January 25, 2023

Tootsie the Coyote, a Black Hills Mascot

Fred Borsch holds Tootsie during Deadwood's 1950 "Days of '76" Parade (South Dakota Public Broadcasting).
 

My boyhood in the Black Hills slightly overlapped the life of Tootsie, a famous South Dakota coyote. I must have gone past The Spot liquor store on visits to Deadwood, but I don't remember it. Dad probably never took me inside. (But can I time-travel back and make an offer on the Willys "woody" station wagon in the photograph?)

I could not find any of Tootsie and Fred's vocal duets (see article) on YouTube, but there was a bit of silent home movie from the late 1950s showing Tootsie and, apparently, Fred's tame deer at Galena, S.D.  (The Sheridan Lake footage is from elsewhere in the Black Hills.)

I wonder if she made any parade appearances in Rapid City.

The bounty on coyotes was real. "In 1947 and other years, there was a bounty on coyotes. The State of South Dakota considered them to be a predatory animal and a threat to livestock." 

Dad used to buy eggs from an old trapper named Frank Schmidt, who lived in the northern Hills.  It was not so much about getting organic free-range eggs as it was that Frank was a "character," and Dad collected "characters." 

There were usually skinned coyotes hanging up, because Frank eked out his modest living partly off those bounties. And he must have had a buyer for the pelts.

Sometimes he stopped by our house in Rapid to drop off eggs. His rattly pickup truck apparently stank of predator, because our dogs would bark at it like they barked at no other vehicle.

January 17, 2023

The Backyard Chicken Craze Is Going Mass-Market


I stopped at the Big R store in Pueblo last week — my first visit in some time — and wow, that chicken thing.

Big R seems to cater mainly to hobby ranchers and rural homeowners. (Now I'll from someone: "I farm 600 acres, and I shop there!") You can get your Carhart and Wrangler jeans, your muck boots, animal feed by the sack, gopher poison, guns and ammo, tools, horse tack, all sorts of stuff.

And chicken coops. Out front where there used to be kit-built storage sheds are now displayed kit-built chicken coops. I will leave it to you to decide whether where these come down on the cute/utilitarian spectrum and whether you could build you own for less. But who can wait? There's a crisis!

In the parking lot, two middle-aged women of SE Asian looks were loading big sacks of chicken feed into a car. Somehow I felt that they might have been in the chicken business for some time.

In Colorado, we have not just avian flu hitting large-scale chicken operations, but a new law just went into effect setting "cage free" space requirements for laying hens. Some people want to blame both for the shortage of eggs in stores. Others insist that only the avian flu is to blame:

“The data that we're seeing coming out of the USDA is really indicating that what they're seeing...this impact on prices that we're experiencing, is really a direct input of the impact of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza,” said Hollis Glenn, deputy commissioner of operations for the Colorado Department of Agriculture. “It's a fatal disease for poultry, the laying hens, and the flocks of our producers have been tremendously diminished. So, their ability to produce eggs has been a challenge and when they have an outbreak in their facility, the data that shows that.”
Meanwhile, social media is on it! Two samples for yesterday:


And if you made it this far, you need to be thinking about the legalities.

Additional permits might be required for the coops the chicken will live in. 

“Call [your local zoning department] and figure out if you're going to need a permit for your coop,” [Chicken owner Bekah] Russell said. “Because, you'll definitely need one for your chickens, but you might require an additional building permit.”

[Chicken owner Kia[ Ruiz also advised owners to prepare for chicken deaths. The birds are not particularly hardy creatures and predators common in the state will hunt them if their enclosures aren’t secure. And sometimes, the hens might even fight members of their own flock. 

“I had been in that situation when we first got them. They were pecking each other, they were younger.” Ruiz said. “Chickens are dinosaurs. When they see red and they see blood, they will just keep attacking.”

 

January 03, 2023

Mountain Lions, Dogs, and Lethal Force

This mountain lion was captured and tagged in Boulder in October 2021.
Relocated to the mountains, it was killed in December 2022 after attacking dogs.
(Photo: Boulder Police Dept, via the Colorado Sun)

In 2003, Colorado journalist David Baron published The Beast in the Garden: The True Story of a Predator's Deadly Return to Suburban America.

Its topic was human-lion relations on the northern Front Range of Colorado, where cities bump into the mountains, with a focus on Boulder County. (A National Public Radio reporter, Barron wrote that book while on a fellowship in environmental journalism at CU-Boulder.)

As Colorado moved away from treating lions as "varmints" with a bounty on their heads to game animals with a limited "take" allowed, populations had rebounded. Boulder, like many other places, had a thriving herd of in-town mule deer, especially on its western edge, and lions had followed the deer — as they do. (The usual figure you hear is that an adult mountain lion will kill a deer every seven to ten days, feeding on the carcass while it is still relatively fresh.)

The death of Idaho Springs high-school athlete Scott Lancaster, ambushed by a lion in 1991 while training for the cross-country running team, was the first recorded human kill in Colorado.

(Here is a list of post-1890 fatal lion attacks in North America, which is undoubtedly incomplete, especially as regards the US-Mexico border region.)

The attack on the young runner is key to Baron's book, as his website explains:

Here, in a spellbinding tale of man and beast that recalls, only in nonfiction form, Peter Benchley’s thriller Jaws, award-winning journalist David Baron chronicles Boulder’s struggles to coexist with its wild neighbors and reconstructs the paved-with-good-intentions path that led to Colorado’s first recorded fatal mountain lion attack. The book reveals the subtle yet powerful ways in which human actions are altering wildlife behavior.

My takeaway from Baron's book was that the Colorado Division of Wildlife (as it was then called) was willing to try some active "management" of suburban and exurban mountain lions, but the feedback that they got from public meetings leaned toward "Please don't kill them. We can learn to co-exist."

Have things changed? A headline in the online Colorado Sun reads, "Mountain lions killed 15 dogs in 30 days near a Colorado town. Attacks continued and now a lion is dead."

Subhead: "People living in neighborhoods around Nederland wonder why Colorado Parks and Wildlife can’t do more to stop attacks on their pets".

In response, Sam Peterson, CPW’s Area 2 Boulder South District wildlife manager, held a meeting at the Nederland community center. Most of it focused on how to peacefully coexist with lions, but that’s not what the 140 people who attended were after. They wanted to know why lions were hiding out under porches, grabbing 100-pound Dobermans and 70-pound Labs and stalking dogs on leashes held by humans.

So the debate continues: Active measures versus careful co-existence, with residents coming down on both side and CPW reluctant — for both philosophical and budgetary reasons — to commit to sending marksmen and hounds after every mountain lion seen eyeing a dog.

Some Nederland-area residents now do their outdoor chores with firearms handy. But there's a catch. Under Colorado's "nuisance wildlife" laws (link is a PDF file),  a dog is not worth as much as a goat, for example, if the goat is classified as "livestock" and not a "pet."

• Black bears and mountain lions CAN NOT be destroyed when they are causing damage to personal property, including pets. 

• Black bears and mountain lions CAN be killed when it is NECESSARY to prevent them from inflicting death, damage or injury to livestock, human life, real property, or a motor vehicle. Any wildlife killed shall remain the property of the state, and such killing shall be reported to the division within five days. “Real property” means land and generally whatever is erected or growing upon or affixed to land. (Note: “Personal Property” means everything that is subject to ownership, other than real estate. Personal property includes moveable and tangible things such as pets, furniture and merchandise.)

In the Colorado Sun article, we see what happens when someone uses lethal force — sometimes:

After being driven away from one dog attack, a lion moved on to the next house:

The large, reddish cat walked up a neighbor’s driveway. . .  Several minutes later [the residents] heard several gunshots. CPW’s deputy regional manager Kristin Cannon filled in the rest of the story. 

Cannon says the lion attacked a dog at a home 400 yards from [the first attack]  and that during the attack, the dog’s owner killed the lion. She reiterated what Peterson had said, that it’s illegal to kill a lion to protect a pet but that in this instance CPW won’t be pressing charges due to “the totality of the circumstances.” 

Which is to say that the law is black-and-white but the wildlfe officers have a lot of discretion based on circumstances and the shooter's attitude. In my small experience, I have seen them usually avoid charging a shooter, which might put them in court being cross-examined over whether the bear was in the "personal property" garbage can or trying to break into the "real property" house. And there are the public-relations aspects.

But the option to charge someone is always there, beloved dog or not.

December 27, 2022

Deer or Dogs: Mountain Lions Like Them Both

A lion who did not understand the concept of "focal length" on an inexpensive trail cam.

The Vail Daily reminds ski-country residents and visitors that mountain lions can be just about anywhere in winter time. Two big attractors are "town deer" and loose dogs.

“In Eagle, Vail and Edwards, deer live in everybody’s backyards,” said Colorado Parks and Wildlife District Wildlife Manager Matt Yamashita. “That’s a major contribution to human and lion conflict. Mountain lions don’t discriminate between food sources. If there’s a deer there one day and a dog the other, it’s all the same to them.”

* * * 

“When people call about mountain lions, their biggest concern is how to keep themselves, their families, their pets safe,” Yamashita said. “Most activity we see in Eagle County is tied to dogs, specifically, dogs off leash. They’ll stalk dogs. When dogs are in danger, they’ll instinctively retreat to their owners. Dogs are the No. 1 instigator for human-lion interactions. If people could be cognizant of that, we’d have fewer conflicts.”

You always hear that a lion's territory is 70–100 square miles (18,000–25,900 ha). But territories do overlap.

December 22, 2022

Buffalo Herds Spread, Sometimes on Their Own

Buffalo at the Navajo-owe Wolf Springs Ranch. (Photo: Ranch Marketing Assn.)

Look at the banner photo on this blog, and you will see at lower right a bull buffalo (bison, if you prefer).

That pasture is part of a big ranch purchased in 2017 by the Navajo Nation. (Technically, Colorado Ranch Enterprise, Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, PO Box 1480, Window Rock). Think of it as the Kaliningrad of Dinétah

Its previous owner, Tom Redmond of Aussie and Onesta hair-care products, started raising buffalo, and thus far, the Navajo Nation has continued on that path.

Last month, a friend was visiting from Australia, so I took her up to the upper Huerfano River drainage to see the ranch, hoping we would see some buffalo. You never know where they might be, but luck was with us, and half a dozen individuals were in that pasture, within passable binocular and camera range.

It's in our gene: we enjoy just watching large grazing animals. To borrow a phrase, they are "good to think about."

Meanwhile, up north, buffalo politics are "messy." 

On the other side of Montana, at the Blackfeet Reservation, Joe Kipp, chairperson of the Blackfeet Nation Stock Growers Association, also has a longstanding connection to the reintroduction effort. In the 1980s, he’d been involved with bringing the first wild buffalo — surplus animals from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota — to the Blackfeet Reservation. These days, he and his wife make the drive south to Yellowstone every winter to hunt the animals; Kipp’s wife is diabetic, and the only meat she eats is bison. (Compared to beef, bison has more protein and minerals, and much less fat and cholesterol.) 

Still, Kipp is unhappy with how the tribe has managed its herd in an austere landscape where many make their living raising cattle. Ranchers deal with ferocious wind storms, bitter winters, crippling droughts: Business margins are tight. He’s heard from plenty of disgruntled ranchers like Danny Barcus, who rent grazing lands for their livestock — the current rate for a cow-calf pair is around $40 a month — only to have the tribe’s buffalo break in and eat the grass intended for their cattle. “It gets to be a sore point pretty fast,” Kipp said.

Kipp worries what will happen now that bison are being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act, a move he fears would undermine his treaty hunting rights. He’s also content with Yellowstone’s current management and doesn’t see the need to expand the park’s herd. “People envision, ‘Oh, we want bison that are running across the landscape like before,’” he said. “But we didn’t have 50,000-pound trucks and trains running and cars and all these things. It’s a beautiful concept, but I don’t think it’s based upon reality.” 

This spring, Kipp, Barcus, and other Blackfeet cattle ranchers met with their tribal council and asked them to make changes to the herd’s management. After years of frustration, they felt the council had been receptive to their concerns, and this summer, the tribe began a new culling program to manage its herd.

 The whole article is "Bison’s Complicated Return: Growing herds in the Yellowstone area are adopting ancient migratory behavior causing logistical issues for ranchers and Montana state officials."

Worth a read. Good to think about.

December 03, 2022

How a Popular Hunting App and a Conservation Group Forced a Public-Access Issue

Sample OnX map.

An article on "corner-cutting," public access, and whether landowners own airpace over property corners makes it to the New York Times.

I am giving you a link to an archived copy so that you won't have to deal with the paywall: "It's Public Land. But the Public Can't Reach It."

Not bad reporting, but I bet Hal Herring is mighty pissed off over having a quote edited to make him sound anti-hunter.

First, the app:

This was the “game changer,” he has said. By collating state and county data and putting it on a microchip, [OnX founder Eric] Siegfried turned the project in the scrapbooking room into a company that just received more than $87 million from investors and that understands the American landscape arguably better than the government does.

It turned OnX almost overnight into a popular tool for the nation’s 15 million hunters.
In answering the question of who owns what, OnX helped bring to light how much public land — often highly coveted — is not reachable by the public. That’s because private landowners control access.

Enter some Wyoming hunters who "corner-crossed" from one section of public land to another to access a highly desirable but "land-locked" public land for elk hunting. They were arrested for trespass, acquited, but then sued by the landowner, "Fred Eshelman, a drug company founder from North Carolina."

The "boots on the ground" conservation group Backcountry Hunters & Anglers got involved.


Backcountry Hunters & Anglers helped the Missouri hunters find lawyers, rallied its 35,000 members for support and started a GoFundMe page, which has raised more than $110,000 to pay the hunters’ legal bills

“What judge, jury or person with two firing brain cells is going to say that crossing that airspace is worth $7 million?” [BHA's Wyoming co-chair] said. “That’s not going to happen. It’s absurd.”

Mr. Eshelman did not respond to an interview request for this article. Discussing the case in an email statement to The Wall Street Journal this month, he said “forcible trespass” was a safety issue and could affect the property value.

If OnX supercharged the question of who gets to go where — though the company declined to take a side in the case — Backcountry Hunters & Anglers gave it an influential platform.

 Read the whole thing and stay tuned.

November 25, 2022

Thunder without Tears: The Passing of Tom McIntyre


1987 was the worst year of my life. A dream job of working on an outdoor magazine was falling apart (with the publication itself), leaving M. and me stuck in a Colorado town that she barely tolerated. Yet we had no money to leave. 

I had signed up for the Outdoor Writers Association of America's annual conference, that year held in Kalispell, Montana, and hoping Something Might Turn up, drove up there with M.

At a reception a big, husky guy came up and shook my hand, saying, "Chas? Remember me? We were in Robert Peterson's creative-writing class together at Reed."

I read his nametag. "Tom McIntyre." I sure knew who he was—a rising figure in American outdoor writing, but more than that, someone whose work was grounded in literature as well as "what calibre for [species]?".

That night, lying in the camper next to my sleeping wife, I hit absolute bottom. My journalism-magazine editing-career was taking flak, and the starboard engine was on fire. I had started a master's degree, done the course work, but not yet written my thesis. I was stuck in a one-industry town with no prospects, doing casual work in a friend's greenhouse over in Pueblo, with M. able to find only part-time work herself.

Around 3 a.m. I thought, "It's about time for suicidal thoughts, isn't it? That would be appropriate about now."

But we made our way back to Colorado and got through the summer somehow on unemployment checks. That fall, as the rising sun silhouetted a mule deer buck on Poverty Mountain, I made the shot and dropped him where he stood. When I came home, there was a phone message from the editor of the local newspaper, offering me a job. I had not meant to go back to newspaper work, but I was desperate, and I stayed there three years. Finished that thesis too. 

Meanwhile, I was on Tom & Elaine's Christmas card list. When Dad died, Tom bought his Mannlicher-stocked 7 mm Mauser sporter — Dad's saddle gun and everything-big game rifle, something like this one — for his son Bryan, who put it to use.


Tom and I emailed, sharing our mutual love for the weirdness of George Leonard Herter's books — he collected enough info on Herter for a biography — our shared Reed College stories (such as a fondness for a gritty North Portland bar, the White Eagle), and writing progress.  I offered small edits on bits of his new book, Thunder without Rain

And now he's gone. November 3, while I was unpacking from my North Dakota trip. 

I had been thinking that I should drive up to Sheridan . . . well, too late. Don't put these things off, dear reader. 

 

Someone has written a thoughftul obituary:

Thomas McIntyre, one of America’s renown outdoor writers, died at his home on

November 3, 2022 in Sheridan. He was 70 years old and died of natural causes.

He was born in Downey, California on January 23, 1952. Educated by the Jesuits at Loyola High School and Reed College in Portland, Oregon, Tom was a wildly curious and a well-read individual. Few things on this mortal coil did not interest him.

As a writer, he focused on hunting and the outdoors. At age nineteen, he made his first trip to Africa, developing a life-long affection for the continent. He returned numerous times over the years. Yet Tom did not limit his travels to the Sahara and Savannah. He visited every continent in the world except Antarctica, writing story after story. They numbered in the hundreds and graced the pages of nearly every outdoor magazine imaginable: Field and Stream, Sports Afield, Petersen’s Journal, Outdoor Life, Bugle, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Sporting Classics, Men’s Journal, Garden and Gun, and the London-based The Field.

Tom was one of the few writers listed as a contributing editor for both Sports Afield and Field and Stream. Sporting News and Carl Zeiss Optics recognized him for his work, awarding him prizes.

He also wrote prolifically for the screen, creating 750 episodes of outdoor television programs for Orion Entertainment, including “Buccaneers and Bones,” — narrated by Tom Brokaw — and the documentary “Wyoming: Predators, Prey, and People” for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Tom was probably best known for his books. These include Days Afield, The Way of the Hunter, Dreaming the Lion, Seasons and Days and Augusts in Africa. In 2012, he published his only work of fiction, The Snow Leopard, which critics hailed as a minor masterpiece.

Shortly before his death, he completed what he considered his magnum opus, Thunder Without Rain, a history of the Cape buffalo. Five years in the making, publication is scheduled for February 2023.

It would be an impoverishment to suggest Tom was merely an “outdoor writer.” He possessed knowledge on an astounding range of subjects. If you wanted to have a conversation about the vagaries of African big game rifles then, in the next sentence, delve into the interpretations of a passage from James Joyce’s Ulysses, Tom McIntyre was your man. He also had an encyclopedic knowledge of film and not just the Oscar winners, either.

He relished a dry martini (no olives, please) and good food. In his travels, he sampled rather unorthodox fare, including musk ox bile in Greenland. He also savored rigorous conversation. Tom possessed both a wicked sense of humor and a huge and generous heart. He loved his family above all. He is survived by his wife Elaine, son Bryan, daughter-in-law Morgan, brother Robert, many extended family members, and a tireless English cocker named Mickey.

A memorial service is planned for spring of 2023.

There is more at Steve Bodio's blog, including some old photos and tributes by other writers.

November 18, 2022

Across the Steppes of America, Part 2

When Henryk Sienkiewicz crossed the Great Plains on his way to California and adventure in 1876, I assume his train took the "Golden Spike" route, crossing Nebraska and southern Wyoming, then Utah and Nevada on the way to the Sierra Nevada. 

(By contrast, today's Amtrak California Zephyr opts for mountain scenery, passing from Nebraska into northeast Colorado, stopping in Denver, then entering the Moffat Tunnel, and following the canyons of the Fraser and Colorado rivers to Grand Junction, and thence west through Utah.)

I was not shooting many photos as I drove north on Colorado 71, mainly trying to keep the truck between the white lines in the face of strong NW wind.

There was a quick stop at the Cabela's "mother ship" in Sidney, Nebraska. The place was not as depressing as I described last year, but it cannot be doing the sales it was five years ago. Once again, on a bright morning in hunting season, I was able to park almost next to the front door. I needed a cot to sleep on in my friend Galen's under-reconstruction house, so I dashed in, found on, grabbed a bag of jerky and was back on the road.

Hay bale and field of unharvested sunflowers, south central North Dakota (ND Hwy 31).

Sunflowers came from North America, were exported to Europe, bred for size and oil production, and returned around 1880 as the "Mammoth Russian" variety.  Plants and people from southern Russia and Ukraine were arriving on the prairies of the US and Canada then. (Unfortunately, Kali tragus, the "tumbling tumbleweed," was one of them.) Now I see sunflowers and think of (a) gamebirds and (b) the viral video of the Ukrainian sunflower death curse delivered at the beginning of the invasion. It must be working.

An eastern North Dakota steppe view, but with a Lutheran spire instead of Orthodox dome.

The Sheyenne River creates a little topography in eastern North Dakota.

Stepples mean grains. These are just some of the grain elevators storing corn,
soybeans, etc. in Finley, North Dakota. Sign directs grain-truck drivers: "Keep line moving. Thank you."

Further south, in central Nebraska, the Sandhills are grass-covered sand dunes, sort of honorary steppes. Where did the sand come from? The winds blew it east from the Rockies after the ice melted last time. Fine grazing for cattle and/or buffalo — not suitable for growing crops in rows.

Part of the Valentine National Wildife Refuge, Nebraska.



Sandhills people look to the sky. Sonrise Hill in Thetford, Nebraska, hosts
Easter sunrise worship services, weather permitting.



I like it when we honor the long-term world rather than just people:
sculpture of life-size blue herons at I-76 rest area in Julesburg, Colorado,
in the state's northeast corner.

November 10, 2022

Across the Steppes of America, Part 1

 

St. Mary's Holy Dormition Orthodox Church, situated on the prairie east of Colorado Springs.
When I set out on the annual trip to North Dakota in October, I was under the spell of a 19th-century Polish novelist, Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846–1916).

Sienkiewicz in the 1880s,(Wikipedia)

On the advice of a friend teaching at a Polish university, I was reading one of Sienkiewicz's epic novels, With Fire and Sword, published in 1884.

Undying friendship! Massive battles! Heroism! True Love! Massive Battles! Sword-swinging Zaporozhian Cossacks! Sly and dangerous Tatars! Invincible Polish heavy cavalry, the "winged hussars"! A fat Falstaffian knight who still wins some fights! And did I mention true love?

It is set in the 1650s in what is now Ukraine, then ruled by the Polish-Lithuanian Confederacy, which was a regional power at the time.

But when Sienkiewicz was writing in the 1880s, there was no such political entity as Poland. There were Polish people, of course, but their nation had been partitioned between imperial Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Germany. So in writing of lost glories he was feeding his people's national spirit.

But here is the irony: according to my friend, Sienkiewicz never visited the areas he was writing about. Perhaps such travel was politically sensitive or difficult.

He had, however visited the American West. He was traveling by train on what is now the route of Amtrak's California Zephyr when he and his fellow passengers got the news about the 7th Cavalry's defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. In California he traveled widely, among other things seeking a location for a utopian commune of Polish expatriates near Anaheim (which never came to pass), hunting grizzly bears with Spanish vaqueros, and enjoying city delights in San Francisco. He also wrote about the experiences of Polish immigrants in the US—all for the newspapers back home that were paying his way. You can find his articles collected and translated as Portrait of America (various editions). 

Therefore, my friend argues, Sienkiewicz's views of the forests, wheatfields, and grassland of Ukraine owe more to the American West than to the places he is writing about. Those steppes are actually our steppes!

A few years had passed since I had last seen St. Mary's Holy Dormition Church in eastern El Paso County, Colorado, but nothing says "steppes" like Orthodox church domes against the tawny grasslands, so I stopped by to take some photos. It is still a functioning parish with a complicated history.

Read Part 2 here.

October 29, 2022

When an Old Man Wants to Sell His Guns

Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) on the road in The Straight Story.


When you see someone grocery shopping on a riding mower, it usually means that he has had too many DUIs and lost his license, or he cannot get it renewed for reasons of health. In Ralph's (pseudonym) case, it was the latter.

It put me in mind of the movie The Straight Story (1999), directed by David Lynch and starring Richard Farnsworth, anactor who had never registered with me until The Grey Fox (1982), at which point I became a big fan. 

In the movie, Alvin Straight (Farnsworth) sets off on a lawn tractor to drive 240 miles through Iowa and Wisconsin to reconcile with his dying brother. It was Farnsworth, however, who had reached the end of his journey, for he passed in 2000.

Take away Farnsworth's cowboy hat, makes his hair and beard longer,  and give him more of  paunch, and you have Ralph — we're going for the crusty old biker look here.

Ralph had come over earlier to ask a favor. "I want to sell my guns," he said. "I'd like to get a ride to Fargo."

Galen and I had gone to his place. It's a sick man's house: bed in the living room, and by the TV sofa, enough prescription bottles to fill a dinner plate. 

"What guns do you want to sell?" Galen asked.  Ralph reached under his pillow and pulled out not one but two Remington Model 1911 pistols in .45 ACP, both looking new. 

Then he opened a large new-looking gun safe in the hallway and pulled out more: two newish pump shotguns, a genuninely old boxlock shotgun in original case,  a Marlin .270 bolt action with synthetic stock, scope, and bipod, two .50-caliber muzzeloaders, a vintage Stevens .22 rifle, and several others. Some still had price tags.

Ralph wants to go to a pawn shop. Galen tells him that he will get the lowest payout there. On the other hand, he seems to think that if he paid $900 for a pistol, he can get that much for it from a store, which just ain't true over a short span of years.

We are equidistant from Cabela's and Scheels stores—both large outdoor clothing and equipment chains that buy and sell firearms. I called the Cabela's in East Grand Forks—yes, they will be open late, and we can bring the guns there to be evaluated by their buyer. 

But Richard objects. EAST Grand Forks is in Minnesota, and somehow every deal he has done in Minnesota turned to shit, or whatever. No Minnesota!

I call the Scheels store in Fargo. Yes, but they don't want fifteen firearms all at once. Maybe six. 

But suddenly no, they should go to auction! I call the nearest auction house. In fact, the owner knows Ralph slightly.  He also says, "It's about to get frozen up." The frequency of farm-country auctions drops off in winter. He wishes that he had had those firearms a month ago. He'll let Galen know when he has another one planned. 

We left it there.

There are other subtexts. When Ralph putt-putts up on the riding mower, he wants to borrow Galen's phone so he can call his son, Jacob, leaving an almost-begging message for Jacob to call him. 

Earlier, he had grumbled that he should just take the guns out to the farm where Jacob lives, crush them or something, and "take care of it." 

We both caught the subtext in that. It was reinforced when when he said he had told the clinic where he goes for dialysis that he wasn't coming in for his next appointment.

I plan to leave in a couple of days, so I won't be around for the final act. I do hope that Ralph and Jacob work out their differences. It is damaging to lose a parent with unresolved issues still hanging between the generations, athough that happens all the time. But a father who can say to his child, "You're doing OK. I'm proud of you" gives a gift that lasts a long long time.

October 08, 2022

How Do You Open This Thing?

The wildlife rehabilitation center where I help out sometimes as a taxi driver for orphaned critters has had a quiet year so far — a few mule deer fawns but no bears, no cats, no beavers or badgers. 

The fawns have all been "soft-released," in other words, let wander off into the foothills.

But the raccoons. There is a whole little nest of them, and they are still a bit small to be released this season. So much attention goes into keeping their busy little brains stimulated. Puzzles are good, especially if they can be "solved" by tearing something apart.

That "salmon" will be a bit of a disappointment though.


Photo credit: Tom Sanders

October 07, 2022

Got a Match? No, You Can't Have One

Danger! These are unlicensed matches!

The second chilly day row, and again I built a fire in the wood-burner, striking a match on the flagstones where it sits and touch the flame to a little pile of twigs and newspaper.

Striking a match. A "strike-anywhere" match, a.k.a. kitchen match. Tried to buy some lately?

They have been going away. Maybe you can blame "Brussels," in other words, the European Union, which outlawed "strike-anywhere" matches — as opposed to the "safety" strike-on-box/book type — effective May 31, 2018. (Some people claim that they started disappearing earlier than that.)

That should not affect North America, but you know the story: big companies often stop making products if they lose part of a market. So if little Hans and Francesca must be protected against strike-anywhere matches, so must we.

Last winter I went into a King Soopers (supermarket chain owned by Kroger) looking for strike-anywhere matches, which I use mainly for the wood stove and secondarily as a survival tool, keeping a few stashed in every backpack, etc. 

They were not there in the picnic and barbequeing stuff, where I had always found them.

I asked a clerk. "Oh, we don't carry those anymore." America's largest supermarket owner is saying no more kitchen matches? The only strike-anywhere matches were the extremely long, decorative, and expensive ones that some peope use to light fireplaces, charcoal grills, etc.

I immediately went online and bought several years' supply. Here is a website devoted to them — that's what happens when something becomes a niche market, I suppose. They are "dangerous."

This website discusses strike-anywhere matches, "safety" matches, and how to waterproof the former. to make "storm matches."

Matches in general are disappearing from popular culture. Back when people smoked in bars, when those people wanted to light up, they might ask the bartender for a light, and he woud pull a book of paper matches (printed with the bar's name, of course) out from under the bar and set it by their drink. 

Restaurants and cafes had bowls of free matchbooks by the cash register — when was the last time you saw some of those? They just quietly went away.

People used to collect them. An uncle of mine had a wall in one room covered with matchbooks that he collected, and he was not the only such interior decorator. 

Minnesota newspaper writer James Lileks, a big fan of mid-20th century pop culture, has a huge online matchbook museum. It's indexed, with photos and commentaries.

So between the demise of public smoking and some EU bureaucrat deciding citizens can't be trusted, matches are turning into this niche market, and pretty soon you will have to go to an outdoor-speciality store to find them?

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October 02, 2022

The Secret to Picking a Hummingbird Feeder


Some of these designs work and others do not

Here in the southern Rockies, our hummingbirds have almost gone. 

I saw one female broad-tailed hummingbird yesterday (Sept. 30th). Evidently, she was the stickler who said, "We paid rent on this mountain cottage, and I am going to stay there until the month is over!" 

Meanwhile, Dad was already flying to Mexico to look for a winter apartment.

Some friends gave us a newfangled hummingbird feeder this summer. It is the one in back — a horizontal tube with multiple feeding stations. And they use it. I grant that.

The problem is that refilling it involves removing one of the little rubber feeding ports and pouring sugar water in through a tiny funnel — while not tilting the tube to let sugar water flow out the other ports

Sorry, too much hassle, too much mess. 

Then there was the ceramic globe feeder someone once gave us — a globe with a single tube to drink from. How did you clean the spherical feeder? Beats me. Vinegar and slosh a lot?

The tube feeder on top is garbage. The one at lower left is not bad but requires careful cleaning.  The one at lower right, with its bottom part botton center, is plain, un-artistic plastic and is super-easy to keep clean.

Here is the secret. Get a feeder that disassembles for easy cleaning. Everything should be accessible to a toothbrush or bottle brush. You need to to clean it thoroughly at least every couple of weeks. Use white vinegar if you see patches of mold growing.

Keep it simple. Mix white sugar with water 1:4 (that's one part sugar to four parts water). No food coloring. No honey. No agave syrup. Nothing else.

And pick a feeder that you can take apart and clean.

September 25, 2022

Trail Rebuilding in the Wet Mountains

Ahead, the sawyer searches for the lost trail while others clear saplings and logs.

I spent Saturday with a volunteer trail crew rebuilding a trail in the Wet Mountains, a process that we began last summer.

Post-wildifre erosion, followed by a lush growth of grass and aspen, and erased the trail in places. Jeff Outhier, the San Isabel National Forest's "master of trails," marked a new route where the old one been washed out by the normally tiny creek.

When I hiked there before the fire in 2016, I mentally subdivided it into three sections: The Ravine, The Wall, and The Summit Aspen Groves.

Last summer's work was mostly in The Ravine and partway up The Wall. 

The Wet Mountains lack craggy, snowy summits, being mostly below timberline, but they excell in steepness. Somebody with a GPS measured a 2300-foot gain in altitude in about a mile and a half (?).

Summit ridges tend to be gentler and fine for just strolling, once you are up there. 

Here, the summit ridge had offered big aspen groves, probably created by a long-ago forest fire that took out the white fir, douglas fir, and ponderosa pine. 

Loppers for small aspens and conifers. The aspens, being clones, will come back eventually, Job security!

The groves, in turn, burned again six years ago, and now show dead standing dead trunks (until the wind blows them all down) and an understory of saplings that make foot travel difficult. Sometimes I think I can find the old trail most easily by shuffling my feet around in the leaf litter.

And then, mid-afternoon, we call it a day, and it's down down down, an hour's walk (with a break). Maybe by this time next year we will have the whole trail rebuilt. 

About those shirts: I could not decide if I felt like an early-seaon deer hunter or a county jail inmate on work-release.

September 18, 2022

Marco Gets a Poem at the Taos Farmers Market


The Saturday farmers market in Taos, New Mexico, is a rarity: sellers of food outnumber the sellers of homemade soap, crocheted potholders, and other non-edible items. Especially now, when local tomatoes, corn, pears, etc. are flooding in. 

I bought some pears that were small, with brown patches, not pretty enough for a supermarket display—but wow, the fresh pear flavor! 

And you can buy poetry. There are often one or two poets for hire who sit with portable typewriters, ready to produce a poem for any prompt—which is a great way to develop your poetic virtuosity.

 I ordered a poem a few years ago about a long-gone downstairs bar on the plaza after I overheard two guys talking about it. I had my first legal (American) drink down there when I turned 21, while working here. (This is not counting a certain Third World country where I think I had my first drink in a bar at 16.)

Today it was for Marco, the new Chesapeake Bay retriever. I introduced him to itinerant poet Marshall James Kavanaugh, who started tapping the keys. It's one draft only, no capital letteers but one, no revision, don't keep the buyer waiting too long!

a big day
for a big fella
finding the small world of home
extends into a community at large
a place for harvests to grow
for friends to be had
every tail wag of golden splendor
ricochets with raucus energy
such sweet tastes
and alluring smells

to be Marco at the market
is to be a gentle discoverer
sailing ancient seas
tapping the toes to paths leading
in every direction

like a dream, there are things
to chase that give themselves
up to our impressions

a companion that grows
like this scene of abundance
he is the explorer
that gives curiousity its name.

Your dog deserves a poem too.