August 29, 2009

Aerial Wildfire Imagery

My California friends are all talking about wildfires, and I suspect that my relatives in British Columbia are as well. This site links a number of satellite photo sites with various overlays for fires and other "natural hazards."

Links to active fire maps for the United States and Canada are here.

Let It Burn--For Now, Anyway

A brief but noisy thunderstorm rolled over us this afternoon, dropping 0.4 inches of rain.

Around 5 p.m. the telephone rang--a fire call.

I dressed in PPE and drove to the address indicated. Met another guy in a Jeep on the road--a retired police lieutenant from a nearby town (one of my students from my old community-college teaching days). He pointed out the fire--up a ridge to the west, clearly a lightning strike.

So it was not at the address that I was given--that was merely where it had been spotted from.

Then the fire department board president rolled up, asking if anyone had brought the brush truck. No, not yet.

A bunch of guys were down at the fire house (none of our core group of firefighters--in fact, I knew only one of them).

It seemed the fire was on private land, and the landowner is one of the core group. He was on his way back. These facts were apparent:

  • There was no way to take the brush truck to the site.
  • There was perhaps no way to get there without hiking or an ATV. I was neutral, meaning I would hike it if asked.
  • The landowner had been contacted and was on his way back.

Then a deputy sheriff arrived. He had talked to the landowner too. He said that the landowner was going to ride up there (past a couple of locked gates) on an ATV with a water pump and "deal with it himself."

Well, OK. Everyone dispersed. The fire was not threatening any structures up there, nor was it on national forest land yet.

I got home to find supper on the table.

But I left my fire pack in my vehicle just in case ... until tomorrow morning, anyway.

Cannibis in Colorado Forests--and Predictable Outrage

Following the recent discovery of 14,000 marijuana plants somewhere on the Pike National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service decided to take a larger look at the problem.

Forest Service officials said Wednesday they believe illegal immigrants are being brought to Colorado for mass cultivation of marijuana and they are leaving behind a trail of trash, pesticides and other debris that has damaged public forests and polluted rivers.

We know what country most of these illegal immigrants are coming from--Finland. You can tell from the trash that they leave behind them: koskenkorva bottles, empty jars of cloudberry jam, gnawed crusts of karjalanpiirakka, high-end cell phones, and saunas made from pine poles and blue tarps.

Predictably, Colorado's professional Finnish activists are screaming about ethnic prejudice.

It's a real problem when a bunch of people carrying out an illegal activity on public land decide to defend their little patch of it with snipers armed with deadly Mosin-Nagant rifles. You're walking along with your fishing rod or birding binocs and kaboom!

In all seriousness, this is not cool. If you want to grow dope, do it in the basement, not on my public lands.

A close relative got involved in that whole national-forest growing scene in northern California some years back, and I was real happy when she saw the light and got out of it before anything bad happened to her.

M. and I had a real "Oh shit" movement some years back when we were counting owls for the Bureau of Land Management. On our first hike into one counting area, we rounded a bend in the trail to find stacks of coiled plastic pipe and other construction materials, way way far from any road.

My first thought was "pot plantation!" My second thought was, "Here in Colorado above 8,000 feet?? Is the growing season long enough?" (Evidently it is in places.)

We saw no one. Later we returned and figured out that the rancher with the grazing lease had brought in those materials to pipe water to a stock tank. What a relief.

August 28, 2009

Michael Pollan Still Shops at Whole Foods.

The well-known critic of conventional agriculture won't boycott Whole Foods.

I can understand why people would want to boycott, but it's important to play out the hypothetical consequences of a successful boycott. Whole Foods is not perfect, however if they were to disappear, the cause of improving Americans' health by building an alternative food system, based on more fresh food, pastured and humanely raised meats and sustainable agriculture, would suffer.

The Little Birds are Gone

Suddenly I am not refilling the thistle-seed feeders. The little birds are gone--the siskins and goldfinches and Cassin's finches--gone until new winter migrants arrive.

Somehow I missed the departure of the black-headed grosbeaks too.

Only the jays and an occasional evening grosbeak peck at the sunflower-seed feeders.

The broad-tailed hummingbirds are still here.

And in the woods, the hermit thrush's distant song is replaced by the call of the white-breasted nuthatch--like a little tin horn blown by a tiny clown who is always somewhere farther away.

August 23, 2009

Sunflowers Rule

Sunflowers in our garden, August 2009. Photo (c) Chas S. Clifton
Read this Popular Mechanics article and learn why

  • Sunflowers are hard to kill
  • Sunflowers are promiscuous and incestuous
  • Industrialized sunflowers war against other crops
  • Hitler wanted Stalin's sunflowers
As for me, I hope to see the "industrialized sunflowers" of eastern North Dakota in about three weeks, complete with doves.

August 21, 2009

A Mysterious Disappearance of Tomatoes

We have four tomato plants in a bed near the house, each one surrounded by a Wall o' Water, since summer nighttime temperatures at this elevation often dip into the 40s F (below 10 C).

A couple of days ago, we noticed that one plant finally had two nearly ripe fruit, growing toward the bottom, down in the Wall o' Water enclosure.

Yesterday M. went to check on them. Cursing was heard. Those two tomatoes--and only those two--were gone. Covered by blankets draped over sawhorses, they had survived Tuesday's hail storm, only to vanish in the night.

The green tomatoes were undisturbed.

Our first thought was of bears, since they do traipse through the yard. But reaching down and plucking a tomato without disturbing anything seems almost un-bearlike. They usually smash and grab.

Raccoons? They live down the hill along the creek and could conceivably wander up here. Haven't seen any, though. The dogs usually keep deer away from the house, since they are penned on the veranda until about 10 p.m. when we all go to bed.


If that is not enough mystery for you, Chris Wemmer has photographed a mystery beast in California. He is looking to identify it.

UPDATE 1: Link fixed.

UPDATE 2: A famous professor of medicine once said, in regard to diagnosing disease, that if you hear hoof beats, you should expect horses, not zebras.

After Fisher slurped an entire sliced ripe tomato off the cutting board yesterday when M.'s back was turned, a certain suspicion falls on him.

Means: he is a lanky, supple young dog who could stick his head down into the Wall o' Water.

Motive: He apparently likes tomatoes--although evidence this morning shows that he does not completely digest them.

Opportunity: We can't watch him all the time.

A Fox in the Morning

About 6: 22 a.m. yesterday this red fox triggered the scout camera up the ridge behind our house.

Feeding Frenzy

Evening feeding frenzy. 16 August 2009. Photo by Chas S. Clifton
Another late-season feeding frenzy photo, to go with Reid's. A couple of rufous hummers still linger here, south of his house. But they are less aggressive than earlier in the season (young of the year?). We have about a month left until the last hummingbird will have gone, and suddenly it will be very quiet.

August 19, 2009

How Cacti Live on Rocks

Last June I published two cactus pictures, including one of little prickly pears living on a rock.

Apparently, bacteria are the secret to their success.

"When a seed falls in bats and bird droppings onto barren rock, it contains all the bacteria it needs to pioneer colonisation of that rock," says Dr [Yoav] Bashan [of the Northwestern Center for Biological Research in La Paz, Mexico].

August 14, 2009

It's a Bear in the Backyard! More at 10!

Local TV stations love the "bear in the suburbs" story, but this Cleveland station's "reporting"--especially the visuals, because it's all about the visuals--makes our Colorado Springs stations look like National Geographic by comparison.

Todd Meany
, we salute you.

August 11, 2009

Trout between the Tree Trunks

Up into the Sangres today to beat the heat. No mushrooms in sight--I do think the Wets are the place for mushrooms.

But the trout were there in a small creek that flows through a real jungle, where you crawl out on old silvered tree trunks cut by long-gone beavers to dap a brushy dry fly into three feet of flowing stream that is exposed between the tree trunks.

No room to play a fish, obviously -- you "horse" it out, or it breaks off. Both happened.

At one point, realizing that I could only see a few feet in any direction, I was momentarily glad that there are no grizzly bears hereabouts. On the other hand, if there were, I would wear my bear spray cannister on my hip and fish anyway. Carefully.

Meanwhile, Colorado newspapers are having a time with the case of the late Donna Munson, whom it appears was killed by one of the bears that she fed all the time -- in defiance of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Was her maternal instinct in overdrive? ("These animals need me!") Was she advertising that she was more in tune with wild critters than is the average Coloradan? Was she another "animal hoarder" of the type Mary Scriver encountered in her former job?

Like Timothy Treadwell, she inadvertently caused the death of two bears. That seems to be what such people do.

August 10, 2009

Stumbling into Mushroom Season

It should be mushroom season. M. and went out on the 3rd but almost struck out at our old area. We were reduced to just walking down an old logging road/snowmobile trail in the sunshine, looking at wildflowers. It was hell.

Here is a picture of what I think is orange sneezeweed.

Finally, in the middle of a thick aspen/fir grove, I said, "No mushrooms here, too dry," looked down, and there was a medium-size bolete right at my toes. But that was it for the day.

We will try again for 'shrooms tomorrow. Or trout.

August 08, 2009

A Few Things that Fisher has Eaten

  • Most of an Endangered Species-brand chocolate bar.
  • Contents of a dish holding about a cup of roasted garlic mixed with olive oil.
  • Shreds of plastic bag (mostly vomited, thank heaven).
  • Yesterday, contents of a 9x9 baking dish full of freshly baked granola. "About $5 worth of walnuts," M. said.

Plus all of the normal disgusting things that a dog can find by running around in the woods.

After all of our former big dogs who respected counter-tops, now we have one that has not learned to do so. It's like having a raccoon loose in the house--except he does not open cupboards, yet. We must adapt.

Having seen a couple of references to the stuff-it-with-treats, give-it-to-the-dog Kong toy by the Atomic Nerds, I broke down and bought one. Eighteen dollars for something that looks like a new-model toilet flush valve--it's black, rubbery, and heavy, the "Extreme Kong" for large dogs.

The first evening, two nights ago, I loaded it with dog biscuits and some peanut butter, and it distracted him for about thirty minutes when he normally would be shadowing M. during dinner preparations.

Last night he discovered that the best way to get the biscuits out is to just drop the Kong repeatedly on the tile floor.

After that, he adopts the same method he uses with tennis balls outdoors. First find a human. Then drop the ball/Kong in front of or onto them. Step back and stare intently at the object. Repeat as needed.

And when you say, "Get that slimy thing off the sofa," pick up, and toss it on the floor, you have done exactly what he wanted you to do. Start again at step one.

August 05, 2009

The Bear Cub and the Rattlesnake

This is not a Rockies video, but it is interesting all the same: From Hog Foot Holler, a black bear cub encounters a timber rattler.

I never use the expression "If it were a snake ..." anymore--unless I am feeling self-consciously ironic.

August 03, 2009

The Fatal Blue Stain

Blue stain from pine beetles in ponderosa pine.
I had to cut down a roughly 20-year-old ponderosa pine by the driveway near the house last week.

It started looking a little sad this spring, and as the weather warmed, its needles turned brown. The beetles had killed it--not the first tree we have lost. But this was the one that we had decorated as a Christmas tree one time when it was smaller -- stringing garlands of popcorn and cranberries that even the Steller's jays would not eat.

The photo shows the characteristic blue stain of the wood and—at the bottom—a cutaway of one of the tunnels the beetles make.

Meanwhile, ips beetles are starting to hit the piñon pines at lower altitudes, just as they have been doing in northern New Mexico. Driving from Penrose to Colorado Springs last week, I noticed that a lot of piñons were brown.

This article predicts possible ecological outcomes of current infestations, which have been heaviest in northern Colorado, as the map here shows.

A photo taken from our front porch in the 1970s that I found in the crawl space showed that the pine forest around the house was mostly oak brush back then, with a few little pines. Maybe oak brush is the constant.

August 02, 2009

An Ascetic's Lonely Death

In some cultures, a man like Winston Branko Churchill might fill a slot called "mendicant monk" or "wandering ascetic."

In ours, he died a lonely, self-inflicted death.

M. notes a similarity between his life and David Guterson's novel The Other, although it could well be that Churchill never read that book. (The suicide is the rejection of materialist society in favor of living alone, not the suicide itself.)

All in all, another case of suicide in beautiful settings.