September 28, 2009

From Custer to Custer, and, oh yes, Custer

Today we leave Custer County on our way to Custer County (the one with Custer State Park) in it.

The great cavalry tactician has quite a few things named after him. It's part of a shift in nomenclature that I notice when traveling north of the Platte.

M. and I live at the northern edge of the tide of Baroquely religious Spanish place names, which is how it is that I belong to the Blood of Christ Shooting Sports Club—which sounds like something from Franco's Spain.

But up there in the country of my boyhood, place names reflect a flint-hard animism (Spearfish, Sundance, Black Hills, Bear Lodge) or the memories of Army officers, from the luckless (Cherry County, Fort Fetterman) to the more competent: Sheridan, Fort Collins, Miles City, Sturgis, Crook County, Terry Peak.

Which brings me back to Custer. On my trip north three weeks ago, I listened to the audiobook of James Donovan's A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn—the Last Great Battle of the American West.

What I learned from it was not so much about the battle, which is covered elsewhere. Read whatever has been published since the archaeological work of the 1980s, such as Son of the Morning Star: Custer and The Little Bighorn or Soldiers Falling into Camp: The Battles at the Rosebud and the Little Big Horn.

It was the politics. The post-Civil War Army was a real catfight, as officers fought for promotion in a shrinking military force, and back-stabbing was an art.

Donovan describes how Custer and the man who would become his key subordinate at the Little Bighorn, Capt. Benteen, published anonymous letters attacking each other in newspapers during the 1870s. Talk about blogging about your boss!

Yes, Custer's rashness led to the complete loss of his battalion, but he was also a convenient scapegoat, Donovan argues. Terry's caution, Crook's vacillations, Gibbon's hesitations—not to mention Benteen's hesitation to reinforce Custer when ordered—all were minimized in the official reports, while Custer took all the blame, being conveniently dead.

Even the inquest into Major Reno's drunken cowardice at the Little Bighorn was affected by a desire to save regimental honor and blame Custer, Donovan suggests.

As I drove north, occasionally the text and geography coincided, so that certain locales, such as those from the 1874 Black Hills expedition, coincided in the text and out the windshield. It's nice when that happens.

Now M. will be with me, but we are not looking for Custer. Blogging will be irregular, maybe nonexistent, until we return.

September 25, 2009

Maximilian's Sunflowers

When the first tinge of orange appears on the scrub oaks, the Mexican sunflowers (a/k/a Maximilian['s] sunflower—Helianthus maximiliani) are blooming. They are a New World plant, although not native this far north, where they need extra water, especially in early summer.

In moister climates they can be invasive—not a problem here.

Other than that, and an occasional infestation of stink bugs, they are a bulletproof perennial, which is what I like. At our house they start blooming about the second week of September, just when everything else has pretty much finished, even the wild Liatrus.

September 22, 2009

Blog Stew with Shades of Green

A few good reads from the blogroll:

Fisher Goes to Bird Camp

Fisher with sharp-tailed grouse, North Dakota, Sept. 2009. Photo by Chas S. Clifton
Fisher and I came back from North Dakota on the 17th, after four days of driving and four days of sharp-tailed grouse and dove-hunting with my old friend Galen (who is now blogging again).

Since our return, M. and I have both noted a change in the little Chessie. He seems a tad more mature. Still pushy and hyperactive, but not quite so much.

Cookie, Galen's German wirehaired pointer, was his tutor on the grouse, and I think he learned some things, when not chasing her madly across the prairie, liberated after two days in a kennel crate.

And I managed to down two grouse, which is two more than last year, when we never saw one within shotgun range.

Mixed grill of game birds and sausage. Photo by Chas S. Clifton.
They and some doves went into this mixed grill of apple-smoked game birds, sausage, and squash.

September 21, 2009

What's in that Slurry?

From the InciWeb site (see blogroll at right), a news release about the ingredients of the retardant solutions ("slurry") dropped on wildland fires.

Aerial drops of retardant have come a long way since the first recorded water drop in 1930, when a Ford Tri-Motor airplane used a wooden beer keg filled with water. Now air tankers can drop 500 to 2000 gallons of retardant at a time to help suppress fires. Helitankers, which are helicopters with built-in tanks, can drop up to 2000 gallons; retrofitted DC-10s have an 11,000 gallon capacity, and Boeing 747s 20,000 gallons.

In the Wet Mountains, we had one of Zeus's slurry drops today: a mixture of rain and snow that should reduce the fire danger pretty well for a while.

(Via Firefighter Blog.)

September 19, 2009

Dangerous Plants

From Popular Mechanics, one version of a "10 Most Dangerous Plants" list. I am not surprised that one of the Daturas made the list. I think the New World wins, overall.

September 18, 2009

Tracking Trash Electronically

When I taught nature writing, I used to have students take the "Where You At?" quiz originally published in CoEvolution Quarterly and reprinted in Stephanie Fox's Whatever Happened to Ecology?

Question 8 reads, "Where does your garbage ultimately go?"

Now researchers are using tracking-chip technology to answer that question on a bottle by paper cup by aluminum can level.

“There is this hidden world of trash, and there are ramifications to the choices that people make,” [Brett] Stav [of Seattle Public Utilities] said. “People just take their trash and put it on the curb and they forget about it and don’t think about all the time and energy and money put into disposing of it.”

September 16, 2009

Buddhist Deforestation

Bhutanese Buddhists cut 70,000 trees every year for prayer-flag poles.

The government urges a switch to bamboo, and why not?

And you felt bad about cutting a Christmas tree from a designated tree-cutting area?

September 15, 2009

Loading Grain Cars at Night

Loading grain cars at night. Photo by Chas S. CliftonYour spring wheat being loaded into grain cars in Finley, North Dakota, while I play with my new pocket digital camera.

This year's harvest is somewhat delayed by cool, wet weather earlier.


How could the Pueblo Chieftain publish an upbeat article on the Arkansas Valley town of Swink without including the fact that people from there (some of them) refer to themselves as "Swinkies"?

Burning Coal while Warning about Climate Change

The World Bank worries on one hand about climate change, exhorting developed nations to do more, while on the other hand it finances new and bigger coal-burning power plants.

The people who think they are qualified to run the world just make so much sense, don't they. They fly in private jets and go to conferences in Aspen and Switzerland—life "in the bubble."

If you accept the conventional wisdom about CO2 and global warming, then how do you get away with asking us to "act differently on climate change"?

September 07, 2009

France Needs More Boar Hunters

In France, the population of wild boar is expanding dramatically.

Several reasons are given for their proliferation. The great hurricane of Christmas 1999 left French forests in such a jumble that the boar have many more places to hide from the hunters. The spread of cereal fields into traditional beef and dairy country (like Normandy) has given them a new food supply. They are especially partial to maize.

Last week, the wild boar, sanglier or Sus scrofa was officially declared a public menace. Over 15,000 road accidents a year – two-thirds of all French road accidents are attributable to animals – are caused by wild boar dashing across roads at night without looking both ways. The environment minister, Jean-Louis Borloo, has ordered an anti-boar campaign, including official culls and, possibly, a longer hunting season.

In the best tradition of France-baiting, the English writer goes on to fault les chasseurs' marksmanship.

Another English blogger facetiously reads French hunting magazines and interviews some French hunters, whose attitudes he admires. (When did they start wearing blaze orange? How un-European.) Nothing about le sanglier, however.

Perhaps NorCal Cazadora could organize a safari to Normandy.

September 06, 2009

The "Costs" of Going Hunting

Well-known gun bloggers Sebastian and Say Uncle recently crossed over into some hunting blogging -- to complain about the cost of going hunting.

Considering what serious recreational shooters spend on their training, the fiscal entry costs of hunting are pretty low to a gun owner. Most states' resident small-game licenses (which include pheasants, grouse, etc.) cheaper than a tank of gasoline. Big-game licenses (again, thinking in resident terms) are a little more and sometimes involve lotteries.

Not all costs are monetary, I admit. When I go to the shooting range, it's a simple matter of load stuff in the Jeep, drive to the range, and shoot until I am (a) out of ammunition or (b) mentally fatigued. The annual membership costs about the same as a small-game license.

My point is that recreational shooting is a "retail experience": you buy some gear, pay a reasonable range fee, and go shooting.

Hunting, by contrast, is a "cultural" experience. It may involve a lot of shooting (a typical dove hunt) or none at all (many big-game outings).

You may have a day like this and think it was a good one.

Consider that hunter-education course (which is a one-time thing) to be one step into the culture.

Unless you are paying for a guide's expertise, you cannot just show up on opening day and expect the perfect experience.

You need to learn something about wildlife biology, to reconnoiter various areas (hence the popularity of the game camera--lots of them on eBay), and to plan the time off.

You need work on not just marksmanship but physical conditioning--even if you hunt from a stationary blind.

You need to hang around other hunters too--and it does not hurt to support organizations like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation or Ducks Unlimited.

You probably will not learn much from watching "outdoor" television--not as much as you would from taking a walk in the woods with binoculars.

And there is the whole land-access issue. How much huntable public land is there where you live? Private-land hunting access laws range from the easygoing (North Dakota) to the don't-you-dare-without-permission (much of the West and Texas).

Networking is the answer. If you can't marry someone with a ranch in the family, then branch out. Join local clubs. Volunteer for a wildlife agency and get to know the game wardens. Talk to people. (Hint: I swear a lot of self-employed contractors are self-employed just so that they can turn down jobs during elk season.)

Still, if you think you have an access problem, consider these guys.

Prescribed Burn at Wind Cave

A news photog's shots of a recent prescribed burn at Wind Cave National Park in the Black Hills -- interesting to me partly because I plan to be there later this month.

The forest is mostly ponderosa pine, and the Park Service offers its thinking on fire and forest ecology here.

And All of Them Can Vote

A blog devoted to candid shots of your fellow citizens (and their cars) at Walmart.

September 03, 2009

FIre on the Mountain

A telephoto shot of a ridge across the valley from my house. M. and I had heard an aircraft circling on the other side of it this morning and wondered what was happening. Then she spotted the smoke while out walking later.

The sheriff's office says that it is being fought. I know the area—thick white fir, mostly—and I suppose you could make a case for "let it burn."

A helicopter has been circling it now, but it lacks a water bucket, so it is just observing, I suppose. (Or helitack? From where?)