna was no longer limping and eating everything put in front of her. As time went by her thin body began to blossom into a gorgeous healthy bear.
Her diet consisted of dry dog chow drenched in yogurt and honey with sides of grapes, apples, plums, avocados, watermelon and a variety of other fruits and vegetables and peanuts, lots of peanuts. Natural foods, such as wild plums, juniper berries and chokecherry, were offered when available.
Fortuna did not like when I went into her enclosure. She would run to the opposite side, climb up her log and turn her back on me. Occasionally she would turn her head to see if I was still there. As soon as I closed the gate to leave she would race over to the feast that I left for her. Her aversion to me was just exactly what it should be. I avoided her and she avoided me.
With the hot summer temperatures Fortuna, like all bears that I have had, spent a lot of time in her water tub. She made a large nest in one corner lined with pine needles and oak leaves. 
As the days began to shorten and the temperatures dropped, Fortuna became restless. Her instincts were telling her that she needed more than a pine needle nest for the coming winter.
Fortuna was given her freedom in late November in a remote mountain area. Her weight at release time was 170 pounds [77 kg]. Her coat was shiny black and thick. She would have plenty of fat and a warm coat to survive the long winter ahead.
I know this is the time of year when you are overwhelmed with requests for charitable contributions, but let me put in a good word for Wet Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitators.

December 11, 2014

Things that Humans Do and Dogs Don't Like

M. sent me this link with a comment, "So why does Fisher seem to like it when you bonk him on the head?"

Simple. Fisher Is Not Like Other Dogs. Or as the neighbor says, "He was made on a Monday."

Your doggage may vary.

December 09, 2014

Non-standard Southern Colorado Christmas Trees

What do you do with bound academic journals? Turn them into a tree  — at the Colorado State University-Pueblo library.

Tumbleweeds blanketed southeastern Colorado the last couple of years, and the La Junta Tribune-Democrat featured local merchants' tumbleweed Christmas tree. Next year's will be bigger!

December 08, 2014

What U.S. CIty Has the Least Predictable Weather?

How many places have I visited where someone said, "If you don't like the weather here, just wait a while"?

Where is that statement truest? Rapid City, South Dakota.

So say Nate Silver, statistician and predictor of sporting events and elections, and his associate Reuben Fischer-Baum.

Among large metropolitan areas, it's Kansas City.

December 06, 2014

Brown's Canyon, Political Theatre, and the Changing Face of Conservation Rhetoric

I spent the afternoon in Salida at what was essentially a 500-person pep rally for the proposed Brown's Canyon National Monument in Chaffee County.

With me was fellow Backcountry Hunters  & Anglers member Paul Vertrees.

Like a few others, this "monument" would not involve the National Park Service but be managed by the agencies currently involved: the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).

There are two stories here. One is political theatre and process, and one is about changes in conservation rhetoric.

1. Wilderness protection and national monument designation proposals for this stretch of the Arkansas River, where it runs through mostly public land away from any highways and railroads, have been floating around since the 1980s, at least.

Last year, as I blogged, Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) introduced a new bill to make this wilderness study area into a national monument that would still allow grazing, hunting, fishing etc.

Then came the 2014 elections. Udall, much to his surprise (I am guessing), lost his seat. Given Congress's preoccupations, his bill's chances don't look good, despite support from most of the Colorado delegation.

Hence Plan B: Have the president designate the national monument under the Teddy Roosevelt-era Antiquities Act. Such designation would be legal, constitutional, and has been upheld by the courts.

To make the case for that, Udall roped in our other senator, Michael Bennett, plus the chief of the U.S. Forest Service and the assistant directors of the BLM and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

They sat at a long table while listening to hours of testimony from local governments (the towns of Salida and Buena Vista, plus Chaffee and Saguache counties), business owners, conservationists, rafters, hunters, etc., 99.5 percent of whom said executive designation would be a Good Thing. Which brings me to . . . .

2. Last year I briefly mentioned the new "veterans for wilderness" movement, as shown in this Wilderness Society article, "Veterans want to protect the public lands that help them heal." We heard testimony from, for example, the Veterans Expeditions group, which takes vets rafting and camping in the canyon.

This year they were jointed by T-shirted members and former members of a group called (if I have it right) Hispanic Access Foundation, which takes kids from metro Denver on outdoor trips, including rafting Brown's Canyon.

They spoke of seeing starry skies for the first time in their lives, of being out of the city for the first time in their lives, and some hope was expressed by adults that some of these kids might seek careers in natural-resources management.

Who could argue with that? Well, possibly the staffer from Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs), who claimed that an executive proclamation would be a "top-down" action foisted on an unknowing population.

Let's see, I attended my first public hearing on this matter in Buena Vista when Senator Ken Salazar hosted it, and he left office in 2009 . . . and that was just one of several.

I hope that what he heard from local government and business types, in particular, might persuade him otherwise, but you never know.

Meantime, we await the judgment of our performance from the critics who matter.

November 30, 2014

Who Came to the Gut Pile?

On the afternoon of November 5th, I walked out the back door and hiked to some burned-over BLM land about 45 minutes from the house.

Maybe it was my scouting and camera work at "Camera Trap Spring," maybe it was the red gods' favor, but about an hour after leaving home I shot a mule deer buck, three points or four points (Western count), depending which side you looked at  — not a huge buck, but since I would be backpacking the meat out, that was OK.

I boned the meat and filled my Osprey Talon 22 day pack past its design specifications, I am sure, but it's a tribute to that design that it still felt comfortable, even though heavier than I had ever loaded it.

The next morning I returned — with a larger pack —carefully glassing the area as I moved through the burnt pines, lest a bear have found the gut pile, bones, etc. No, just a few crows were flying around and talking.
Magpies came first, the morning that I set the camera.

So would a bear or other scavengers come? One way to find out — I brought a scout camera with fresh batteries, piled bones, hide, rib cage, and skull with the guts — and set it to cover the scene.

Today, twenty-four days later, M. and I went back for it. The deer's remains had been rearranged considerably.

The well-nibbled rib cage and spine were a few yards away, downhill. The hide was in several pieces, and the head was not immediately visible.

The slideshows are 19 MB and 16 MB, so if you don't want to load them, see highlights below.

The bear came later. An ear-tagged bear, meaning it has been relocated once — not like there is any vacant habitat.
video

The golden eagle made multiple visits.
video

Golden eagle

The ear-tagged bear has a feast.
Of course there were lots of crows visiting, and a couple of ravens and a red fox. And other deer walked past the scene unconcerned.

November 19, 2014

November 18, 2014

Float like a Bighorn . . .


. . . . sting like a . . . I'm working on that.

Meanwhile, marvel at how a bighorn sheep can just float up a steep rocky slope that I would have to negotiate one slow step at a time.

November 12, 2014

OK, So They Look like Lumberjacks [sic], But Do They Know Stihl from Husqvarna?

A funny satirical piece from Gear Junkie on "The Rise of the Lumbersexual."
He looks like a man of the woods, but works at The Nerdery, programming for a healthy salary and benefits. His backpack carries a MacBook Air, but looks like it should carry a lumberjack’s axe.
Actually, I was feeling a little bit lumber-metrosexual-something this week because I laundered my sawyer's chaps.

The oil-filler cap fell out last week, and bar oil went all over my left leg. You expect oil on your chaps, but this particular big oil stain embarrassed me. Also, I had to pay $7 for a brand new Stihl cap at Bubba's TrueValue hardware.
The MetroJack has even been seen wearing pieces inspired from mountaineering. He might be wearing a Patagonia heritage jacket, or some technical Cordura nylon pants that look great in the low light of the bar, but also provide protection from a chain-saw blade [sic]. 
If these dudes start wearing Kevlar chaps, though, you can color me surprised.

November 09, 2014

Getting into the Color Green

A review of Green: The History of a Color notes of the color, 
Its ascendance is a remarkable transformation in color ideology, one that is particularly astonishing given the relative marginality of the color within political and aesthetic movements during the bulk of the 20th century and before. As [Michel Pastoureau] remarks, green occurred only rarely in the color schemes favored by the mass producers of consumer goods, and, at least in theory, the artists of the heroic era of early modernist abstraction abjured it as well. Mondrian called it a"useless color." Kandinsky described it as tiresome and compared it to "a fat cow, full of good health, lying down, rooted, capable only of ruminating and contemplating the world through its stupid, inexpressive eyes"
But then, "Verde que te quiero verde  . . ."  —  I wonder if this French author deals with Lorca.

November 03, 2014

What Can You Call a "Trophy"?

Among the countless thoughts running through my head at 5 a.m. today (mostly not stuff I would share) was a bit of self-castigation for using the word "trophy" in the previous post about blurry photos at the waterhole. (I see that I used it on my first ringtail photo last April too. So I'm being repetitive too.)

What did I really do? For years, off and on, I have been hanging cameras on that by the tiny, seasonal spring.

Ringtails, meanwhile, have been on my list of critters that I know are supposed to be here, but I never see. Or that might be here—there was the whole issue about fishers in the Wet Mountains, yes or no, in 2005.

This year I set the camera on May 5th, checked it every four to six weeks, switching out the memory card and the batteries as needed.

As usual, being out there—or being out there in the form of a surrogate plastic box with a lens—gets results. I set up a gadget, and it did the work while I slept.

But I laugh at myself for using the word "trophy," like I stalked the magnificent beast or something. It is such loaded word. Some people loath it. Even I felt a little bit strange when I once visited a rich doctor's two-story-tall trophy room full of heads of African big game animals, a full-body mount of a polar bear, etc.

There is that underlying sense of conflict in the word, whose Greek root means "monument of an enemy's defeat."

Yet we all hang onto things that remind us of peak experiences, unless we are true renunciates. My "trophy" is tasteful, but yours is disgusting—is that it?

Maybe I should have just used the word "accomplishment." With two ringtail "hits" at two different sites, I have proven to myself that they are here, and now I need to figure out how to get better pictures, not that I am trying for the quality of photos that a print magazine needs.

But if I worked for a better photo and got it, that would be a trophy. The enemy would be my own laziness.

November 02, 2014

Two Ringtails and a Weasel Went to a Waterhole

Last spring I wrote about my first scout camera photo of a ringtail, which was something of a trophy, in that they are secretive and nocturnal.

On Wednesday last I picked up the camera at Camera Trap Spring, closing the site for the winter, and found that two ringtails had visited that spot as well in early October.

Unfortunately, they were right at the edge of definition for the infrared flash — the batteries may have been weakening too — but I was still delighted to see them.



It is a weasel, and apparent size suggests a short-tailed weasel (ermine). But I did not think to place a vertical ruler by the water source. Any mavens of Mustelidae out there want to make a definite identification?


UPDATE: The Camera Trap Codger, who is an actual wildlife biologist, opts for long-tailed weasel in his comment — which is what I sort of thought too until I argued myself out of it.

October 27, 2014

Today's Weather . . .


. . . as interpreted by a fin de siècle artist. We have entered the decadence of autumn as the golden leaves turn brown.

October 24, 2014

Opponents of Colorado GMO-Labeling Offer Nothing But Scare Tactics

Colorado's Proposition 105, on the current ballot, would require labeling of certain foods containing "genetically modified organisms" (GMOs). Vermont started requiring such labeling earlier this year.

The "no," anti-labeling forces have spent $11.2 million, filling my mailbox with billboard-size brochures. The "yes" group, "Right to Know Coloradohas spent less than $500,000.

The "no" people would like to say two things, but there is a slight contradiction between them.

1. "Genetically modified foods are perfectly nutritious and represent an advancement in agriculture."

2. "You — the person who buys and eats them — should not be informed that you are indeed eating them, because . . . . "

 . . . exactly why,  they can't really say, so there is a lot of smoke and mirrors and hand-waving and "Look over there!" coming from the people with the millions to spend.

Watch out! Requiring an extra line of type on the label will require a "huge bureaucracy." It will represent "unreliable information" (Like, how?) It will be "arbitrary" (Aren't all laws arbitrary?).

And so on. Look over there, here comes a huge bureaucracy!

No information. No argument based on logic. (You will find the nearest thing to that in the comments here.) Just scare tactics. And lots of Monsanto money.

October 21, 2014

Bible Verses for Pheasant Hunters

You drive through the prairie states at this time of year, and there are lots of "Welcome Hunters" signs on motels and stores. Pheasant season is at its peak, especially south of Interstate 94, which seem to follow some kind of climate boundary—there are fewer pheasants north of it.

Where I am staying right now in Valentine, Nebraska, I can see people walking bird dogs under the motel's red neon lights. On the highway, pickup trucks with dog boxes, some pulling duck boats, flash past.

But it was a Days Inn in Pierre, South Dakota, that took the prize. Its sign read, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat. Acts 10:9."

October 07, 2014

October Weather Report

"That October, the weather couldn't decide what to do with itself. Some days it arrived gray and bleak and pensive. Ponderous leaden clouds leaned overhead, their bellies slumped against the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains; polar blasts of wind and stiff black leaves blindly scrambling down the streets. . . . . Other days, the weather arrived sleek and sassy. The air  was warm and it had a glitter to it, and a fizz. Only one of two clouds trailed across the taut blue sky, each fluttering brilliant white from the shoulders of the mountains like an aviator's scarf. Sun-besotted, people stood around wearing summer slacks and summer skirts and grins that were grateful and a little bit guilty, the grins of children who had pulled a fast one on their parents. They licked ice cream cones and they sipped sodas and they were very vocal about the wonderfulness of the climate, and in their voices you could sometimes hear a hint of self-congratulation at the wisdom they had shown in choosing to live [in Santa Fe]."

The opening of Flower in the Desert, a mystery by Walter Satterthwait

October 06, 2014

"Someone" Was Living in that Hole

Nine years after the big fire.
Monday we hiked one of our favorite old trails, severely burned over in 2005. That fire was followed by a flash flood the same summer, wiping out parts of the trail, and then came an influx of invasive weeds. The weeds are not so bad now — there is more grass — but you still have to pick your way over trunks of dead trees that have toppled in the intervening years.

More linkage

M. is enough of an animist that of course she would say, "Someone is living in that hole," as opposed to "an animal of some sort." Isn't an animal "someone"? (It's the second item under "Sept. 15.")

Recent severe forest fires in Colorado are not a "departure from the norm," say University of Colorado researchers. " Modern fires in these Front Range forests are not radically different from the fire severity of the region prior to any effects of fire suppression." In other words, we are still feeling the effects of the 1910–present regime of fire suppression.

Bicycle commuting supposedly skyrockets — but in Colorado Springs, it's all about fun, not about going to work. "The Springs is probably the best city along the Front Range for mountain biking," said Tim Halfpop, manager of Old Town Bike Shop on South Tejon Street. "But we're the worst for road riding and getting around town."

The founder of Wiggy's, the low-profile but respected outdoor gear maker in Grand Junction, is promoting lamilite, a continuous-fiber synthelic insulation. I am just re-reading Ernest Hemingway's novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, set in the mid-1930s during the Spanish Civil War, in which the American protagonist, Robert Jordan, extolls the virtues of his eiderdown-insulated "robe," for which he paid $65 — more than $1,000 today, according to one calculator. Makes Wiggy's bags look like a deal.

Rich French diners are still chowing down on endangered birds. It's tradition, you see. "Captured Ortolans are kept and fed heavily for at least three weeks until they resemble a small fat ball. Once they reach a specific weight, the unfortunate birds are drowned in a French liqueur called Armagnac, before being prepared or sold. In France, the price for such a peculiar 'delicacy' easily reaches 150 Euros ($189 US)."

Did I mention that ze artiste Christo has admitted that his plan to hang plastic panels over the Arkansas River is "at a standstill"? No doubt some art auction house will sell copies of his legal filings. It's all conceptual, you see.

October 02, 2014

In the Southeastern San Luis Valley

The evocatively named Flat Top mesa in eastern Conejos County, just north of the New Mexico state line. Taken from a spot looking west, near San Luis-the-town.

October 01, 2014

No, You Won't Be Charged to Take Photos of Your Wilderness Hike

Lots of hysteria recently around an admittedly poorly present U. S. Forest Service announcement on fees for commercial photographers in wilderness areas. Typical was this from the Outdoor Wire's Jim Shepherd:
It may sound far-fetched, but a program like this could mean a wilderness visitor who snapped a photo using a smartphone and later posted it on a personal blog could be considered a "media outlet" and face a $1000 fine.
It not only may sound far-fetched, it is far-fetched. As this headline reads, "No, the Forest Service is Not Planning to Charge You $1500 to Photograph the Wilderness."
Put away the pitchforks, folks. After reading some of the recent horribly misleading media coverage of a proposal by the US Forest Service, you might think that members of the media (down to – and yes, including! – us lowly bloggers) are about to be banned from all National Forest lands. You might even be forgiven for thinking wildlife, landscape, or casual photographers selling their prints online or at a local art show or gallery are about to be hit with an onerous fine.
I checked with semi-pro photographer Jackson Frishman, who does lots of photography in designated wilderness areas. His response, via email
I'm guessing the FS is mainly viewing it as a way to keep productions out of wilderness that don't really need to be there (e.g., the Lone Ranger 2 doesn't need scenes filmed inside the wilderness boundary, find a non-wilderness location instead), but I'd question whether that's actually a common enough problem to merit a solution, given the existing rules of wilderness and the logistical needs of major productions. I could see those guidelines being used to harass investigative journalism critical of FS policy (though to be fair, such a situation might also be pretty much non-existent in practice).
Read the Forest Service's "we didn't mean it like that" news release here.

What we have here is just fed-bashing from the usual suspects. Given that it is an election year — and we have a Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate who wants to see public lands handed over to the state or privatized (Colorado, that can barely fund its state parks, is going to take over, e.g., Rocky Mountain National Park??) — I can't help but see a connection.

September 28, 2014

Colorado Has More Bears, NJ Bear Goes Rogue

"Colorado bear population much bigger than expected, new study finds." The headline
Colorado black bear — and there are maybe 20,000 more?
actually describes a study in Summit County, but it is not the only one.
Researchers found that in every study across the state, in habitats that ranged from good to poor quality for bears, the bear population was double the numbers wildlife managers had been using before.
Meanwhile, an incident in New Jersey reminds you of the old joke that you don't have to run faster than the bear, you just have to run faster than the next guy.

But  Rutgers University student Darsh Patel might still be alive if he and his friends had acted sensibly.

"The hikers broke off in different directions . . . " Not a good idea. If champion sprinter Usain Bolt was matched against a black bear over fifty yards, I would bet on the bear.

Our ancient ancestors no doubt realized that they could not outrun big bears, big canids, or big cats.  I suspect that five people standing solidly together, yelling, and throwing stuff would stand a better chance of continuing life.

Three Coloradans have been killed by black bears since the 1970s, which is a low percentage considering the number of bear encounters. (I have lost count of my own.) Most black bears are shy, but a few are not, either because they have become used to a human-provided food source—or, in some cases, because they may just be extra-aggressive individuals.

Wikipedia's North American Fatal Bear Attacks database is worth reading. It is not always possible to see what caused the incident or whether it was food-related.

UPDATE (Nov. 27, 2014): Patel's cell phone photos have been released. Was this a "mugger bear"—one that had learned to intimidate people in order to get food?

September 20, 2014

Thoughts Post-Pioneers Day Parade

The band kids practice their "hurry up and wait."
The Pioneer Days king and queen, in a buggy drawn by a matched pair of white horses, clatter up alongside the fire engine.

“We’re supposed to follow you,” says the queen, who has the reins. “You’re not going to be siren-ing, are you?”

“No siren,” I say, “Just lights.”

She is relieved. The horses have been nervously watching the high school marching band, practicing nearby. Ford 550 brush trucks don’t bother them — they know trucks — but forty kids in shakos banging drums and playing horns are definitely Strange and Possibly Threatening. Their ears tilt forward and their eyes seem to bulge.

For the first time since 2009, we have sent an engine down to participate in Florence’s parade. Are not all small-town parades about the same? I always flash back to my boyhood in Rapid City, although by comparison, this parade is short on Indians and U. S. Air Force units.

There is, however, Fort Carson’s mounted color guard in their quasi-19th-century uniforms, and when the fire house siren sounds, they lead off.

In a small fumble of parade-marshaling, someone has placed the second color guard with their piper right behind the high school band, so after a quick run-through of “Scotland the Brave” (hey, the vote was two days ago), the piper decides not to compete with the band kids’ music.

Up front, the local fire department is siren-ing, but looking in my mirror, it appears that the queen has her team under control

Rounding the curve onto Main Street, we are briefly halted, while a Forest Service engine and the Fremont County sheriff’s wildland fire team pull in ahead of us — three more brush trucks. I let a short gap open up — we’re not them, we’re us.

Up ahead, the band kids’ gold shakos waver in the heat waves rising from the fire trucks. “It’s the 'Your Tax Dollars at Work' parade,” I say to J., who is waving from the right-hand seat.

Really, aside from two high school bands, Shriners on big motorcycles and tiny cars, and a some entries by local stores, there are few home-grown entries.  The majority appear to be governmental (if you count schools too). That is troubling. Not even a classic-car club.

It is over so fast, and we break formation on a side street, turning toward the highway back into the mountains, going home.

September 17, 2014

A Quick Journey to Fungal Paradise

The Anchorage-Seward train running past Kenai Lake
Semi-free range mycophiles
Just back from Anchorage, a trip that was part work and part pleasure. Alaska is outside the remit of this blog, but I wanted to record a few images none the less.

The train photo is from the Coastal Classic train, almost purely a tourist train, where the engineer slows way down when the onboard guide announces a moose or bear sighting. The water is Kenai Lake.

My hosts are extraordinary urban foragers, and their 8-year-old son celebrated his birthday by inviting some of his friends to go mushroom hunting, which is to say that some hunted mushrooms (none knew as much as he already does) while others just ran around waving sticks, but it was all good. Afterwards, ice cream.

Some of the moms and dads were there too, to keep an eye on the kids and watch out for free-range moose. But actually, when the boy and I went geocaching in another of Anchorage's large and mostly wild city parks, it was he who spotted the moose while I was busy looking at the GPS receiver!

I was seeing mushrooms that I knew only from books, and there were countless other colorful fungi to photograph and marvel at.

Coming home, the 737's overhead bins were full of fishing rod cases, and yes, I was a little envious, but at least I had a bag of Alaska gold (Phaeolepiota aurea) in my suitcase.
Delicate, lovely, don't know what it is.
Young Alaska gold mushroom, Phaeolepiota aurea. See also the red box that the boy is holding.

September 14, 2014

Forest Divination

Kincaid Park, Anchorage (Photo taken today.)
The Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department is so good that they know what the bears will be doing next year.

September 09, 2014

Transhumance Today


From northwestern Wyoming, Cat Urbigkit posts a brief video of her family's sheep coming down from summer range. The dogs, of course, are at the end.

She writes,
This video demonstrates transhumance — the season movement of livestock and people, something that occurs throughout the American West. Most range flocks include about 1,000 ewes, accompanied by their lambs.
This Wyoming flock is owned by a family ranch, one of 600 range outfits in the West. Last week was the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and this was my family's way of celebrating what wilderness means to us — cheers to man and beast!
All the dogs with black coloration are herding dogs (5 or 6 with this herd). There were 7-9 livestock guardian dogs with this bunch as well - both white and some red-coloration (representing Akbash and Central Asian Ovcharka lineages).

September 08, 2014

It Felt like Something Stepped on the House


Lightning struck near the house yesterday afternoon, and the shock wave felt like a big foot coming down, while the windows rattled and buzzed.

The incident reminded me of this cell phone snapshot from last month, taken up on the 2012 burn — one of two recently lightning-struck tree trunks close together. Both were already dead, of course.

Keeping me eye out for anther blasted tree like this one, closer to home.

August 27, 2014

Dodging Anatoly and Other Mushroom Thoughts

Emerging king bolete.

"Anatoly"

Baskets were stacked in the pickup's bed — big, flat-bottomed baskets with integral handles — serious mushroom-collecting baskets.

I had just parked M's Jeep at the edge of a little clear-cut, a spot close to but not too close to the place we call "the mushroom store." We were standing behind it, her looking sort of woods-ninja, all in black with binocular slung, me in the red shirt I wore so that she could keep track of me. No packs, no baskets, no bags.

That pickup came up the narrow rocky Forest Service road and stopped, "Finding any mushrooms?" asked the driver. He was  a big guy with a pronounced Eastern European or Russian accent.

"We're looking for elk,*" I answered. Sorry, Anatoly, you think I am going to tell you? Archery season was two weeks away at that point, so scouting is a reasonable thing to be doing in the boreal forest.

He and his passenger drove off and turned onto another little logging road that went right to "the store." But then we heard doors slamming, and we saw the truck coming out again as we slung our packs (each holding several string or cloth shopping bags) and walked into the woods

Hunting mushrooms is like hunting elk in this respect: You do better away from roads. The farther we walked, the more we saw. When we saw big boletes next to one of the old logging roads, I knew that "Anatoly" had not ventured that far.

Snobbery

The local Search & Rescue (SAR) group drops hints about some kind of Chicago (Polish immigrant) — Wet Mountains pipeline: unprepared flatlanders getting dropped off to hunt mushrooms and becoming lost. ("Anatoly" did not strike me as one of those.) Apparently they are out there somewhere.

I have always felt there was a sort of snobbery with SAR: the mountain climbers they pluck (dead or alive) off peaks like Crestone Needle are idiots, but heroic idiots. The lost mushroom hunters are laughable idiots, "old ladies," etc., in their re-telling. But you won't get easily lost mushroom-hunting if you know to walk uphill — the roads are on the ridges. And blown-down trees usually point northeast. (I have relied on both of those bits of knowledge at one time or another.)

Is This All There Is?

We cut and cleaned mushrooms part of two days, filling the electric dehydrator and the screens in the greenhouse. Now that they are in jars, will the season allow us another hunt? But once the storage shelf in the basement is full, I find my desire changing

It is like the old fly-fishing dictum: First you want to catch fish, then you want to catch the most fish, then you want to catch the most difficult fish.

First I want to find "good" mushrooms, then I want to find lots of mushrooms and then . . . maybe I want to learn more about all those mushrooms that I walk past, whether they are "good" or not.
________
* OK, if the Huichol Indians, while on their sacred peyote hunt, can refer to the cactus buttons as "deer," I can refer to Boletus edulis as "elk"—especially as the elk do eat them. I saw some with cervid tooth marks and only the stems remaining.

August 23, 2014

Would You Eat Amanita if David Arora Cooked It?

David Arora's book All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms  is one of our favorites, right after Vera Evenson's Mushrooms of Colorado and the Southern Rocky Mountains. (His magnum opus is Mushrooms Demystified.)

So with that expertise, would you sit down to a steaming plate of Amanita muscaria (fly agaric) if he cooked them?

Wild-food blogger Langdon Cook did and got an education.

More than any other species, though, Arora is known for serving his guests Amanita muscaria. This practice is not uncontroversial. Amanita muscaria, also known as the fly agaric for its ancient use as a pesticide, is generally considered by English-language field guides to be a dangerous toxic mushroom. It’s been documented as a hallucinogen and used as a drug by social groups as varied as middle-class American hippies and Siberian reindeer herders, and occasionally it’s implicated in deaths, though not directly. In one recent case a victim ate the mushroom for its psychotropic effects and died of hypothermia.
But, as Arora points out in his workshops, Amanita muscaria is also used as food. It turns out the mushroom can be easily detoxified and consumed.

But you still get the feeling that Cook is torn between his desire to write honestly and worries about telling people to go eat any kind of Amanita.

August 19, 2014

Lassie Makes a Comeback

Pal, the proto-Lassie, in 1942
(Wikipedia).
Entertainment-industry dog news is outside the remit of this blog, except that I recently mentioned Lassie's 1960s stint with some fictive version of the U.S. Forest Service

"She," played by another descendent of the legendary collie dog Pal, retains an 83 percent “'brand awareness' among Americans; words like 'loyal,' 'hero' and 'heartwarming' were most often associated with the character," reports the New York Times.

With brand loyalty like that, Lassie can sell stuff.
“Our ambitions are global,” said Michael R. Francis, DreamWorks Animation’s chief brand officer, “dog food, dog accessories, dog grooming, dog beds, dog training,” targeted mainly at adults. None of these planned Lassie products are available right now, but the studio says deals for all of them are in the works.
Appearing on store shelves soon, presumably.

August 17, 2014

Blog Stew, Listed with Sotheby's

¶ Want to buy a southern Colorado ghost town? It has been mostly restored, and it is a National Historic District too. Listed with Sotheby's real estate division, so not cheap.

¶ Wolverines will not get federal protection in Colorado as a "threatened" species. The pro-protection argument was based on projected climate change.

¶ This sounds like something from the Daily Mail — but can the Lone Star Tick force you to become a vegetarian (or at least a piscavore)?

August 11, 2014

Sheep Mountain Wearing a Hat

Sheep Mountain in western Huerfano County under an uncommon cap of cloud, post-thunderstorm. It and its neighbor, Little Sheep Mountain, are known for their carbon dioxide field. There is a jokey title in there somewhere.

August 08, 2014

Smokey is 70, How Old is Lassie?


A week ago we stopped in at "the lodge," the first time in years.

Despite the merely average food (heavy on burgers and burritos) and watery coffee, it hits an emotional place for both M. and me.

Creaky, uneven wooden floors, knotty-pine paneling — for her it echoes similar establishments in the Vermont of her childhood, for me it is the same, only with memories of the Black Hills or little Colorado mountain resorts like Platoro or some place up in the Poudre River canyon.

Near our booth in the dining room was this shrine to Smokey Bear, demigod of the forest. He — as a hand-drawn bear — turns 70 this weekend.

Some facts from the AP story:

WHAT'S IN A NAME: Most people know the finger-pointing fire-safety fanatic as Smokey THE Bear, but in fact there is no "the" in the original name. In 1952, Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins wrote a song [link to video] in his honor and added a "the" between "Smokey" and "Bear" to keep the rhythm flowing.

THE "REAL" SMOKEY: Smokey Bear's nascent ad campaign got a boost in 1950 when a real bear cub that had been rescued from a New Mexico wildfire was nursed back to health and sent to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., as the living Smokey [1950–1976].

THE VOICE: Actor Sam Elliott, known for playing the bowling alley-narrator in The Big Lebowski and supporting roles in movies like Up in the Air and Mask, has served as the latest voice for Smokey. Both share the same "birthday." Elliott, the son of a Fish and Wildlife official, also turns 70 on Saturday.

But what about Lassie?
The same photo as at the lodge.


There next to Smokey's left paw was a photo of Lassie the television collie dog. I wondered about that.

It turns out that after the 1940s movies and the 1950s television series where Lassie (played by various related male dogs) lived on a farm and helped Timmie out of difficulties,
she was handed over for the 1964–1970 seasons to U.S. Forest Service employee "Corey Stuart," a plot change that resulted in "a steady decline in ratings."

I looked on YouTube and found some of those episodes — dubbed in German. In the one I sampled, Lassie and Stuart (who is wearing a hard hat although there is not a tree in sight) are riding in a pickup in what looks to be the Mojave Desert.

Maybe he should have been Corey Stuart of the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM never had a proper mascot.

August 06, 2014

"Where the Arkansas Begins"


Our watershed has a song! Performance by Devin James Fry for the bees in Austin, Texas.

Tip of the big-brimmed hat to Kenny Paul at Pour House Coffee Roasters in Florence.

August 02, 2014

Walking in the Wets


I apologize to everyone whose email I did not answer or whose editing job I am behind schedule on, but yesterday despite (because of?) the rainy week, I just had to get out of this house. So M., the dog, and I took a walk in the rainy forest and found some mushrooms, some to admire and some to eat.

The Wet Mountains were living up to their name. All the pores of the forest were open. That is Lake Isabel down below.


July 31, 2014

Memories of Floods Past

1933 flood waters at Union Station, Denver (Colorado Historical Society).
At the end of a rainy week, let's remember some famous Colorado floods —not the only ones, and not just last year's.

Today is the anniversary of the 1976 Big Thompson Canyon flood, which killed 143 people, including a state trooper who was racing ahead of it, trying to warn people. (That canyon flooded again, less destructively, last September.)

Sunday will be the anniversary of a flood that I was unaware of: the 1933 Castlewood Dam disaster, August 3, 1933, when a dam on Cherry Creek burst in what is now Castlewood Canyon State Park, sending flood waters clear into downtown Denver. 

It is being commemorated at the park on Saturday with "Dam Day" educational and fun activities:  
Kids can build candy dams mortared with frosting (a word to the wise — do not follow the design of Castlewood Dam, it lasted only 43 years). There will be a model of the canyon and dam. They can also fill the Castlewood Reservoir with water and see the effects rushing water can have on the canyon.
Cherry Creek and nearby Plum Creek struck again in June 1965a month of flooding both in the South Platte and Arkansas river drainages.

On June 16, 1965, fourteen inches of rain fell near Castle Rock, sending flood waters north into Littleton and Denver.

Many homes were lost, but there were only 21 deaths.

My mother had taken me to Pueblo to visit my grandmother, and now we were trapped — there was no way to travel north from Colorado Springs toward Fort Collins, where we then lived. Interstate 25 was washed out at Castle Rock and (I assume in retrospect) state highways 105 and 83 were closed or washed out too.

One of the 1921 Pueblo operators drew this sketch.
She was told that the only to go north was to go a mountain route (Woodland Park-Deckers-US 285) or the plains route (Colorado Springs-Limon-Denver). She chose the latter.

I remember rain lashing down and water running across US 24 between Colorado Springs and Limon up to the hubcaps of her 1963 Chevrolet Corvair. The prairie seemed like a succession of little rivers. But we made it.

Cherry Creek Reservoir was built to prevent another episode: see an aerial photo.

Southern Colorado, however, remembers also June 3, 1921, when Pueblo flooded. There was this new technology called the telephone, and the operators in their downtown building stayed at their switchboards even as the waters rolled in. (They survived.)

Sketch from the site of the Virtual Telecommunications Museum.

Blog Stew: Who Lit the Fire?

¶ After a year, is El Paso County about ready to prosecute someone for starting the Black Forest Fire? It seems obvious that it started at someone's home.

Women & Guns celebrates a 25-year anniversary with a retrospective article about the magazine, concealed-carry purses, bra holsters, and the evolution of the firearms market.

¶ The Denver Post looks at the decline in Colorado's mule deer population, which I think the robust elk numbers tend to mask.

Energy development on the Western Slope — what we used to call "the deer factory" — gets some of the blame.

July 30, 2014

The Bachelors

The re-seeding of one of the recent forest fire burns near home, combined with two wet-enough springs in a row, produced wonderful grass. Despite the lack of thermal cover, this one area is holding a little bachelor herd of as many as five (just four here) bull elk, captured in June on one of my scout cameras.

July 25, 2014

The Short, Footloose Life of Bear 839

A neighborhood in Aguilar (Google Maps).
A prequel.

I do not know where Bear 839 (her ear-tag number) was born or when—maybe in 2011—but on August 24, 2013, she entered a open residential garage in the tiny town of Aguilar, in southern Colorado.
Culvert trap for bears

There she found a chest freezer  — and another — and helped herself to their contents. As the local district wildlife manager's (game warden) original report read,
Bear(s) came to freezers in open garage, no doors. Destroyed two chest freezers and contents. RP [reporting party] tried to run off by throwing rocks, etc.
He made the usual recommendations: close and latch windows and doors. Maybe use some electric fencing or an electric-shock  "welcome mat" to discourage prowling bears.

Whatever the homeowner did or did not do, 839 came back. Next step, the culvert trap — a large metal tube mounted on a utility trailer frame. Some bait attracts the bear to climb in, moving the bait triggers the door to slam shut, and the DWM hooks up the trailer to a pickup truck and drives away.

Now she was a "problem bear." Trapped, she received an injection of Telazol (Tiletamine) at 11:07 a.m. on August 26 and within two minutes was comatose. She was recorded as a subadult female, breeding status "unknown/not applicable."

While she was out, her lip was tattooed ("4838") and she got two yellow plastic ear tags ("839"). And she got to ride in her culvert trap into some forested, canyon-cut land west of Trinidad, where she was released.

From the release site to my house is 75 miles if you are an airplane, no doubt much longer if you are a bear. By May 2014 she was here.

What drove her to travel north, ever north? Certainly the DWM left her in what he considered to be good bear habitat. He was trying to give her another chance.

She might be the bear in a scout camera picture taken May 20th, but by the end of May she was dead — shot, I am convinced, by the man whom I refer to here as "Mr. Tactical."

That investigation and the two that go with it are not yet over. I raised a little commotion with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and now I am getting phone calls from middle management.  When I have more to say, I will. But don't hope for satisfying justice.

July 24, 2014

How Do You "Prep" for a Solar Storm?

There would have been no more arguments about global warming, etc., after 2012 if this had happened a little differently — mainly because there would have been no electric grid, hence no Internet.
Analysts believe that a direct hit … could cause widespread power blackouts, disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket.  Most people wouldn’t even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps.
 No more cat pictures either.

July 22, 2014

Walter's Beer Makes a Comeback

This is the building, except it is painted white now.
The Walter Brewing Co. was a southern Colorado institution from 1898 until 1975, having been founded by Martin Walter, a German immigrant from a family of brewers, who thought that all those Pueblo steelworkers and railwaymen might be thirsty.

Now, the name is back — as a microbrewery with new owners but the old recipe, says Pueblo Chieftain columnist Anthony Sandstrom.

Follow the link for lots of great photos from the old days of the company.
The Walter Brewing Tap Room, located at 126 Oneida St., near D St. and the Pueblo Police Department offices, had its soft opening in June and plans a grand opening in September, [co-owner Andrew] Sanchez said. 
I went by today — the sign in the window said OPEN but the door was locked. Eh, start-ups, whatever. Have to try again later. 

July 20, 2014

A Rant about Shoes

I have always owned sneakers, but they become more and more expensive yet don't last any longer.

M. usually blows out a pair of sneakers in a year, "blow out" meaning cracks so large you can see the wearer's feet inside, just by walking vigorously on dirt roads and forest trails. I get maybe two years — that was the case with my last pair of Teva sneakers — because I rotate more pairs of shoes.  (Check the prices: something comparable is $66 on sale.)

H. S. Trask: Bison leather
and a softer kind of Vibram sole.
What to do? Back to leather? I already had these H. S. Trask "Deer Camp" low boots, bison leather, leather-lined, with replaceable Vibram soles. (They are on their second set of soles.) Not in the catalog anymore, but similar to these.

"Deer Camp"? Maybe if it's a three-story log Adirondack-style log lodge, where someone drives you to the heated deer blind at dawn and leaves you there with a hamper of snacks. Very nice, comfortable, but a little country-gentleman-ish for the usual gritty dog walks and digging out drainage ditches.

Keen: The soles need help.
What about something cheaper? In the Cody, Wyo., Sierra Trading Post store, back in 2011. I found these Keen lace-up shoes. They seemed like the leather equivalent of sneakers. And they have lasted three years.

The uppers are in great shape, but the soles, as you may see, are already being repaired with Shoe Goo. (Great stuff, Shoe Goo.) And these soles are not replaceable. By buying them at Sierra, I paid a lot less than the $110 that these similar shoes are listed for.

Some designer, sitting his or her air-conditioned office, wrapped a sturdy layer of rubber over a softer, less resistant under-sole. With wear, inevitable gaps develop between them,  where grains of sand and small pebbles get stuck. Where the heel strikes, the thin, harder rubber wears away, exposing the softer stuff. Hence liberal use of Shoe Goo to seal them back together and rebuild the heel — because the uppers are still fine.

"Engineered Durability" —
It says so right on them.
Next try, some Cat walking shoes (as in the maker of large yellow machines). Bought these at Sierra Trading Post also, which means they are no longer in the catalog, as Sierra sells lots of close-outs.

These approach the platonic ideal of Sturdy Leather Shoe with Grippy Sole except for two weird designer touches: small elastic inserts in the back, which will probably break before the leather wears out, and this "window" in the heel, in case you wish to observe the inner workings of the sole, in which case you must be the James Hillman of shoes.

Regardless of the label, I think shoe designers mentally envision their shoes in only three environments: city sidewalks, basketball courts — and if they are "walking shoes," manicured graveled trails on which you could push a baby stroller.

I say that because I broke down and bought some sneakers, because they were featured in one of Amazon's 60 percent-off-today-only sales.

Excuse me, these are New Balance "Low Tactical Boots" and they list at more than $100.

But if you wear these sneakers while walking through a meadow in July, you will find that the awns of needle-and-thread grass go through their sides like a 50-caliber bullet through a Toyota Hilux pickup truck. Cheatgrass awns too.

Like most sneakers, they have panels of that mesh-covered foam crap, although there is a bit more of a rubber bumper in front than you usually get.

The soles are aggressive — I tested them on a 90-minute rocky scramble just this morning — but the uppers will probably give out first.

Also tried, some moccasin-style boat shoes (sort of like these but with slitty soles) from the venerable firm of C. & J. Clark, found at a close-out price. Not bad for everyday wear, but too soft-soled for outdoor work like digging garden beds.

So you can buy leather at sneaker prices, if you look around. It lasts longer and it can be repaired, at least some of the time.

July 19, 2014

All My Flycatchers, Season 10: Fly or Die!

Cordilleran flycatcher
(Cornell Ornithology Lab).


As I mentioned in the previous episode, there was a built-in design problem. Four fledglings, but only comfortable nest space for three.

One, probably the last-hatched by several days, always seemed to be the runt, the usual story.

Were its siblings shoving it out of the nest by the first week of July? Despite our efforts — putting a metal sheet between the nest and the top of the porch light where it was built in order to add a sort of safety zone before the drop — I came out a few days later and found the runt outside the nest, stiff in death.

The others kept growing and were suddenly starting to look like fuzzy adults. On the 13th I checked them — and one was gone, while another, startled, instead of cowering just flew away, a whole ten feet down to a railing.

Later in the day, #3 disappeared. And that was that. No practice flights, just go now!

And birds never come back to their old bedroom after venturing into the larger world.

It was over. They all dispersed. We hear an occasional flycatcher-ish peep! in the trees behind the house. At some point, it will be time to winter in Mexico.

M. and I felt a little diminished, that's the funny thing, even though it is nice to not have to duck our heads when going in and out the front door.

July 17, 2014

The Cycles of Sand

I wlll look at the sandstone boulders behind the house in a new way after reading this:
Most of us are used to the idea that sand is created from rock by weathering, but less familiar is the idea that it can be turned back into rock again. "Sand grains originally born from granite long ago", Welland explains, “may accumulate, be buried, and become naturally glued together, lithified (from the Greek for stone or rock) into . . . a sandstone. When this, in its turn, is exposed at the surface, it is attacked by weathering and the sand grains are liberated again. The whole process is cyclic, over and over again." He estimates that half of all quartz sand grains have completed that circuitbeen turned to stone and then rebornsix times.
From a fascinating review article, "The Magic of Sand."

July 11, 2014

The Vanished Corn Farmers and a Cooler, Drier Future?

There is a lot of Apocalypse Porn going around, like in the closing of this article on the flooded shopping mall in Bangkok. Coastal inhabitants will be living in shacks on the roofs of flooded office buildings, etc. etc.

We have been telling the story of the Great Flood for at least 4,000 years, after all.

On the other hand, some researchers of solar-output cycles still see a better chance of a coming period that is cooler — and drier. Let's start with the story of some corn-growing prehistoric villages in what is now Iowa:
There were possibly over one thousand Indian villages on the Great Plains from Iowa to Colorado during the Medieval Warm Period. In the early 19th century when the explorers who spearheaded the European invasion of the American heartland crossed the plains, they found no corn-farming villages. They left behind the last of the agricultural tribes as they moved out onto the grasslands – the Akira and Mandan on the Missouri and the Pawnee in eastern Kansas – not to find corn fields again until reaching the Pueblos in the southern Rockies. Remnants of the villages were uncovered in the early 20th century as layers of debris covered by wind-blown soil.
In other words, the subsequent Little Ice Age made maize farming more and more difficult except in favored locations, and no one was doing it (except maybe at El Cuartelejo) much west of present-day Wichita.

The phrase "lower solar activity, and thus a posited colder climate" produced a lot of heat in the comments section, at least.