June 27, 2007

Wildland Firefighting Video

Some Wyoming firefighters made this video to give a sense of their work. It's the real deal.

Me, I own a hardhat and a pulaski, but I never did the real paid firefighting. When I was a little kid, they wore jeans and T-shirts, and nobody had a radio.

It's addictive work for the people who do it. Think of walking up on a fire when you can't see it -- but you can hear it. (Via The Goat.)

"All My Flycatchers"

SEASON ONE: After a lapse of some years, Cordilleran flycatchers return to our porch. Lucinda (all females are named Lucinda) investigates a philosophical paradox.

SEASON TWO: Lucinda starts a new family. Again she lays four eggs, but only three young survive to fledge.

SEASON THREE: Lucinda starts to build a nest in the same old spot, but June 6 brings an unseasonal windstorm. On June 7, I notice that the nest is gone.

Lucinda and a male are still in the area; we hear their calls. On the 22nd, with M. and me away in Colorado Springs and the dogs shut indoors, she starts rebuilding.

And she is still rebuilding. Is there time to rear another brood? In mid-July, a contractor will be coming to install new double-paned windows about ten feet from her nest site. Will she tolerate the disruption?

Stay tuned for All My Flycatchers, Season Three!

June 26, 2007


Hail stones bouncing off the roof

The late Sam Arnold of The Fort restaurant in Morrison, Colorado, helped to keep alive the hailstorm, a Southern Plains version of the mint julep.

Although many early nineteenth-century mint julep recipes called for brandy rather than whiskey, the hailstorm is a whiskey drink:

Hail Storm Julip
From the 1830's the earliest known mixed drink served in Colorado, from Bent's Fort. Originally made with Monongahela wiskey from Pittsburgh, or wheat wiskey from Taos.
# 3 oz bourbon
# 2 teaspoons powdered sugar
# 2 sprigs of fresh mint leaves

place crushed ice in pint size mason jar, add bourbon,
sugar and mint screw top in place,
shake at least 50 times...remove lid and drink from jar.

June 25, 2007

Voodoo Greenwashing

Damn near any product can be "green," if you are creative enough.

lastic-handled paint brushes were touted as nature-friendly because they were not made of wood. Wood-handled paint brushes were promoted as better for the planet because they were not made of plastic.

An electric chainsaw? Green, because it was not gas-powered. A bug zapper? Ditto, because it was not a poisonous spray. Manufacturers of paint thinners, electrical screwdrivers and interior overhead lights claimed similar bragging rights simply because their plastic or cardboard packaging was recyclable.

Via Glenn Reynolds.

June 24, 2007

Wind and Wine

Although written about Illinois, this post could be translated to Coloradan, in parts.

But you know what the corollary is: we need to drink more domestic wine.

June 22, 2007

The 24 Hours of LeMons

It's an article about recycling. Really. Sort of.

Call it the "new new nature writing." (Via Hell in a Handbasket.)

The Age of Whales

Whales and whaling are outside the remit of this blog, but this news rocked me back. Apparently some whales can live as long as two centuries:

In studies that could rewrite biology textbooks and establish whales as the longest-living mammals on Earth, scientists in Alaska and at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla have estimated the ages of three bowhead whales killed by Inupiat Eskimos in northern Alaska at 135 to 172 years. At the time it was killed, a fourth bowhead whale was believed to be a stunning 211 years old, the researchers concluded.

June 18, 2007

A Nation of Wimps -- With Maps

The "nation(s) of wimps" meme has arrived at Boing Boing:

The Daily Mail has an article about how kids have been restricted from roaming far from their houses when they play or go to school and why this is bad for their mental health. It includes a map that shows how, over four generations, the roaming range afforded to kids has shrunk to the size a a backyard.

And tonight's ABC news featured The Dangerous Book for Boys.

Meanwhile, Denver Post op-ed columnist Stuart Clark Rogers thinks that his grandsons will not need to know how to use a pocketknife, tie a necktie, shoot a gun, etc. Apparently others will do all those things for them. Maybe they will not even need to go outdoors?

'Transitioning' into Montana

I mentioned Larimer County, Colorado's, online Code of the West.

But some find such documents a little ... harsh.

Counties throughout Montana have long published Codes of the West for newcomers, which basically warn them not to expect the same level of government services they received back East and not to be shocked if, say, they wake up one morning to see a rancher driving cattle through their yards.

“When you read them, they sound almost punitive,” said William Bryan Jr., executive director of the Rural Landscape Institute.

Instead, new Montanans can view the Path to Eden DVD, narrated by anchorman Tom Brokaw and designed "assist landowners in transitioning into Montana’s rural way of life." Renters and students are on their own, I guess.

(Via Mary Scriver.)

A Sure-Fire Bestseller

You know the old publisher's joke about "Lincoln's doctor's dog," right? (If you do not, then Google probably is your friend.)

So why not "Hitler's Jack Russell terrier"? Patrick Burns has the basics.

Me, I see it as a children's book. In Robert Harris's world.

Wildflowers and Bad News for Bears

Back from South Carolina, I walked down the driveway this morning to look at wildflowers. But part of what I saw is bad news for bears--and for me.

The wet spring has meant profuse waxy white yucca blossoms...

... and the American vetch is blooms along the driveway, together with ...

tall (a/k/a one-sided) penstemon.

M. loves to see abundant yellow sweetclover, which seems to move from place to place each year.

This cobweb is catching "cotton" from the cottonwood trees along Hardscrabble Creek.

But the bad news is that the wet spring seems to have produced an outbreak of "plum pockets," a fungus disease that destroys the fruit. I did not see a single good-looking plum developing. Normally the bears get most of these wild plums--I collect maybe one bowl full. But this year they won't. Maybe they can make up for them with feral apples.

(Flower identifications from Plants of Pueblo Mountain Park, the best flower guide for these foothills.)


Jack bays back at the  coyotesJack rouses himself from his porch bed to bay back at the coyotes across the valley.

No, that is not doggie ectoplasm projecting from his throat but one of a set of antlers hanging from the porch railing.

June 15, 2007

Search strings

Recent search strings bringing readers who probably will not return:

"la veta colorado sucks"
"parents that bail their adult children out of trouble"
"getting rid of a red-winged blackbird"

To which in every case I answer "Why?"

Lines about 'Place' in Spartanburg

I have walked inside a magnolia tree,
discussed kudzu removal and eaten
their South Carolina-style pulled-pork barbecue,
listened to Appalachian-style fiddle and strolled
up the Green River Road
where Banastre Tarleton ordered his British Legion
into an over-confident assault on the Continental regulars--
Cowpens, 1781--the gloomy winter morning light.
So am I here yet?

June 14, 2007

The Walk Has Ended

Word comes of the death of Colin Fletcher. Would it be an exaggeration to say he taught a generation about backpacking?

From a nature-writing listserv:

Born in Wales and educated in England, Fletcher served in the Royal Marines through WWII. From there he went to east Africa, where he farmed, and thence to Canada to prospect, finally settling in California where he took up writing.

Best known for
The Complete Walker, published in 1968 and still in print (4th edition, 2002), Fletcher is responsible, more than any other person, for the popularity of backpacking and wilderness camping in the U.S. The Thousand-Mile Summer recounts his epic tramp from Oregon to Mexico along the Sierra Nevada Range, and The Man Who Walked Through Time his walk the length of Grand Canyon National Park (within the canyon rim–-a first). He was, above all, an adventurer: among his many other books, River recounts his journey by raft from the headwaters of the Colorado River system to the Sea of Cortez (which he undertook in his late sixties).

But my favorite book of his was The Man from the Cave, a sort of detective story that begins when Fletcher finds a man's possessions in a desert cave and sets out to track down the owner's story--with a twist at the end, of course.

June 13, 2007

Kudzu, Tamarisk & a Proposed New Holiday

So I am here at the ASLE conference, down as far in the South as I have been in some years, and I meet at a reception a man from a local anti-kudzu group called Knock Out Kudzu.

When I told him about the kudzu-infested farm in SE Missouri that my sister once owned, he seemed a little skeptical. (Joke: She bought it in the summer, and when winter came, discovered a couple of more small outbuildings that had been lost in the kudzu growth.) Maybe her place was the northernmost outpost of kudzu, I don't really know.

Knock Out Kudzu is all about removing the stuff through mechanical means without using herbicides and letting the native vegetation come up in its place. Good for them. May they flourish like ... uh, kudzu.

I wish tamarisk control were as easy. When I mentioned tamarisk, his face was blank. Regional differences. But when I talked to a Californian, she countered with eucalyptus (water-sucking fire hazard), so we at least had an understanding. (Tamarisk sucks water and makes its soil saltier.)

Mistakenly, I once thought that tamarisk could be blamed on Frank Meyer, but apparently it arrived in the American Southwest several generations earlier. But we can blame him for Russian olive infestations now considered partners in crime with tamarisk when it comes to ruining native biological diversity.

If the native-plants advocates want to lose all of their genteel garden club image, they could start an annual holiday on which Frank Meyer is burned in effigy, like Guy Fawkes in England. Banners could proclaim, "American Vegetation Does Not Need Improving," or something like that. And in the South they could burn Channing Cope, feeding the blaze with kudzu vines.

Just a thought.

June 12, 2007

Bureaucratic Idiocy: the Forest Service

A Denver television station catches the Forest Service doing what they said that they would not do: ticketing non-fee-paying visitors on the Mount Evans highway west of Denver. Background here.

Yes, it is a national issue.

Blog Stew

The ultimate zoom shot: Fall from the galaxy into an oak tree and from there to the subatomic realm. (Via Dr. Hypercube.)

¶ Earlier I mentioned an unpleasant experience at Black Canyon NP. Supt. Connie Rudd sent me a letter. Translated from bureaucratese into the vernacular, it says, "The race has always been done that way. We're not changing it, so you can take a running jump from the South Rim, buddy. We strive to provide a quality visitor experience for everyone who visits our National Parks."

5,000 acres of solar panels? Colorado's San Luis Valley will be visible from space. (Via SLV Dweller.)

¶ Ted Williams blogs the resignation of J. Dart, chief executive of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and Colorado writer Dave Petersen shares thoughts in the comments. Tell us how you really feel, Dave. (More Dart and RMEF background info here.)

¶ I showed the documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill to the nature-writing class at the beginning of spring semester. Some students blogged about it, here and here.

But the story continues: Rebecca O'Connor asks for some less-emotional decision-making. Hah! This is San Francisco we are talking about. Seizing the moral high ground is the most important thing.

Lions, Buffalo, Crocodile

It must be Cape Buffalo week on my blogroll.

Patrick Burns links to a fascinating video of a three-way confrontation. Listen to the chatter of the fascinated hominids. If we evolved with this sort of drama in front of us, is it any wonder that we find it compelling? (The video runs for several minutes, so give it time to load.)

And Steve Bodio offers a poem for when the buffalo comes for you.

June 10, 2007

He was dead all along

A third skeleton has been found in the Four Corners area, quite possibly that of Jason McVean, the third of three armed robbers whose killing of a Cortez, Colorado, policeman led to a huge manhunt in 1998. The event was partly fictionalized by New Mexico mystery writer Tony Hillerman in his novel Hunting Badger.

(Via The Goat.)

The Sparrowhawk Red in Beak and Claw

Helen Macdonald has posted some new stuff--go read it. Here she is on sparrowhawks:

I mean it seriously when I say sparrowhawks are a difficulty. They are for me, anyway: they pull my moral assumptions through hoops. Painfully. It's all very well to know that nature is red and tooth and claw. It’s not difficult to feel that human morals have no place in nature. But even so, it’s not pleasant to witness a sparrowhawk eating a shrieking, live starling, piece by piece, on your patio floor. It is horrible. And it is salutory. Partly because moral conflicts are interesting. And partly for other reasons.

Terminology note: Some Americans call the kestrel (Falco sparverius) a sparrowhawk too, not to be too confusing. But it is more of an open-country bird. In behavior, the sharp-shinned hawk comes nearer, I think. (Stop acting like you know anything about raptors--Ed.)

The Pre-Conference Assessment

I almost have my conference panel presentation ready. On the other hand, I know that our time slot is at six in the morning following the drunken barbeque bash. So why I am bothering? I could just go in there and say to the three other panelists and a bunch of empty chairs, "Some students like to write blog posts while others see it as a distraction from the 'real writing' that they will be graded on. Draw your own conclusions."

And then I would crawl into my coffee cup until it was time to go to the airport.

June 08, 2007

Hogzilla II and the Canned Hunt Problem

¶ Now all the world knows that Hogzilla II was a domestic pig passed off as a feral hog to some paying customers at a so-called hunting preserve in Alabama.

An Alabama newspaper offers details.

Blogger Patrick Burns suspected the truth last month.

I have been a hunter since I was 12 or so, but if I had to choose between still hunting and having wildlife in the world, I would take the latter. In other worlds, I value the wildness more. Twice in my life I've been invited to private bird-hunting farms (business junkets both times), but I assuaged my conscience by thinking that those farm-raised quail and pheasants could just keep flying if they wanted to. It's fine to manage land to produce optimum numbers of deer or whatever, but when you put a fence around it and turn the quarry loose inside the fence, something else is going on.

Then there is the whole issue of creeping towards private ownership of wildlife, which does no one any good in the long run, unless you really think that the British model of wildlife management (landowner owns the wildlife) is better than the North American. I do not.

Maybe that's why Americans and Canadians say they are going hunting, while in the UK they go "shooting," the assumption being that the gamekeepers have produced plenty of critters and all that matters is marksmanship.

With sportsmanship and ecological thinking pushed to the side, matters can go downhill in a hurry..

If you have read this far and you think all hunting is wrong, then you might wish to share the moral high ground of disapproval of the pig-killing. Such Christ-like thoughts you will find therein.

What a mess.

June 05, 2007

Writers, Readers, and Rabies in Spartanburg

On Monday I will leave for Spartanburg, S.C., site of this year's conference of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment.

We are already warned about rabies, but, hey, we don't fondle foxes. We compose sensitive essays about them.

There's a little local boosterism among--what do they call them, Spartanburgers? Local officials are hard at work approving new logos. Your town is nothing without a logo. (Magdalena, N.M., take note.) I won't be bringing home a new BMW, however. Everywhere I go for any kind of convention, however, I find these people.

As the saying goes, "I will be so blogging this."

June 03, 2007

Rocks versus Xbox

The whole "nation of wimps" or "let the kids play outdoors" movement seems to be growing, according to this recent New York Times article.

A kid with an Xbox can blow up the planet, but he can’t scrape his knee or even grow short of breath. A stone-skipper, though, might fall into a pond, forcing one of his resourceful buddies to snap a branch off a nearby maple tree and hold it out to him before he drowns.

Thus does parental protectiveness come full circle, with the deliberate promotion of character-building childhood mishaps. By pushing that baby-on-board overboard — particularly if that baby was born a male — we can encourage him, the thinking goes, to develop emotional sea legs. That’s the hidden redemptive promise behind the appeal of the “The Dangerous Book for Boys” and the rise of play-positive organizations like the Alliance for Childhood: It’s not too late to raise a scrapper, even if he grew up eating organic and riding to Montessori school in a Volvo.

I introduced some readings on the subject to last semester's nature-writing class, and some of the students wrote thoughtfully on the topic. Follow the "childhood" label for more, or just cruise the January-April 2007 archives.

We did not get around to discussing the Alliance for Childhood, but one student wrote an essay about the elimination of recess from elementary schools that she called "Silent Swings." (Give me a title with a good pun and you're halfway to an A.)

Shooting Bears from the Porch

Black bear near the house.
This bear is violating the contract. Photo shot from the porch as the bear sulks near the house.

I agree that The Night Belongs to the Beasts. Any bird feeder left up after dark is fair game, and if some bear wants to regard it as a disposable sunflower-seed dispenser, then I accept the job of repairing or replacing it.

But showing up half an hour before sunset could be problematic. If I start taking feeders down in the afternoon, I run up against the well-organized black-headed grosbeak lobby.

Do we need new rules? "Feeders will only be put out when the dogs are on the veranda to watch them?" "Feeders will only be put out if Chas is on the veranda with a shotgun?"

Besides, this particular bear has been walking around the house in the afternoon, too. I suspect it is the same one that tore up an anthill near the vegetable garden a few nights ago too. So now we are on its food trail. (Of course the garbage cans are kept indoors.)

Can't we all just get along?

June 02, 2007

Forest Fire Show & Tell

The Forest Service apparently has been doing media tours of fire sites, judging from Front Range media. Channel 13 in Colorado Springs featured foresters talking about growing local seedlings for reforestation on the Hayman Burn southwest of Denver -- good forestry practice, but it's not like they are going to re-plant 138,000 acres -- nor should they.

The Rocky Mountain News trumpets that the burn will take 600 years to "recover." And how many times will it burn between now and then? And what is "recovery"?

The big issue up there is the erosive decomposed granite soil in much of the burned area.

Despite the return of grasses, shrubs and other groundcover over more than half the land, the erosion problem continues. For Denver Water, the shedding soil has created a new budgetary black hole.

Dirt traps designed to stop the soil from pouring through Goose and Turkey creeks into Cheesman Reservoir, at the heart of the burn area, are catching more -- not less -- sediment, said Kevin Keefe, who supervises reservoir operations for the utility.

Today M. spotted two school buses and some FS vehicles on the road leaving the 2005 Mason Gulch burn -- another tour?

UPDATE: The Denver Post does its story on the restoration. (Newspaper links may expire.)