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."

August 28, 2007

Entering the Quiet Weeks

In the last week, both rufous hummingbirds and band-tailed pigeons have disappeared from the area around the house.

To borrow a few lines from the poet Ceisiwr Serith,

Don't let me wake one day and ask where summer has gone.
May I be aware of its going, and be as thrilled with it
as I was with the arrival of spring.

I call these weeks quiet, for when summer birds are leaving and the winter flocks of pine siskins, house finches, and so on have not yet coalesced.

Maybe a dozen broad-tailed hummingbirds remain, an electron shell around the nucleus of the sugar-water feeder. They must be portraying magnesium. Hot little flares of birds.

August 27, 2007

Another Serving

¶ From the Fishing Jones blog: A collection of six-word fishing stories.

¶ I have seen this mentioned before, but it has not reached the public consciousness -- some of that "early runoff" problem here in Colorado might better be blamed on dust than global warming. And with the dust, the human role is obvious.

¶ Pluvialis continues the explore new links between falconry and academic privilege. If we updated the old rules at my university, they would be saying that adjuncts could fly only kestrels, etc. Might I rate a goshawk?

¶ Not unrelated to the dust issue: the Forest Service might be taking a harder line on ATV use.

August 26, 2007

Bishop's Castle, the comic book version

All the world loves a monomaniac (at a safe distance), and obsessed castle-builder Jim Bishop is on the way to becoming a southern Colorado folk hero.

The Colorado Springs Gazette's Dave Phillips gives his story a sort of R. Crumb treatment.

August 25, 2007

Blog Stew

¶ My house has a "walk score" of "worst." Rate yours here. The scoring system, however, does not include such factors as "able to walk quickly onto national forest land" or "usually able to walk dogs in the road without being flattened."

¶ Ann Althouse unpacks a New York Times Style article on diet choices and the gender: "Meat is no longer murder.... meat is strategy."

¶ Evidently that "fascination" that High Country News worries about extends nationwide.

¶ Pluvialis reprints the greatest book review of all time.

Blues over Jazz in the West

When M. and I turned our rental cabin into a short-term vacation rental, we thought that the Jazz in the Sangres music festival might generate some business. It did not. In fact, the festival died two years ago.

The recent Denver Post article bemoaning that city's dwindling jazz club scene mentioned that demise and the reason for both: declining audiences.

Quite awhile ago, when I was filling in as entertainment editor at the Colorado Springs Sun, I got to pondering on the same topic. I came up with two reasons, although I never tested them.

First would be that jazz musicians started believing the critics about how what they were producing was not popular music but a uniquely American high art.

Also, during the Cold War, the federal government subsidized many jazz musicians' international tours, thus demonstrating the vitality of American culture in contrast to the Soviet Union--and since many of those musicians were black, countering attackers who pointed to America's racial problems during the contemporaneous civil rights struggle.

Convinced that they were now artistes, the musicians stopped improvising on popular music of the day in order to do more original composing of "difficult" work. (Pharoah Sanders, anyone?) No more raucous audiences in clubs: audiences now had to sit still, be respectful, and demonstrate that they were deserving of the musicians' performances.

It was high art now. But a certain link with the everyday world was severed as the walls went up around the jazz world. At least that's my theory.

Meanwhile, two new blues festivals seem to be doing all right. One is in Cañon City, and the other is in Trinidad, however, so we will get no rental business there.

A Very Scary Thing in the West

High County News, the environmental news magazine, was started by an environmentally concerned Wyoming rancher. I myself have been a subscriber off and on since those Wyoming days.

In the 1980s, Eastern transplants Ed and Betsy Marston took over. It is sort of telling that I once heard Betsy admit that prior to moving to Colorado's Western Slope as a middle-aged woman, she had never driven on a gravel road.

HCN continued to provide a kind of environmental coverage that you do not find in any Western newspaper--not The Denver Post or any of the other big one.

But there were some holes in the Marstons' editorial viewpoints. For one thing, they just did not "get" wildlife-related stories unless they were presented in simplistic ways with Good Guys and Bad Guys. You know: endangered species good, all ranchers bad.

I sold a few stories to HCN in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but I never felt like I could produce the Good Guys/Bad Guys writing that they wanted.

Now HCN is trying to be cultural. In a recent issue, writer Ray Ring Viewed With Alarm the fact that (news flash) Westerners own guns. (Then why are some of the best gun bloggers in Tennessee?)

To support his view that this is a Very Scary Thing, Ring talks to few gun owners. That would be too obvious. He might learn that Americans (not just Westerners) own firearms for several reasons (in no particular order):

1. For self defense, a natural human right
2. For hunting
3. For target shooting, a test of mind and body
4. For collecting interesting human artifacts with historical associations of one kind or another.

For instance, he turns to experts whose ideology supports the thesis of Scariness:

In a phone interview, Professor Burbick says the gun-rights movement began not only in reaction to gun laws, but also as a reflection of white men’s anxiety about the civil rights movement

Had he wanted to do actual historical research, he might have turned, for example, to the work of Stephen P. Halbrook, a black legal scholar who points out in his book That Every Man Be Armed an interesting fact: Many early gun-control laws were directed at freed slaves, lest they defend themselves in the post-Civil War South.

But Halbrook's book was published by the University of New Mexico Press, located in Albuquerque, hence Westerners, and hence in Ring's view probably Fascinated With Firearms.

As someone who teaches 19th-century American literature, Joan Burbick's historical horizon ought to extend to the 1870s, but maybe not.

Being a longtime HCN reader, I hate to see it turn into an anemic imitation of The New York Times Magazine with all that publication's ideological blinders. That is probably not what Tom Bell had in mind.

If Ring's article is HCN's take on cultural reporting, you are better off with Mountain Gazette.

August 23, 2007

Cripple Creek, Zombie Town

Bennett Avenue, Cripple Creek, ColoradoBustling Bennett Avenue, Cripple Creek's gambling street, on a sunny summer day.

In the early 1980s, when I was a reporter for the Colorado Springs Sun, I spent a lot of time in the old mining towns of Cripple Creek and Victor, on the ghosts-and-gold mining beat. Then in the early 1980s Cripple Creek (but not Victor) got casino gambling, along with Blackhawk and Central City.

(I worked six months once in another state as a slot-machine tech, so I must have been inoculated against the charms of playing them.)

M. and I don't go there much now. For one thing, we moved, and what was then a one-hour trip now takes more like two and a half.

Before the gambling, Cripple Creek was gift shops and lazy antiques shops and bars and the melodrama. There were always the visiting bikers, the miners and former miners and wannabe miners, and the young actors from the melodrama, plus a sprinkling of summer people and a few town "characters." The town was living in the past, but some people liked it that way.

Now it's Zombie Town. The Rambin' Express bus pulls up, disgorges a bunch of retirees, and they go into darkened rooms where lights flash and electronic music that sounds like Eighties video arcade games plays over and over and over. (One of these days someone will prove that that combination accelerates Alzheimer's disease.)

Reno it's not. We heard two couples chuckling over a sign outside one casino promising "Free burgers at your [slot] machine."

Not drinks, burgers. You're not in Atlantic City either.

There is not much to do for families when every doorway says "No one under 21 admitted." They could ride the historic tourist train, I suppose.

Over in Victor, always the workingman's town, not so much as changed. White-hard-hat management types stroll in and out of the AngloGold mining office -- the action is at their huge open pit mine that swallowed up the old Cresson mine, which now exists only in the negative space of memory. The associated gigantic cyanide leach pad (a flat-topped mountain of crushed ore) perches ominously at the headwaters of Eightmile Creek.

In Victor they're drinking beer on the sidewalk, selling antiques in a half-serious way, and waiting for the next big thing. Zeke's Bar has moved into a larger space but the Gold Coin bar disappeared in a spasm of gentrification that seems to have abated. The past is always just around the red-brick corner at the end of the street.

August 22, 2007

It's an Adventure! But It's Totally Safe!

Recently I mentioned current rafting deaths on the Arkansas River and my own earlier experience with a flack for the Colorado commercial rafting industry.

Subsequently, the Denver Post weighed in with the story of a deadly trip through "The Numbers" rapids above Buena Vista. Some tour operators spoke of the difficulty of profiling clients and their ability to handle rough water.

The flip side of that issue, however -- which the Post ignores -- is that river guides can run a given stretch smoothly or give the clients an exciting, pinball-machine ride that generates bigger tips. The guides call the practice "Bash for Cash."

Another issue that Post writer Scott Willoughby skirts is the whole commercialization of extreme sport. It is supposed to be scary -- but completely safe. A little bit of a contradiction, wouldn't you say?

"'Shit Happens': The Selling of Risk in Extreme Sport," a paper by Catherine Palmer, takes a deeper look at the phenomenon of "veteran guides [who] will ensure your safety." (Australian Journal of Anthropology, 13:3, 323-36.)

On the one hand, the tour guides are presented as being very particular kinds of experts; fearless adventurers, capable of meeting any challenge, yet, on the other hand, [through] the same discourse of extremity runs the line that anyone can do it."

Bash for cash. Flip for tips.

Dan Mannix, an American writer who worked for a time in a carnival sideshow (fire-eating, sword-swallowing, escape tricks) discusses scary carnival rides in his bookStep Right Up:

Captain BIlly told me that the closer a ride came to murdering the people who got into it, the more popular it was.

(Scroll to the bottom of the page linked above for photos of Mannix and his fellow carnies.)

August 21, 2007

Two Bear Stories

I was catching up today with a colleague whom I have not seen all summer. It seems a black bear got into her house, which is up against the Wet Mountains, same as mine.

It climbed through a partially opened bedroom window, went into the kitchen, opened the freezer, hauled some items outdoors, came back in, found some dog food in the pantry, and took that out too.

She and her husband were away in Pueblo. First they got a call from someone who found their elderly dog, nearly a mile from home. Terrified, the dog had run and run. Then they came home ...

"I felt violated," she said, the same language you often hear from burglary victims.

It could happen to us, I know, even with two big noisy dogs. Once I did surprise a black bear in the garage--it had gone through the connecting door into the basement and found our bulk food storage. Paw prints in spilled powdered milk showed just where it had trod. That bear took off when it saw me.

Not like this story, which at least has a happy outcome. And they will always have his scars in common.

UPDATE: It could be worse. We could be living in New Jersey, where there is nowhere to relocate bears and the cultural-political climate is more hysterical. "Dolphins of the wilderness"??? (Dolphins are predators too.)

Dog Politics

These two blogs that work to corral the political influence of dog-owners. Both bash PETA and the so-called Humane Society of the United States, which operates no shelters and whose employees rarely touch a dog in the course of their jobs:

Blue Dog State carries the tag line, "If you count dog ownership among your civil rights, you're living in a Blue Dog State of mind."

Dog Politics is "The Political Blog For Dog Owners: Wake Up & Smell The Dog - There's A New Breed Of Voter In Town."

It's time for people who really care about shelter dogs to stop giving to HSUS and start giving money to your LOCAL shelter, your LOCAL rescue, your LOCAL humane society.

Oh- and just How much money do local shelters get from HSUS?

A big fat ZERO. Nada. Zilch. There is no "trickle down" effect from Wayne Pacelle's HSUS to your local humane society, got that?

August 20, 2007


Myotis lucufus. Photo by Chas S. Clifton, 20 August 2007I was on the verandah yesterday and thought, "That's an odd-looking wasps' nest."

I have been on patrol against the paper wasps lately. Shelby the dog was stung and had an allergic reaction that sent her to the vet. Of course, she will chase and snap at them.

It was no nest but a little brown bat that decided the porch rafters were a place to sleep while planning worldwide domination.

Meanwhile, the woods around the house are suddenly quiet. The black-headed grosbeaks have departed. Gone, just like that.

August 18, 2007

What the Bears -- and Boars? -- Will Be Eating

Maybe only wildlife biologists and hunters have kept the word mast in their vocabularies.

When I hear it -- or use it -- I feel transported back to the days of William Twiti, huntsman to Edward II and author of the earliest hunting book written by an Englishman, early in the 1300s.

To him, mast was food for swine wild and domestic. Here in southern Colorado, the oak mast is food for turkeys and bear -- although once, maybe eight years ago, I swear I saw a feral pig south of Pueblo Reservoir, standing next to Highway 96, black and lean. That sighting remains one of my wildlife mysteries.

If there were huntable numbers of wild boar, more people would be talking about this year's excellent mast crop, which just now is falling from the oaks.

Syre hunter, what schall be don to þe borre?
When þe borre is takyn, he schall be vndo all heerid.

Sir, what does one do with the Boar?
When the Boar is taken, he shall be undone in his hairy hide.

August 15, 2007

Outdoor TV Shows on the Web

This blog is now listed at MyOutdoorTV's blog list. Scroll down and look for the row of tabs in the center of the home page and click "Blog."

Quite a few of the blogs are by guides, outdoor writers, and others using the medium for professional purposes. But not everyone fits that category. M. would like this one, I think.

It is going to take me a while to work my way through them all.

The site is really about video though--lots of episodes of Bighorn Outdoors, High Country TV.

If the prophecies are correct and our little settlement gets DSL this winter, maybe I will actually be able to watch some of those.


White firs knocked over by June 2007 windstorm in the Wet Mountains. M. was traveling outside Colorado when the windstorm of June 6 swept through the Wet Mountains (and the flycatchers' nest).

Here she views a patch of knocked-over white firs in the Wet Mountains weeks after the storm.

This particular ridge is full of older blowdowns. Eventually the aspen fill in around them and the trunks lose their smaller branches, forming gigantic log breastworks in the midst of an aspen grove.

Once when hunting in this area I became a "mite turned around," but regained my sense of place when I remembered that the blown-over trunks usually point northeast like so many compass needles.

August 06, 2007

This Ain't the Damned Lake Road

Here is the driveway of someone who is tired of tourists who leave their brains back in Kansas or Colorado Springs. (The actual signed and marked turnoff to Lake DeWeese is about 100 yards further south on Colorado 96, near Westcliffe.)

Full text: Private Drive Stay Out. This Ain't The Damned Lake Road. Stay Out.

In the background, a thunderstorm moves over the Wet Mountains.

I used to wonder about rural residents who were always putting up "Private Drive -- Keep Out" signs. Then I became one.

Every sunny Sunday there would be someone blundering up our little two-track driveway. The dogs would bark, we would go outside to see who was visiting, only to see a vehicle rapidly reversing away.

Once it was a Cañon City bank president in a red convertible with a much younger blonde in the passenger seat. His daughter, perhaps.

So I put up a "Private Drive" sign, which discourages most of them.

Roadkill, 'Bambinos,' and Lyme Disease

Eric at the Classical Values blog makes a persuasive case about hunting, roadkill, and Lyme disease's spread.

It is not mentioned here, but I have also seen the case made that fire suppression in Eastern forests has also created a more tick-friendly environment. Up through the 1600s, many Eastern forests were burned by Indians to create a more open environment for hunting, travel, and agriculture, resulting in fewer, larger trees. (On the west side of the Appalachian Mountains they were also able to encourage buffalo to graze and thereby be hunted.)

Lyme disease is not a big Colorado problem--yet. We get along fine with our hantavirus, bubonic plague, and West Nile virus. (Hat tip: Querencia)

Update: Here is a little more on the deer-car collision problem.

When I first moved to Fremont County, Colorado, in 1986, the district wildlife manager said that one deer or elk was killed nightly somewhere in the county.

Intelligent fencing is about all that works in high-risk areas.

August 05, 2007

It's Better to be Pure than Effective?

The June 25, 2007 issue of High Country News carried Hal Herring's piece on a group of Western "predator hunters for the environment," who claim they do a better job of defending wildlife that either "cattlemen . . . who did not want to see larger deer and elk herds" or, obviously, animal-rightists.

Anti-hunting groups cite studies by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showing that “watchable wildlife” interests — non-hunting tourists drawn to parks and rural areas — spend more on their trips and are an increasing presence, while expenditures by hunters are declining. But this does not negate a simple reality: The majority of the wildlife being watched by non-hunters has been restored and sustained by hunter dollars, paid through the decades into a variety of revenue streams. (Emphasis added.)

Herring's article points out that such groups have pushed for habitat restoration that benefits all species, not just game species.

The issue here is whether Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife's focus on predator control is really biologically accurate or not. But that is not the real issue for some HCN readers, who are more interested in preening displays of moral superiority.

Mary Sojourner, an occasional HCN contributor herself, informs us that she does not trust herself to own a gun. (Fine, Mary, no one is forcing you.)

Bob Wood of Sedona tells us that "Ed Abbey was a gun nut," but evidently his heart is big enough include Cactus Ed anyway, nuttiness aside.

Will Nobauer of Aspen froths at the mouth about "lunatic hairless apes," "psychotic mutant retards," and "mad killers," while the noble-minded Crista Worthy of Pacific Palisades, California, suggests that the people interviewed should take their "probably illegally modified" (how does she know?) rifles and kill each other. She would smile at the slaughter, she says.

Fortunately, other letter-writers were more rational. For instance, Rod Mondt of Tucson asks "all hunting and angling groups to put aside their differences and work together to protect wildlife habitat on public lands. And that truly is what it's all about.

It has long been one of the environmental movement's weakness that it is larded with people who would rather be morally correct than politically effective.

I do not agree completely with Roger Scruton that all conservation issues are best handled locally, but he is right about one thing:

Environmentalism certainly has the character of a movement, something you join that offers membership. It also has a militant wing. Aggressive organizations like Greenpeace, corrupt and unaccountable though they are, nevertheless appeal to young people because of their image of purity. Their publicity says, “Join us, and we will offer you salvation from environmental sin.” The redemption that they offer resembles initiation promises throughout history, from the knightly orders of the Middle Ages through to the jihadists today. . . .

These movements also provide an enemy, and enemies are useful for defining your place in the world. While it is difficult to share friends, you can easily share enemies, since hatred is far less demanding than love and requires no shared judgment—only a common target.

August 03, 2007

"All My Flycatchers," Season 3 Final Episode

I was away on August 1st. On the morning of the 2nd, I found a dead fledgling beneath our nest of Cordilleran flycatchers.

The rest were gone. (The photo was taken on July 31st. Only three fledglings show, but the fourth could have been blocked by the others.)

Once again, four babies and three survived--we hope. Maybe we can catch a glimpse of them if they are still near the house.

And that wraps up this season of All My Flycatchers.

Going all Medieval on my Feet

On the way to Colorado Springs today, I said that I wanted to stop in at Mountain Chalet. When I told M. why exactly I wanted to, she laughed for about two minutes straight. She has voiced her views on Crocs before.

But I bought some, because they are the contemporary equivalent of the medieval peasant's hand-carved wooden shoes. They let you walk in the mud, and then you can kick them off at the threshold.

And mud we have. It is raining as I write this. At least six inches have fallen in the past two weeks. That amount might mean gentle showers in some locales, but in the semi-arid Southwest, it's a lot. Hardscrabble Creek is running high and brown--it looks like spring again.

For deep snow and mud duty, I have rubber irrigation boots. And I have some zip-up pac boots, which were made on some weird Chinese last and fit well in the ball of the foot are but are huge and sloppy in the heels, even with heel inserts.

Now with les sabots Croc. I am ready for a rainy summer dog walk.

Liatris and Melancholy

Liatris or blazing star
Liatris is one wildflower that I started calling by its genus name before I knew any common names. (The common name is blazing star.)

For that I blame my old grad school friend Hank Fabian, second-generation flower grower and now head of the biology department at Merritt College in Oakland.

Before he started teaching, he went back to the family business and started growing flowers wholesale for southern Colorado florists. During a period of my own under-employment, I occasionally worked for him doing grunt work like stripping and bundling flowers. Yep, just like Maria Full of Grace but without the cocaine.

Hank grew a variety of Liatris, which florists like as a cut flower because it holds its bloom for a number of days, slowly opening from the bottom up, and it's easy to process and handle.

When they start blooming here, it signals the final arc of summer. Purple Liatris and purple asters joing all the yellow-gold asters. Purple and gold, the colors of Fort Collins High School. I attended four high schools but graduated from FCHS. Its school teams are the Lambkins. Evidently, back in the 1890s, someone must have reasoned that the sports teams would play harder if they were named for a plush toy. (Sort of like "A Boy Named Sue," I suppose.)

(And the school song was to the tune of "Deutschland Uber Alles". How did that escape the anti-German hysteria of World War One? Someone must have pleaded Papa Haydn's case.)

Those memories: Childhood's end. The summer of poverty in Cañon City. The falling arc of every year.

August 01, 2007

Our Forgotten Holiday

Wet Mountains columbine.I almost forgot that today is Colorado Day. I bet that you forgot too. No one makes a big deal out of it, although the state parks division cut the admission fee at Cherry Creek State Park outside of Denver. Woo hoo!

If Colorado Day fell during the normal school year, there might be more of an observance.

The photo is of the state flower, Aquilegia caerulea, the Colorado blue columbine, growing at a relatively low elevation in the Wet Mountains, but on a damp, north-facing slope.

UPDATE: In its weekly "Peaks of the Past" retrospective, the Wet Mountain Tribune has this:

100 Years Ago -- 1907

Colorado Day witnessed no great demonstration here. Some bunting was in evidence but business was conducted about the same as on any other day.


Blog Stew

¶ 10,000 Birds tries some myth-busting about handling wild birds.

¶ Birds are good for trees. What a concept! No wonder our ponderosa pines grow so fast--it's thanks to the nuthatches and chickadees whom we subsidize with our bird feeders.

¶ An amazing dog story. This collie-mix had to outwit a forest fire.

Irony rules the world. Too bad for the cougar.

Why the Roads Run Straight on the Plains

Strange Maps link explains the Land Ordinance of 1785, which is why one Colorado blog is called Square State.

Actually, it is rectangular, not square, and a little narrower on the north side due to converging lines of longitude. But why quibble?

According to Thomas Jefferson-impersonator Clay Jenkinson, President Jefferson imagined a West full of rectangular states. Jenkinson once solicited names for these imaginary states: I suggested that at least one of them should be called Artemisia, for Artemisia tridentata. (Just look at the distribution maps.)

Once I was on a London-to-Denver flight sitting ahead of two English guys who had booked a ski trip in Breckenridge, their first visit to Colorado. The airplane began its slow descent towards DIA, and somewhere over Sterling I heard one of them exclaim. I turned around, and he was staring down at some road, maybe Colorado 71 north of Stoneham, as it ran ruler-straight towards Wyoming. Miles of straight road--not a common sight in the UK.

You can blame the mapping of the American West on the post-revolutionary French, with their mania for straight lines and "reason." France itself almost ended up looking like this.