February 28, 2006

Foxy spring

The weather has turned warm, and we're smelling the gentle scent of skunk on the night breeze, so they have come out of their semi-hibernation.

This morning, just before the sun topped the nameless ridge to the east, I saw a copper-colored movement outside. The dogs are inside, I thought, so it could not be Jack, the rust-brown Chesapeake Bay retriever.

It was a fine fluffy red fox, eating sunflower seeds fallen from one of the bird feeders.

I'll know his scat when I see it.

UPDATE: After I typed the above, I was walking to the parking lot and heard the first mourning dove of spring calling from one of the tall pines behind the Chemistry Building.

Western movies, western lives

I've been thinking about movies set in the West that somehow defy the "Western movie" stereotype. The American film industry has a hard time doing that; foreign directors have been, if anything, worse. (See "spaghetti Western.")

Scrapple came out in 1998 but is set in the mid-1970s in a fictional Colorado town that seems based on Telluride as Telluride was back then--just before it was "discovered." The good guys smoke cannabis and the bad guys snort coke between real-estate deals. (It's the cocaine scene that Colorado journalists Ed Quillen and B.J. Plasket described in their 1985 book The White Stuff.)

Most of the actors have no other film credits listed in the Internet Movie Database, and as M. noted, there may be a reason for that. Still, it's a comic slice of ski-bum life as it was then lived (they're even reading The Mountain Gazette), and the clothes are right: I know I've seen that patchworth denim skirt on someone.

And those shots of the Dolores River country around the little town of Gateway...

Meanwhile, director Christopher Cain is finishing a film on something that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints wishes that everyone would just forget: the 1957 Mountain Meadows Massacre. Coincidentally, the date was Sept. 11, 1857; hence the title, September Dawn (New York Times--registration required).

Much of the dialog comes from court depositions given by Mormon leader Brigham Young and his chief enforcer, John Lee.

As the story unfolds, a company of pioneers arrives from Arkansas. A couple of young lovers-to-be - one a Mormon, the other part of the ill-fated wagon train - meet amid a toxic atmosphere of suspicion and rancor. A Mormon raid ends with a castration, an enemy's testicles neatly nailed to a door. All the while, the territorial governor and president of the church, Brigham Young, played by Mr. Stamp, is heard in voice-over, encouraging vengeance, violence, "blood atonement" and divine justice.

"And by the way," Mr. Cain said, "I didn't write any of his dialogue," explaining that it was all in the depositions that Young gave after the massacre. "I sat here watching this a couple of weeks ago and I was thinking: 'Maybe I made that up. I don't think he would have said that.' And I went back and pulled it up and, man, he did."

It's "Sweet Betsy from Pike" meets "blood atonement."

February 25, 2006

Kennewick Man's violent life?

Continued examination of the ancient skelton of Kennewick Man offers more information about his injuries.

The scientists say the evidence also hints that Kennewick Man was probably in his 30s when he died. Previous estimates had said he might have been as old as 45.

And a spear point embedded in his right hip had healed over cleanly. So it likely did not cause a chronic infection, as some experts had suspected initially.

More background information is available at the University of Washington's Kennewick Man page.

February 24, 2006

The "Eskimo Snow Hoax"

That the Inuit of the Arctic regions have 40, 100, or some other number of words for snow is a persistent urban legend. David Mendoza passes on a funnier version of it:

The Great Inuit Vocabulary Hoax is anthropology's contribution to urban legends. It apparently started in 1911 when anthropologist Franz Boaz casually mentioned that the Inuit—he called them "Eskimos," using the derogatory term of a tribe to the south of them for eaters of raw meat—had four different words for snow. With each succeeding reference in textbooks and the popular press the number grew to sometimes as many as 400 words.

(Tip of the parka hood to Tommy Mac.)

Reid Farmer at Querencia updates us on Kennewick Man.

Moira Breen at Progressive Reactionaries has links for more Kennewick Man information.

February 23, 2006

Burros to blog rolls

Hal Walter, burro-racer extraordinaire, refugee commissioner, and underground food writer, is now on the blogroll. Check out "Letters from Out There."

February 21, 2006

'South Park' Chas

Urged on by Pluvialis and Steve Bodio, I made this South Park-ish self-portrait last week and then forgot to post it.

You can make your own. And maybe you can tell me how to not have the coffee cup and the shotgun both in the same hand.

Kestrels and bluebirds

Male American kestrel. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service
Kestrels have been more visible the past couple of days, and mountain bluebirds flit across the highway in nervous little flocks at the edge of the prairie.

That kestrel Web site is from Montana; kestrels and bluebirds don't rate a profile from the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

I've been preoccupied with my sudden new status as trustee for my late sister's family trust and as her executor. But on Sunday M. and I at least managed an hour's walk up Greenwood Road. We passsed two neighbors with the same idea. A sunny day with a temperature above freezing felt springlike, considering that it had been 10 degrees F. below zero two mornings before. And with the warmer sun there seemed to be an increase in overall bird noise as well.

But you can build a kestrel nest box. And if you were sufficiently techie, you could add a Web camera like this one in California.

Bluebirds too.

February 18, 2006

A few words in defense of Pueblo

Last week, a correspondent tried to engage me in a discussion of the etymology of "bojohn," a word that is used only in Pueblo County, so far as I know.

And, so far as I know, it must be related to "bohunk," but simplified, the way we do things here in the West.

It's a local ethnic tag, the way that "river French" is used around Cape Girardeau, Mo., and environs.

Sometimes Pueblo baffles me with backwardness, but at other times it is sort of sweet, if you can say that about a city.

It's a city where you can get things fixed, as opposed to having to discard the old and buy the new. And there are options besides buying new: I think of Northern Avenue as the The Street of the Used Appliance Dealers, but on Thursday, when I suddenly needed a "new used" electric stove for the guests at the cabin, I was able to buy one quickly downtown.

And while I was there, I dropped by the shoe-repair place where I had left a leather backpack, my "urban backpack," for repair. I pulled out my wallet, thinking that the minimum charge would be at least $10.

When I asked what I owed for the competent repair job, the white-haired woman behind the counter replied, "$1.60."

"$1.60?" I repeated.

"That's all I can do you for," she said.

And remember, guys, in Pueblo your clean black jeans count as formal wear.

Where did the Steller's jays go?

The temperature when I awoke this morning was -12 F (-25 C), so there were not too many birds out and about at first. Around 9 a.m., when I was cutting some kindling for the wood stove, I did hear a blue jay calling. Blue jays are intermittent visitors here, but the dominant local jay is the Steller's jay--until this winter.

Where did they go?

Since the winter of 1993-1994, M. and I have participated in Cornell University's Project Feeder Watch, doing what a friend called "grunt science." I can look at our counts at Cornell's site and see that during almost every count period, we say six, eight, or maybe 12 Steller's jays. (Western scrub jays show up too, but in smaller numbers.)

This year we call each other to the window if we see one Steller's jay. Seeing two is astonishing.

A couple of years ago, the West Nile virus hit the corvids hard. Some people contracted the disease as well.

But I thought that the jay population had bounced back. Is there a connection with last summer's Mason Gulch Fire? The fire displaced the wild turkeys--they now forage closer to our and our neighbors' houses, despite the number of dogs hanging around. But jays? Did the fire cause them to disperse to other habitat?

We used to take them and their raucous voices for granted, and now we are missing them.

February 12, 2006

This is too easy

Vice-president Cheney has peppered a companion with birdshot while quail hunting. What a gift to stand-up comedians and bloggers everywhere!

Excuse no. 3: Whittington’s repeated ribbing that Bush is actually the “real president”

What interests me, though, is the persistence of the "drunken hunter" meme. I will presume that Cheney was stone sober, not that I am trying to excuse him. The first rules of hunter safety are to know your target and also to know what is behind your target.

When I worked a couple of times as a camp hand and cook for a hunting outfitter, I never saw any bad behavior. We had a camp rule that all firearms were put away before any wine or liquor was served, and no one complained about that. But I have heard "drunken hunter" all my life. Not that no idiot ever combines alcohol and firearms, just not necessarily in a true hunting situation--as opposed to using "I was hunting" as an excuse. I'm just saying that in forty years afield, I personally have never encountered that stereotype.

But I suppose that someone will tell me how they have encountered it.

February 10, 2006

News flash: Dogs chase rabbits!

In the sort of incisive reporting that we expect from local television stations, a California ABC affiliate has discovered that dogs chase rabbits and hares--and that people watch.

We're talking about "coursing"--the pursuit of jackrabbits, primarily, by salukis, tazis, lurchers, and other "sighthounds." Greyhounds were bred for that activity too. Sometimes the hares escape, but if they are captured, they are cooked and eaten

Some neo-Puritans have weighed in:

This kind of conduct is appauling [sic] and there is no excuse for this barbaric act to take place.

Some of the protestors assume wrongly that capitve rabbits are used.

Steve and Matt at Querencia discuss the story and follow up on it.

But it's an uphill battle against the "fuzzy bunny" ideology, not to mention the "meat is murder" ideolology.

Coursing is an old hunting sport, different from falconry in many ways but plenty enough alike that its detractors need see no difference. In both, one animal pursues and catches another while people watch, partisan and unapologetic for the outcome. It is a hunt, after all: the purposeful killing of animals. Ultimately, that is what's abhorrent to those who now seek to ban coursing and punish those who enjoy it.

If you are any kind of hunter---if you ever eat meat---take note of this.

I don't know and fear to imagine the direction this story might take. But we could ask: Will America could go the way of Great Britain, utterly tamed by misguided anti-cruelty sentiment?

February 07, 2006

Going where you should not go

Exploring old buildings is nothing new. Our word "grotesque" traces its etymological roots back to a Renaissance dig into the cave-like buried ruins of Nero's "Golden House" palace. I will never forget a nighttime 1970s exploration of an abandoned hospital in northwest Portland, Oregon. Spookissimo.

Now it's called urban exploration. Another site offers photos of abandoned buildings and vehicles.

Do abandoned buildings become "nature" in the sense of wilderness? Or are they virtual caves?

February 05, 2006

Buffalo thoughts-2

I barely collect and post a group of buffalo-related links when The Denver Post runs an item on Brown Dog Jerky. (Scroll down.)

It's made from "free-range grass-fed Colorado bison" and costs $12 for six ounces, which is inconsequential for a Boulder, Colorado, dog-owner.

February 03, 2006

A dog invented Velcro

Not really, but there is a connection.

Buffalo thoughts

When I was little, my father was a Forest Service district ranger in the Black Hills. One year his name came up in the drawing for the chance to shoot a buffalo (the term customarily used) in the annual herd cull at Custer State Park. He went, he shot, we ate. It was not a hunt, he emphasized, but more "like shooting a cow in a pasture."

His great-uncle, William Fredrich Schmalsle, one of the commercial hunters who pretty well eliminated the great southern herd in the 1870s, might have concurred.

Custer State Park used to be one of very few places to see bison. They were in all the Western movies that required rampaging buffalo.

Now bison are are an industry. (The various local industry groups seem to be split on whether they are "bison" or "buffalo".)

Every industry has a trade group and a spokesman, and this one says, "As we continue to rebuild the herds out there and to bring the species back from a point where it was on the brink of extinction 120 years ago, it really requires that it end up on the dinner plate, for the ranchers to have the incentive to bring the animals back."

Some Indian tribes have started their own herds, while buffalo-hunting now joins salmon-fishing in the treaty rights arena.

One bison (that word still seems artificial to me) rancher in this county cited their advantages over cattle: low-cholesteral meat, hardiness and ease of care, and, not inconsequential, the additional dollar value of the hide and the skull, as long as people want to hang the last on their walls for that Old West look.

So are we moving towards the "Buffalo Commons," in a piecemeal fashion?

Someone snapped Dad's photo: hunter, rifle, deceased Bison bison. Forty years later, he was still complaining about the fact that he was wearing a necktie in the picture, because he had come straight from a visit to the forest supervisor's office in Custer, S.D.--the only times that he wore his full uniform.

And if you want your own hunt, guides are ready to oblige. Or birding likewise.