December 30, 2006

"Never Forget"

Two enigmatic grafitti from Granville Island. Their proxmity to the Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design makes me wonder if art students are responsible.

Is this an obscure We(s)t Coast response to the Quebec license plate with its promise to remember?

December 29, 2006

Politics and hunting news

Two items that are hard to put under one heading:

First, in the United Kingdom, the Countryside Alliance triumphs de facto civil disobedieance as record numbers of riders turn out for Boxing Day (Dec. 26) foxhunts.

More than just a hunting group, the Alliance claims "through campaigning, lobbying, publicity and education [to] influence legislation and public policy that impacts on the countryside, rural people and their activities."

The political focus in the UK, however, has been on riding to hounds (hunting), as opposed to going out with bow, gun, and maybe a dog or two, depending on the game to be sought, which they would call "shooting."

To me, however, that term implies that one will find something to shoot, and the fact is that one does not do so every time. To borrow a term from Steve Bodio, some hunts are just "armed walks."

Patrick Burns explains more about what is happening in Britain.

Meanwhile, here in coastal British Columbia where I am blogging, the hunting news involves members of Indian tribes claiming that old treaties permit them to hunt deer at night--what most people call "jacklighting," a practice that is illegal almost everywhere.

The Supreme Court of Canada has announced a decision in the Natives' favor, and now the editorials are appearing--editorials that attack the practice not in the name of fairness to other huntings, not in the interest of wildlife, but taking the "safety" angle.

"In today's changed world, it is silly to allow hunters wielding guns in the woods in the dark. Even the two natives were unable to distinguish between a decoy and a deer," editorialised The Province newspaper, a reference to the original arrest that precipitated the legal case.

Pity the poor game warden who sees a spotlight or hears shots fired at night and has to make a judgment whether the users are treaty-protected Indians to be left alone or somebody else to be investigated.

December 28, 2006

On the ferry road in BC

M. and I have been away from Internet access for a few days, riding ferries and staying with some friends in British Columbia's southern Gulf Islands.

Here is a shot from Granville Island in Vancouver, which technically is not an island at all, but a sandbar that was built up with added spoil from dredging operations, and became an industrial area. Now it is an entertainment and arts district.
Looking towards English Bay from Granville Island

British Columbians have been having some extreme weather lately.

British Columbia took a beating from the weather this year, getting everything from bitter cold to destructive winds, and a record dry summer followed by a wet fall when the rain seemed endless.

But here is what a clear day looks like:

View towards mainland from Saturna Island.

It does not show in this wide view, but one could see the sun shining on the mountains across the strait, making for a pleasant day skiing at Grouse Mountain and such places.

December 22, 2006

When Mormons can't do pasta

Tonight my brother-in-law took my sister, M., and me out to dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory in Tacoma. Quantities were generous, service was fairly prompt, it was OK.

All that was a relief, considering that M. and I had blundered into a third-rate Spaghetti Factory knock-off last Wednesday night in Ogden, Utah, after taking a random exit from Interstate 84 in the cold and dark.

The menu was pretty much a direct rip-off, and they had the eclectic decor that was so hip in the 1970s.

The noodles were soggy, there was no beer or wine (Mormons, remember), and even tea was almost beyond the young waiter's capabilities (Mormons, again--Word of Wisdom, remember). And finally when it was time to pay, the waiter discovered that the boss had gone off with the cash drawer, and he had to make change from his own wallet.

Doug's Spaghetti House. Avoid it.

December 18, 2006

I speak for Pueblo culture

A freelancer for the Denver Post went web-surfing, evidently, and found this questionnaire on Pueblo "local knowledge, which she used as a source for an article, "Melting-pot Christmas is Pueblo in a nutshell."

Fish is the traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner. Sicilians like bacala, which is salted cod. You soak it, sauté it with some onions and olives, then sprinkle it with a mixture of wine vinegar and sugar and bake it. "People from the north use it in spaghetti sauce, or serve it on capellini or polenta," Josephine Gagliano said.

Posole goes on the table in Latino households on Christmas Eve, with tamales, of course, smothered in Pueblo's famous green chile.

"I don't know why we eat tamales at Christmas," Harding said. "It's just something that Pueblo people do."

Then you eat potica.

Contrary to her ungrounded assumption, I'm a San Luis Valley native, not a Pueblo native, but whatever: I can still judge green chile and I am already receiving emails about where to buy potica.

I am blogging on the road in Pendleton, Oregon, where I doubt that they have potica. But after traveling through Utah, it's nice to be back in the land of good coffee and free wi-fi.

December 17, 2006

No sheep jokes, please

Only Mary Scriver--ex-animal control officer, English teacher, and Unitarian minister--could write a calm yet witty post on the whole issue of b*st*ality. (There is a reason for the asterisks. It involves Google searches.)

But it’s very useful to take this hyper-dignified tone of voice if you are an animal control officer who has a complaint about the practice and must go knock on the doors of both complainant and perpetrator to see what to do about it. “Excuse me, madam, but I’m here to ask some questions about the relationship between your son and the neighbor’s dog.”

Read the whole thing. And, as she says at the conclusion,

P.S: All sheep jokes in the comments will be deleted as soon as I see them. I already know too many.

Bureaucrats and bear spray

Double-checking the Canadian customs regulations to see how much wine we could bring over the border, I came across this priceless paragraph:

Mace or pepper spray that is used for the purpose of injuring, immobilizing or otherwise incapacitating any person is considered a prohibited weapon. You cannot import it into Canada. Aerosol or similar dispensers that contain substances capable of repelling or subduing animals are not considered weapons if the label of the container specifically indicates that they are for use against animals.

Um, isn't capsaicin capsaicin? I notice that the spray in the easy-to-reach side pocket of my hiking pack says "for law enforcement use only," which is nonsense, since I bought it through a retail seller, and I am not a cop. If it had a picture of a grizzly bear rampant on the can, it would then be OK?

Maybe I could cut a picture of a bear out of Outdoor Life and glue it on the can.

Bureaucratic idiocy knows no boundaries. I think I will take my chances. It's in a hiking pack full of outdoor gear, and if anyone asks, it's "bear spray." Which it is.

Oh, and apparently 1.5 liters of wine per adult is the limit--as long as you don't plan to let a Canadian citizen drink it, thus depriving the government of tax revenue. So no gift-wrapping the good stuff from Black Mesa Winery.

December 16, 2006

'Let it burn' 'Not here!'

Back in my reporter days, I covered my first Forest Service public meeting on fire suppression and prescribed burns back in 1987. The following year brought the big Yellowstone fire complex, and "let it burn" suddenly became very out of fashion.

A couple of weeks ago, the local FS staffers held yet another public meeting about fire suppression in the Wet Mountains and the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Mike Smith, the long-time number-two on the San Carlos Ranger District, delivered the party line: a century of fire suppression is making forest fires worse.

He was followed by one of the local fire chiefs, who worried about fires jumping from the national forest onto private property (which could have happened to us in 2005 had the wind not changed).

I think that more and more of the local people support (cautiously) a sort of "let it burn" policy. And I suppose that taking twenty years to change a paradigm is about average.

December 14, 2006

'Religion of peace' attacks dogs, education, liquor, etc.

We worry about people "hoarding" too many dogs. Not in Muslim areas, where having any dog apparently makes you worth killing.

From Thailand, for instance:

Buddhist monks have been beheaded, Buddhist teachers slain, and leaflets distributed around Buddhist villages warning that raising dogs and drinking alcohol are offensive to Muslims.

That makes me a target on three counts, at least. How comforting.

December 13, 2006

You need this knife?

If, in Colorado or elsewhere, you walk alone in the outdoors, you need a knife. But maybe not this knife.

Guns, testosterone, and hot sauce

Recently, Knox College senior Jennifer Klinesmith and a couple of her psychology professors set out to prove what I suspect they believed all along:

•guns are inherently evil

•testosterone is bad

•cayenne pepper sauce is an instrument of torture

The result: ""Guns, testosterone, and aggression: A test of a mediational model" (PDF, 88 KB)

As a man who grew up in a house with a number of guns and a bottle of Tabasco sauce on the kitchen table, I took a certain interest in the article. Apparently, I might be the man whom professors Tim Kasser and Frank T. McAndrew are warning you against.

Their methodology was simple: "30 male college students provided a saliva sample (for testosterone assay), interacted with either a gun or a children’s toy for 15 minutes, and then provided another saliva sample."

In fact, it was not even a real firearm but a "pelletgun identical in size, shape, and feel to a Desert Eagle automatic [sic] handgun."

Apparently no one controlled for whether the students were previously familiar with guns or not! It seems to me that, for example, someone least likely to react to the airgun as "a stimulus signaling competition and a threat to status" might be the guy who packs them in the airgun-factory shipping department.

Once presumably super-charged with testosterone, the subjects were told to put some drops of Frank's Red Hot sauce in a cup of water for someone else to drink. As in most experiments, the rats monkeys human subjects were lied to, having been told that the experiment was on "taste sensitivity in males."

Did anyone think of the well-known health benefits of ingesting cayenne peppers?

The researchers believed that their assay confirmed their hypothesis, and they found a compliant journal in which to publish.

What underlies such research? It's a belief, I think, that our basic nature is somehow "wrong." I come back to the Gary Snyder quote that I referenced earlier about whether or not humans are (wild) animals:

[M]any people who have been hearing this since childhood have not absorbed the implications of it, perhaps feel remote from the nonhuman world, are not sure they are animals. They would like to feel they might be something better than animals.

Consequently, our basic state as humans, testosterone and all, is presumably something that must be "outgrown." Let us have the new Postmodern Man.

Dogs aren't wolves

In a lengthy post, Darren Naish reviews various hypotheses of canine domestication and offers this conclusion:

If domestic dogs aren’t wolves, what are they?

All of this begs the question: if domestic dogs aren’t wolves, what are they? The answer seems to be that Canis familiaris is a distinct species with its own independent history. Prior to domestication, it presumably existed as a relatively small, generalized canid that voluntarily adopted the commensal pariah niche still occupied by many dog populations today. This is supported by the morphological and molecular distinctiveness of domestic dogs, by the anatomy and behaviour of primitive domestic dog breeds, and by the archaeological and fossil record.

If this is true, then the truly wild ancestors of modern domestic dogs are extinct.

Bibliography and lengthy comments too.

'The preservation of accurate bear beliefs'

While the bears are napping, we can read about them.

A little sketchy but with some good links and a cute graphic theme.

December 12, 2006

I got The Goat

Added to the blogroll under "Southwesterners" -- The Goat, news blog of High Country News.

Based in Paonia, Colorado, HCN is really an indispensible news source for the entire Mountain West.

The irony of climate change forecasting

According to The Telegraph, a generally conservative British newspaper,

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says there can be little doubt that humans are responsible for warming the planet, but the organisation has reduced its overall estimate of this effect by 25 per cent.

After my earlier post on the climate change issue, I was "corrected" by a couple of people near and dear to me for allegedly going over to the other side. It was suggested that I would next be hanging a photo of George "The Decider" Bush on the wall or something.

Not so fast. Here is how the issue breaks down in my mind right now:

1. Some sort of climate change is happening.

2. But is it all due to human activity, or is some due to changes in solar radiation or other factors? That, to my mind, is where the debate seems to be.

3. Even if the answer to #2 were "not all," the push towards greater conservation, less reliance on fossil fuels, etc., is generally a Good Thing, unless . . .

4. It produces suppression of dissent or some kind of horribly totalitarian society.

Never forget the Law of Unintended Consequences. For instance, non-polluting, efficient cars would probably mean more urban sprawl, as it becomes cheaper and cleaner to drive more.

Dispersed wind farms in rural areas--like those in southeastern Colorado--mean more power lines across the landscape to carry electricity to the users, who are in cities.

And I am sure there will be more.

December 11, 2006

Overheated rhetoric in December

Saturday's Rocky Mountain News headlined 'Katrina of the West'.

Apparently United States senator and noted silviculturist Ken Salazar got a little overheated in a speech in Frisco, predicting massive wildfires in stands of beetle-killed lodgepole pine.

Imagine the whole population of Summit County crowded into Denver's Pepsi Center, the toilets overflowing, the air conditioning broken, no buses to evacuate them . . . you get the picture.

There are a lot of beetle-killed trees, all right. I can see some (ponderosa pine, mostly) out the window--but since we're not as economically important as the ski/golf/condo counties of Colorado, we don't get the news coverage.

And, y'know, it's not due to climate change, I don't think. And it's not the personal fault of George W. Bush.

It's the price of a century of fire suppression.

I have known real foresters, not senators, who have struggled to deal with insect infestations for fifty years in the West, and they still do not have a handle on it.

The affected trees are often not that desirable as lumber (too small). Maybe, as the article says, some could be chipped and burned for fuel.

Many, however, will make excellent woodpecker habitat.

Did Google Maps lead the Kims astray?

After my earlier post, I was going to let the James Kim tragedy rest. But I came across two more interesting items.

A Seattle Times article asks if Google Maps led the Kim family down the wrong road. See also the Times tech-blogger, Brier Dudley, who writes,

The message is you can only put so much faith in online map services. The free services can still be pretty crude, especially when you get outside of metro areas where the services have the most customers.

What I'd like to know is whether police asked Google about the Kims' last map searches. Police checked to see when the family last made cellphone calls and used credit cards. Why couldn't they also learn from Google that the family used Google Maps to plot their ill-fated drive through the mountains? They could have checked with the handful of major map services pretty quickly

But another blogger did use mapping technology to re-create the routes.

December 10, 2006

Staying alive

The sad death of James Kim in the southern Oregon mountains has a lot of people talking about car survival kits. The Denver Post had a piece on Saturday, too.

I think Kim made the wrong choice in leaving the vehicle, but I can easily understand why he did so. After nearly a week of not being found, the mental pressure to do something must have been overwhelming.

When I read that searchers found an item of his clothing, however, I knew he was a goner, no matter that some reporters tried to interpret it as "leaving a signal for rescuers."

My indoctrination came at an early age. Some time before I was born, around 1950, I think, my father was part of a recovery team on a plane crash near Wolf Creek Pass in southwest Colorado.

He was then Forest Service district ranger at Del Norte, on the Rio Grande National Forest, so the crash site was either on his district or close by.

During the winter, two men had left Gunnison (as I recall), flying west. They failed to make it over the mountains. One was a doctor and one a businessman, I think.

Their bodies and the airplane were not located until the snow had started to melt. They had crash-landed in a snowy meadow without damaging the plane very much.

Dad had saved photos of the crash site, the plane, and the bodies. Occasionally as a kid I would take them out and look at them for the shudder of horror.

The bodies were quite well-preserved. One man, as it was reconstructed, had taken a drink of whiskey and then tried to walk for safety. He was wearing low-cut shoes, a suit, and an overcoat. He made it a mile or so. The other was found closer to the site.

Two mistakes, then: no survival gear and leaving the shelter of the airplane. I would never forget that lesson.

Oh yes, and save the whiskey for when you are warm and dry.

Addendum: For an interesting discussion on whether James Kim was a "hero" or not, go here and read the comments.

December 08, 2006

Blog stew

•I learn about the Colorado Bat Society, thanks to Colorado Bob.

•The Denver Post quotes a forecast predicting that El Niño means a dry mid-winter followed by "'copious' amounts of snow expected in late February or March."

Since M. and I will be driving to Vancouver, B.C., later this month (long story there), we are OK with the idea of the Northwest being a little dry. On the other hand, western Washington has had copious amounts of rain so far.

•The Forest Service considers more Colorado campground closures. Sheesh, I thought that most of the good ones were operated by private contractors these days.

There is a complicated story here: part of it's budgetary--spending all their money on fire-fighting. Part of it is that Smokey Bear seems to be a poor lobbyist in Congress. And part is a decrease in the "mid-range" camper? The one who is neither a backpacker nor RV-er? (Link will expire.)

•Last year M. and I noted that few Steller's jays came to our feeders. The old Gang of Twelve seemed to have shrunk to a Gang of One. We thought that there might be some connection to the adjacent 11,000 burn and a loss of food, particularly acorns.

But the Cornell ornithology lab's newsletter says, "Corvids, in general, were less common at [Southwestern] feeders during 2005-06. Steller's jays were only reported from one in four FeederWatch sites in the Southwest, the poorest showing for this species since FeederWatch began 19 years ago."

This year, we seem to have four or five hanging around the house, an improvement.

December 05, 2006

Nostalgia for Colorado motels

James Lileks, blogger and master of ironic nostalgia, offers this website of old motel postcards.

I think that I have stayed in at least two of the Colorado offerings, ate breakfast at this cafe, and this one looks familiar.

But I missed the Stepford wives of Lordsburg, New Mexico.

Of course, M. and I were staying in them in the 1980s and early 1990s, which says something about our travel budget then.

December 03, 2006

Snow dogs & the baleful Moon

Shelby in the snowRIGHT: Jack watches Shelby, who is munching a bone in the snow

The first serious snow of the winter came Wednesday, 12 inches, followed by another five inches or so on Saturday. Nights have been clear and cold, a few degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

Saturday night M. and I walked the dogs before bed, the Moon so high that we hardly cast any shadows, the moonlight so bright that you could see colors in a muted way.

I thought of a paragraph from The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology by the Canadian historian of religion Jordan Paper. He writes that while many cultures see the Sun as male and the Moon as female, but there are exceptions:

. . . particularly in the polar regions, where the sex of Sun and Moon tends to be understood as opposite to that in temperate climes. As Louis Bäckman, a Saami scholar, related to me from her own experiences, after the winter darkness, Sun first appears as golden glow on the mountains. Daily, the glow becomes more intense and beautiful. The appearance of the Sun, low on the horizon, brings joy to Arctic peoples. In contrast, during the winter darkness, Moon remains high in the sky, shining with a bright, cold light, creating a feeling of dread.

Living at about 38 degrees North, we are a long way from the Arctic. But on a clear, cold night, with the Moon nearly full, you can imagine it.

December 02, 2006

PETA: People for the Euthanasia Treatment of Animals?

Patrick Burns, who lives in Virginia, is all over the case of PETA workers taking healthy dogs from shelters, killing them, and leaving the bodies in dumpsters.

PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk says it's all a mistake. What was the line from the old Mission: Impossible TV show? "As always, should you or any of your IM force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds."

Deep down, I think that hardcore PETA people don't really care for animals. They find them embarassing somehow, always fighting and fucking and scavenging and refusing to live on tofu.

PETA claims that their euthanasia method is more humane, and that is their only defense. Do most PETA contributors know that they are funding such work--and the lies that go with it?

Most animal shelters have to euthanize dogs and cats. That is sad but true. Why not support your local shelter financially instead of adding another layer of nonprofit bureaucracy and giving stormtroopers Andrew Cook and Adria Hinkle jobs?

Cook and Hinkle were supposed to have gone to trial last month, but I have not seen a verdict. Anyone?

Squawk! Screech! It's calls of the wild

From Birdscope, newsletter of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: The massive sound and video collection of the Macaulay Library is now available online.

The collection emphasizes North American species but includes samples from all around the world.

NOTE: With this post, I am moving to Blogger Beta. Wish me luck.

November 29, 2006

Medieval predators

While I flail against an avalanche of paper while watching the snow pile up outside, consider this page on medieval predators and predation.

The spiritual threat to the human soul was expressed in the lethal relationship between predator and prey – the devil and demonic beings appear as predatory wild animals hunting or threatening humans often represented by suitable prey animals, particularly sheep. This imagery was rooted in the Bible, where carnivores feature as both expressions of God's power.

And there is an interesting diagram too.

Link snagged from Stars for Eyes.

November 24, 2006

Life imitates cartoon

We ended a two-day train trip from Washington, DC, on Thursday morning, drove home, and napped. Sleeper cars are great, but I still like a bed that does not vibrate.

The day was warm for November, so M. spread a sleeping bag on the ground outdoors for her nap.

A strange sound woke her. She looked up and saw turkey vultures circling overhead--above treetop level, but circling.

When she sat up, they drifted away. It was like being in a classic New Yorker cartoon, she said

November 14, 2006

Into the Murk

I have just finished checking the Amtrak site to make sure that the Southwest Chief is on time. So far, so good--M. and I plan to join it this evening in La Junta, the first leg of a trip back into the Murk.

That's me being a little bit of a Western chauvinist. The East Coast is not known for strings of sunlit days, but the forecast for our destination, Washington, D.C., calls for a sunny weekend, amazingly, although we may arrive in "periods of rain and possibly a thunderstorm."

A storm is coming through the central Rockies. I'm currently in Pueblo, where the wind is howling across Baculite Mesa and a line of squalls obscures the Wet Mountains.

Another squall flares up in the Denver Post letters page, where Durango-based David Petersen of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers faces off against the NRA's Chris Cox over the Brown's Canyon issue.

The Post link will not last, so here are some samples:

Petersen: I too resent the fact that this pack of extremist paranoids claims to be America's leading supporter of hunting, and yet openly joins with the off-road motorized industry flak group Blue Ribbon Coalition to fight for the destruction and elimination of our last roadless public lands. The NRA isn't worried about access for old or disabled hunters, as it claims in its shotgunning of Chaffee County's Browns Canyon Wilderness. That's a convenient, if wholly transparent, lie.

Cox: Limiting access will not help hunters or our efforts to keep hunting alive in this country. Likewise, hunters with disabilities should be given equal opportunity to hunt on America's public lands.

It's so touching the way that the NRA always stands up for the rights of the disabled. (There is an in-house joke about the "NRA handshake," which is accompanied by cupping the left ear, indicative of hearing loss from too much shooting. "Sorry, I didn't catch your name.")

Blogging will probably cease for a few days. I have some things sitting on my desk at home that I would like to comment on, including a social scientific paper on hunter-and-hiker management.

November 11, 2006

It's a dead eagle either way

It looked like possibly a dead dog in the other lane of the two-lane highway between here and Florence.

But as we went past, M. and I were shocked to see that the body was that of a golden eagle.

I pulled off, turned around and came back. Miraculously, there was no traffic in either direction.

I was not going to take the dead eagle home. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has laws about that sort of thing. But I did not want to see it just ground flat into the asphalt, so I ran up, lifted the bird, and carried it down the embankment into the taller vegetation.

At least there it could decompose naturally. I put the dead prairie dog down there too.

The scenario was obvious: the bird had grabbed a prairie dog from one of the colonies nearby. Weighted down, it had flapped too low across the highway. What had the driver thought? Had s/he just worried about a damaged paint job?

Over breakfast in Florence, I read an AP story about a federal judge who dismissed charges against one Winslow Friday, a member of the Arapaho tribe in Wyoming who shot a bald eagle so that he could use its parts in a Sun Dance.

The FWS is supposed to furnish American Indians with legal eagle parts for ceremonial use, but the judge said that program is too slow and inefficient. (The eagles used are those killed by cars, power line collisions, and so on.) The federal attorney said that he would appeal the judge's ruling.

There is a federal "eagle repository" in Denver. But who would answer the telephone on Saturday?

I had never held an eagle before.

November 10, 2006

Stumbling into Brown[']s Canyon

Two Colorado political veterans, Sen. Wayne Allard and Rep. Joel Hefley, have backed a bill creating a designated wilderness area on BLM land bordering the Arkansas River to the NW of here.

The whole Colorado House delegation signed as co-sponsors, and the bill had strong local support.

Into the comment process stepped the National Rifle Association, on the anti-wilderness side.

Big oops.

When it comes to individual liberties expressed through the Second Amendment, the NRA is a powerhouse.

When it comes to public lands management, however, the organization often stumbles, and this is one of those times.

I can't do better than quote Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen, who happens to live in the same county as the proposed Browns Canyon Wilderness:

So why is the NRA opposing this? According to Ashley Varner in the NRA's Washington office, "We feel the bill would drastically reduce access to the area for hunters and sportsmen, especially those who are elderly," and, "Without roads in the area, it would make it nearly impossible to pack out big game." Apparently, the NRA has never heard of pack animals like mules and horses.

This isn't a Second Amendment issue, and it doesn't prevent anyone from hunting in the affected area. So why on earth is the NRA supporting more habitat fragmentation with loud and obnoxious vehicles?

I put the ['] in the title because the Department of the Interior seems to have a problem with possessive apostrophes. "Devils Tower," and so forth.

This reluctance to use proper punctuation is not an affectation of Early Modern English (17th century), but apparently an early-20th-century federal policy.

There was a simplified spelling craze around 1920. In an exhibit of historic college documents at Reed College, I once noticed that for a short time, phrases such as "an office in Eliot Hall" came out as "an ofis in Eliot Hal." But then the college went back to normal spelling.

Bureaucratic inertia is greater in the National Park Service and other such agencies.

Blog housekeeping

Or should that be "blog-keeping?" Anyway, I am re-doing my sidebar to include some blogs that I read but had not been linking too. One inactive blog has been removed. No mercy! Post, or else!

In touch with her wildness

"Do you really believe you are an animal?" Gary Snyder asks in his essay "The Etiquette of Freedom. "

"[M]any people who have been hearing this since childhood have not absorbed the implications of it, perhaps feel remote from the nonhuman world, are not sure they are animals. They would like to feel they might be something better than animals."

And he goes on to a section on wildness in the human body.

Shelby the dog has no problem with her own wildness. In the photo, she has happily interrupted one of my initial experiments in wildlife photography, using a cheap digital camera with a built-in motion sensor.

For bait, I had hung a beef bone from the pine bough above her head. (You can see the white string.)

Then M. took Shelby for a walk elsewhere on the same long ridge, only to come home saying that Shelby had "peeled off."

We walked back to the camera site an hour later. There she lay in the duff, happily chewing the bone, completely pleased with herself.

The camera told the tale. Sigh. Now that spot is useless.

Siccing terriers on el chupacabra

I thought it was interesting when M. came home 18 months ago saying that the dogs had chased a fisher, since there are not supposed to be any fishers here.

Now Patrick Burns posts pictures of a . . . chupacabra that his terriers brought down.

El chupacabra, "the goat-sucker," is a reliable mystery beast of Mexico and the Caribbean, sometimes reported in Texas as well. It makes frequent appearances in the pages of Fate magazine.

So what is that in his photographs? Stay tuned. The truth is out there.

The rest of the story: The clue is that the dogs found it underground. It is an unfortunate woodchuck with several large tumors that distort its body shape. The animal's swollen body caused its hair to be worn off. The purple color is pokeberry juice.

November 07, 2006

A ritual no more

I like living in southern Colorado. I like going down to the old schoolhouse to vote in a building where time seems to have stopped about 1950 (except in the two classrooms that are now a library).

I like seeing the election judges whom I otherwise might meet only at the post office, since the cafe closed and I don't attend the community church.

"Hi, Irene. How've you been, Alden?"

But after today, no more.

We used to vote on paper ballots that were marked and then fed into a scanner. With three or four booths and only a couple of hundred voters in the precinct, lines were always short. Go in, get registration checked, vote, grab coffee and cookie, and out.

But this year the county went to electronic machines. The machine works great--but that is machine, singular. County funds are short. Our precinct gets one machine, and this year's Colorado ballot is a long one crammed with referenda and initiatives.

Poll workers estimated 10 minutes per voter. I know that I was faster than that, but still, it was 8:20 a.m. and I was only voter number 12. (Polls open at 7 a.m., but they had some trouble getting the voting computer going, they said.)

M. stopped on her way to work mid-morning when the congestion was supposed to be less, and instead it was worse. She eventually gave up. Sorry, Congressman Salazar, that's one less for you.

After today, I resolve to vote early at the courthouse or else by absentee ballot. I will miss Alden, Irene, and the free cookies. I will miss the little civic ritual of climbing the steps of the old schoolhouse, ready to commit democracy.

A little piece of culture gone.

POSTSCRIPT The county clerk wrote an apologetic letter in the county newspaper this week: "The machines that we have now were purchased with funds we received from the federal government . . . according to their formula [it] was a sufficient number of machines for our total number of registered electors. It was very obvious at this election tht the formula was not correct."

At 4:30 p.m. on Election Day the state gave her permission to get out the paper ballots. Too late for M. to vote, though.

November 05, 2006

The tamarisk war

Pluvialis blogged her research trip to Uzbekistan and gave me a shudder, for she included a forest of poplar and tamarisk.

After years of regarding tamarisk as a horrible invasive pest in Colorado and elsewhere, you tend to forget that there is another part of the world where it is part of a functioning ecosystem.

Charles Bedford of the Nature Conservancy writes in today's Denver Post of the creation of the (deep breath) Salt Cedar and Russian Olive Control Assessment and Demonstration Act, now in Congress. (Salt cedar=tamarisk)

The photo shows tamarisk on the Colorado River in the lower Grand Canyon (Dept. of the Interior).

Tamarisk trees in lower Grand CanyonThe indictment:

Its prolific seeds and high salt content enable it to quickly replace native cottonwoods, willows, grasses and other plants, degrading the habitat for native wildlife, especially birds. Its spread also decreases forage for livestock and increases fire hazards.

But what drives the funding is the water it sucks up (as do cottonwoods, willows, etc., but let's not go there).

Today's Pueblo Chieftain had two articles: goats versus tamarisk and beetles versus tamarisk. I have mentioned the beetle trials before. (Links may expire.)

First the goats:

On cue, a few of the more media-savvy goats began furiously gnawing on small tamarisk plants by the river, knocking them over and munching down branches like so many French fries.

Which must be how they taste. Tamarisk, also known as salt cedar, are infamous for leaching salt to the surface. Their leaves increase the salinity of the very ground they grow in. Goats are one of the few animals that find them tasty.

As to the beetles, sometimes bureaucracy's right hand knows not what the left hand does:

In 2001, the beetles were released, but so far have not ventured far from the original test site below Pueblo Dam, because there are few large stands in the immediate area and their population has been knocked back by mosquito spraying.

However, if you view tamarisk as intrinsically evil, I suppose that the Uzbek ranger on horseback would like to have some words with you.

November 01, 2006

El día del Crocodile Hunter

Day of the Dead altar for Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter

I like this on so many levels, but mainly for the cheerful appropriation of the oh-so-seriously multicultural Day of the Dead event in the university's student center.

I bet that Steve Irwin would have gotten a laugh out of it too.

And all at the Colorado taxpayers' expense, since this is a state university.

October 29, 2006

Animal "collectors:" Why do they do it?

Via Drudge Report (first time I have looked at it in ages) comes yet another story of someone with a houseful of miserable, filthy, uncared-for dogs (and birds).

I am asking my favorite ex-animal control officer-turned-blogger to explain the phenomenon.

I still can't get over the fact that she was scooping up strays in Portland, Oregon, when I was a college student there. Surely we passed on the street at some time, and luckily, Muddy, my junior-year girlfriend's "collie with a screw loose" never wound up in her truck.

Muddy was a "homing collie" in reverse. He would leave our home in Lents Junction and turn up outside my girlfriend's ceramics studio on the Reed College campus, having gone at least five miles through city traffic. He didn't do it often, but when he did, my heart almost stopped.

October 27, 2006

Trying for a personal response to climate change

As the proprietor of a blog called "Nature Blog," I keep thinking that I ought to say something about climate change.

The problem is that I do not know what to say.

Something is happening, I am sure. But I am disgusted by politicization of the public discourse.

For instance, the National Academy of Sciences offers a free summary of their report, "Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the last 2,000 Years."

The report states, "It can be said with a high level of confidence that global mean surface temperature was higher during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period during the preceding four centuries. This statement is justified by the consistency of the evidence from a wide variety of geographically diverse proxies."

(Read the news release here.)

Humanities guy that I am, I am impressed by the idea of researching climate change by studying old paintings of natural features such as glaciers, for instance.

Skepticism continues, of course, as in this Canadian news item.

But I'm still thinking about Greenland. You may know the story--reconstructed as fiction in Jane Smiley's novel Greenlanders--how the early medieval warm period collapsed around 1400 (?) as the world moved towards the Little Ice Age. (More on ups and downs of the Little Ice Age.)

They are farming in Greenland again. Weird.

What if . . . what if . . . this was something outside our control, in other words, not George W. Bush's personal fault? You can't blame the "Medieval Climate Optimum" on coal-burning power plants or eee-vul sport utility vehicles.

What if climate change was controlled by solar radiation or by cosmic rays' influence on cloud cover?

We could still save money and energy by emphasizing conservation and new technology more, whether doing so had any effect on the climate or not.

In fact, even as "recycling" became the save-the-planet mantra of the 1970s, I suspect that the screw-in fluorescent lightbulb will become the poster child of the current effort. I am typing this post by the light of one of them, screwed into a draftsman's lamp at my computer table. ("Anglepoise" lamp to my UK readers, both of you.)

And then I walk outside and look at the pine trees, thinking, "I must continue to love this place."

October 23, 2006

10-Bird Meme, No. 7, Pine siskin

Late October is the Season of Jays. Three kinds of them are hanging around the house: Steller's jays, scrub jays, and blue jays. We must be on some kind of habitat boundary for the blue jays--some years there are none, but this year I have seen as many as five at once.

And whichever jay is nearest starts calling excitedly when the birdfeeders are brought out from the garage, whenever M. or I get around to it. They go through quantities of sunflower seeds. They are not eating it all, of course, but stashing little caches of seeds in the duff under the pine trees.

Meanwhile the level in the thistle feeders stays high. The pine siskins are gone. In the photo, pine siskins feast on both Niger thistle and black oil sunflower seeds at adjacent feeders.

They are the background birds in the crowd scene, but we miss them when they disappear. It happens like this--the summer siskins vanish, then there are some weeks of no siskins, then they reappear. Or a new flock arrives. I have no idea.

A siskin makes me think of those conservative men's suits that reveal jacket linings of shocking pink or scarlet. In their case, it's the flash of lemon yellow when they lift their wings--a yellow like the breeding yellow of the American goldfinches that often flock with them.

Something in me will not be settled until they arrive.

Pine-trunk etiquette and mountain driving

Exploiting habitat niches (as the pros would say) each in in its own way, a brown creeper and a white-breasted nuthatch explored the same ponderosa pine trunk.

The creeper, as creepers do, was going up. The nuthatch was coming down headfirst, as nuthatches do.

Who would give way?

In the bird world, size matters. David Sibley gives the average nuthatch a weight of 0.74 oz. (21 gr.) and the brown creeper a mere 0.29 oz. (8.4 gr.). No contest--the creeper flew away.

And, sitting in the woods, I was left thinking about the rule for mountain driving impressed on me as a kid: Uphill traffic has the right of way. (Because they need the momentum?) Does anyone still follow that rule anymore?

October 22, 2006

Thinking about stuff more than blogging

I have posts in the works on the 10-bird meme and some other issues, but a combination of beautiful October days and masses of student papers to read has been keeping me from blogging. Maybe tonight ...

October 18, 2006

Assault by ATV

The future of backcountry law enforcement in Colorado and elsewhere in the West will be trying to curb out-of-control ATV riders.

From the Durango Herald:

After Jepson asked two ATVers to leave his property, "One guy just hit the throttle and ran into me," he said Wednesday. "The guy who ran into me just split, and he left me lying there with a broken leg."

October 06, 2006

Aspen gold, aspen fears

The photo shows aspen trees among the conifers in the Wet Mountains of southern Colorado on Monday, October 2nd. The following day a little squall line of thunderstorms came through and ripped off most of the golden leaves. The same thing happened with the big willows and cottonwoods along our road.

Meanwhile, news reports are full of gloom-and-doom about the decline in aspen groves. (Link may expire.)

One Forest Service ecologist said the causes were drought, increasing grazing by both cattle and elk, disease, and insect infestations.

I am surprised no one has mentioned fire suppression. Around Cripple Creek, for instance, so many aspen groves along Colorado 67 clearly represent little 19th-century forest fires, probably started by sparks from steam locomotives back when today's state highway was a railroad grade.

How many of the aspen groves we are used to seeing resulted from 19th or early 20th-century forest fires, before the era of serious fire suppression started mid-century?

When some acquaintances of ours, who live amid thick firs in the Sangre de Cristo Range near Westcliffe, did a massive tree-thinning to protect their home from wildfire, suddenly they had aspens! The last time I was there, the area around their house was full of knee-high aspen. Will they make it to maturity? That seems to be part of the issue.

Update: I went prowling on LexisNexis and found a trade-journal article that quoted David Skinner, wildlife biologist on the Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho:

Because aspens take advantage of the regenerative opportunities provided by forest fires, Skinner emphasized that the only real solution to their regrowth in the region would be less fire suppression.

September 30, 2006

Mummified dogs of Peru

One group of ancient Peruvians apparently mummified their beloved dogs. These dogs were carefully buried, not sacrificed.

Experts say the dogs' treatment in death indicated the belief that the animals had an afterlife.

Such a status for pets has only previously been seen in ancient Egypt.

From the BBC, via Mirabilis.

September 29, 2006

Support for hunting rises

I am going through the news releases that I receive. This one was tied to National Hunting & Fishing Day, which was a week ago.

“We have been seeing public support for hunting increase in several states over the past decade where we had data but this is the first nationwide study where we could verify that public support has increased over the past decade. In 1995, 73 percent of Americans approved of hunting while in 2006, 78 percent approved of hunting. Support for fishing nationwide, as well as in numerous states where we have conducted studies, remains very high,” says Mark Damian Duda, executive director of Responsive Management.

Sort of counter-intuitive, isn't it. I wonder if suburban "plagues" of white-tailed deer have anything to do with these findings.

September 25, 2006

A life seasoned with carrion

Our dog ShelbyShelby has been off to visit ses parfumeurs préférés.

She has come reeking of her favorite scent, Parfum de Bête Morte, from the ancient firm of Charogne et Fils.

Why is that Jack, the dog with a tight, oily, water-resistant coat, never rolls in dead things, while Shelby, with her long silky fur, revels in them? He is easy to clean, but all that I can do with her is to sponge her with Simple Green. She does not enjoy baths, and I don't want to traumatize her.

There are two questions here, readers.

1. What product best removes Parfum de Bête Morte?

2. And why do dogs love it so much? Don't tell me that they "know" it covers their natural scent and makes them better hunters, because I do not think that dogs are capable of such reasoning.

September 24, 2006

A marketing director's nightmare

As the owner of three Jeeps, I get catalogs.

Just recently, one arrived from 4WheelDrive Hardware. On the cover, a man in khaki clothing crouched, while a cartoon speech ballon said, "Crickey! Great deals on Aussie lockers & much, much more."

Anyone would recognize the parody of Steve Irwin, "the Crocodile Hunter" -- that is, the late Steve Irwin, who died just as the catalogs had been shipped.


A few days later, an email message arrived.

Because of his popularity, 4 Wheel Drive Hardware chose to parody a likeness of Steve as our spokesperson for finding “Jeeps in the Wild” on the cover of our recent Fall Jeep® Catalog.

Unfortunately, the catalogs that portrayed his likeness were mailed on Friday, September 1st, leaving no time to avoid distribution of our “Jeep Hunter” cover.

We sincerely hope that the family and fans of Steve Irwin will see this parody as a tribute to Steve and the millions of people whose lives he touched.

Really, what else could they do? But what sad, bad timing.

Of course, if you are the Guardian newspaper, you go straight to Australian writer and Second Wave feminist icon Germaine Greer to deconstruct Steve Irwin as merely a successful example of Australian machismo--and, perhaps more rightly--not enough of a fighter for habitat where animals might live outside of zoos.

The animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin, but probably not before a whole generation of kids in shorts seven sizes too small has learned to shout in the ears of animals with hearing 10 times more acute than theirs, determined to become millionaire animal-loving zoo-owners in their turn.

I don't buy the idea that there is an "animal world" that self-consciously "takes revenge," but you can put Greer in the negative column of the postmortem discussion on Irwin's legacy.

September 23, 2006

Gorilla Glue dangerous for dogs

Because I do use Gorilla Glue a lot for small repair jobs around the house (such as bird feeders battered by bears), this caught my eye:

A popular glue does more than just stick -- it grows when it comes in contact with liquid.

So imagine what would happen if it was swallowed. An Oak Harbor pet owner found out first hand, and her dog is lucky to be alive.

Emma the black Lab evidently knocked the glue's squeeze bottle off a kitchen counter and bit it. The Gorilla Glue web site does say to get immediate medical attention if the glue is swallowed.

September 21, 2006

How house finches protect male chicks

A University of Arizona researcher shows that house finches protect their male offspring by changing the order in which eggs are laid.

When marauding mites turn up in a house finch's nest, she shelters her sons from the blood-suckers by laying male eggs later than those containing their sturdier sisters, according to new research.

September 20, 2006

My new political niche

Rod "Crunchy Con" Dreher talks about the "Party of Greed" (GOP) and the "Party of Lust" (Dems).

Uber-blogger Kim Du Toit writes of the "Evil Party" (Dems) and the "Stupid Party" (GOP). (I guess he is the guy in the "I'm with Stupid" T-shirt.)

Dad belonged both to the National Rifle Association and also to the Sierra Club, so I reckon that my tendency to hate neat little political niches is genetic.

When I walked into the Pueblo, Colorado, courthouse to register to vote, some years ago, I chose Democrat for my party affiliation mainly because (a) Richard Nixon was president and (b) in Pueblo, all the action was Democratic.

But I have no idea what is going on with the national party. All their machine-signed letters from Bill Clinton go right into the post office wastebasket. The state level is a little better: so far, I am OK with the Brothers Salazar as my congressional delegation.

Today, though, I came up with my own political niche: Feral Democrat. Formerly domesticated, I am now likely to run away from or to bite anyone who thinks that they own my political allegiance.

September 19, 2006

Women as hunters

The Battle Creek, Michigan, Enquirer offers this story on women hunters.

The anecdotes are interesting, but here is the meat of the story from the bureaucratic perspective:

The more women get involved with the outdoors, the more they get their families involved, said Susan Tabor, Women in the Outdoors regional coordinator and former state representative.

The state of Michigan is currently scrambling to recruit new hunters. Statewide hunting numbers are beginning to dip and statistics are showing that fewer and fewer children are taking part in the sport.

"What will the future hold?" Tabor asked of hunting numbers 20 years from now.

The state legislature addressed those concerns over the summer by passing two bills, later signed into law by Gov. Jennifer Granholm. The first lowered the minimum age to hunt. The second established mentor hunts, wherein a child could temporary bypass the mandatory hunters' safety program as long as they're accompanied by a guardian.

While time will be needed to determine if these bills achieve the desired goals, Tabor believes recruiting more women hunters is the better solution.

"One good reason to get the women involved is that the kids will come along too," Tabor said.

Another good reason to get the women involved, she added, it's good business.

"Retailers love us," Tabor said.

Colorado's similar program, Women Afield, has also been popular.

More women hunting means more license sales, which fund state wildlife agencies. (Wildlife agencies can only preserve their independence from political pressure by receiving most of their money from license-buyers and from federal excise taxes.)

The leading American academic writer on women as hunters is Mary Zeiss Stange, professor of women's studies and religion at Skidmore College.

Here she is in USA Today: "Guns, like abortion, are a matter of choice."

Blaze-orange hat tip: Zendo Deb.

September 18, 2006

"Call a soft, clear, whistled heh"

Taking the dogs for a quick walk up the ridge behind the house to check the "bear camera " (of which more later) . The woods are quiet except for a rabbit, who hops safely into thick brush. The temperature is just above freezing.

I am thinking of bears because the mast crop around here is pitiful. Not an acorn in sight. One year is abundant; the next is scant. It does not always seem to tie directly to moisture but just to some cycle of the Gambel oak. If moisture is the key, then the dry spring is to blame, but I think there must be some cycle of fruitfulness followed by exhaustion too.

The black bears have stripped the wild plums along Hardscrabble Creek. One day there were green plums, and I was thinking about picking some when they ripened, but almost immediately they were all gone.

From the scat in the driveway, it looks as though the bears found the neighbor's apple trees too. But what to eat when the apples are all gone? Are there acorns in a different patch of woods?

I hear one bird, a Townsend's solitaire, its regular one-note whistled call the metronome of coming winter. Molto largo, please, maestro.

September 17, 2006

"Two sticks on my legs"

Weather forecasters are predicting another El Niño winter.

Our last was 1997-98, when it snowed almost three feet on the day after Thanksgiving, snow that never melted until spring.

At least we could go skiing and snowshoeing right out the door.

Snow fell in the high mountains last night.

"The studies connect the currents in our area with El Niño," said Dan Zumpfe, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Grand Junction. "This is a plausible explanation of what might happen."

The studies match up to the
Old Farmer's Almanac, which predicts snowier conditions in mid-November because of the effects of El Niño.

Ian McCallum, a Hassle Free Sports ski technician, said he believes it will be an early season. "We've had quite a lot of rain, and there is already snow on the mountains," he said.

Fleece hat tip to Coyote Gulch, your one-stop source for Colorado water news.

Autumn tumbles in

M. and I came home last evening from Colorado Springs, and then we got involved with an unexpected refrigerator problem. (Temporarily fixed, but I think it is time to go shopping.) Distracted, we forgot to cover some outdoor plants.

Meanwhile, the temperature dropped: Bye-bye, yellow squash and zucchini, bye-bye to the tomato plants outside the greenhouse. Bye-bye, beans. Bye-bye, datura.

Aspens are turning yellow on the ridges, and the Gambel's oak and willows here are orange at the edges. Only a few hummingbirds remain.

Next weekend, we will welcome the new season with a hike in the golden aspen forest and a trip down to Pueblo for the chile festival.

September 13, 2006

Rattlesnake-bite blog

After being bitten by a rattlesnake while playing golf, Albuquerque lawyer Tim De Young searched the Web and found my tale.

I gave him some information on my own recovery, but he is blogging his experience.

Based on my own experience, his blog has a life expectancy of about 30 days, unless it sheds its skin and becomes something else.

The Neanderthals' last stand

A cave near the tip of Spain might be a candidate for the last surviving encampment of Neanderthal people.

Whenever I read such items, I always think back to Stan Gooch, a maverick British psychologist who advocated for the absorption of Neanderthal into Cro-Magnon people (i.e., us) through interbreeding.

The more recent DNA evidence does not seem to bear out the absorption theory, however.

Gooch offers some other interesting ideas. One was that mythological bulls were really "folk memory" of Neanderthals, who fought with bull-like rushes against their opponents, or so he claimed.

Hence Theseus slaying the bull-man Minotaur on Crete would be a folk memory of fighting Neanderthals in their caves. Likewise Mithras slaying the bull.

Physiologically, the Neanderthal was symbolized by the cerebellum (more developed in them) and Cro-Magnon by the cerebrum.

His recent book The Dream Culture of the Neanderthal argues that "direct descendents of the moon-worshiping Neanderthal are still living in Central Asia today, although they do not physically resemble their ancestors. This influence of Neanderthal occult wisdom remains strong."

Alas for mythic bulls in caves, there is that pesky DNA evidence.

German children playing with fire!

Another article on the "nation(s) of wimps" theme, this one from Maclean's.

It's all working to keep kids from doing what they've done since humanity began: going outside into spaces where they can jump streams, climb trees, use sticks as swords, and do unjust things to ants and flies. According to a decade's worth of largely overlooked research, this free play is key to developing physical, mental and emotional skills -- such as self-reliance, risk-taking, altruism and delayed gratification -- that help children form into competent, functioning adults. "We seem to need to get our hands dirty and our feet wet from time to time," says Richard Louv, author of last year's landmark Last Child in the Woods, which compiled the mounting evidence supporting the need to reconnect kids to the outdoors. "We don't fully understand why that's necessary to our mental and physical health, but there does seem to be something there."

Hat tip: Cronaca.

UPDATE: A related piece from the BBC. Have we reached meme status yet?

September 06, 2006

The greening of Wally World

Wal-Mart is so big that whatever it does affects the environment. (Yes, there is a Colorado connection here.)

On its fleet of 7,200 trucks Wal-Mart determined it could save $26 million a year in fuel costs merely by installing auxiliary power units that enable the drivers to keep their cabs warm or cool during mandatory ten-hour breaks from the road. Before that, they'd let the truck engine idle all night, wasting fuel.

Yet another example: Wal-Mart installed machines called sandwich balers in its stores to recycle and sell plastic that it used to throw away. Companywide, the balers have added $28 million to the bottom line.

"Think about it," Scott said in his big speech to employees last fall. "If we throw it away, we had to buy it first. So we pay twice - once to get it, once to have it taken away. What if we reverse that? What if our suppliers send us less, and everything they send us has value as a recycled product? No waste, and we get paid instead."

That was talk any Wal-Mart executive could understand, even if few knew it came straight from the pages of
Natural Capitalism, an influential book by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and Hunter Lovins that lays out a blueprint for a new green economy in which nothing goes to waste.

Not coincidentally, Lovins and his Rocky Mountain Institute were also hired as consultants by Wal-Mart to study a radical revamp of its trucking fleet.

I heard Amory Lovins talk back in the 1980s, when he and then-wife Hunter were still a team. I thought then that he should have been put in charge of US energy policy because he could crunch numbers in a non-dogmatic way.

Will this change make me a Wal-Mart shopper? Probably not, except in extraordinary circumstances -- like the time I was in Taos, N.M., last winter, setting out on a road trip, and I realized that I had forgotten to pack any underwear. You can buy art in Taos, you can buy crafty stuff, you can buy sheepskin coats, and rugs from Central Asia--but about the only place to buy underwear is at Wal-Mart.

(Ventilated summer hat tip to Rebecca Blood.)

September 02, 2006

Dogs' lives

The loneliness of the long-distance collie: Slate writer Jon Katz profiles Rosie, a working stock dog whose performance is exemplary but who is not, well, a pet.

I think there is perhaps a price to pay for letting a working dog work: A working dog can't be a pet, at least not in the conventional sense of the term. She does the things I need, but few of the things that often please us most about dogs—snuggling, playing, tagging along, making friends with dogs and people.

Mushroom Days - 3

This probably will the last of the 2006 mushrooming posts. M. and I went back to our favorite patch of the boreal forest, at about 10,800 feet, on Friday. Mushroom-hunters who belong to clubs are apparently require to call such a trip a "foray," or everyone looks at them funny.

Similarly, god forbid you use the phrase "field trial" at a Hunting Retriever Association event, unless you are engaged in snidely putting down American Kennel Club events. Petty language rules are one reason that I don't seem to do well in clubs.

In the woods, exempt from language rules, we found a few king boletes, although some of the largest were past their picking peak. Likewise, the hawk's wing (Sarcodon imbricatus) were turning dark, and their caps were often covered with green mold.

The big crop--a new one for us--was Albatrellus confluens, which looks something like boletes (spore tubes instead of gills) but is classified as a polypore. It does not seem to have a common name--although, I suppose, if we belonged to a club, we might hear one. Anyway, big fleshy mushrooms and lots of them.

We keyed it, it looked OK, so we brought a couple of sacks-full home and checked it in other sources. Heartened, we started the process of cleaning, slicing, and loading up the dehydrator.

Interestingly, my Google image search turned up mostly European site: the image here came from the wonderfully named

Along with his mushroom guides, I inherited Dad's ulu, the crescent-shaped Eskimo knife, a souvenir of one of his Alaska trips. He did not use it much. But it makes a good mushroom-cleaning knife--the points work for scraping the caps, and the whole length of the blade slides the mushroom thin for drying. Mushrooms do not feature much in Inuit cuisine, so this was just a fortuitous discovery.

The down side is that using it makes me think of him as a young ranger loading his saddle bags with boletes in a different boreal forest, the Del Norte Ranger District of the Rio Grande National Forest, and I start to missing him.

August 25, 2006

Mushroom days - 2

With thunder in the distance, M. and I took a walk in the Wet Mountains on Thursday looking for mushrooms.

We walked into a mother lode of hawk's wing mushrooms (Sarcodon imbricatus), getting that crazy mushroom visual effect where you see one and then suddenly your eyes adjust and you realize that you are surrounded.

I think the king bolete-hunters had already been through, because we were finding only a few old ones (and we were close to the access road), while other similar-appearing mushrooms had been knocked over but left in place.

Then, in a tight, doghair stand of little firs that we had to push into head-down, we found a sackfull. It's like elk hunting: "They're in the thick timber, boys."

The book in the photo is, of course, Vera Stucky Evenson's Mushrooms of Colorado and the Southern Rocky Mountains.

To stay bemushroomed in the literary sense, read Andy Letcher's Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom, which is actually about much more than Amanita and Psilocybe.

For one thing, Letcher demolishes R. Gordon Wasson's distinction between "mycophobic" and "mycophilic" cultures with clear historical evidence.

August 20, 2006

Blogroll update

SE Colorado Birding lets you follow SeEtta Moss of Canon City as she lists species that I, for one, never knew lived in this area, like the yellow-billed cuckoo. (Mockingbirds, yes.)

Reading Patrick Burns' Terrier Man blog makes me want to use the word "feral" again, and that would be the second time today that I have used it. Only now I use it in a good way.

Burns is a craftsman as a writer and as a hunter, putting me in mind of this line from the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset's famous Meditations on Hunting:

For hunting is not simply casting blows right and left in order to kill animals or to catch them. The hunt is a series of technical operations, and for an an activity to become technical it has to matter that it works in one particular way and not in another.

(I just noticed that Meditations on Hunting is not included in Wikipedia's list of his publications. Interesting. . . .)

'There are no innocent victims in this place'

The bitter pill of environmental history goes down much more easily if you mix in meth dealers, tree thieves, feral gold prospectors, and suicial bridge-jumpers.

Nature Noir, Jordon Fisher Smith's memoir of days as a California state parks ranger, led one reviewer to state, "I can't make up my mind whether Jordan Fisher Smith is John Muir at the crime scene or Elmore Leonard with a backpack."

Can Smith write "noir"? Try this:

She was stoop-shouldered woman in her late thirties who looked like this [automobile] crash wasn't the first bad thing that had happened to her. Her clothing was asexual--old jeans and a lumpy brown blouse. She wore no makeup. Her face was weathered and plain, and bore an expression of blank-faced sadness you see in women whose main talent in life is getting mixed up with the wrong men.

Another excerpt here.

Definately a good read, and you come away knowing more about California parks history, the social history of map-making, what happens when dams are rushed to completion, and Lyme disease.

August 14, 2006

Mushroom Days -1

The past weeks' rains, at least in the southern part of Colorado, have stoked mushroom hunters like Roger Kahn of Crested Butte. Read the article (before it expires) for a list of Colorado mushroom festivals.

'Rags over the River' wrap up

"JC" at High Plains Messenger summarizes the problems with Christo's "Over the River" project from both the human and other-than-human viewpoints.

He comes to southern Colorado and "makes nice" to the residents about how his project will fully consider their views and feelings, but I don't trust him. I read a subsequent article, which I wish I could find online, in which during a presentation in Austin, Texas, he basically referred to people here as ignorant hicks who failed to appreciate (his) great art.

August 11, 2006

Jim Harrison on dogs and money

Jim Harrison is a novelist, poet, essayist, and screenwriter. If you are not familiar with his work, a little Googling will bring up a lot of information.

I am reading his memoir/collection of rants, Off to the Side, and offer one of its many aphorisms, this one about his bird dogs:

A dog can escort you away from our current empire and into a more private world where literature is allowed to thrive.

In one online interview, Harrison discusses the moment that writers never forget: the first time that they ever did it for money.

(For me, it was a short story that won a $100 Scholastic Magazines prize when I was a student at Fort Collins High School. I bought a Smith-Corona portable typewriter with my winnings.)

August 10, 2006

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Nature (as social construct): Make some time in your life for Jordan Fisher Smith's memoir of days as a California state parks ranger, Nature Noir.

"I can't make up my mind whether Jordan Fisher Smith is John Muir at the crime scene or Elmore Leonard with a backpack," writes Mike Davis in a cover blurb.

M. and I are also reading (listening to on CD, actually) Nevada Barr's Hard Truth. It's a tightly plotted mystery, starring her series protagonist, the indestructible National Park Service ranger Anna Pigeon,but Barr should fire her field researcher. (She is living in Mississippi now.) There is no manzanita in Rocky Mountain National Park, and Abert squirrels on Colorado's Eastern Slope are solid black, without the white tail of the Kaibab Plateau race.

Culture: Bumper sticker seen on a Range Rover in Chama, New Mexico: "Never mind the car. My real treasure is in Heaven." Evidently the Range Rover's owner is a member of the Elect and knows it. Translation: "I am rich, and I am saved."

Environmental news: After my Mexican spotted owl post, I had lunch with Erik Brekke, the BLM biologist who supervised M's and my owl-census fieldwork in the early 1990s. He said that several of the owls banded then are still alive, two of them 13 and 15 years old, which seems ancient for a wild bird. Tough little guys!

He also said that he started hearing Eurasian collared doves in Cañon City, Colorado, as long as four years ago. So maybe this was just the year that M. and I became sensitized to their presence.

Dogs: Radley Balko writes The Agitator blog and works for the Cato Institute, where you will find this essay on family pets killed in SWAT team raids.

The "poster dog" was the Labrador retriever shot down in the misconceived raid on Randy Weaver's house, just before FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi gunned down Vicki Weaver as she held her baby. (Big terrorist that she was, y'know.)

August 08, 2006

Mushroom days

M. and I spent Thursday-Sunday camped on the Conejos River in far southern Colorado. Driving in the thick fir forests near Trujillo Reservoir, we saw several groups of people walking into the woods with plastic buckets.

It's mushroom time. It rained every day we were there, sometimes torrentially, like a Pacific Coast rain--no thunder, just downpour.

She picked some boletes on one walk, which went into that night's soup. Had we brought a dehydrator (memo for the future), we could have it plugged in right now at our Taos motel, surprising the maid who wonders why the room reeks of fungus.

Monday's Albuquerque Journal noted that this is the best mushroom year since 1931 in northern New Mexico. (Story behind a pay-wall, but you can wait through the ad.)

In a weird juxtaposition, the same section carried an Associated Press item about Mexican Indians dying from eating poisonous mushrooms.

Wait a minute, aren't they the experts? Maria Sabina and all that?

The story continues, "But recent genetic mutations have made some form of mushrooms consumed for years in Indian communities newly poisonous, officials say."

"Officials say" . . . what officials? The local mayor? What in fact is going on? Is this just bureaucratic bafflegab or an actual biological change?

August 02, 2006

A New Mexican's tips for beating the heat.

Beat the heat like a Southwesterner.

One of John McPhee's essays mentioned an old-time Wyoming rancher who carried an umbrella as a sunshade. He set it down and ate his lunch in little patch of shade. Can you imagine seeing them at the ranch-supply store? Or in a Colorado mountaineering shop? Someone's missing a marketing opportunity here.

July 30, 2006

Redundancy helps America grow!

According to an insert in yesterday's Cañon City Daily Record, the Cañon Coffee Café is now open for business at 1520 Royal Gorge Blvd.

The Cañon Coffee Café is in full compliance with redundancy standards promulgated by the Office of Redundancy Office, a unit of the US Department of Commerce located on Table Mesa Drive in Boulder, Colorado.

Ants who aren't ants

As long as I am bashing Disney for moving oak trees into Australia, another "nature faker" prize should go to the movie The Ant Bully, here witheringly reviewed by the Washington Post's Stephen Hunter.

And the only thing that even makes it marginally arguable is, as I have said, anthropomorphism gone pathological. As movie design, the ants have been prettified and given eloquent voice and movement; their pincers, meant to tear the flesh off other ants in their ceaseless wars, have been stylized into design accessories in the form of well-placed, clearly vestigial decorative shells resembling earrings. The ants aren't ants anymore, but human beings. Their very anthood, their genetic reality, has been obliterated and replaced with idealized archetypes from some touchy-feely new agey pacifist's infinitely superior brain.

I like a reviewer who can speak his mind. (Hat tip: Hell in a Handbasket.)

July 29, 2006

'Hunters, anglers should back roadless wild areas'

That's the headline on enviro-blogger Jonathan Hanson's recent op-ed piece in the Arizona Republic

Colorado, too, is finishing this laborious and pointless roadless-area review--pointless because we went through it just a few years ago, and the public comments were overwhelmingly in favor of roadless areas then, as they were this year.

One quick excerpt from Hanson's piece:

Some say we need more roads for fire crews to fight wildfires. But according to the Forest Service, destructive fires occur much more frequently in roaded and logged areas than in roadless areas, and human-caused fires are almost five times more likely to start near a road. The Roadless Rule allows firefighters motorized access to fight wildfires within roadless areas.

Some hunters say roadless areas make hunting more difficult. But as true conservationist hunters, we should consider the health of the game first, our own convenience second. Several studies have shown that roadless areas make the best wildlife habitat. And I'm happy to work hard to enjoy a quality hunting experience in wild country unspoiled by the noise of vehicles.

Oh yeah, he's a Republican. Where do we get this idea that only Democrats favor environmental protection?

10-Bird Meme: No. 6, Cordilleran flycatcher

Cordilleran flycatcher young, 13 days oldShould you name a wild animal?

I have always tried to avoid it, on the principle that “Nature cares about species, not individuals.”

Still, if you are Doug Peacock or Timothy Treadwell, and the animals involved are individualistic and, more importantly, capable of eating you, it would be understandable if you would name them. Honorable adversaries and all that.

But what about small birds?

This summer a Cordilleran flycatcher (Empidonax occidentalis) nested on a porch beam. We had a nest there last year, and also once in the 1990s. M., who takes the position that wild animals are individuals, named her Lucinda, a name that sort of incorporated her “tseet” call and was also a bit of a tribute. Her mate became Sidney.

She laid four eggs. As happened last year, the fourth egg hatched late, and that chick soon disappeared from view. This morning, after not having checked the nest for a couple of days, I saw only two fledglings, almost fully feathered and sitting outside the nest, but still being fed a healthful diet of moths by their parents. Did the oldest already depart, or did #3 die? I plan to check the nest for remains but not until it is empty.

Last year and this, they have influenced our lives. We never turn on the porch light, and we shush the dogs when they bark directly underneath the nest. During the incubation, we peer out the living room window to see if the female is on her nest, and we worry when she is missing during a thunderstorm. We watched Sidney drive off a larger black-headed grosbeak who landed on the telephone wire too near the nest, while Lucinda beat up on a pine siskin likewise.

Of course, we really cannot do anything for the flycatchers other than having provided them with a convenient nesting ledge.

UPDATE, July 30: This morning when I checked the nest, the two fledglings were gone. Maybe #1 made an earlier departure after all. Unlike last year, there were no dessicated remains of #4 in the bottom of the next, so that hatchling's fate is a mystery.

Talk about feeling like “empty-nesters.”