December 29, 2007

A Wolf in RMNP?

The big Colorado wildlife news is a possible wolf sighting in Rocky Mountain National Park.

On Dec. 4, experienced park volunteers saw a black canine emerge from the trees at Moraine Park, lift its leg to urinate and then dart away once the animal noticed it had company, said biologist Jeff Conner, a natural resource specialist for Rocky Mountain National Park.

Funny how this happens in the middle of the elk-control controversy. The god of irony rules the universe.

Via Outdoor Pressroom.

December 23, 2007

Two Flawed 'Nature' Films

M. and I recently watched This is Nowhere, a film with no particular narrative or point to make.

I suspect that the filmmakers went down to the Wal-Mart in Missoula, Montana, looking for the awful sickening rot at the heart of AmeriKKKa and found -- fairly ordinary, pleasant, middle-class people?

For instance, the widower who tired of rattling around in his big house, sold it, bought a motorhome and who now travels with his cat around the US and Mexico. (He was talking of driving to Costa Rica next.)

(Sickening! Wasteful!)

Yes, they know that Wal-Mart permits them to camp for free, knowing that they will stroll across the parking lot and spend money. And they don't care.

Unfortunately for the filmmaker Doug Hawes-Davis, his subjects just seem ordinary. Or maybe that fact is supposed to scare you.

One academic reviewer called it "a theater of the absurd acted out in surreal Wal-Mart-scapes and highway strip developments, vehicles and people jiggling in fast motion staccato, going nowhere"? Yeah, whatever.

Another nature-and-culture film that could have been good but took itself too seriously was Darwin's Nightmare.

What does it say when the real ecological issue at the documentary's heart is only shown for a moment in a video that is being watched by some of the people being filmed?

That is taking the idea of a "movie within the movie" too far and too literally. Instead, sensation overcomes information in Darwin's Nightmare

It is still worth seeing, but you will only understand if if you do your research first. That conclusion is no praise for the filmmakers.

Too bad. Both could have been better.

Meanwhile, here is a blog for full-time RV-ers.

Or you can live in a van and be an "independent contractor," like the Hobo Stripper. I wonder how long that lifestyle choice will last. At least she is doing better than Chris McCandless.

When the Dog or Cat Goes Missing

The Missing Pets Partnership has assembled pages on what to do to find a missing dog or cat.

(Or ferret. I suppose that there are indeed people who would want to locate their missing pet weasel.)

It's pretty common-sense stuff. The one thing I learned, though, when it comes to looking for a missing dog (particularly in rural areas) is simply to look first upwind. Is there a lovely scent of carrion on the air?

(Hat tip to my sister, Sarah, who is always sending me dog links.)

December 21, 2007

Riders on the Storm

M. and I went to Colorado Springs today for a supplies and Christmas-shopping trip. We left for home on the lip of the snowstorm that was blowing in.

We drove out of the storm -- temporarily -- on Colo. 115. The peaks around Cañon City -- YMCA Mountain, Cooper Mountain -- were side-lit by an artistic solsticial light that picked out every fold and crest.

The area around Penrose and Florence was in a pool of light with grey storm clouds all around. It looked like something from "Lord of the Rings" -- the Light menaced by the surrounding Dark.

Our mountains were grey-capped too. We hustled all our food into the house. M. walked the dogs while I brought arm loads of firewood up onto the porch and filled the bird-feeders.

In the words of our Immortal Leader, "Bring it on."

December 16, 2007

Ensure Victory against the Moon Men!

How come none of the gun-bloggers out there ever discuss the 1902a Victorious Mongoose pistol?

It could be just the weapon you need if cornered by Moon Men. The 1902a and other necessary items are here.

UPDATE: Welcome, View from the Porch readers.

December 14, 2007

The (Probably Bogus) 'Kit Carson Rock'

The so-called Unmarked for decades, the so-called "Kit Carson Rock" in eastern Custer County, Colorado, has recently sprouted a new sign, part of some locals' attempt to reclaim the past and commemorate things in the uncomplicated way that they used to be commemorated.
Close-up of the so-called
Here is a close-up. If you can read "C. Carson" in there, your eyes are better than mine. But there is no "W" in "Christopher Carson."

Furthermore, Kit Carson could not read or write. He could barely scrawl "C. Carson" on documents when he had to. Illiterate people on hurried cross-country rides from, let's say, Fort Pueblo to Taos do not pull chisels from their saddlebags and start carving during a lunch stop.

I am not a geologist, but that does not look like the rock from that part of Hardscrabble Canyon, where sandstone predominates. Someone could have asked Professor Anderson, but I do not think that anyone bothered to do so.

The legend of the rock has been around for a while, however, even with that problematic "W".

A 1948 Forest Service map of the San Isabel National Forest pictures it too, complete with the protective iron bars. At that time, Colorado Highway 96 ran past it, before the road was re-routed.

Local writer Hal Walter came to the same conclusion: the rock has nothing to do with Carson.

But I suppose some people want to associate a famous name with this area--and Carson certainly might have traveled up Hardscrabble Canyon, one traditional route towards the Sangre de Cristo passes and into the San Luis Valley.

Trying to claim he carved his name, though, is sort of like saying "George Washington slept here."

Meanwhile, take Walter's advice and read Hampton Sides' Blood and Thunder.

It is a tightly paced story of the interaction between Carson, the New Mexicans, the Navajos, and the US Army during the 1840s-1860s.

Sides writes without bias of the Navajos' raids on the New Mexican settlements, the Hispanic slave-catching raids against the Indians, and finally of how Carson, who himself had many Native American friends, accepted the task of forcing the Navajos on the "Long Walk" to Bosque Redondo and captivity. An excellent book.

Meanwhile, I will have more to say of the attempt to control the story of the past in Custer County.

December 13, 2007

Catching Water off Your Roof

House near Lamy, N.M. Nov. 21, 2007. Photo by Chas S. CliftonWhen I saw this house in Apache Canyon near Lamy, New Mexico, from the train last month, my first question was whether the roof was designed to catch water or whether it was just an architect's "concept."

And does New Mexico water law let residents catch rainwater?

A recent news report on the drought in the Southeast showed Georgians buying rainwater barrels at a garden-supply store. That practice would be technically illegal here in Colorado, where every drop of precipitation is appropriated and over-appropriated.

It not only has to flow down its legally adjudicated drainage, but it cannot be delayed!

Still, I never have heard of anyone prosecuted for catching rainwater. But I have seen board members of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (the "secret government") become testy over someone's plans to build a stock pond or little earthen erosion-control dam when they thought that the permitting process had not been followed correctly.

UPDATE: Well, maybe not completely illegal.

Bureaucratic Idiocy: The Park Service

The National Park Service has announced a $6 million plan to deal with Rocky Mountain National Park's overpopulation of elk. They would be killed by "sharpshooters" (contracted through Halliburton, no doubt.)

The lethal reductions, along with fencing and "aversive techniques" such as moving herds with dogs and blank ammunition, are part of a $6 million, 20-year plan to bring down the unnaturally high number of elk in the park and restore native plants.

The plan produced a sharp response today in a news release from the Colorado Division of Wildlife and its governing body, the Colorado Wildlife Commission, through commission chairman Tom Burke.

“Repeatedly, the Colorado Wildlife Commission has said that we are proponents of using qualified citizen volunteers to assist in managing the elk population in Rocky Mountain National Park,” said Burke.

“Culling 100-200 or less elk a year may not have the impact desired on the current population of 3,000 in Rocky Mountain National Park," he said. "The language in the plan falls short of our expectations.”

Why would the NPS, notorious for its maintenance backlog, its low salaries to park rangers, and its other cutbacks, want to spend $6 million when it could have much of the job done for free or nearly so?

I can think of only one reason: The NPS bureaucrats are afraid of the precedent of allowing hunting in the park. And they are probably afraid of some kind of political shit storm--which they may get anyway. The first law of bureaucracy is Cover Your Ass, and never mind the poor rangers living in leaky trailers.

December 12, 2007

Blog Stew with "Roots of Two or Three Kinds"

¶ Using Cabeza de Vaca's tale of his long walk to study pre-contact Texas foodways.

What can be gleaned from Cabeza de Vaca’s accounts of lifeways in greater South Texas at the dawn of written history in North America contributes significantly toward explaining archeological records in the same regions since the extinction of mammoths and other Pleistocene megafauna.

¶ Photo tour: The Seven Creepiest Places in the World.

¶ A map of UFO hotspots. Southern Colorado is well-represented. But what's with the U.P.?

Mammoths blased with meteorites. Hah, that's what They want us to think. It was cluster bombs from alien space war.

December 09, 2007

Relics of the Old Ones

You are walking in the Wet Mountains, and you look up. There it is--just a hunter's tree stand where someone once watched for bear or elk. But the wood has aged into grey and the lichen has grown on it, and it looks like a relic of a former tribe--a burial platform or a shrine, perhaps. Something out of Dersu Uzla.

And then you chastise yourself for seeing the woods through books and film instead of as they are, and you shift your rifle to the other hand and keep climbing toward the unseen ridge.

November 29, 2007

Blog Stew on the Purg

¶ In September I mentioned Michael Ome Untiedt's impressionist paintings of the SE Colorado canyon country. Some are on his site too. He also has a show opening on Wed., Dec. 5, at Ernest Fuller Fine Art in Denver and running through Jan. 25, 2008.

Timothy Smith's blog about birds and other wildlife attracted to British landfills may be found under "Elsewhere."

Pondering Pikaia is another natural history blog, this one from Alabama, and hence under "Elsewhere" too.

Tucson Weekly interviews J.P.S. Brown.

If you ask Brown who he is, he'll say "cowboy." He won't say reporter, Marine, boxer, movie wrangler, stuntman or whiskey smuggler, and he's been all those things.

If he says writer at all, it won't be first on the list. But he's a great writer, probably the best you've never heard of.

November 28, 2007

Save Wilderness: Make Cities Liveable

¶ It takes more than cappuccino-sipping "creatives" to make a city: families still matter. In Philadelphia, for instance:

Only 14% of Center City residents have children ... and roughly half its young people depart once they enter their mid-30s. "If you want to sustain the revival you have to deal with the fact that people with six year olds keep moving to the suburbs," Mr. Levy suggests. "Empty nesters and singles are not enough."

Why post about that on this blog? I have often thought that we Americans hate our cities (Thomas Jefferson did not help), but if we loved them enough to make them more pleasant, than maybe people would not be fleeing them for 35-acre ranchettes in Colorado or elsewhere.

Like Vienna, for example.

November 25, 2007

The Bear in Your Garbage Can/Garage/Playing Field

Focusing on the Canadian resort community of Whistler, BC, a New York Times piece discusses bear-human conflicts.

With less bear-hunting and more people wanting to living the woods, "user conflicts" are rising.

At the turn of the last century, if people felt the call of the wild, they’d take the train perhaps to Banff, where they’d soak in a hot spring and never venture much beyond the front canopy of the Banff Springs Hotel. Now remote canyons and mountain meadows are thick with residential and recreational use. In Whistler, even the paint-ball games for kids take place on a field that happens to be in the middle of a flood plain. As soon as the air-horn starts the competition, bears come out of the nearby woods with their great, lumbering, hip-swaying strides to graze the paint balls with a bovine indifference to the gleeful splattered children running this way and that.

It's a thoughtful piece and worth reading for going beyond the cliches.

November 23, 2007

How Newspapers Fail Their Readers

I was once a newspaper reporter--six years on two different dailies before I moved to academia. So I don't like to read that newspapers are losing readers, even though it is true.

But, I swear, sometimes the papers are their own worst enemies.

Consider today's above-the-fold headline in the Pueblo Chieftain: "Parade-goers Enjoy Balmy Weather in New York" ("Above the fold" means top of the front page--what you see in the display rack.)

Not Pueblo weather, New York City weather. Not a Pueblo parade, a New York City parade.

Not to be outdone in stupidity, the Cañon City Daily Record led with an Associated Press story on post-Thanksgiving shopping, "Stores Usher in Holiday Shopping Season" (not even localized!) packaged with an AP sidebar on a new parking garage in Grand Junction.

Dear editors, your readers have either gotten that information from TV or the Web--or they simply do not care. Grand Junction is hundreds of miles from Cañon City, and no one from Cañon shops there.

Honestly, if they headlined, "Johnson Cat Has Kittens," with the story explaining that two of the kittens born at 555 E. 5th St. were calicoes, it would get more eyeball time.

No wonder the political bloggers denigrate the "mainstream media" (MSM). Such cluelessness shows that some editors really do not care at all.

November 22, 2007

Blog Stew with Silver Iodide

Lamy Jct. railway station, 14 Nov. 07.  Photo by Chas S. CliftonABOVE: Train-watching in Lamy, New Mexico.

I am back from the land of palm trees, surf, and aircraft carriers--in other words, San Diego--so blogging can resume.

On our train trip to California M. and I did see one corner of one of the burned areas, where a fire had come right down to the coast south of San Clemente. The newspapers were full of accusations and counter-accusations over the tardy deployment of fire-fighting aircraft, as well as Thanksgiving-season human-interest pieces about residents who lost their homes.

M. and I drove in last night from the La Junta railway station through a mist of ice crystals, the air about 10 degrees F., to find a message on the answering machine from a neighbor, "A mountain lion was at my back door!" And killed a stray cat had been hanging around the house, right on the back porch.

This web tool lets you figure the exact elevation of your house (or another favorite spot) and other precise geographical information.

• It is cloud-seeding season, but does the process really work?

“You can’t make any large, robust claims about it . . . and if you do, how do you back them up?”

That’s the question weather and climate experts have been grappling with for decades.

(Hat tip: Coyote Gulch.)

November 15, 2007

Bird-Proofing Windows

Added to the blog roll: David Sibley's blog. Here he writes about bird-proofing windows.

I live in a house with lots of windows, and I like to keep lots of bird feeders. This is good for me as a birder, but often bad for the birds. Over the years I have tried various methods of making the windows either more visible or less harmful, but sometimes it just doesn't help. Birds fly very fast and at times (for example, when startled by a predator) will try to fly through things they would normally avoid. Occasionally, Cooper's and Red-tailed hawks seem to learn that they can pop around the corner of the house, cause a panic at the bird feeder, and then have easy pickings from under the window.

My little legacy at the university will probably be the peregrine falcon silhouette sticker pasted on this glass windbreak that used to claim a bird every now and then. I like to think that fewer are being killed there now, and I hope that the Physical Plant people think that someone in authority approved the sticker.

November 13, 2007

Black Rats, Brown Rats, and Prairie Dogs

Patrick Burns offers a long entry on bubonic plague and its history in the United States. National Park Service employees probably should not read this entry unless they are feeling strong.

I never know whether to worry more about plague or about hantavirus. Right now, those foxes might be keeping the deer mouse population low. I have trapped only half a dozen in the garage (which gives entry to the basement)this fall, a low figure compared to some year.

The foxes, meanwhile, are leaving scat all around the house, to the point where you have to look where you step when you go outdoors. They love to come at dusk, when the dogs are penned on the front porch before supper, and taunt them.

It's the price you pay for mouse control.

November 10, 2007

"Those deer are agressive. . . "

Via Steve Bodio, this side-splitting New York Times piece on anxious displaced city folks in the woods:

"Four hours east, in Estes Park [Colorado], Natalie Galyon, a photographer who lives in Dallas, was recently host of a friend’s bachelorette party at her cabin overlooking the Big Thompson River. 'When a herd of elk jammed the road, we got out of the car to take photos, but one of the girls stood by the car guarding everyone’s purses, when we were the only people in sight,' said Ms. Galyon, 32, 'and each night they would shut all the blinds, even though we were on a cliff in the middle of nowhere.'”

As soon as I learn of any purse-snatching elk, I will be the first to blog it. Read the whole thing.

This article goes into the illegal photocopied anthology for this spring's nature-writing class, for sure.

November 08, 2007

What we got here is failure to communicate

My elk-hunting license says that I can hunt this weekend, but realistically, I cannot. And it is all because Hunter Me and Professor Me were not talking to each other.

See, Hunter Me forgot that Professor Me goes to a certain academic conference every November--he will be leaving on Wednesday the 14th. Hunter Me, off lost in the Pleistocene Era somewhere, did not check the academic society's web site.

He did not realize that because Thanksgiving comes earlier this month, the conference--always the weekend before T'giving--comes earlier too.

As a result, Professor Me needs this weekend to finish grading a folder of student quizzes and commenting on two folders of student essays and magazine articles. Students should get all of their work back before Thanksgiving break.

Last weekend was just a taste--finally locating elk twice on Sunday but always being just a little too far away or too late. Seeing a group of nine in the open at about 500 yards, wanting to pull off the big stalk--but having only fifteen minutes before it was too dark for legal shooting--that was typical.

There were other good moments--the hunting coyote--or the buck mule deer who was lounging in his bed at dusk, staring at me (maybe 200 yards away) but too cool to actually get up and run off. With the unaided eye, he was just another grey shape among scattered grey granite boulders.

Just for a few hours I was There, not Here, concerned only with the direction of the wind, the angle of the sun, the warning chatter of squirrels, and if it was possible to sneak up a fir-covered ridge without stepping into any of the patches of crunchy snow.

Next year, next year.

November 07, 2007

November 06, 2007

Blog Stew with Mystery Beast

¶ I don't know anyone in Colorado who dresses for hunting like this.

¶ In England 75 years ago mass trespass helped to create a national park.

¶ Maybe I was right, and Rick Jacobs' "Pennsylvania bigfoot" was indeed a bear with mange--so says the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Blogger David Zincavage, who likes to season his conservative politics with crytozoology, points out that the recent Texas "chupacabra" was a mangy coyote.

¶ But Bigfoot sightings live on: this one, which is remarkably short on geographic detail, comes from Custer County, Colorado, which is where I live.

¶ You can keep hunters out of suburbia and exurbia, thus making things easier for poachers.

Paying for Tamarisk Removal

Western river with and without invasive tamarisk. Graphic: The Pueblo Chieftain
The fight against invasive tamarisk continues, with an emphasis on what happens if we don't.

Today, the tamarisk are consuming about 58,600 acre-feet of water - 19 billion gallons - annually, but the number will grow to nearly 130,000 acre-feet annually - one-fifth of the water in the river in an average year - when the plants completely take over and grow larger. The cost to remove the tamarisk is estimated to be $44 million to $67 million, or about $600-$1,000 per acre-foot of recovered water.

Tamarisk, the Colorado nature-blogger's friend. Graphic linked from The Pueblo Chieftain

November 03, 2007

Bishop Creek, 3 November 2007

Under the stock-pond dam
a coyote hunts mice,
pouncing like flowing water.
No elk come to drink.

November 01, 2007

"No! Not the Nazis again! They’ve already taken my bra; what more do they want?"

When I was a small boy, Dad would take me along when he went for a haircut (sometimes so that I could get one too), and I would sit and look at magazines while he was in the barber's chair.

His barber shop in Rapid City, South Dakota, always had a big selection of pulp men's magazines whose editorial offerings ran heavily to lost treasures, Nazis, or lost Nazi treasure. And sex. Possibly lost Nazi sex treasure. ("Swastika Slave Girls in Argentina’s No-Escape Brothel Camp.")

James Lileks has scanned a representative sampling.

Bing! I'm right back there: the pale green walls, the (historically ludicrous) lithograph of Custer's Last Stand, and copies of magazines like Sir!.

October 31, 2007

Bigfoot or Bear?

This photo sequence comes from Pennsylvania, a long way from my Colorado home, but it is intriguing. The first photo is startling. Has the "creature" morphed into a bear between #1 and #3? Or was there a switch? And what is the square thing sticking up in the #3, blocking the tip of the bear cub's nose? Was it just two bears (or adult and two cubs) all along?

Could it be a mangy bear, like Terrier Man's weird mangy woodchuck?

More fun with motion-activated cameras!

UPDATE: Maybe it was indeed a mangy bear.

October 29, 2007

Luminous Animal*

Early this morning--shortly after 1 a.m., M. says--she is a light sleeper and will wake up when a mosquito sneezes--the dogs erupted.

Bark bark bark. Jack running to the front door, wanting out. Shelby running to the cracked-open bedroom window. Bark bark bark!

It's the way that they react when a bear is near the house, although this time, unlike a week ago, we did not shine a flashlight out the window and illuminate Mrs. or Mr. Bruin standing there next to the rainwater tank.

Today I went over to the guest house, where the motion-activated camera had been set up on the back stoop. I found it knocked over. At least it was not twenty feet away and in pieces. Only one species generally smacks things as a way of investigating them.

So is this fuzzy white image a very over-exposed black bear, shortly before he or she clobbered the camera?

Maybe I need to rig the camera up higher somewhere.

(There were six other shots in the camera--the usual foxes.)

*It's a Pueblo literary joke.

October 24, 2007


Like a fast-moving fog,
or a prairie fire
coming straight at my camp.

But in the San Luis Valley
the white cloud streamers
are powdered alkali,
lifted by wind from dry lake beds.

Ducks are not flying, nor the harriers
that peer at decoys for signs of life,
not red-winged blackbirds nor noisy wrens
that shoulder through dense reeds.

Only the crows ride the salty clouds
slipping and soaring,
only the crows,
because they can.

(A quasi-poem in lieu of a blog entry about the recent duck hunt. Weathered-out of Blanca Ponds again, but not entirely empty-handed.)

Children in the Woods.

Last spring's nature-writing class responded positively to readings on children & nature and the whole "nation of wimps" meme.

So I have added a chapter of Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods to my illegal-photocopy anthology.(Might use this newspaper piece too. His sort-of blog has not been updated.)

The other text will be The Landscape of Home, I am thinking, which is fairly Colorado-centric.

Looking for something else in the university library, I found one autobiography of a man who definitely did not suffer from "nature-deficit disorder." Paul Errlington put himself through South Dakota State College in the 1920s partly through trapping (skunk, mink, muskrat) and later became a biology professor at Iowa State University. His autobiography The Red Gods Call was published by Iowa State University Press in 1973.

At the end of my last semester in high school I had an attack of rheumatic fever. [He had had polio too.] The acute phase was agonizing, brief, and without special complications, though my joints had a lingering stiffness for weeks. This was in the spring. The next fall I planned to go to northern Minnesota to spend a winter traipping. My doctor did not discourage me from going ahead with these plans providing I avoided overexertion.

His parents, too, did not try to keep him indoors. Nowdays we need organized programs like this one.

Blog Stew in a Double-Lined Bag

¶ Welcome to Rocky Mountain National Park: please poop in the bag provided.

¶ Switching to unleaded gasoline cuts crime?

¶ One big aggregator site for the Southern California fires. Since I have to go to San Diego next month on business, I am watching with more than the usual concern I would feel for others who live in forest fire-prone areas.

¶ Forest fires and other emergencies are not the time to read up on survival lore. Doug Ritter's site covers gadgets, techniques. Pilots might want to read this article from the site.

October 22, 2007

"His faithful dogs at his side"

Two weeks after the official search was called off, the remains of Gary Lorenz and his retrievers, Merry and Pippin were found by a hunter in Fremont County on Saturday, the first day of Colorado's second rifle deer/elk season.

(It is so often hunters who find the bodies. Hikers and backpackers stick to the trails--that might be a metaphor, but let's leave it for now.)

Lorenz is believed to have died from some combination of dehydration and hypothermia. The post's title comes from KRDO-TV, which is is promoting its evening newscast as I write.

UPDATE: The Colorado Springs Gazette says that the dogs survived.

The dogs stayed nearby through it all, and were found near his body in good condition.

“They must have loved him a lot to stay with him for that long,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Andrea Cooper said.

The dogs reportedly were friendly when deputies approached, and have been returned to Lorenz’s family. "

I wonder what they were eating for nearly a month.

October 21, 2007

Learning Winter All Over Again

After repeated experiences with National Weather Service snow predictions, you would think I would have learned to be more cautious.

After the big January 2005 snowfall that was under-predicted and caught us flat-footed with all our vehicles up at the house, 200 yards from the county road, and three feet of snow on the ground, M. and I made a new rule: If there are a dozen flakes in the air, move at least one Jeep down to the end of the driveway. That way, if a lot of snow falls, all we have to do is dig through the ridge piled up by the snowplow.

But, oh no, it's only mid-October, and they are predicting "2 to 4 inches" with a high in the mid-forties Fahrenheit.

At 2:30 in the afternoon, the temperature is still below freezing, and I measured 10.5 inches on the back deck.

I had come home last evening from duck-hunting in the San Luis Valley (more about that later) and left the little trailer hitched up in the driveway, because the prediction was for "2 to 4 inches," and, I figured, the ground was warm and it would not stick.

I wake up to snow pouring down and the electric power going off and on. (Heavy, wet snow weighting the wires and tree limbs.) When the power came back, I quickly aired up the little tires on the portable generator in case I had drag it outside and start it running.

"We'll need the generator tonight," M. had said earlier as we lay in the bedroom, lit only by silvery reflected snow light. "Desperate Housewives is on."

But then the electricity came back. I shoveled around the trailer, unhitched it, and pushed it out of the way. Then I put its tow vehicle, the Jeep Liberty, into 4-Low, turned it around and blasted down to the end of the driveway. M. filled water jugs—no power means no pump.

So now we are reminded what winter is all about.

UPDATE: The power did go out again just before dark, and so we were on generator power until around 8:30 p.m. when the San Isabel Electric linemen showed up. Apparently they had a busy day.

October 17, 2007

Blog Stew with Mice

¶ My visitor log showed a visitor from the Polo-Ralph Lauren corporate domain googling "western wear for dogs." Is this a fashion forecast? Or are they just dressing up the cow dogs at the ranch outside Ridgway because RL himself is dropping by?

¶ Colorado's top five "feeder birds" -- in other words, species that show up at feeders watched by Project Feeder Watch participants -- are juncos, house finches, flickers, black-capped chickadees, and house (English) sparrows. My prediction is that it looks like a good year for Steller's jays (no. 18) here.

¶ The blogroll now includes a blog from the Secret City of Atomicgrad, Atomic Nerds.

¶ Only four deer mice have given their all for a taste of almond butter in the basement so far this fall. (The basement connects to the garage, the garage connects to the woods.) Maybe, as Patrick Burns points out, the red foxes are helping to deal with the problem.

October 15, 2007

Living with Mountain Lions, the Sinapu Way

Because the news media can only frame stories in terms of confrontations--and because advocacy groups inject themselves into controversies to get some attention--a Boulder group called Sinapu leapt into the recent commotion about a Boulder County resident who killed a mountain lion that attacked his dog.

The group does not purchase habitat nor, so far as I can tell from looking at the site, sponsor scientific research. But it does tell you how to live in lion country -- sort of.

Let's look at some of the Sinapu recommendations:

* Make lots of noise if you come and go during the times mountain lions are most active–dusk to dawn.

Oh sure, carry an air horn. Blow a whistle. Do your best imitation of a four-lane arterial boulevard--your neighbors will love it. I know, ride an ATV everywhere! Even just down to the mailbox!

* Install outside lighting. Light areas where you walk so you could see a lion if one were present.

Isn't that why you moved to the mountains, so you could light up your property like a K-Mart parking lot? Screw that "Dark Skies" stuff. Or you could just carry a good flashlight when you need to.

* Closely supervise children whenever they play outdoors. Make sure children are inside before dusk and not outside before dawn. Talk with children about why lions are important to Nature, and teach them what to do if they meet one.

=That boy who was apparently killed by a lion by the Cache la Poudre River was taken in broad daylight, I think. But he was alone.

Although I understand the dawn-and-dusk part, I hate to see anyone advising parents to keep their children indoors -- unless, of course, it is for adult-supervised organized sports practice at a designated athletic facility. Ugh.

* Landscape or remove vegetation to eliminate hiding places for lions, especially around children’s play areas. Make it difficult for lions to approach unseen.

Sure, make the place look like a golf course. It works in Vail.

* Plant native shrubs and plants that deer don’t prefer to eat–thus discouraging them from coming in close to your living quarters. Predators follow prey.

Let's see: Deer evolved with . . . native shrubs. Those are what they browse. Maybe Sinapu should suggest not to plant ornamentals such as crab apples, a big deer favorite. But if you eat your apples, as we do, then there is a trade-off.

* Keep your pet under control. Roaming pets are easy prey and can attract lions. Bring pets in at night. If you leave your pet outside, keep it in a kennel with a secure top. Don’t feed pets outside; this can attract raccoons and other animals that are eaten by lions. Store all garbage securely.

Good advice.

* Place livestock in enclosed sheds or barns at night. Close doors to all outbuildings since inquisitive lions may go inside for a look.

Might work if you have a horse or a few goats, but not practical for actual ranchers.

* Encourage your neighbors to follow these simple precautions. Prevention is far better than a possible lion confrontation.

Do you see what is missing? What do you do if things go very, very wrong and all of these passive precautions fail?

Sinapu likes to talk about "stewardship," but they inevitably slide off into Timothy Treadwell-ism. "Stewardship" includes the power of life and death; it implies control. But they do not want to go there.

(And don't forget, always wear a helmet when going outdoors!)

October 14, 2007

What the Bears are Eating - 2

Bear scat with plum pits. 13 Oct. 2007.  Photo by Chas s. CliftonOur bears have moved on from eating squawberries to finishing off the last of the wild plums, to judge by this evidence. Those lighter brown lumps are plum pits.

October 13, 2007

One Last Aspen Photo and Then I'll Stop

Somewhere in the Wet Mountains. Photo by Chas S. Clifton 10 Oct. 2007One last picture before the next cold front finishes stripping leaves from the aspen trees. Many groves are already bare, so moving through them is like walking on popcorn. Sometimes I wish that the Wets had more little "parks" and aspen groves and less of the deep, dark timber like that in the distance. Much of the thick stuff is second-growth timber--a lot of little sawmills operated here a century or more ago.

October 12, 2007

The Minnesota Mountain Lion

As long as I am posting about game-camera photos, a hunter's camera has now proved the existence of cougars in northern Minnesota.

Bill Berg, now retired after a long career as wildlife biologist for the DNR in Grand Rapids, says he saw two videos and a few pictures of mountain lions in northern Minnesota, but it was always difficult to know if the animals were wild or escaped pets.

But Berg doesn’t doubt that a few mountain lions exist in Minnesota at any given time.

“No doubt there’s an animal now and then, and I think some of them are wild animals dispersing and some are cats that got too big for the kitty litter.”

Usage question: Can we call them mountain lions in Minnesota, which is a little short on actual mountains?

Without actual mountains, seizing the moral high ground in the best Boulder, Colo., style will be only a metaphorical act.

Season of the "Ash Bugs"

the tiny midges we call
They came out on about Oct. 9 this year, as the Gambel oaks turned egg-yolk yellow and tan: tiny midges (?) with a tuft of greyish-white fluff on their butts.

Right: "Ash bugs" on our dog Shelby's coat.

They fill the air like bits of falling ash.

"Goddamned ash bugs," M. says, stomping into the house. "One flew into my mouth, and one went in my eye. And they're in my hair. Sheesh!"

Down in Rye, meanwhile, there was some real ash in the air.

October 11, 2007

No Man, No Dogs, No Search

Last night's Cañon City Daily Record said that the search for Gary Lorenz was being abandoned.

He and his two golden retrievers disappeared in western Fremont County on Sept. 24, and the possible fate of both man and dogs continues to obsess me.

The incident has caused me to make some plans for the future, which I will blog about when the time is right.

October 10, 2007

Blog Stew with Possums

¶ Camera Trap Codger posts about possums, including a possum savant and what happens to dead possums in the wild.

"25 Skills Every Man Should Know." And women, too, if they drive cars or use computers. But I have never had to frame a wall, nor do I have a place where I could put one. Backing up a trailer is the skill that I am currently working on.

¶ Check out the "How to Survive Anything Mother Nature Throws at You" too.

¶ Henry Chappell muses on the life expectancy of Western movies and novels. Will "postmodern grotesquery" save the genre?

When Would It Be Right to Shoot a Cougar?

A man in Boulder County shoots a mountain lion that has attacked his dog. Unfortunately for his legal position, dogs are not described by law as "livestock" (although I often refer to ours that way).

The Sinapu crowd predictably wants him hanged.

The dog-owner, Jeremy Kocar, told the Daily Camera newspaper, "I'm from Wisconsin — and we take care of things there," a remark that produced a certain amount of chest-puffing among Coloradans.

Read the comments if you have time and mental equanimity. Sample from "Teledude": "When you move to the mountains, you take the risk that you or your pets are food for something else." (Login required: Bug Me Not is your friend.)

David Baron detailed the change in attitude in his excellent 2003 book The Beast in the Garden. People in that area had become more accepting of the cougar population around them, despite the occasional deaths of pets and at least one human, a high-school cross-country runner.

But where are the limits? If I caught a mountain lion attacking Jack or Shelby -- and they do come around the house -- I too would shoot. To avoid that possibility, we have a rule -- enforced for cabin guests too -- that dogs do not go out after dark without a human, even big dogs.

I wonder if some of the "never never never" people could stand by idly either.

Entry-Level Camping

Campers of the 1930s at Lake Isabel, San Isabel National Forest, southern Colorado (US Forest Service photo).

Last December Kristyn Econome (vice president of the Backcountry Snowsports Alliance) wrote in a letter to the editor of the Denver Post:

I long for a back-to-basics campground with minimal facilities. I can't remember a time within the last few years that I've stayed in a "Forest Service" campground that wasn't run by a concessionaire. For some reason, a while back, the higher-ups in the Forest Service thought that its visitors wanted more amenities, such as flushable toilets, running water, trash cans and even paved roads in campgrounds. Thus, they decided to essentially rent out the campsite facilities to concessionaires who "improve" the campgrounds and charge higher fees so that I may camp there.

It's the same point that I made about ski areas: the well-heeled and experienced have lots of choices, but how can you get started for not too much money? (Many Colorado ski areas are on land leased from the Forest Service as well.)

You could start with a copy of Camp Out! The Ultimate Kid's Guide. I have not actually seen a copy, just the linked blog entry, but the premise is good.

People who do not experience the back country, preferably as children, never come love the back country.

A Splash of Fall Color

Photo by Chas S. Clifton, Oct. 7, 2007Southern Colorado fall color: Virginia creeper growing in the willows along Hardscrabble Creek. More at the Pueblo Mountain Park blog. No one can resist.

October 07, 2007

You Didn't Need 'Scent-Lok' Anyway

This cracks me up: ALS Clothing, maker of "Scent-Lok" hunting clothes, which are in all the catalogs (Cabela's here), is being sued on the grounds that its product does not work.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota alleges the clothing doesn't work and hunters have been - and continue to be - defrauded. . . .

Attorneys are requesting a class-action status for the suit, saying that "tens of thousands" of Minnesota hunters have been deceived into buying millions of dollars of odor-eliminating clothing. . . .

The question of the efficacy of scent-blocking technology has, indeed, been one that has been heavily debated since the introduction of the technology more than a decade ago. Now, it seems the question may be one with millions of dollars at stake.

Honestly, I sometimes wonder how ancient hunters with their atlatls and bows killed anything at all, considering that they lacked Gore-Tex, GPS positioning systems, all-terrain vehicles, binoculars, and Game Ear hearing amplifiers.

Since I suspect that they rarely bathed, perhaps they just watched the wind?

Nature writer Dave Petersen of Durango, Colorado makes that point in his new book A Man Made of Elk:

In order to hunt safely, comfortably, with dignity and success, we don't need an $8,000 ATV perched on a $3,000 trailer pulled by a $40,000 SUV to get us there and home. We don't need "scent-proof" designer camo clothing, electronic trail-timers and infrared cameras, automatic game "feeders" (in fact high-tech bait stations), optical rangefinders, cell phones, Taj Mahal portable ground binds and tree stands and on and on el barfo.

Dave's book is worth buying though.

October 06, 2007

Theodore Cockerell and the Cowboy Mythos

After reading the letters of English naturalist Theodore D.A. Cockerell, written from the Wet Mountain Valley in 1887-1889 to his girlfriend and her brother back home, I have come to a conclusion. This hard-working natural scientist perhaps shaped the way that Custer County thinks about itself.

When Cockerell arrived, Westcliffe and Silver Cliff were full of miners. On his arrival, he mentions going to Silver Cliff to see the mines.

I was much interested. They find silver here usually in the form of chloride, which is a sort of olive-green, but also, more rarely, they get it native.

And so on for a long paragraph. True, the silver-mining boom had crested when he arrived:

Silver Cliff is the principal place in the district for silver mining, and some years ago when the silver was first discovered there as a great rush for the mines and about 15,000 people were in the place at one time, but mining was not the success they expected, and very soon what promised to become a big town dwindled down to its present proportions--a small and insignificant village.

(Cockerell put Silver Cliff's population at 1,000 and Westcliffe's at 500.)

He lived part of the time at the home of an Anglo-Irish ranching family, the Cusacks, whose property is now a guest ranch, The Pines.

But mining still was going on. At one point, Cockerell thinks he has landed a clerk's job at a mine in Rosita, but due to cash-flow problems, the offer is withdrawn, and he stays with the ranchers.

There he writes quite a few observations about stockmen and cowboys--observations still quoted today--and ignores the mining industry, being more interested in entomology than geology.

Every year in September the Wet Mountain Western Days celebrates the cowboy mythos in all the usual ways. You won't find any single-jack drilling contests or prospector's burro race here. Yet which industry really built the county more?

Foxy Photo 2

Pair of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), Oct. 5, 2007. Photo by Chas S. CliftonThree nights after my earlier fox photo, the scout camera captured this pair.

Mating season is still months away, but given the difference in size, I wonder if this is a bonded pair. But I know little about the pair bond in foxes beyond what I read here--that a male and one or two females may share a territory.

Lewis and Clark were somewhat confused by red foxes in the West. I am not sure why CSU says they are not in southeastern Colorado: I have seen them there, but it was on cropland, not grassland or canyon country.

Actually, if there is one elusive, nocturnal animal that I would like to photograph, it is the ringtail. I think they are here, but not in large numbers.

A Walk to Music Pass

Head of Sand Creek drainage, Sangre de Cristo range, Oct. 5, 2007. Photo by Chas S. cliftonView west from the top of Music Pass into the Sand Creek drainage.

Friday promised a crisp fall day with optimum aspen-viewing conditions.

But when we crested the hill on Colorado 96 and looked down into the Wet Mountain Valley, it was filled with rain, and the Sangre de Cristo range was invisible.

Wipers slapping, we drove through Silver Cliff and Westcliffe and stopped at Candy's for coffee, muffins, and The Denver Post.

After 45 minutes, the squall had blown through, and we headed for the lower Music Pass trailhead, figuring that if the weather turned bad again, we would just take a walk on the Rainbow Trail.

We met two backpackers from Colorado Springs coming out of the Sand Creek Lakes drainage on the far side of Music Pass. They carried fishing rods, but they babbled not of fishing but off the horrible night they had passed in wind, rain, sleet, and snow. And then they turned and hustled down the trial.

We ended up going all the way to the top of the pass (11,3080 feet), where the wind poured across from the San Luis Valley like an invisible waterfall.

"Tree" "Elk" "Tree" "Elk"

In the fir forest below the crest, I heard an elk bugle.

No, M. said, it's a fallen fir tree rubbing against another.

Just then I heard the gulping sounds that follow a bugle.

No, M. said, it's two trees rubbing. And she was right.

But on the way down, we did hear an elk bugling at a lower elevation, maybe 9,500 feet, about at the point where I was deciding that I really did not need to be wearing gloves anymore.

October 03, 2007

Foxy Photo

Red fox. Photo by Chas S. Clifton 10/3/07Red foxes like to scavenge sunflower seeds under the bird feeders. This one, having snacked, is drinking from a water dish.

I decided to try for a photo. It's not in this guy's class--he gets mountain lions, but I am learning what I can do with my El Cheapo scout camera--beyond taking candid photos of Shelby.

(Here is another blog devoted to scout-camera photography.)

October 02, 2007

Where Did the Dogs Go?

I cannot stop thinking of this incident, and I admit that the presence of the dogs has much to do with that.

A week ago a retired Air Force officer who unfortunately suffers from early-onset Alzheimer's disease vanished in western Fremont County.

Gary Lorenz of Cotopaxi was reported missing by his family last Monday afternoon after he left the family home on an all-terrain vehicle to check on horses.

The ATV was found wrecked at the bottom of a slope between his home and the horse pasture. He is missing. And his two golden retrievers, Merry and Pippin, who were tagging along, are also missing.

At first searchers put a positive spin on that fact: The dogs, they said, were staying with him and keeping him warm at night.

But now a week has passed, and there have been no Lassie-style heroics. The dogs have not come home to lead the searchers to Lorenz or to his remains. You cannot always count on dogs.

No one has found either man or dogs. Have the dogs scavenged his body? All very strange, sad, creepy.

October 01, 2007

Making Up Stories about Animals

She won't go home. She wants to take one more walk by the lake. She wants to finish that novel she started, now that her husband and kids have gone. Even though the summer house is not insulated, and the heating system is not the best, she wants to linger.

She is a broad-tailed hummingbird. Go south, honey. The sugar-water bar is closing. The weather is getting nastier. Isn't Mexico calling?

And then there is Goth Coyote.

I used to wonder why there were not more coyotes around us. Instead, the woods are full of foxes. But this summer Goth Coyote showed up. I call him/her that for his/her howl, which has a particularly haunting rising quaver that makes me think of torn black-lace elbow-length gloves and gobs of eye shadow. Another coyote sings duets, but GC's quaver is unmistakable from the horse pasture or up the Forest Service road.

He/she probably got in trouble at school. The Wet Mountain Tribune would probably concur with this opinion.

September 28, 2007

Blog Stew with Dharma

¶ Saturday, Sept. 29, is National Public Lands Day. Take a walk on the national forest and pick up a discarded "energy-drink" can.

Coming down into Florence today, I passed what looked like every government wildlands fire truck in Frémont County headed up Colorado 96 toward the Wet Mountains. They did not seem to be in a big rush. Prescribed burn somewhere? Training exercise?

¶ Are we turning into Crestone East? Someone wants to build a Buddhist retreat center.

If the county bosses grant the [special use permit], the retreat off CR 358 will be the first Buddhist retreat center in North America.

Say what? How about Shambhala Mountain Center, for one? Maybe the reporter misunderstood. Or the applicants meant our kind of retreat center.

¶ Anthony Lioi solicits comments about the new Into the Wild movie. He says his students are interested in it: a "teachable moment."

Pluvialis recommends Tom McKinney's irreverent birding blog.

I got quite angry about not seeing this Buff-bellied Pipit and wrote a diary entry titled Fields of Shit, which I thought summed up the day quite nicely.

September 25, 2007

When Goshawks Are Outlawed . . .

. . . only outlaws will have goshawks, and Pluvialis is already turning into a Hereward the Wake of falconry.

It's been a while since I've gone hawking like this. I had forgotten the radical change in subjectivity. I had forgotten how the world simultaneously dissolves to nothing, yet is presented in a form so utterly real and tangible, it almost hurts.

(For the record, the UK has not outlawed goshawks. Yet.)

A Walk in the Wet Mountains

Precipitation gauge, San Isabel National Forest, photo by Chas S. CliftonOne area of the Wet Mountains--two named peaks and their connected ridges--has fascinated me since the 1980s and could occupy me for the rest of my life.

Although parts have been logged in cycles since the 1880s, much of the logged areas are covered with heavy second-growth timber. Other deep canyons have never been touched by logging, mining, or ranching--or barely touched.

It's indicative that an entire steam-powered sawmill was abandoned in the 1880s and officially forgotten by the Forest Service -- although it's on national forest land -- until about fifteen years ago. (Now there is a hiking trail to it, with appropriate signage.)

Taking one of our cross-country hikes on Monday, M. and I happened across this precipitation gauge. The hanging metal strips break updrafts that might interfere with rain or snowfall measurements.

Next to it was a concrete slab, dated 10/1970, with threaded rods sticking out of it, that might have held a similar little tower.

We should have climbed up to see if there was oil in this one, as this article explains, but we did not, so we are left wondering if anyone reads it, or if it is a relic from some study or project long since completed.

"That's what bothers me about the government," M. said. "They're always leaving stuff in the woods."

September 19, 2007

Blog Stew with Hedysarum mackenzii

Men's Journal called it "The Cult of Chris McCandless", the 24-year-old who sought wilderness solitude in Alaska and died there. Jon Krakauer's book, Into the Wild, captured the mythic dimension of McCandless' last months.

And now . . . the Hollywood treatment, directed by Sean Penn.

Krakauer's first article for Outside magazine is here. Chip Brown wrote about McCandless for The New Yorker (abstract online).

Some environmental lit. professors want to screen the new movie in class alongside the TV show Northern Exposure.

¶ Charlie Russell, who hangs out with grizzly bears in Siberia, is cast by some writers as what Tim Treadwell should have been.

His new film Edge of Eden has been praised a lot. Russell and his wife, as I understand, rescued orphaned cubs from so-called zoos and raised them.

¶ Blogger Mary Scriver opined on an environmental email list, in regard to all this stuff about seeking a wilderness rite of passage:

You know, it's not uncommon in the Pacific Northwest for the highway workers who occasionally clean out the vigorous jungly blackberry tangles along the way to find the bodies and even skeletons of adventurous young men who were on the road. Sometimes their bikes are with them.

Climate Change and the Spread of Astroturf

Climate change, whatever its causes, is increasing the spread of astroturf.*

For example, I get an email offering an opportunity to swap links with a blog on climate change and governmental responses thereto. The blog looked so slick that it made me suspicious.

What a surprise. The chief blogger, Kevin Grandia, is a former "provincial government event coordinator" and now on the staff of a big Vancouver, BC, public-relations firm, James Hoggan & Associates.

He has involved himself in public disputes over climate science. Some of his statements seem to be mainly about bashing Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper. Here in the US, of course, we know that climate change is the personal fault of George W. Bush. In Canada, however, it's all Harper's fault.

We are supposed to believe that the firm's "blog initiative" is done from the goodness of its corporate heart, but, having worked in that field, I really doubt it. Some client has to be paying the bills -- or this is all connected with B.C. electoral politics -- or both. Apparently the firm does work for the David Suzuki Foundation, so there is one clue.

What cracks me up is their claim to be "Clearing the P.R. pollution that clouds climate science" when, I suspect, they are generating their fair share of it. It's a case of do as we say, not as we do, or "deception is OK, because we're the good guys."

It all feels like astroturf to me.

As Colorado Central publisher Ed Quillen wrote, Some people act as though it's a religious issue and ask "Do you believe in Global Warming?" with the same fervor as others ask "Do you believe in God?" or "Do you believe in UFOs? . . . .

Whether we're actually in the midst of Global Warming or Global Cooling or Global Stasis, we know what we ought to do. We should be embracing healthier actions and habits so that we can enjoy living in a healthier society, with a healthier economy and healthier lives.

The global warming activists urge us to walk more and drive less, to drive slower on highways, to use energy efficient light bulbs, and unplug appliances when they're not being used. They want us to turn off lights when we leave a room, and use passive solar techniques and curtains and caulk to save on home heating, and keep our cars well-tuned and our tires properly inflated. In essence, they want us to live a little more frugally.

And you certainly don't have to "believe" in global warming to see the advantages in wasting less and spending less; or in developing cleaner technologies and establishing energy sources which don't require foreign oil; or in old saws like "Waste not, want not."

But that sort of frugality would not heat up political campaigns and put money into the bank accounts of slick PR firms.

*Astroturf is artificial grass, so it has developed a secondary meaning of "bogus grassroots political organization."

September 18, 2007

A Bus from the Past

Customized bus in storage yard, Taos, New MexicoThe trouble with trips to Taos is bumping into that annoying younger me in his denim jacket and white summer straw cowboy hat, drinking weak coffee in Foster's restaurant on the plaza (not there anymore) instead of cappucino at Caffe Tazza.

Was this bus running back then?

September 15, 2007

Blog Stew with Ethanol

¶ Rana at Frogs and Ravens posts on the perfect being the enemy of the good when it comes to "living green". Meanwhile ...

¶ The Freakonomics gang discusses the same idea from some economists' perspective.

¶ The Colorado chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has a new web site. I see some grey hair there -- these guys could be demanding their god-given right to drive around the woods on ATVs, but in fact they are doing just the opposite.

¶ Patrick Burns links to an interesting collection of outdoor/nature bloggers. Maybe I can be a "camera trap codger" some day.

The American Southwest Asthetic, Globalized

M. and I drove to Taos on Friday for the end-of-season sales. That is to say we drove here to buy inexpensive rugs that were made in India and sold in stores otherwise full of mass-produced Mexican folk art in a leading Southwestern art town.

In our part of the trade network, we are delivering Colorado-grown ponderosa pine seedlings to some friends who have a new and treeless house here. At our house, ponderosa seedlings are like weeds.

We know we're in an art town because the Taos News headlines include "Artist's Body found in [Rio Grande] Gorge" and "Another sculpture bites the dust at TCA [Taos Center for the Arts]."

From the other blog, an earlier meditation on Taos.

September 11, 2007

The Bedspreads of September

M. had planned a outdoor day yesterday, maybe taking the little boat to Lake Isabel, but we awoke to low clouds and steady drizzle. So we made it a city day instead in Colorado Springs.

Today when I passed a neighbor's house, I saw old quilts and bedspreads laid over the wire anti-deer fence and I smiled, because you would see the same thing here. Last night the skies finally cleared after dark, and M. went out to cover the tomatoes and basil. I think the low was in the high 30s F.

Sure, the Old Farmer's Almanac is calling for a mild winter, and I suspect they are just copying the Weather Service on their prediction for a La Niña winter.

But last night was autumn's envoy, and King Winter is making his stately progress in our direction.


In the quiet hours, his talk occasionally lost its exuberance and he became sad, regretting the passage of time, but like Denys he kept horror at bay by relentless adventuring.

The "he" is a British settler and soldier in Kenya, Tich Miles of Cole's Scouts, during the grueling and often forgotten East Africa campaign of World War One. "Denys" is Denys Finch Hatton, and the line comes from Sara Wheeler's new biography of Finch Hatton, Too Close to the Sun.

As I read that chapter, the search for Steve Fossett is still ongoing. Things don't look good at this point. Could that sentence just as well apply to him?

September 10, 2007

Blog Stew with Bluebirds

¶ The Center for Biological Diversity is suing the federal goverment over the willow flycatcher, which also nests in the San Luis Valley.

¶ Western bluebirds need some artificial cavities, i.e., nesting sites.

¶ So I bought a pair of Crocs after M. was dissing them -- and after a month of light use they broke. A rivet pulled out. Crocs did replace them under warranty -- I sort of used the blog posting as "proof of purchase." The Japanese are getting them caught in escalators, though. Crocs says, "Change your escalators." That's attitude.

¶ Two additions to the blogroll: Natural Patriot and Planetary, which is a new blog devoted to teaching the "environmental humanities."

¶ I am also starting a "favorite posts" list. Look at the bottom of the sidebar.

September 09, 2007

An Impressionist on the Purgatory

I want to see this exhibit by painter Michael Ome Untiedt of paintings from the Purgatory canyon country, now at the Sangre de Cristo Art Center in Pueblo. (Link from the Pueblo Chieftain may expire.)

Untiedt admits that he broke a social code:

I was kind of raised with the notion that it's a secret place," said Lamar native Michael Ome Untiedt. "You don't talk about it - you don't want to see spandex bicyclists down there. Part of the reason the Army can take over is because it's been kept a secret."

Ironically, the earlier acquisition by the Army of the ranches in the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site did create more public access to the area, and that access created more awareness of just what lies south of US 50.

September 05, 2007

Blog Stew with Hidatsa Beans

¶ Put the pot on the fire: the Museum of the Fur Trade is in the heirloom vegetables business. Unfortunately, what with finals week, I can't be there for "Beer and Baubles."

¶ I saw the dateline on this Denver Post story, and I was all ready to blog, "They are stealing our beavers!" But in fact we are getting more here on Hardscrabble Creek. I think I know which rancher requested some, and his stock just rose with me.

My first thought was because some beavers have been building dams closer to my house (downstream a couple of miles from that ranch), and I feared that someone had called for their removal because they threatened to flood a back yard or two.

¶ Sure you can whip up a prickly pear margarita. But I usually make the quicker "birder's margarita." Just pour a shot of tequila over ice, add lemon or lime juice, and then cut the acidity with some of the hummingbirds' sugar syrup from the refrigerator.

Rocky Mountain News columnist Janet Simons fingers sellers of bogus Hatch, New Mexico, chiles. She recommends this site for finding chile sellers.

But chiles matter more in Pueblo. And the Chili [sic] & Frijoles festival is the 21st-23rd of this month.

The Problem of Intelligent Dogs

Patrick Burns quotes a Victorian writer on dogs:

We hear constantly of prodigies of dogs, whose very intelligence makes them of little value as slaves. When they are wanted, they are apt to be absent on their own errands.

"It's time to go. Have you seen Shelby?"

"She was here a little while ago."

They are too critical of their master's conduct. For instance, an intelligent dog shows marked contempt for an unsuccessful sportsman.

Back in the mid-1980s, I went dove hunting near Westcliffe. One of our group borrowed a friend's golden retriever--just took him out of the yard. Knowing Chuck, I am not sure if he asked permission first.

I know, I know, a lot of people think that goldens are sort of dim-witted.

Not this specimen. He was as professional as a Swiss guide.

He always knew who hit a bird and always returned the bird to the right person.

But if you missed, he would look over his shoulder and sneer. It is humiliating to be sneered at by a dog.

"I want one of those," I thought. But then someone gave me a Chesapeake Bay retriever pup instead.

A Naturalist in Custer County

I am reading Theodore D.A. Cockerell: Letters from West Cliff, Colorado. (That is "Westcliffe" today, our county seat.)

Cockerell was one of the classic late-Victorian naturalists. He was born in a London suburb in 1866, and he and his brother used to visit William Morris, where they no doubt were caught up in pre-Marxist socialist fantasies of people living in organic communities and printing their own tasteful wallpapers.

He was passionate about natural history from an early age: "Very early, indeed, it was given out that 'Theo is found of animals," he writes in a memoir.

His brother Sydney, another boy naturalist, later directed the Fitzwilliam Museum. (Cambridge bloggers please copy.)

No one can write about Custer County in the late 19th century without quoting Cockerell, for the letters he wrote to his fiancee and her brother in 1887-1889 remain an important primary source for the social history of this county in that era.

Some lung ailment brought him to Colorado. It does not sound as though he had serious tuberculosis, but "lungers," many of them English, were a recognizable social group back then, particularly in and around Colorado Springs.

Working odd jobs to pay his bills and assiduously reading and collecting specimens, Cockerell founded his own Colorado Biological Association and solicited memberships. He returned to England in 1890 and obtained a curatorial job in Jamaica. (I lived there too, but in Mandeville, not Kingston.)

His lung trouble reoccurred, so he and his new wife returned to the Rockies, living and teaching in Mesilla and Las Vegas (I've been there). Then he moved on to Colorado College (I worked there too), and on to the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he finished his career as professor of zoology. (I went to graduate school there).

The young Cockerell is a little too much of a naturalist some times, proud of his learning. Disembarking in New York in July, he writes, "It is very hot and the place swarms with Musca domestica." Like just saying "flies" is not good enough for him. But his essential good nature comes through. ("The green banks of Staten Island look good for snails!")

Right now I am reading of his trip west, which includes the inevitable digressions:

• The difference between British and American trains.

• The difference in prices. The US was more expensive then, at least for meals and travel. How things change.

• American "misuse" of "shall" and "will."

• The presumption of all these struggling little prairie towns with "City" in their names.

Cockerell's letters were also collected in an edition called The Valley of the Second Sons -- in other words, the Wet Mountain Valley.

More excerpts coming from time to time.

Living Up to Her Bird Dog

Woman falls in love with Spinone Italiano puppy.

But the breeder won't let her buy a puppy unless she plans to hunt it.

The Spinone is a bird dog, and she had to promise to train this one to hunt.

So on a 90-degree morning in late August, a day when even the humidity had humidity, there was Hauser, wearing an orange vest and carrying a shotgun. Lumberjack, the dog she promised to train, and her three other bird dogs tromped through the fields of northern Delaware County at her side.

Somehow I doubt this story would make it in Bark magazine, even though it fits their slogan of "modern dog culture," or in Bark's Colorado knock-off, Colorado Dog. ("Your dog. Your family. Your lifestyle")

People want dogs, but they don't always want them to do what they were bred to do.

Of course, what dogs do is loudly vomit indigestible carrion onto the bedroom floor at 2 a.m., as Shelby demonstrated for us a couple of night ago.

(Hat tip: Hell in a Handbasket.)

August 31, 2007

A Texas "Chupacabra"

Another candidate for the mythical "chupacabra" (goat-sucker) has turned up in Texas.

I wonder, however, if it will not turn out to be another canid with a severe case of mange or some other disease, similar to this unfortunate woodchuck.

Here is more from a local paper.

If Linda Moulton Howe is the reporter, then read this with your saltshaker handy. She is a "true believer."