August 29, 2008

Gadgets in the Woods

Still life with GPS unit. Photo by Chas S. Clifton, 28 August 2008
Hawk's wing mushroom, king bolete mushroom, Samsung mobile phone, Garmin Gecko GPS unit, San Isabel National Forest map, topographic map.

Global Positioning System units, says Arizona writer Mary Sojourner, pollute the outdoor experience. Reacting against a High County News piece on geocaching, she explodes:

Here, in the increasingly mapped, sanitized and sold Southwest, geocaching is on a par with surveying. Some of those nasty zealot mesquite-huggers have been known to yank geocaches as gleefully as they once did stakes festooned with Day-Glo plastic.

So that is one argument against carrying a GPS unit: that they turn the self-created nonhuman world into just an outdoor gym -- the kind used by Spandex-clad athletes who run to the top of a fourteener, pausing only to check their elapsed times and heart rates on various digital gadgets.

Gadgets can cause you be less observant, less present, less aware, less involved.

With map and compass, you at least must learn relationships, a basic geometry of azimuth and distance. Or you can rely soley on GPS and end up like this.

Walking along staring at your GPS unit just feels wrong to me. You don't learn anything about the county by doing that -- instead, you need to be looking around (including back the way you came), thinking how this road runs in relation to that drainage, how there is less kinnikinick here and more vaccinium, how a hermit thrush is calling somewhere up the ridge ...

At the same time, I will admit that I own one. I can justify setting a couple of waypoints when making cross-country walks in thick forests with few landmarks. But then I always try to test myself against the GPS as well.

Its compass readings are good, but I have gotten drastically different distance readings when walking the same trail twice. Altitude readings can vary as well -- who knew the Earth's crust was so elastic?

And the biggest barrier to knowing what is around me is not the gadget but my own buzzing brain.

August 26, 2008

Blogroll Updates

SeEtta Moss's Southeastern Colorado Birding blog is now called Birds and Nature, giving her a little more geographic and topical scope.

Cañon City blogger Paul Vertrees writes Sawtooth's Adventures as part of his larger outdoor-adventure site. When not adventuring, he is teaching Cañon City High School students to ride, shoot straight, and tell the truth. Well, not "ride," they don't have that program. "March" might fit better.

Hunter's Stew

• Women now make up 7.6 percent of elk hunters.

• From the Colorado Division of Wildlife: 101 Places to Take a Kid Fishing.

• Wanderlust: Good magazine traces some of history's most famous explorations in this interactive map.

August 23, 2008

Wind Tower Plant for Pueblo

The economic-development crew in Pueblo is happy to have landed the Vestas wind-tower plant. (Warning: link contains self-back-patting and ethnic pandering.)

Let's hope no Pueblo-built towers collapse like this earlier Vesta model did last February.

UPDATE: Corrected headline to clarify that the Pueblo plant will build the towers, not the entire mechanism.

August 22, 2008

Blog Stew with Mushrooms

• Apparently, I have stumbled on a photographic cliché: when you post mushroom pictures, such as this one from 2006, you should always include the field guide!

• Another group of mushroom hunters gets lost in the Wet Mountains. (M. is cheering for the 92-year-old man, lost or not.)

Several years ago I heard a member of Custer County Search & Rescue say that mushroom hunters were the group of outdoor users most likely to get lost. She based this statement on exactly one (1) anecdote. Now she has two. It's a trend.

• Nevertheless, it was mushroom hunting that pushed me to invest in a GPS unit -- one of Garmin's cheapest. I am still ambivalent about it, and I have a whole GPS post half-written in my head.

• This is from five years ago, but apparently Russian mushroom hunters get lost too. Eleven are still unaccounted for, the article says. Not like this, I hope.

• And mushrooms are kosher, not that that fact matters at all to us.

August 19, 2008

Thar's Fungus in Them Thar Hills

Looking across the Wet Mountain Valley from the Wets towards the Sangres. Photo (c) by Chas S. CliftonMushroom-hunting weather is definitely here.

View of the Sangre de Cristo range from the Wet Mountains.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Mycological Society links to a story from Outside on Colorado mushroom hunting.

Preparing for Disaster.

From Xavier, a post on bicycles as disaster-zone vehicles leads to another elaborate web site on disaster preparedness with Hurricane Katrina as a model scenario.

My little memoir, "Thinking like a Refugee" is here with a sidebar.

None of this is a Darfur-type experience, of course. But I still shudder at the thought of losing the house.

August 16, 2008

Rain on Back Order

So the silver-haired guy from the Department of Rain shows up in his fog-grey pickup truck with a clipboard and a receipt for me to sign.

"Here's the rain that you had on back-order," he says.

"You'll getting June's rain today, and July's tomorrow. August's will come the day after that.

"Sorry about the delay, and have a nice day."

Then he roars off through the puddles in the driveway.

The Presidential Candidates from Nowhere

Nature writers love to write about the uniqueness of "place." When teaching, I have assigned students to do the old CoEvolution Quarterly "Where You At" quiz as part of learning about their home environmental on an ecological level.

But as Peggy Noonan writes in the Wall Street Journal, what does it mean when neither presidential candidate is really "from" anywhere in particular?

Mr. Obama hails from Chicago, but no one would confuse him with Chicagoans like Richard Daley or Dan Rostenkowski, or Harold Washington. "There is something colorless and odorless about him," says a friend. "like an inert gas." And Mr. McCain, in his experience, history and genes, is definitely military, and could easily come from Indiana or South Carolina or California, and could easily speak of upholding the values of those places.

(Via Never Yet Melted.)

August 14, 2008

You stole that! I am outraged!

Up in the Blackfeet country in Montana, Mary Scriver often feels as though she is "trapped in a Louise Erdrich novel."

“Just look at the faces of his sculptures,” she said. “Those are Blackfeet faces! He had no right to steal those faces!”

Evidently in all her city days and education she never encountered the idea of the “portrait,” which is SUPPOSED to look like the person one is portraying! Evidently in her time back on the rez she never picked up the information that the faces looked like the people who posed for the sculptures because Bob asked them and paid them to pose! A few were portrayed using the old photos of Blackfeet that are all over the place in this part of the country, taken when it was still believed that Indians would soon disappear.

Funny, I thought that being offended was something White People Liked.

Read the post as a common-sense meditation on the whole issue of "authenticity."

More on the Custer County FLDS

Since I mentioned the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' presence in Custer and Fremont counties earlier, I thought I would provide some follow-up links.

Brooke Adams, who covers the polygamy beat for the Salt Lake Tribune (the non-Mormon-owned daily) recently visited Westcliffe.

She also blogged her visit here and here, producing this nugget:

Well, [the FLDS] are not the only ones keeping secrets and striving to stay private.

Trent [the photographer] has had plenty of trouble in the past getting fundamentalist Mormons to be photographed. In Westcliffe, he ran into the opposite problem: reluctant regular folk.

Yes, there are a lot of privacy-minded people here, to put it politely.

August 13, 2008

Firearms, Fiction, and Fallacies

This is not one of the many busy gun blogs -- if you want to read them, check this aggregator or work your way through Tamara's links.

My complaint -- and it's not new -- is with novelists who are clueless about firearms.

By analogy, imagine reading, "All six tires on my Ford Mustang smoked as I slammed on the brakes in front of Rocky's Bar." You might think that the writer never saw a Ford Mustang.

For instance, I just finished Robert Littell's The Once and Future Spy. Littell is praised as a master describer of "tradecraft," the nuts and bolts of espionage.

Since the book came out in 2004, perhaps someone has told him, however, that you cannot put a silencer on a Smith & Wesson .357 handgun. That is a revolver cartridge, and revolvers cannot be silenced (or "suppressed) -- with a few very rare exceptions. It has to do with their design -- if you don't know why, ask a shooter friend to explain. (If you lack a shooter friend, get one.)

Just today, checking the new fiction at the Rawlings Library in Pueblo, I flipped through a thriller in which a character was shot dead by police snipers before he could "cock his Glock."

Carried away, no doubt, by his wonderful rhyme, the writer forgot -- did not know -- did not bother to learn -- that Glock's entire line of semiautomatic pistols do not need to be cocked. Hence their popularity.

The snipers, meanwhile, take him out with .30-06 rifles. Now the .30-06 cartridge was the U.S. military's standard cartridge from 1906 until the early 1960s, but it gets little military or police use today. Police SWAT teams generally use whatever cartridges are used by military snipers, so I would expect to see even fictional examples firing rifles chambered for the .308 or 5.56mm rounds, most likely.

I put all these errors down to sheer laziness -- or perhaps to a visceral distaste for firearms, an odd quirk for someone writing espionage or crime fiction.

Now back to your regularly scheduled of bloggage about dogs, mushrooms, etc.

A Faithful Dog

One stereotypical name for a dog is Fido, from the Latin word fidelis, "faithful."

This dog was.

Bigfoot Found in Georgia?

You should understand that late summer is often referred to as "the silly season" by journalists, a time when items not otherwise noteworthy get big play. I am not referring to the war in Georgia, however.

This is about the other Georgia, the American state. It seems someone claims to have found the physical remains of Bigfoot there.

More at the Bigfoot hunters' site.

But remember that this is the "silly season."

UPDATE: Or it's a hoax.

FURTHER UPDATE: The Bigfoot hunters' web site has been down all day, the 14th. I think that we definitely are in the silly season.

YET FURTHER UPDATE: Hoaxers take money and run.

Nostalgia for the Pleistocene

Ten giant animals that are not around any more, from Mental Floss.

A good companion read is Connie Barlow's The Ghosts of Evolution: Nonsensical Fruit, Missing Partners, and Other Ecological Anachronisms. I can never look at a coyote gourd (Cucurbita foetidissima) vine by the side of the road without thinking of the missing mastodon that was supposed to eat it.

August 12, 2008

Monsoon Mushrooms

Puffball and king boleteIt has been raining a lot in southwest Conejos County, but most of the mushrooms M. and were seeing were not the ones that we wanted to eat. M.'s Trujillo Meadows bolete patch of 2006 produced only the one in my hand.

Were we too early? Too late? I guess that uncertainty is why they call it "mushroom hunting," not "mushroom gathering.

Young, pickable puffballs were pretty prolific. They are just not as interesting to eat.

We will be looking closer to home in the Wet Mountains next, now that we have had some rain here.

August 08, 2008

Asses and Passes

Local burro racer Hal Walter wins the Leadville men's division while Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen continues his quixotic quest to make burro-racing the official state sport.

Putt-putting on the Rails

I have always thought that a trip like this should be instituted on the mostly unused tracks from Pueblo to Minturn, up the Arkansas River and over Tennessee Pass.

But since railroad speeders have a rough ride, as the writer points out, why not one of the pickup trucks equipped with flanged wheels that the railroads also use?

Somebody please start this tour business so that I can be one of the first customers.

August 07, 2008

Wolves, Madness, and Mushrooms

I have started Nevada Barr's latest novel, Winter Study

It is set in Isle Royale National Park in midwinter, and Barr, whose latest efforts seemed to be lapsing into chick lit, has raised her personal bar on this one. A group of wolf researchers seemed to be stalked by . . . something, and everyone is on the edge of going mad, I tell you, completely mad.

Or in Barr's words, "A crazy-making current was running through the island." I suspect the explanation will be prosaic, but the build-up is fun.

Meanwhile, after two days (!) of later-summer rains, M. is starting to crack. She mutters about living in the Pacific Northwest. She talks to moths. We had better dry her out soon.

Still, August rains mean mushrooms. Blogging will drop off after Sunday, for we are are going mushroom hunting.

For mushrooms, I favor a light, expanding bullet. Shot placement is everything.

August 02, 2008

The Rattlesnake Initiation

When I was bitten by a rattlesnake just outside Tucson, where writer Erec Toso lives, I spent two nights in the hospital, got rid of my crutches after a week, and was completely healed after a month.

Toso had a much rougher time, but he got a book out of it, one that uses the encounter with Crotalus scutulatus to talk about a number of larger issues, including the whole New West issue of how we should live among sharp-toothed and/or venomous wildlife.

That book, Zero at the Bone: Rewriting Life after a Snakebite, was published last year by the University of Arizona Press.

We meet Toso first off as trail runner, painter, U. of Arizona writing teacher, husband and dad, still cherishing romantic dreams:

Why, I wondered, had I caved into this life? . . . . It had not been my vision to be a householding teacher, a worker bee. . . . I thought I should set up my life to be more free, maybe move to Montana and get a big dog, a sheepskin coat, and write muscular action movels about climbing mountains or running rivers, or outrunning and foiling the greedy corporate evildoers.

But walking across his own front yard one evening, bringing his sons home from the community swimming pool, he is bitten:

As sophisticated as a syringe, the delivery system did its work. Then the snake rattled a dry leaves whir.

And all his life evaporated . . .

I became little more than a piece of meat that was being digested by highly toxic enzymes, a body that soon could not work or walk and that was in the first round of a fight for its life. The fibers I wove together as a kind of shield to protect myself against the pains and threats of the world, both inside and out, unraveled, leaving me holding only threads, a searing vulnerability.

And then the medical part begins, with Toso taking the first initiatory journey on the wings of venom and morphine. I know that one: at one point, as my gurney was wheeled down corridors from the emergency room to the ICU, the Tucson PD K-9 officer walking ahead of us turned into a fullblown Guardian of the Underworld.

Toso had the additional misfortune of contracting a secondary infection—all snakebites leave bacteria behind, bacteria deposited by the last defecation of their prey on its way down the snake's gullet. Sent home in a wheelchair after four days in the hospital, Toso has barely started to catch up on the new semester when an infected abscess sends him back to the emergency room.

As the medical story progresses, however, what interests Toso the writer is the snake story--how one culture treats them as holy while another wants to kill them on sight. As Southwesterners keep moving to the desert's edge, snake encounters increase, and as a biologist whom he interviews remarks, "We need to reconfigure the stories we tell about snakes. The ones we have just don't work when it comes time to share the desert."

Meanwhile, Toso sees himself changing, becoming more mindful, less driven—changed. If you came for the scary rattlesnake story, you get it, including biochemistry and a little herpetology from the biologists, but Zero to the Bone is really the story of a man "in the middle of the road of my life," to quote Dante, who awakes in an emergency room where the true way was wholly lost and has to re-evaluate everything.