November 13, 2021

Old Men Hiking the Appalachian Trail and Growing Out Their Beards



This is not my normal territory, but a new men's age record for the Appalachian Trail was set this month:

M. J. Eberhart, "Nimblewill Nomad," on the AT.

M. J. Eberhart, an 83-year-old retired eye doctor, had a strenuous weekend.


On Sunday, he pushed through the final few miles of a hike on the Appalachian Trail, becoming the oldest known person to complete the roughly 2,190-mile trail from Georgia to Maine.


It was an odyssey that started in January from his home in Flagg Mountain, Ala., with a series of day hikes that gradually took him to Georgia. From there, he started the journey along the Appalachian Trail. He carried a six-pound pack, with a tent, sleeping bag and other gear (not including food and water).


Known by his trail name “Nimblewill Nomad,” Mr. Eberhart hiked the distance in segments. Sometimes friends and supporters hiked with him or picked him up for overnight breaks of a warm bed and meal, driving him back the next morning to where he had dropped off the trail.

He was met and accompanied toward the end by the hiker who held the previous through-hiking record at age 82. "'He stole my record from me,' [Dale] Sanders, reached by telephone, said, laughing. 'I am not at all disappointed that he took it. I actually promote older people to get out and break my record.'"

So there you have it. 

The famous "Grannie Gatewood" walked the AT at age 67 in 1955, when it was considerably less well-known and less-well-marked  than it is now. A mere youngster. But she did it in sneakers without trekking poles. Without a backpack, even. And she did the AT three times, the last at age 71.

Meanwhile, beards:

"[Eberhart] lost 15 pounds, but said he would not cut his hair or shave. 'The old man on the mountain has got to have a beard,' he said."

But what does that say about testosterone?  The science, shall we say, is not settled.

As a highly sexually dimorphic trait – something that marks a systematic difference between two sexes of a species – facial hair in humans has been traditionally thought to 'honestly signal' elevated levels of testosterone in those who possess more facial hair than their peers, signaling to potential sexual partners, or perhaps their competition, that they are more masculine or dominant.

However, a new study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior has found no relationship between the amount of facial hair and self-perceived dominance in men and their testosterone levels.

November 05, 2021

RMNP Gives Up Its Dead

Searchers in 1983. (Hey, I had those snowshoes!) National Park Service photo.


The remains of ski-mountaineer Rudi Moder, 28, missing since he disappeared in Rocky Mountain National Park in 1983, have now been officially identified.

Actually, they were found last year, but the huge Cameron Peak Fire and then winter got in the way of recovery. 

Modi disappeared while on a solo trip in February 1983, when he started from Cameron Pass and headed into the park.

Since his camping gear was located during the initial search, but not his body, it looks as though he was out on his skis, perhaps scouting a route, when an avalanche caught him.

October 30, 2021

Celebrating October in Cañon City, Colorado

Arkansas River in Cañon City, looking upstream (west).
M. and I were in Cañon City Friday because  . .  . oh right, we had to pick up our mushroom CSA box. Yeah, mushrooms. Fruits-and-vegetables CSA's are like, so 2008.

Arkansas River in Cañon City, looking downstream (east).
After two years of early, bough-breaking snows, everyone is pleased that this year was a proper low-altitude Colorado fall, with deep blue skies and heart-piercing golden cottonwood leaves.

You have to understand that while these views of central Cañon look bucolic, I was practically having my butt brushed by passing cars on the South Reynolds Avenue Bridge while making them.

Because everyone is driving everywhere — and fast.

October 25, 2021

A Depressing Visit to the Cabela's Mothership

Entrance to the Cabela's store in Sidney, Nebraska.

I first visited Cabela's headquarters store in Sidney, Nebraska, when it was still in an old brick commercial building downtown. Having little money, I headed straight for the "bargain cave," the basement, where I bought a pair of shoe-pacs (leather tops, rubber bottoms) that lasted me for years. They were marked XXX inside the tongues — not for adult content, but because someone had ordered them by mail and then returned them.

Then the company built a new store out on Interstate 80, with parking for truckers and RV-ers. Stopping there on trips to the Black Hills or North Dakota became a regular thing — particularly on the way home, thinking "I really need a blaze orange cap with ear flaps for those cold windy North Dakota prairie days," or whatever.

It was that way last Saturday. My old waterfowling cap no longer fit me. I doubt that my skull had grown, so probably the cap had shrunk. So I went Valentine -> Hay Springs -> Alliance -> Sidney and pulled into the parking lot of the "mothership." Which was not very full. During hunting season.

I had last visited in 2018, about a year after Cabela's had merged with Bass Pro Shops.  Here's the corporate blather:

“We are excited to unite these iconic American brands to better serve our loyal customers and fellow outdoor enthusiasts,” Bass Pro founder and CEO Johnny Morris said. “As we move forward, we are committed to retaining everything customers love about both Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s by creating a ‘best-of-the-best’ experience that includes the superior products, outstanding customer service and exceptional value our customers have come to expect. We’re also deeply motivated by the potential to significantly advance key conservation initiatives.”

A marriage: Cabela's was more hunting than fishing, although they have lots of fishing gear. Bass Pro Shops was more about fishing. Cabela's codes "Northern," while Bass Pro Shops codes "Southern." The Cabela's snack display now includes Moon Pies next to the buffalo jerky. (I believe that a Moon Pie is considered "iconic" elsewhere; I have never eaten one.)

Oh yeah, the same holding company, Great American Outdoors Group, also owns Sportsman's Warehouse.

A year post-merger, the first thing I noticed in 2018 was that the Bargain Cave was gone. I had found some good deals there over the years, including a half-price set of luggage that I crammed into the Jeep circa 2012 and am still using,

Once it was the Bargain Cave; now it is the Camo Cave. If you think of camo
as a lifestyle statement, this is your destination. But no insulated billed caps.
I



But when I went to the Camo Cave last Saturday looking for a fall/winter camouflage cap with ear flaps, there was no such thing on sale. (My old cap carried the Cabela's logo. What happened to them? Not in the online catalog either.)

Meanwhile, the snack bar was closed and dark. I told M. about that when I came home that night, and she said, "The amenities are the first to go." 

Yep. Downward spiral.

The merger, pushed by a hedge fund that owned a sizeable share of Cabela's, was a gut punch to the little town of Sidney. The corporate headquarters had employed about 2,000 people, plus there were spin-off businesses such as Cabela's bank, which issued their affinity-group credit card, a travel agency for hunting trips, and so on.

In 2018, the ax fell. According to the Sidney Sun-Telegraph

"What's going to happen on the hill" has been the question many have tried to guess as they hope for their future in Sidney.

That question was answered late last week when those employed at Cabela's headquarters received letters outlining a severance package for those voluntarily leaving the company. It is believed that the letters were sent to the majority, if not all, of those employed at Cabela's corporate headquarters.

That was confirmed Tuesday by Bass Pro spokesman Jack Wlezien, who said that while there might be some exceptions due to individual circumstances, "for the most part, everyone got one."

Bass Pro Shops is headquartered in Springfield, Mo., and most of the jobs went there. Fox News' Tucker Carlson reported in December 2019,

One former [Sidney] employee, speaking on condition of anonymity due to fear of retribution, said, “I cried the second I got the phone call. I couldn't help it. I bawled.”

[Mayor Roger] Galloway noted that “Cabela’s was the keystone employer in town. Everything, not everything, but most things revolved around that" . . . .

City official Melissa Norgard told Tucker Carlson Tonight, “We were going to build a new housing subdivision to meet housing needs . . .  instead, we are working our tails off to try to figure out a way to survive.”

Tucker Carlson Tonight found the proposed subdivision.  It’s full of empty lots. The houses were never built.

Local residents told Tucker Carlson Tonight that it’s hard for them to leave the town as housing values have collapsed.

I just felt that the mood in the store was depressed, and the employees fewer and less well-informed. I had one particular hunting item in mind to buy, and after a bum steer from clerk #1, it took three more sales clerks to help me find it. 

The selection in 12 ga. steel shotgun shells was #2 or nothing — but that could be part of the Great Ammo Shortage, I don't know.

The whole place just felt . . . diminished.

So much for the mothership.

October 23, 2021

An Exciting Archaeological Find — Or It Will Be


In foreground: crest of the natural mound containing possible buried pit house.

A guest post from the far future:

Allow me to begin by congratulating my new collegue Mazakan Petasuta on passing her final examinations and earning her degree of Superba in archaeology. She will be joining the Department of Ancient Studies here at Iron Lightning Regional University at the beginning of the fall term.

She is already in the planning stages of a new excavation at a site about 375 versti to the northeast, a recently discovered pit house of a little-known type. It took a sharp eye to recognize that the depression in this small ridge was not a natural feature, and, of course, the original structure is below the Dust and other wind-deposited materials.

Her initial trench, however,  revealed metallic traces suggestive of artisanal work with ferrous materials, as well as domestic items such as buttons. Fortunately, the overall site is small enough that a student crew should be able to exacavate it completely in a matter of weeks.

Most significant—and this ties into my own work with the Anhydrous Ammonia Cultural Complex—are the two plaques found adjacent to the apparent pithouse. Originally on tall, sturdy fireproof pillars, they projected far enough into the Dust deposits that subsequent heavy rains washed them clear. The two scripts in which they are written suggest that they were not contemporary with each other. In addition, the scripts match many found at AACC sites.

I have been working for several years cataloging the anhydrous ammonia containers found at what perhaps are isolated strongholds of rural clan chiefs. Such containers are not found in the ruins of ancient cities, at least so far. My colleagues in chemistry point out that this substance can release combustible gases, so possibly these gases were produced for lighting or heating.

Should Professor Petasuta find any evidence for anhydrous ammonia in her pit house, that would permit me to extend the AACC's beginnings farther into the post. 

Ciqala Ikiliki, senior archaeological fellow

October 21, 2021

Should SAR Leave the Body on the Peak?

A Colorado Air National Guard Blackhawk helicopter
on a mission near Ouray (Ouray Mountain Rescue Team).

Last August, three volunteers from Mountain Rescue Aspen were injured by rockfall on Capitol Peak as they searched for a missing climber.

One was hit by a "micowave-size rock" that smashed into her hip. "She sustained a comminuted femur fracture (broken in three or more pieces), multiple pelvis breaks and a fractured vertebra."

While she was expected to recover, I suspect that she will feel those injuries for a long time, perhaps the rest of her life.

The injured rescuers were airlifted off the mountain by a Colorado Air National Guard helicopter. (The ANG frequently helps out on these situations.)

The climber, a 32-year-old man from Madison, Wisconsin, was left up there. Some of my climber friends on Facebook were deeply disappointed. 

The Pitkin County team told the family it did not see a way to safely recovery the body at this time.

“It was a difficult decision, but we’ve collectively decided to leave Kelly McDermott’s body on the mountain where it currently rests,” [Sheriff's Office representative Alex] Burchetta told CBS4. “We’ve spent the past month or so working on alternate recovery plans and simply were not able to come up with one that provided the level of safety necessary to conduct another recovery mission.”

But how many people should risk their lives to bring down a body? My county's Search and Rescue Group, which is large and active, has done it multiple times. But no one has ever gotten a smashed pelvis in the process. (I realize that the injuried searchers did not know that their missing climber had died.)

It's a different order of magnitude, but many bodies have been left on Everest and other big mountains. One corpse, nicknamed "Green Boots," is a well-known landmark to climbers on the North Face. There may be as many as two hundred others.

There are several intertwined problems here.

Most Search and Rescue people are volunteers. I know some locally. They work hard and pay a lot of their own expenses. Should they climb after corpses, or should friends and family take care of that?

SAR groups are more focused on living people who need help, however. They defend their "no-charge" policies, saying that free rescues save more people. The Colorado Search and Rescue Association states their policy:

The State of Colorado has declared that backcountry search and rescue is an essential service in Colorado.  The Colorado SAR community believes SAR is a service that should be provided to anyone, regardless of ability to pay.  These civic minded volunteers do what they do for many different reasons, including simple humanitarian support for their neighbors and visitors. They enjoy being outdoors, and many of them talk about the personal pride that comes from working as a team to save lives.   SAR teams, in many ways, help sustain the Colorado way of life.  Charging for services, especially in a punitive context, does nothing to further this culture and likely would injure Colorado outdoor tourism. . . .

The Summit County Rescue group tells the story of a young hiker who became stranded on Colorado’s 14,270 foot Quandary Peak. She called 911, but asked the SAR coordinator just to “talk her out of the area,” which was a dangerous, technical part of the mountain. The sun had already set and it was getting cold, but she repeatedly insisted the team should not come to help her. The SAR coordinator finally asked why she didn’t want help, and she replied, “I can’t afford it.” He explained there would be no charge and she finally relented.

There are a few caveats to the no-charge-for-rescue doctrine. First, if you are rescued by a backcountry SAR team, they may call in other resources that do commonly charge for services, such as ambulances and medivac helicopters.  Health insurance plans may offer coverage for these kinds of medical transport.

Colorado charges a fee on hunting, fishing, and all-terrain vehicle licenses that helps to fund Search and Rescue groups. I wonder what percentage of hikers and climbers buy the stand-alone COSAR card. It is a fundraiser, but it is not "rescue insurance."

A recent New York Times article states,

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a surge of inexperienced hikers venturing into the outdoors. And that in turn has increased the pressure on search and rescue teams, as well as the costs. Increasingly, states are looking for ways to penalize people who take unnecessary risks. But some question whether these laws might also discourage people from seeking help soon enough after putting their lives at risk because of an honest mistake.

New Hampshire passed a law in 2008 that allowed it to seek reimbursement if state officials deemed that a rescued person was negligent.

 Colorado's SAR community is resisting this movement, so far.

When I took National Outdoor Leadership School wilderness first-aid classes, one question always bounced around in my head. The instructors always seemed to assume that the helicopter — or the SAR team — would be there when we needed them. But what if they did not come? What happens when they have too many incidents to cope with, "essential service" or not?

Would people be more careful if they knew that help was not just a cell phone call or beacon activation away? 

My neighbors like to say that if a violent crime occurs, the nearest sheriff's deputy is at best twenty minutes away, so you had better have your own Plan B. And we rural volunteer firefighters are not as quick to respond as an urban fire department either. What will you do until we arrive?

Is it fair to ask that of mountain hikers and climbers? 

How would it change things if you went up the mountain knowing that no one—except possibly your friends—would come looking for you if you did not return on time?

October 19, 2021

Everybody Thinks Something about the Resort-Town Housing Crisis

Victor, Colorado, had lots of houses when it was a mining town.
Not so many second-home owners back in those days.

Mountain and resort-town housing — the lack of it — is lighting up Rocky Mountain news sites. Town councils are suddenly turning nasty and seeing seasonal homeowners as the obstacle to year-around workers finding a place to live. Or they start cracking down on short-term rentals. Breckenridge, for example:

Breckenridge, with its ski slopes reaching into the middle of town, is a short-term rental haven. The town has 3,945 privately owned homes and condos that vacationers can rent. The town council, in an effort town leaders described as a way “to protect our quality of life and the fabric of our community” and “fiercely protect the character of Breckenridge,” on Tuesday unanimously approved a 2,200-property cap on so-called exempt short-term rentals in the town. Those are the homes that are not part of a larger hotel-like complex that offers a staffed front-desk and security. . . . The vacation-rental strategies deployed in Aspen, Breckenridge, Chaffee County, Crested Butte, Eagle County, Grand County, Steamboat Springs, Telluride and  Summit County all differ, but one thing is clear: The largely unfettered growth of short-term rentals in Colorado’s high country is coming to an end.

Hotel owners must like the idea of capping short-term rentals a lot.

I feel like I have been on all sides of this issue. I have sought Colorado small-town housing in situations of "Take it now, it's the best you can get." 

Then not along ago, I was walking down a street in Taos, New Mexico, and recognized a little apartment where as a twenty-something I had a short-term relationship with a woman who lived there. I don't remember how we met or how she supported herself. What I thought instead was, "I bet that's an AirBnB rental now."

Yet my wife and I were staying in an AirBnB rental nearby ourselves! We like to be able to cook our own meals, for one thing. Sneaking an electric hot plate into a motel room gets old.

On the other side, we were short-term rental landlords from 2002 to 2020, when our county briefly shut down all short-term rentals because of the pandemic — just when we had decided to change from a do-it-yourself approach to listing with VRBO

When we switched our "guest cabin" from long-term to short-term, we knew we were taking a rental property off the market in an area where rentals are very difficult to find. But there were advantages from our end:

  • Short-term renters do less damage. They don't leave junk cars on the property or mysteriously acquire extra dogs.
  • The cabin's well is a little unreliable. It is easy to call someone to haul water for the cistern for short-term guests, but that would be really expensive to do for long-term renters.
  • The short-term approach let us block out times for family and friends and for our own occasional travel. 

Financially, we probably did not do as well, since the business was highly seasonal, but we paid the taxes and insurance and got the income-tax write-off for rental properties. But we could have rented it to that newly hired schoolteacher that you read about in all the news stories, the one who ends up turning down the job because s/he can't find a place to live.

There’s no affordable housing in Mancos. Zero rental units. Nearly no houses on the market. The town’s school district struggles to hire teachers because they can’t find a place to live. It’s the same story with the town government, the hospital and the nursing home.

Maybe if we get the well-situation worked out, we can do that. And new flooring downstairs. Et cetera.

Small towns that want to build municipally funded housing find problems too. Some have to go with geology, others with the construction economy.

Pagosa Springs, for example, has earmarked land for affordable housing but struggled to get the attention of developers. After receiving zero responses to a request to build a dozen units last spring, the town this fall expanded the development to include up to 64 units on three plots of land, offered at little to no cost. It got three responses. 

“These guys are making good money right now building custom homes,” Pagosa Springs councilmember Mat deGraaf said of developers. “If you’ve ever worked in the trades, you make hay when the sun shines. And right now the sun is shining so I don’t fault them.”

So even when towns want to spend money on housing, there can be obstacles.

I don't think it does much good to beat up on that out-of-state person who owns a "Christmas house" in Blue River or Telluride though. They can rent short-term (given a local property manager), but they are not going to rent to that cop or schoolteacher because they themselves want to use the house or condo at certain times. How do you get around that problem? (And don't suggest expropriating these "exploiters"' houses at gunpoint—not likely to happen.)

Playing the "quality of life" card and capping short-term rentals, however, might be politically feasible, but there will lots of pushbacks from people who depend on that income to pay for the "Christmas house." And there is an economic argument.

One short-term rental manager said,

“All the business owners in Breckenridge who rely on visitor spending, they are getting it from my group,” said Carol Kresge, the manager of the sprawling home that was originally built as a B&B but now can be rented short-term by vacationing groups who pay as much as $4,000 a night. . . . “Hearing that short-term rentals are destroying the character of Breckenridge is disturbing and it’s just not true . . . The visitors who visit the lodge are the character of Breckenridge. They come into town and they spend their money at the local restaurants and shops. A cap on short-term rentals is a broad brush approach designed to solve a problem that hasn’t been well defined.”

The economic argument leads to a larger question: Can outdoor recreation "save" small towns in pretty places. Some economists say no. But that is a separate blog post.

October 10, 2021

Down-on-the-Ground Local: A SE Colorado Tarantula Photo Contest

At the SECO News (southeastern Colorado*), an irregular news site for that corner of the state, they are marking tarantula migration season with a photo and video contest. It seems unclear what the deadline is, if any, but here is the contest information.

First you have a photo contest, then in a few years there will be a festival with street food and a Tarantula Queen beauty contest, judged on best costuming and tattoos.

Tarantula-themed street rods and lowriders. Talks by spider experts. Ghost stories. Archaeology and rock art. T-shirts, leather work, and all that. Salsa made from Pueblo chile peppers.

Pizzica would be good too, but too few of the Italians who settled in southern Colorado a century or more ago seem to have come from Salento. Can't have it all.

What lens for tarantulas?

* Did this abbreviation trend start with SoHo in Manhattan? Denver is so proud of their LoDo that they have now started RiNo, a name which you know was picked by a committee. My Missouri relatives mostly live in Mid-Mo nowadays. And there are SoCal and NorCal, if you are into that.

October 05, 2021

Who Will Make Me These Old Skis?

Skis from 1300 years ago (Secrets of the Ice.)

I have always enjoyed messing around with old cross-country ski gear. In high school, I picked up some World War Two-era ski boots as used by the famous 10th Mountain Division. These boots were fearsome—they must have weighed five pounds apiece. 

As for their skis, you would be better off siding your house with those planks rather than skiing on them.

Nevertheless, I do intend to be one of the last skiers in Colorado with bamboo poles. I am on my second pair. The first pair was recycled as trekking poles.

Lately I've gotten into the Altai skis, using a long stick.

But forget about those. These are old skis. Prehistoric skis! From the Secrets of the Ice website:

We have found [in Norway] the best-preserved pair of skis from prehistory! Back in 2014, the Secrets of the Ice program found an exceptional pre-Viking ski, 1300 years old, at the Digervarden Ice patch in Norway. The ski was complete, including the binding – one of only two skis from prehistory in this condition. Ever since, we have monitored the ice patch, hoping and praying for the second ski of the pair to melt out. Now it has happened! The new ski is even better preserved than the first one! It is an unbelievable find.

"Fate of the owner still unknown" says this Science magazine article.

The skis, which would have been used as wintertime transportation tools, were extensively repaired, a sign they were too valuable to easily replace. They’re not identical, suggesting a set cobbled together from other pairs. And although researchers once thought the skis might have been lined with fur on the bottom for grip going uphill, a wide groove running down the center of the newly recovered ski would have no purpose if it was covered—suggesting fur wasn’t part of the design.

The find leaves one big question: What happened to their owner? Perhaps, the long-ago skier took them off to hunt and lost them in the snow, the researchers speculate. Or maybe an early skiing accident left the hunter too injured to descend to safety from the frozen heights. In that case, the ice might hold yet more surprises.

The researchers who found them say,

Another possibility is that there was an accident. Maybe the skier fell and destroyed the toe bindings in the fall? The skis could no longer be used and were left behind. An argument against this explanation is that the skies must have had a significant value. One of them had repairs. In addition, they have holes at the front which would have made it easy to drag them behind in a rope when exiting the mountains. So why leave them behind when they could have been brought along and repaired in the lowlands?

Perhaps there was an accident that left the Iron Age skier dead or seriously injured? Is the skier still inside the ice at Mount Digervarden? This is probably hoping for too much. What we can say for sure is that we have not seen the last finds from the Digervarden ice patch. We will be back.

You can read about the first Digervarden ski and other ski finds from the ice here.

So who will replicate them for us throwback skiers? Yes, I am thinking about winter. Just a little.

October 01, 2021

The Wisdom of the Hackberry: Reflections on a Weird Gardening Year

One day this past week our little hackberry tree turned golden. It was alone in that—true, the aspens are turning at higher elevations, but here the lanceleaf cottonwoods, the Gambel oaks, the various berry bushes, are  all still green. 

We got it a few years ago at some nursery in Taos, possibly the now-closed Blossoms in Ranchos de Taos, or possibly Petree, but I think it was Blossoms.

I nearly lost it one year to drought, but it has come back up to where — although the picture does not suggest great height — it is a couple of feet taller than I am. Hackberry is supposed to be fast-growing. That is true in the good years.

"Hackberry," says the University of Nebraska Extension Service, "Celtis occidentalis, is a native tree to the region. It grows up to 60 feet tall and has a spread of 50 feet. It is in the same family as the elm tree, Ulmaceae."

Another site notes that hackberry "can withstand high salt, acid, sand, clay and alkali levels in soils, as well as survive extended flooding and drought." 

"Flooding and drought" summarizes the 2021 growing season. Spring and early summer were soaking. In an article celebrating this year's hay harvest, one of the county weeklies said the core growing area received more than 19 inches (4.75 hands for the horsey set, about one cubit for you Mesopotamians) of rain in the spring in summer. At my place, I saw water running downhill in places where I had never seen water before, not even when big spring snow dumps melted.

"Ah," I thought, "this will recharge the soil moisture, and we will have wildflowers and vegetables and mushrooms and all of it."

Not so fast, hopeful foothills gardener!  

Our "Holderness" (that's its name) clay soil holds water if you apply it slowly, which nature often does not. As my old Soil Conservation Service book on local soils says, 

Holderness "loess and residium that derive from sandstone . . . . the native vegetation is mostly foothills grasses. . . . . Permeability is slow, and the available water capacity is high. . . . runoff is moderate or rapid, and the hazard of erosion is high. Gully erosion is common. This soil is suited to pasture and grazing. (Description updated here.)

M. was at the grocery store two days ago, and someone else was describing her vegetable garden this year as "crappy." I think that happens when you plant late because it's cold and wet — and then the weather goes dry and hotter than average in late summer, making it almost impossible to keep up with watering plants.

As for the local wildflowers, they were not all that spectacular. Maybe they need more recovery time. Up a little higher, about 8,500 feet, I saw amazing flowers in an area that burned in 2016, however, with aspen saplings coming up everywhere.

Mushrooms down here were not. The usual Agaricus campestris never popped (well, there was one I left alone) and the normal Suellus "slippery jacks" never appeared. 

But up in our usual mushroom grounds, the harvest was spectacular, so no complaints.

Instead, this was the Year of Tall Grass. To come up our driveway is to experience driving between banks of grass like grain waiting for the scythe — I say scythe because I mean tall stuff, not like dwarf wheat bred for combine-harvesting.

I let much of the cabin lawn go unmowed (the deer bed down in that high stuff, feeling hidden). It was a tough choice—tall grass is more of a fire hazard, but I wanted all those seeds! It sure beats buying seed, and now the mower can spread them. 

Everywhere, grass thicker than I have ever seen. What Holderness wants, it gets.  It wanted the early summer lambsquarter and amaranth; it did not want beets, and it was sort of indifferent to tomatoes, which are bearing but not heavily.

Meanwhile, the hackberry, in its weather wisdom, is one of the last trees to leaf out in the spring, and now it is the first one to cash in its chips when autumn comes. It knows that abrupt changes from cold to hot and back again are commonplace and always have been, as long as there have been hackberries. As the saying goes, "normal is just a number."

September 22, 2021

The Feral Volunteers: Thoughts on Wildlife Transport

Pueblo Raptor Center director Diana Miller and her new intern, Aaron,
examine a goshawk that collided with a window in Nathrop, Colorado. The prognosis was good.

 

Looking at the Facebook page for Colorado Parks & Wildlife Volunteers
— which I admit that I don't read every week — I saw there was a volunteer-recognition picnic last month for my region. 

The person posting commmented, "small group this year." Well, yeah, M. and I did not even know that it was happening, for one thing. But that's OK. We are the feral volunteers.

Most volunteers, God bless them, have regular assignments. I have been at state parks where the volunteers — staffing entrance booths, working at visitor centers, serving as campground hosts, etc. — outnumber the paid staff.  The whole system would break down without them. They get paid in free parks passes, hats and jackets and water bottles and other such plunder*, and words of thanks. (If you live in your RV all summer while serving as a campground host, is there a tax write-off? I don't know.)

Other volunteers work more on the wildlife side, doing habitat-improvement projects, monitoring wildlife (such as osprey nests or bighorn sheep), assisting fisheries biologists, and so on. All good.  In my region, SE Colorado, volunteers contributed more than 45,000 hours in 2020, valued (somehow) at more than $1.3 million.

I like the unscheduled weirdness of wildlife transport though.

We transporters don't go to State Park X and do Assignment Y. We go up some raggedy road to where it's all cactus, guns, and pit bulls but someone says he has captured a hawk that might be hurt. Or — this was M.'s and my first assignment — we drive to Exit ••• off Interstate 25 north of Pueblo, cross the railroad tracks, and wait . . . until an unmarked box truck pulls up and the driver, having ascertained who we are, hands over a cardboard carton holding a racoon. A racoon that was caught tearing up a liquor store in La Junta, Colorado.

We took it to a rehab center. Night had fallen when we finished. "It's like being in the Resistance," M. said. It was a feral evening.

We wildlife transporters don't have hours. We don't wear uniforms — well, there is a basebal lcap and a name tag, useful if you are going to someone's remote home, and you want them to chain the pit bulls.

We almost never go to an office or deal with "management," just with local game wardens — officially "district wildlife managers" —  who themselves have a lot of disgression in how they do their jobs. 

(Does that orphan bear cub live or die? Does the DWM call a rehabber — or pull their state-issued .308 rifle from the truck? It's up to them. Having a volunteer transporter to call on might make the difference.)

Wildlife rehabilitators are a pretty feisty bunch too. The best ones work in a "no-show" mode. They are rehabilitation facilities, not petting zoos! And if people show up hoping to let their grandkids meet the bear cubs, the only thing they will see is the exit. 

The Pueblo Raptor Center, I should say, is an exception, because it is part of a larger facility and because it has "education birds," those who cannot survive in the wild but are taken around to schools, etc. You can go during visitor hours and take a tour. The birds who might make it in the wild are kept out of sight. Volunteers do a lot there too.

Wildlife transport is like being on the volunteer fire department only without the radio tones and the dinging cell phone, and the chatter, "You want me to bring the other brush truck? Copy that!"

In our case, it's asking if the critter is already caught or needs to be caught (Thick gloves! Cotton-flannel capture net! Carrier! Flea powder!) or if maybe it just needs to be moved from one carrier to another so that the original person can take theirs home. And where are we going? Do we have the reporting person's phone number, the DWM's phone number, and has someone notified the facility that animal or bird is coming? And much of the time we are in places with no cell-phone service.

What is the pay-off? Sometimes we are given a bird or animal to release. Whether it was an evening grosbeak rocketing out of the carrier to join a flock of its fellows near my house, a turkey vulture soaring over the Royal Gorge, or raccoons scooting off into the brush, it's a good feeling.

* "merch," if you prefer.

September 21, 2021

Aspen Foliage as Required by the Ektachrome Act

It is about six days before Peak Aspen, but this photo of fall aspen colors is posted pursuant to the Colorado Photography Act of 1964 (familiarly called the "Ektachrome Act"), which requires that all professional and semi-professional photographers in the state—essentially anyone who has ever sold a photo—shoot at least one full roll of slide film on scenic shots featuring golden aspen groves.

That most photography is now digital appears to have escaped the legislature, which has not updated the statute's language.

September 14, 2021

Some of the Fawns Survived

That weird-looking eye is just a reflecton from the cat's tapetum lucidum.
Mule deer does here drop their fawns in June. Last winter, we had a little group of three does and two yearlings that hung around in the forest near the house. 

On July 8th, one of my trail cameras up behind the house picked up this mountain lion right in the area that the mulie does favored. 

A neighbor mentioned that so-and-so had a seen a lion (that person being a sort of inept but trigger-happy back-to-the-lander whose animals escape, are killed by his own dogs, or whatever), while someone else had a seen a lion quite near our house in a different direction.

I said "Hmm" and did not mention my photograph. No point in advertising. But I wondered if she (?) had nabbled any fawns.

We kept seeing the two yearlings — now approaching sexual maturity — off and on, but not the three does. Presumably they were hiding their fawns in high grass or brush, and feeding warily.

Finally on September 10th my wife and I were eating supper outdoors on the porch — a prime deer-spotting time — when we saw two fawns grazing on what we call "the old road," which is an 1870s stage road-turned-pre-1960s ranch road turned grassy strip in the oak brush.

So two made it. There could have been as many as six fawns, since mulie does often drop twins. But I wonder how many that lion got. They have to eat too.

UPDATE: I checked a different camera today (15 Sept.), about four hundred yards from the house. It looks like our female (?) lion is still hanging around — she was there on the 10th even as M. and I were observing the fawns.



September 06, 2021

Cussed Out by a Gray Fox

Adult gray fox two days ago. Dad?

I went up to "Ringtail Rocks" late Sunday morning to swap the SD cards in the trail cameras up there. Despite the name, I have not had a single ringtail image this year, but I did not start until August. 

Since there were a small bear and a big dog in the last photo set, M. felt she come and carry the bear spray. Plus she is always up for a woods walk.

I had just opened the upper camera when a fox barked from about eight years away and startled me. The oak brush was too thick to let us see it, but barking continued untl we left, the fox circling around to one side but staying concealed. 

It was the middle of a hot day, when you don't expect foxes to be active, but maybe he (?) had a reason, like the kits being nearby. They had appeared on the camera too.

This one definitely lookd young.




This one seems youthful too.

A sort of puppy-like quality.

Mom? Or one of last year's female offspring?

I've been reading more on gray fox famliy dynamics. Males and females do form permanent bonds and raise the young together, sometime accompanied by yearling females. (Young males, I suspect, are strongly discouraged from sticking around.) I have had a number of photos at two locations that involve one adult and two young, but given that the distance apart is only a quarter mile, I might be seeing the same family in two places. I have also located a probable den site that deserves watching next April-May.

Range of the gray fox (Wildlife Science Center).


September 04, 2021

A Bear and His Dog

Dogs I have had seem to take one of two attitudes toward black bears. The three Chesapeake Bay retrievers all believed in keeping a safe distance and barking a warning. Come to think of it, Jack (1996–2009) once treed a bear cub while walking with the woods with M., who — once she realized what had happened — grabbed him and vacated the area. Shelby, our crazy-brave collie-Lab mix, charged solo after bears several times — and lived to tell about it. There was a reason she was called The Bandit Queen.

But now here is a German shepherd (Or shepherd-mix, if it is the dog that I think it could be) hanging out on the ridge up behind the house with a bear. That is a first for me, and also for our wildlife-rehabilitator friends, who said it was "really strange."  Maybe these two did not read the part in the manual that says dogs and bears are supposed to be antagonists?

Click the photos for a larger view.

A small (subadult?) black bear wanders toward the camera.

 
An hour and a half later, here is a German shepherd.

But the bear is still hanging around too, and they seem unperturbed by each other.

 There were no further photos of either animal after that.