July 31, 2008

The FLDS Come to Live Among Us

Last May, the local weekly reacted predictably when the editor learned that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had established compounds in Fremont and Custer County. (That is a Fremont County example above.)

The Custer County sheriff searched one FLDS compound for zoning violations, and of course he found some. Secretive religious groups always violate zoning regulations: obedient to to a higher power, they don't have to show you any stinkin' permits.

Anti-polygamists arrived to make their case by screening Banking on Heaven: Inside Warren Jeffs' Polygamous Cult. A former colleague of mine watched and was impressed.

There is not much sympathy for the FLDS here, but a journalist friend tells me that the sheriff's move was not well-received by everyone either.

It's the legacy of Waco and Eldorado. At Waco, the Branch Davidians were shot and burned for the crime of ... what was it exactly?

The FLDS "ranch" at Eldorado, Texas, was raided and women and kids hauled away, based on one telephone call that was probably bogus. I predict that the legal dust will take a long time to settle there.

So right now the local FLDS enjoy some sympathy for having been the victims of governmental jack-booted thuggery. But that could change.

Some complain that the FLDS spend no money locally. A bigger problem would be if they were seen to be block-voting in local elections.

Don't forget that that is what made Joe Smith unpopular in 1840s Illinois. He was offering the block Mormon vote to state politicians in return for granting him favors, such as being able to charter his own bank. He ended up murdered by a mob, after being arrested for destroying the office of a critical newspaper.

I have a funny feeling that the FLDS are more his spiritual heirs in some respects than are the mainstream Mormons.

UPDATE It was amusing to note that it took less than two hours after posting this item to get a hit from the FLDS stronghold of Colorado City, Ariz.

Fluffy and Rover are Infidels

In case you needed another one, here is one more reason why Saudi Arabia is a sick society.

July 28, 2008

The Thistle Dilemma

Butterflies on musk thistle (Carduus nutans)

Here are the butterflies sipping nectar from a thistle. Happy happy butterflies. Everyone likes butterflies.

But the musk thistle is declared to be a noxious weed almost everywhere, including Custer County, Colorado. Bad bad thistle--it sometimes takes over pastures, particularly over-grazed pastures.

And every summer there is a "spray the noxious weeds" program. M. goes ballistic at the idea of anyone spraying anything anywhere near our place, and I am not too keen on it myself.

The last time I saw county spraying in action, it was one guy driving a flatbed truck down the road with a sprayer mounted on the bed. He steered with his right hand, while waving the spray wand wildly up and over the cab with his left.

Not exactly what you would call "targeted application." I could smell the spray 100 yards away.

So I try to control thistles mechanically, in the hopes that I don't give anyone a reason for spraying here. Alas, poor butterflies.

Anyone want to identify the butterflies? Some kind of fritillaries? They look like the Variable Checkerspots on this page to me.

UPDATE: In the comments, photographer Tom Whelan identifies it as a greater fritillary.

July 22, 2008

How Oil Shale is like Argentina

Senator Ken Salazar's recent op-ed piece in The Washington Post about oil shale reminds me of the cynical old saying about Argentina: It will always be a country with a brilliant future.

I am still waiting for some bright (or Bright) person to re-invent Project Rulison and apply it to oil shale.

For an interesting rant on energy issues, go here. As LabRat, the writer, makes clear, the big problem (in rhetorical jargon) is that we have not "achieved stasis." There is no agreement on what the argument is actually about.

July 21, 2008

Blog Stew with Kenaf and Squirrels

¶ I thought that every rural deputy sheriff could recognize marijuana plants -- but evidently not in Mississippi.

¶ Squirrels: Are you with them or against them?

If suburbanites painted murals on their walls like those on the Lascaux caves, you would see plenty of squirrels.

¶ I wonder how the sleepovers with sheep are going? The reader comments on this one are amusing.

¶ Ken Salazar will push the Brown's Canyon Wilderness Area bill. The Backcountry Hunters & Anglers have been active in support of it.

¶: Die, tamarisk, die. Some good reports from the Grand Junction area. (Via Coyote Gulch.)

¶ The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States spend most of their donations on further fund-raising. You were surprised?

Back through the Hayman Burn

Looking south across the Hayman Burn with Sheep Nose in the distance, July 2008.

In January 2003, just before my father's death, he and I went up to look at the Hayman Fire site, where 138,000 acres had burned the previous June, turning most of the South Platte Ranger District on the Pike National Forest into habitat for woodpeckers and other cavity nesters.

We started up the Matukat Road, near where the fire started, but encountered a locked gate, no doubt to keep out sightseers like us. When he was on the Pike NF staff, Dad had the master key that unlocked every gate. I found it a couple of weeks later in his jewelry box, and I wondered if it still would work, twenty-plus years after he retired.

I did my own bit of "destruction tourism" in June 2003, driving from Wellington Lake to Deckers via Stoney Pass. Except in some canyons, the land was flayed of trees, and there were vistas that probably had not been available in centuries or millennia.

I did not re-visit the burn until last Sunday, making the same drive with M. from Wellington Lake but continuing south on the Matukat. Trees that can grow from their roots, such as willows along the creeks or aspens higher up, are recovering -- there are a lot of head-high aspen groves. Other trees take longer.

Goose Creek Campground, for instance, which I always remembered as being at the bottom of a deep, dark canyon, is now a green sliver, an oasis among treeless ridges. I see that the Forest Service, always wanting to remove developed campgrounds, considered closing it five years ago. It's a good thing that they did not, because it was full of campers. (They did close Molly Gulch CG, another victory for the bean-counters.)

Perhaps in 20 years people from Colorado Springs will drive their (high-clearance) electric cars along the Matukat Road to see the fall aspen colors.

On a high ridge we met a Forest Service employee changing a tire on his agency pickup and bitching about Dodge trucks in general. Since both the truck and his T-shirt said FIRE on them, we stopped to chat about a little smoke we had seen earlier in our drive.

He knew all about it -- and three or four others -- and he pointed to a big column of smoke that we had not seen because it was behind us: the expanding Oxyoke Fire.

I have to admit that my first thought to myself was, "Do you mean there is something left to burn?"

July 20, 2008

At the Campground

M. and I spent a long weekend with a group of friends who meet annually at Wellington Lake, southwest of Denver.

Down the shoreline from us, a group of Boy Scouts were yelling loudly during their swimming races -- and even more loudly during the next event, which was gladiatorial combat in canoes or something.

All around the lake, it was a festival of sunburn and canoeing and eating and shouting, just the sort of mass car-camping experience that I used to snobbishly abhor. Me, a Forest Service brat, introduced to backpacking early -- I looked down on the common car-camping crowd.

Now, though, I am just happy to see the kids out running around -- like the four girls maybe 11-13 years old we met descending one of the steeper trails that enters the Lost Creek Wilderness. It's a trail like a rocky staircase, and there they were in shorts and flip-flops. And you know what, it's OK with me, even if they have never heard of the Ten Essentials. At least they were not working on their MySpace pages at that particular moment.

July 16, 2008

I Ain't Lyin'

Even with mystery beasts running amuck in eastern El Paso County, it's time for me to take a slight blogging break.

M. and I are heading for the higher and hopefully cooler mountains for a few days to investigate a post-forest fire landscape and possibly annoy some trout.

Blogging will resume next week.

July 15, 2008

Men are from Steaks, Women are from Salads?

A spinoff from a survey of foodborne disease, as reported by the Washington Post, is that there really are gender differences in food preference.

Gender also played a role when it came to mealtime risk-taking -- eating items that are known to be more likely to transmit foodborne disease. For example, the survey found that men were more likely to eat rare hamburger or runny eggs. On the other hand, women were more likely than men to eat alfalfa sprouts, which have been linked to illness outbreaks in the past.

But no one seems certain whether these differences are innate or cultural.

UPDATE: Just drink your red wine with the meat, and all will be well.

July 12, 2008

Hummingbird Seasons

I was sitting on the porch of the rental cabin yesterday when I saw the first rufous hummingbird of the summer.

The clock of the seasons had just struck.

From late April until late September, hummingbirds divide the spring and summer into five periods:

  • Broad-tailed Spring -- The first male broad-tailed hummers show up, looking to stake their territorial claims. There is always at least one snowstorm after they arrive, leaving them sometimes to sit huddled on the porch roof beams while the heavy, wet snow comes down. Torpor can be a good thing.
  • Broad-tailed Summer -- They are busy mating and breeding. We talk about the Noise of Summer or, when they all hit the feeders at dusk, the Bumming Herd.
  • Rufous Summer -- Having flown up the West Coast to their breeding grounds, the rufous hummingbirds start working their way home along the Rockies. The males are even more aggressive than the broad-tailed males, leading to spats at the sugar-water feeders that seem to prevent anyone from getting a drink.
  • Quiet Summer -- Finally the rufous hummers leave, and there is less aggression in the air, but the broad-tailed population is starting to dwindle.
  • Reluctant Summer People -- Finally, in mid-September, only a couple of broad-tailed females are left. I start suggesting to them that it's time to hang the storm shutters and lock up the summer house. But I always hear the same thing: "It's so peaceful now that the kids are gone, and besides, I haven't finished my novel."

By the equinox, the last one has packed her bag and the pretty rocks she found and has gone, and all is quiet save for the yelling of the jays.

July 11, 2008

Guerrilla Gardener Fights City of Boulder

A "guerrilla garden" on a city right-of-way puts a Boulder man in conflict with the city.

Is the problem, as one commenter says, not the veggies but the structures?

If you go for guerrilla gardening should you stick to low-growing and/or ornamental plants?

July 10, 2008

Fast Muscles Help Birds to Sing

Superfast muscles make bird song possible.

"We discovered that the European starling (found throughout Eurasia and North America) and the zebra finch (found in Australia and Indonesia) control their songs with the fastest-contracting muscle type yet described," said Coen Elemans, who conducted the study as a postdoctoral researcher in biology at the University of Utah.

Those are not the only birds with such muscles, just the species in the study.

Blog Stew with Wiener Dogs

Dachshunds are the most aggressive species. One of the main dogs of my childhood was a dachshund: truly a Doberman in a 15-pound package. One day he decided to take on a Lab and a boxer. A two-week stay in vet hospital ensued, and he always limped in cold weather after that -- but he still went backpacking with Dad and me.

Patrick Burns disagrees with the study, which conflicts with his experience and some other studies on canine aggressiveness.

¶ Noise ruining the experience in some national parks.

¶ And the Park Service tries to reach people who think that the parks "aren't about them."

"Some people are startled by butterflies," [NPS social scientist James] Gramman said. "It's not like that can't be overcome, but if you don't do something, it will persist and it won't be overcome for generations."

It's sort of like the 1920s again: how do you get certain population groups to go camping and escape the baneful influence of "agitators."

My former student Ben Manzanares knows the story now.

¶ Jenny Shank interviews mammalogist David Armstrong for New West on climate change and Rocky Mountain mammals.

July 07, 2008

"The Wendell Berry-Michael Pollan Right"

Just what do terms like "conservative" and "liberal" mean when it comes to food?

Rod "Crunchy Con" Dreher interviews Michael Pollan, and they start with the terminology issue.

Pollan: Frankly, it baffles me that this growing food movement doesn’t have more support on the Right. It’s very consistent with libertarianism, and it is very consistent with family values. Nevertheless, it is often portrayed in the media as a white-wine-sipping, arugula-chopping, liberal politic. Maybe you can answer for me why that is. . . .

I always saw myself as being to the Left of center, although whenever I write about food or nature, I feel like I am actually to the Right. Somebody just sent me a blog post from the Tory Anarchist—you’re mentioned in it, too—that says, “You might call it the Wendell Berry-Michael Pollan Right.” I had not seen all those words strung together before, but it points to why this issue mixes up the usual categories—and it should.

And they are off and running. Read the whole thing.


Here is a screen grab from the BBC's Science/Nature news web site two days ago.

Is it any wonder that people are confused about what to believe on the climate-change issue?

"Believe" becomes the operative word. Faced with seemingly contradictory information, people tend to adopt one of two quasi-religious belief systems.

1. Human-caused climate change is an obvious fact, obvious just as it is obvious that the universe must have a Creator. "90 percent of scientists agree." ("All great religions agree.") And George W. Bush is the Devil.

2. Human-caused climate-change is just a political plot to force us to surrender our liberties to socialists and nanny-state big-government schemes. Ignore it. Keep driving your V8-powered 3/4-ton pickup truck with the duallies, even when you're not hauling anything.

July 05, 2008

Additions to the Blogroll.

Rozewolf is blogging in Huerfano County, and I was moved by her description of the Ludlow Memorial Service.

Once, driving south to Taos in the old Ford pickup I had then, I picked up two hitchhikers from New Jersey and decided that they needed to see the Ludlow Monument as part of their trip West. I hope they remembered it.

Also, journalist and burro racer Hal Walter is giving blogging another try. He should really be a food writer too -- and his new blog, Hardscrabble Times, has some foodie content.

They are both in the sidebar under "Southwesterners."

Wily and Reckless Flycatchers

For the last three years, Cordilleran flycatchers have nested on our front porch.

This June we saw and heard a mated pair hanging around the house. But the favored porch-beam nest spot remained vacant. Where were they?

Duh! In back, on top of a pipe I had left leaning against one of the chimneys. And the young are already hatched.

July 04, 2008

The Morning Moth

This large moth was on the front porch this morning. Some kind of spotted tiger moth? Anyone more able to identify it?

July 03, 2008

Photos from Florence & an Anecdote

Corner of Main Street and Pike's Peak Avenue, Florence, Colorado.
Main Street, the Antiques District.

South Pikes Peak Avenue, Florence, Colorado
The Bohemian Quarter

The old Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad station, now the senior center.

The former public library (one of the Carnegie libraries, I think), which is now for sale. Got an idea? Warning: I think the building has plumbing "issues."

The Anecdote:

In the late 1980s, I was a graduate student at the University of Colorado. During my last semester, I worked as a graduate part-time instructor in the English department (which was not my department) because they needed writing teachers for their inept composition program.

At the end of the semester, I was packing up my little office, when one of the tenured professors (now emerita) came out of her office across the corridor.

Making conversation, she asked what my summer plans were.

ME: "My wife is house-hunting in Florence."

HER: I'm so happy for you!!

ME: [pause ... ohmygawd, she thinks I mean in Italy] No, I mean Florence, Colorado.

HER: [blank look]

A typical Boulderite, unaware of anything south of Denver -- although there must be something there, since it takes hours and hours to drive to Santa Fe. (We ended up living in Cañon City for a few years instead of Florence.)

Nowadays I am hearing speculation that Florence could be an art colony. It could be the next ... the next ... Manitou Springs?

Manitou, however, was a resort town from its beginnings, whereas Florence was about oil and coal and smelting. A considerably different vibe there.

July 02, 2008

Gray Fox

A gray fox near the house. We never see them hanging around at dusk (and making the dogs crazy) like the red foxes. Sometimes we hear them in the middle of the night, during their winter mating season.

July 01, 2008

Catching Water Off Your Roof - 2

As I wrote last December, Colorado law makes catching and storing rainwater off your roof illegal.

A San Miguel County woman who tried to follow the rules got slapped down hard by the Colorado Water Court.

If Kris wanted to collect rainwater for her gardens, she'd have to pursue an augmentation plan and convince the state engineer and water court that she could replace 100 percent of the precipitation captured. Not only did she have to return to the stream every drop of rain she collected, she would have to pay for a complex engineering analysis to prove that her augmentation water would return to the stream in a timeframe mimicking natural conditions.

The rules were made for the big guys. Sometimes you should do what you need to do without involving government,

Fox versus skunk

My cheapie scout camera picked up an apparent red fox and skunk confrontation a little after nine o'clock Sunday night -- at least, I think that is a skunk tail beyond the fox, who is clearly taking an aggressive pose. (Too bad the date/time text got in the way.)

Since there was no lingering smell on Monday morning when I collected the camera, maybe the skunk did not drop The Big One.

A Note Taped to the Steering Wheel

The writer of this New York Times piece on suicides in national parks could have talked to our county coroner.

The coroner could have told him that scenic places anywhere seem to attract people who want to end it all.

Meanwhile, add yet another item to National Park Service employee training:

Rangers are trained in suicide prevention, and park officials are contemplating closing certain areas at night and adding more guardrails. Employees in places like Grand Canyon are taught to keep an eye out for notes taped to steering wheels.

Our county coroner, meanwhile, runs an excavation service -- he installed our septic system, which is when we had our conversation about suicides in scenic places. I always imagine him driving up to the scene of the death in his truck, towing a backhoe on a flatbed trailer, and saying, "Yep, he's dead all right. Where do you want the hole?"