December 31, 2010

SeEtta versus the Water Buffaloes

Look over in my "Southwesterners" blogroll and you will see Birds and Nature, the innocuous-sounding photography blog of Cañon City resident SeEtta Moss.

Actually, SeEtta is one of the most hardworking activists for wildlife, particularly birds, in this part of Colorado, and as the Pueblo Chieftain recently explained in a profile of her, she has waded right into the ongoing water wars.

Moss, who lives in Canon City, is the conservation chairwoman for the Arkansas Valley Audobon and Colorado Audubon societies, and her influence in water issues has grown in the past five years.

In 2005, she joined the Arkansas Basin Roundtable as the representative for nonconsumptive needs — the water that provides landscape and habitat for birds and other wildlife.

In that time, she has taught other members of the roundtable the importance of wildlife-related activities, helped develop a groundbreaking method of measuring the relative importance of nonconsumptive use in the basin and worked for state grants to study wildlife habitat throughout the basin.

She also spots birds that I have previously never known were in southeastern Colorado, such as the golden-fronted woodpecker, of which more can be learned here.

UPDATE: Oops. I was confused by the "Roselawn" and missed the part about it being in Texas, thinking instead of the Roselawn Cemetery in Pueblo.

December 30, 2010

Feliz Christmas

Some holiday photos from southern Colorado and New Mexico

In Magdalena, New Mexico, Santa drives a military surplus Dodge M37 truck. This is the gas station made famous in Querencia

At the Taos, New Mexico, fire department, the apparatus lanes are delineated by farolitos.

In Westcliffe, Colorado, the illuminated Main Street ends suddenly in blackness.

December 28, 2010

Los Matachines at Taos Pueblo

Taken several years ago with tribal permission, this Taos News photo shows the dancers led by former pueblo governor Ruben Romero

You hear different languages. There are French tourists, German tourists, and some guy in a Rasta tam. Another man looks like he came straight from the nearby Overland Sheepskin Co. store, pausing only to snip the tags off his coat.

I am not the only one in the artsy Anglo uniform of broad-brimmed hat, colorful muffler or scarf, and sunglasses. M. wears her leather jacket and dangling Hopi earrings—another Southwestern look.  Scattered piles of ash from the bonfires of Christmas Eve, when they process the Virgin with fireworks and rifle shots.

The air smells of piñon pine smoke mixed with coal smoke. The Indian crafts shops on the ground floor of the old Taos Pueblo are doing a modest business. (Tribal members are required to spend part of each year in the old 13th-century buildings, sans indoor plumbing.)

Old Tony Reyna, former Taos Pueblo governor, crosses the open ground, a red blanket around his shoulders, leaning on an ornate staff, and his elbow held by a younger man. He is a Bataan Death March survivor—so many of them were New Mexicans. (Jeez, he survived that.) But his appearance is not the signal.

Eventually, you see the phalanx of dancers pass by way up at the east end of the plaza. They pass behind the North House and ... nothing happens.

Half an hour or so goes by. Then they appear between some houses and the church, and somehow people know to follow them to a little side area. There is a string band, El Abuelo and La Abuela, the little girl (La Malinche in some versions),  El Monarca (the king, sometimes Moctezuma.)

No Cortés. El Toro (the bull) is a bison. This is Taos,after all.

The masked dancers wear veils—a curtain of black cords—and thin scarves wrapped to hide their lower faces, tied behind their heads. They carry small canister rattles wrapped in flowing scarves in one hand and a sort of small, decorated wooden trident in the other. Multicolor shawls cover their shoulders and streamers flow down their backs.

The dancers take direction from El Abuelo, the Grandfather. He wears an old man's mask with a long beard and is dressed like an old-fashioned Hispano rancher: blue jeans, shirt and leather vest, straw hat, and bullwhip, which he snaps for punctuation. He shouts in Spanish  His partner is La Abuela, Grandmother, definitely a man, in a head scarf and  long skirt, carrying a capacious handbag, who takes special care of the little girl in the princess costume who might be La Malinche. Or maybe not.

El Toro and La Abuela bring out a pole, like a Maypole but with woven sashes tied end to end descending instead of ribbons. The musicians play, the Bull and and the Grandfather hold up the pole—I  could go all structuralist here: Bull, Axis Mundi.

Everything means many things, I am sure, and the important thing is just to be there in your body, not to worry about "what it means."

At the end, El Abuelo shouts, "Le gustan?"  ("You like it?").  Everyone applauds, and the dancers go into a house. The crowd disperses, but some people in the know are walking towards the adobe church of San Geronimo.

Half a dozen old ladies, some in blankets, are lined up on the postage-stamp size stone-paved courtyard, surrounded by a low adobe wall. It is a good principle that where the old ladies are is where something will happen—and it will happen when they all get there.

Gradually people assemble around the outside of the wall. Half a dozen straight-backed chairs are brought out of the adobe church. Two at the church end of the court yard, two opposite, just inside the gate. A couple off to one side.

Waiting. My feet hurt. What about the feet of the old women standing on sandstone slabs?  Our Taos friends leave to go tend to their dogs. We will see them later.

And then the dancers arrive again, processing through the courtyard gate. The fiddler and guitarist sit in the two chairs at the church end and resume their tune, while the dancers form two files and dance various twirling figures, cowboy boots clomping on the slabs, while El Abuelo snaps his bullwhip and shouts, "Vámanos," ("Let's go!") etc.

La Abuela guides the little girl, and at one point the she and the king sit in chairs at the gateway end. A middle aged blanket-wrapped Indian man occasionally calls instructions in a loud whisper: "She's got to be behind him!"  and so on. He must be the real master of ceremonies.

Low, weak sun. It is chilly in the shade. Lucky people with pueblo connections stand on flat roofs looking down into the courtyard.  Occasionally a woman will step up to the line of dancers to straighten the streams on (her son's?) headdress.

We are spiraling past the solstice, and the dancers keep turning and turning. Most headdresses are decorated with squash blossom necklaces and other  tribal jewelry, but one displays two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, and when he turns I see that the ribbons down his back are green-gold-red like the Vietnam War service ribbon. Since the dancers appear to be young men, they must have been earned by his relatives?

The sun has well-passed its low zenith, and the dancers keep flowing as in a Virginia reel. At one point El Toro dances down between the two lines and makes a "pass" with each dancer individually. Then Abuelo and Abuela wrestle him comically to the ground and wave his (detachable) balls, which are offered to a woman standing in the church doorway, who smiles and hands them back. La Abuela puts them in her handbag.

Suddenly it's over with a final series of weaving movements. M. has grown chilly standing in the shade of the church .We will drive back to town, pick up food and gifts, and drive a short way north of El Prado to our friends' house for Christmas dinner. All is right.

December 23, 2010

Extinct Humans' Genetic Legacy Leads to New Guinea

I have posted occasionally here about the back-and-forth over whether or not Homo sapiens sapiens (that would be you, reader, probably) interbred with Neanderthal people or not. Now the verdict seems to be yes, to some extent.

Complicating the issue is the discovery of another group of archaic people, the Denisovans, whose genetic legacy is found in New Guinea.

Since New Guinea is famous for its huge variety of native languages ... nah, that would be expecting too much.

(The kool kids now say "hominin" instead of "hominid," but it means about the same thing.)

December 21, 2010

A Contrarian Predicts a Mini-Ice Age

If you have been following the news, you know that Britain is experiencing a severe winter: lots of snow and temperatures dipping close to zero F. in places.

On Sunday, thanks to certain bloggers, the most popular emailed story at one of the British national newspapers, the Independent, was one written ten years ago in which one Charles Onians proclaimed, "Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past," all about how little children would grow up never seeing snow.

Now the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is very interested in the work of Piers Corbyn, a maverick meteorologist who forsees a "mini-Ice Age," based on solar activity.

Johnson's piece appeared in the Telegraph, followed by a riposte by one of its house bloggers who accused the mayor of stealing his material, calling Johnson's piece "a bravura politician’s exercise in arse-covering."

Curiouser and curiouser.

December 17, 2010

Crossbills at Work

It has been years since we have seen an "irruption" of red crossbills down here in the foothills, but here is a video from the Cornell ornithologists about how the cross-bill feature works, using the related white-winged crossbill as an example.


December 16, 2010

Trinidad, Colorado, Loses Its Identity

After two different surgeons made it the "sex-change capital of the world" for decades, that surgical practice has relocated to (surprise) San Francisco.
 
The Denver Post article describes the multiple economic impacts of Dr. Marci (née Mark) Bowers' decision. (She took over the practice begun in the 1950s by Dr. Stanley Biber.)

It may not be the greatest cataclysm the town of about 10,000 has weathered. Mines have closed. Railroad hubs have moved.

But regardless of its eventual place in Trinidad history, Bowers' departure reverberates now, in ways big and small, throughout this rugged town in the Purgatoire River valley.

Gender-reassignment patients didn't fly in and out overnight. Their procedures kept them in town for days, if not weeks.

That's why restaurants, hotels and gift shops will all be hurt, said Karin Murray, co-owner of Hometown Pharmacy & Medical on Main Street.

December 14, 2010

We Are Tired of the 'Little Girl'

As predicted in October, that little girl is a problem child, weather-wise. Coyote Gulch, the Colorado water blog, rounds up the pitiful Southern Rockies snowpack situation.

The Denver Post ran one of its "places to go hiking" stories on Sunday. M. was reading it and said, "That sounds like a good trail to hike," to which I replied, "That's where we were cross-country skiing last winter." And the winter before that.

For a National Park Demoted, a Second Chance

I did not know that national parks were ever un-made, but it happened in Oklahoma in 1976, when the Platt National Park was demoted for lacking "scenic grandeur."
What started as local boosterism of hydrotherapy in cold mineral springs grew into one of America's most visited national parks by the 1920s. Despite its popularity, Platt lacked both scenic grandeur and political influence; it did not fit prevailing images of wild nature among NPS bureaucrats and the urban elite who formed the core of the environmental movement; it was too small, too humanized, and too ordinary. As images of people embedded in nature have gained wider acceptance in recent decades, would this small, geographically distinctive, and culturally rich “park of the people” have met a similar fate today?
It was added to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area but still considered noteworthy for its numerous examples of Civilian Conservation Corps "parkitecture." Now it is being recommended by a Park Service advisory board for national landmark status.
Chickasaw National Recreation Area, a very popular national park (1.2 million recreational visits in 2009) has managed the former Platt National Park as an administrative unit called the Platt Historic District. An important element of Chickasaw's mission is to preserve and interpret the Platt Historic District's physical resources (including numerous mineral springs) and cultural-historical resources.

The importance of the latter was underscored when the Landmarks Committee of the National Park Service Advisory Board voted unanimously on November 4 to recommend that the original Platt National Park portion of Chickasaw National Recreation Area be designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL).

Yep, Ken Burns missed that one.

(You're right: I am copying New York Times headlinese, just for the helluvit.)

December 11, 2010

Wyoming Papers Please Copy

From a listserv on literature and nature to which I subscribe comes this observation:

If such a thing [as "Footnote of the Year"] existed, it should surely go to this, from Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erickson's introduction to Queer Ecologies: discussing Brokeback Mountain as gay pastoral, they comment: "Although there are clear differences between Wyoming and Arcadia, both physically and economically."

Poking Poop with a Stick

Darcey at Metis Online looks past Sarah Palin-as-politician to see a deeper divide than Republicans and Democrats.

I am reminded of Edward Abbey's dystopian novel Good News (1980), which I have to admit that I never finished. In the part I did read, however, he has something about the "oldest civil war of all, that between the city and the country."

If Darcey is right, that is what we're seeing here. Her evidence is from Canada, but it sounds all too familiar:

A rural-urban divide? More then possible I think and to test the theory one doesn't have to look much further then the comment sections provided by Canada's own Globe and Mail and the CBC. Both news services think of themselves as being national but their readership tends to be anti-national. Ten minutes of scrolling comments and you would think that rural Albertans are all blood thirsty knuckle-dragging rednecks with guns and the constant tone of the despise gives one the shivers. It can also go the other way and I've been guilty myself of portraying Torontonians as being latte-sipping elitists living in their own filth.

December 10, 2010

A Book for Pronghorn Antelope

I was driving to Pueblo yesterday and passed a small group of pronghorn antelope at the edge of the prairie.

Again I thought, antelope get no respect. There is the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Mule Deer Foundation, Whitetails Unlimited, and other groups that organize conservation efforts, help to fund scientific research, and sometimes buy vital land for habitat for other North American ungulates. For antelope there is, for instance, the Arizona Antelope Foundation, but no national groups that I am aware of.

They often seem to be expected to just make it on their own, like jackrabbits. Some Westerners refer to them half-pejoratively as "goats."

The catalog copy for Cat Urbigkit's new book, The Path of the Pronghorn, states,
They are the fastest land mammals in North America, clocked at speeds of up to sixty miles per hour. Of all the world’s land animals, only cheetahs are faster.
A ghost hides in that paragraph. At one time cheetahs did live in North America, and pronghorn evolved to outrun them in a sustained chase, since cheetahs are mainly sprinters. Until humans built automobiles, there was nothing faster than the antelope for many centuries on the Western grasslands. 

(For more on this and other "ghosts of evolution," see Connie Barlow's book of the same name.)

Wyoming has more antelope than any other state. Urbigkit's text and Mark Gocke's photos  trace the migration of one herd in the Green River country, as they move from the sagebrush desert up into their high-country summer range and back down again in fall.

This particular herd, she writes, "participates in the longest land-mammal migration in the continental United States .... up to two hundred miles to spend the summer in Grand Teton National Park."

And it's not an easy trip.

Path of the Pronghorn speaks for antelope, then, and does it lucidly.

December 09, 2010

When Forestry Mixes National Identity and Spiritual Importance

This AP story indicates that in Israel, decided what to do after a forest fire--whether to "let nature take its course" or replant aggressively--is an even more emotional issue than it has been in North America.

A burnt forest is seen after a massive wildfire in the Carmel, northern Israel, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010. The fire broke out Thursday and burned a 20-square-mile (50-square-kilometer) area in the Carmel forest, a popular nature spot on Haifa's outskirts. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Of course, they have less forest to start with, and it is almost all regrown in the last century  since, as I understand, by the end of the Ottoman Empire, the countryside was pretty much grazed down to nothing.

Cleanliness is next to Depression?

At Free Range Kids, a link to a study claiming not only that too much childhood cleanliness leads to allergies, but it predisposes children to depression as well.

Something else to blame Mom for, right?

December 06, 2010

Walking the Arkansas River Conduit

 Years ago I picked up from Steve Bodio the phrase "an armed walk," meaning a stroll cross-country when you are ostensibly hunting, but spot no game.

In the winter, I sometimes modify that to "armed geocaching," since people will place caches in state wildlife areas.

Having just finished and uploaded to the printer a medium-sized editing project Sunday night, I had to get out on Monday.

Fisher the Horrid Dog had ripped a nail on a rear paw, and I could tell the paw was sore and swollen. I wanted it to heal, so I left him home.

But then I was a little lonely with no one to watch run and no one to scream at.
I walked the route of the old Arkansas River (or Valley) Conduit, which decades ago supplied industrial water to the CF&I steel mill in Pueblo.

It is not be be confused with the Arkansas Valley (or River) Conduit that has been on the drawing board for forty years, a pipeline to carry water from Pueblo Reservoir to towns downstream. (The river and well water downstream tends to be heavily mineralized.)

Most of it was an open ditch, but the top photo shows the ruined outflow of a siphon that carried water across a deep ravine.

The lower photo is the beginning of a different siphon, now crumbled. Was it deliberately blown up? The ditch parts are eroding fast. Less than a century old, and it is already a "relic of the Old Ones."

Found a couple of caches, saw no quail, missed my silly dog, left at home.

Modern Pagans Talk about Hunting

Since I was a boy,  I have wondered about the intersection of hunting and religion—primarily because in my younger church-going days, hunting was never mentioned in church.

It was important at our house—we ate a lot of venison—yet it was never discussed on Sunday, pro or con.

Indeed, the whole issue of our relationship with and responsibilities toward non-human nature never came up in church, although I got a lot of old-style conservation talk across the kitchen table.

Breaking that silence, however, here is an interview with three Midwestern deer hunters who happen to be followers of contemporary Pagan religions—Wicca, etc.

What they say about the experience of hunting is not too different from what you read in the more thoughtful, less "hook and bullet-oriented" outdoor writing.
For Jude the hunting experience affects his whole life, “ You can’t kill an animal and not have it effect you. It is like directly experiencing rebirth, recycling, respect for the animals and the plants, and living from and with the land. I feel connected to nature. When you are hunting you are not just observing or enjoying nature, you are a part of it. Many see a birth, and some may get to save a life, but as a hunter you take that ultimate responsibility when you end a life.”
Read the whole thing—you might find yourself in sympathy.

December 03, 2010

Pleistocene Park Update

Moving away from the cave bears to the grazing animals ... a Russian scientist argues that recreating a Pleistocene Siberia could positively affect global warming.

Other than that, it is just way cool.

November 30, 2010

What Killed the Cave Bears?

Sometimes when I want to wallow in nostalgia for lost and long-ago times, I pull out a coffee-table photo book of paintings from Chauvet.

There is a sketch on the right, student work from L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts des Grottes, no doubt.

Such bears are long-gone, and while many would suspect that Cro-Magnon hunters with spears did them in, some scientists still seek other explanations for their disappearance.

Climate change? Housing shortage? High-tech tools are being deployed in the search for answers.

However, if the Cro-Mag boys killed one, they quite likely ate it. Did they make bear dumplings? Or did that recipe have to wait for the Neolithic, when, if you are in the Paul Shepard camp, you assert that everything went downhill.

November 29, 2010

Invasive Phragmites in Fountain Creek

If it isn't one thing, it's another. While the War on Tamarisk proceeds, an invasive variety of phragmites (a type of reed, say it in three syllables) is now potentially a problem in the Fountain Creek  drainage  around Pueblo.

(Photo by Chris McLean, Pueblo Chieftain)

The Emperor Norton Grape

The Hermanoff winery tasting room and delicatessen occupy this building.
A long time ago—three dogs ago—M. and I passed through Hermann, Missouri, after visiting my sister's farm in southeastern Missouri. We bought some white wine—most of the local wines were whites—and had a picnic.

Later, after the same sister moved up to Little Dixie (Randolph County), she took Dad and me to Les Bourgeois winery, and I discovered that Missouri did offer some drinkable reds (although it is indicative that Les Bourgeois' best-selling red, Riverboat Red, is described as "a tantalizing blend of raspberry and cherry aromas, this chilled sweet red dazzles the palate with rich layers of ripe fruit."

Cherry ... sweet ... ripe fruit. Uh, no thanks.

Last week, M. and I visited three Missouri wineries: Les Bourgeois, Adam Puchta, and Hermannhof, the latter two in the German immigrant-founded town of Hermann, whose wine-making history goes back to the first half of the 19th century. We also had a bottle of Stone Hill's Norton varietal wine one night at dinner.

All of these wineries' dry red wines rely on the Norton grape, grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello and introduced to Missouri around 1860.
Well adapted to sweltering Midwestern summers, the grape became very popular in the [Missouri] area. Several nurseries along the Mississippi River began selling seedlings, especially in and around the tiny town of Bushberg, just east of Pevely. Catalogs from 1870 proudly advertised Norton, which by that time had already become one of Missouri’s most popular grapes. 

In the 1920s, prohibition shut down the entire American wine industry. European wines regained preeminence on the world stage, a position they have been loath to relinquish ever since. But now, with American wine making a comeback, Norton is gaining momentum. “It has made a remarkable recovery,” noted Laszlo Kovacs of the Mid-America Viticulture and Enology Center, located in Mountain Grove, Mo. He specifically praised Norton as an “American grape that can be made into a premium-quality wine.” He’s not the only one in on this secret – today, Norton is the most widely planted red grape in the state.

We tasted Norton-based wines at all of these vineyards, and they all have a family resemblance. I lack the fancy vocabulary of a wine writer, but compared to the California wines that I am used to, the Nortons tasted "grape-ier" (My favorite was Adam Puchta's "Legacy.") It's not a bad taste, just different from the "big" California reds that I am used to.

We brought a few bottles home and will try them out on our wine-loving friends.

This post's title invokes the real Emperor Norton.

November 28, 2010

Across the Wide Missouri (2)

Faced with a big river, I keep trying to get a good photo of it. Visiting the Les Bourgeois winery at Rocheport, Missouri, for the first time in several years, I discovered that they had built a new restaurant.

  

If you walk down to the edge of the bluff past the building and look upstream, you see this:

If that view doesn't make you feel like you want to be in a boat heading upstream (or down), I don't know what would.

Next, a few thoughts on the wines.

Across the Wide Missouri (1)


Like the late, lamented Steel City Diner in Pueblo, Colorado, Glenn's Cafe in Boonville, Missouri, hides a white-tablecloth restaurant behind a proletarian name. M. and I ate there Tuesday night and liked it.

Just out of the photo to the left: the Boonslick Bridge across the Missouri River.

November 27, 2010

November 26, 2010

The Indian Pueblo in Kansas

Foundations of "El Cuartelejo," a Pueblo Indian ruin in western Kansas
First, a timeline:
  • 1541-42 The Coronado expedition travels across the southern Great Plains. Sometimes all who wander are indeed lost—or being deliberately misled.
  • 1598 Spanish colonists led by Juan de Oñate colonize the Rio Grande valley in what is now the state of New Mexico.
  • c. 1656 A group of Indians from the Taos, N.M., area flee the Spanish and their missionaries and travel about 300 miles northeast to an "oasis" on the Great Plains, a small valley watered by a tributary of the Smokey Hill River in what is now western Kansas.This is all in the pre-horse days, which means they walked. What did they eat? What information did they have about where to go?
  • The Spanish idea of colonization was to have the Spanish noble on his plantation with his family and then the Indians to work the plantation to keep him in a very peaceful situation. Well obviously, this didn't work. Around 1656 ... somewhere around there approximately, a group of Taos pueblo Indians fled from the Spanish. .... Well, these Taos Indians fled into the plains to escape the Spanish oppression. And where they fled was to a rancheria of a Plains Apache group. (source)
  • 1680 In a rare example of cross-tribal cooperation, inhabitants of various New Mexican Indian pueblos launch a coordinated attack on Spanish colonists (particularly the priests), killing some, destroying mission churches, and chasing the remaining Spanish south into old Mexico.
  • 1692-96 New Spanish soldiers and colonists led by Diego de Vargas complete the so-called "bloodless" reconquest of New Mexico, which actually involved some hard fighting against die-hard Indian warriors. 
  • c. 1696. Some inhabitants of Picuris Pueblo near Taos also journey to the little settlement in western Kansas to escape the Spanish vengeance
  • 1697 The Pueblo Indians at El Cuartelejo are "brought home," maybe?
 A definition: The Spanish referred to the southern Great Plains as El Cuartelejo–The Far Quarter of their empire, at least on paper. The name is also applied to this particular small Indian pueblo. In its plural form, the name also referred to some of the Plains Apache people who lived there until the early 18th century.
A 1925 historic market gives a date for the pueblo that is probably too early.

(In Kansas, they sometimes spell the word El Quartelejo. They can't help it. They also call the river Ar-KAN-sas.)

All this is background. Some time ago, I heard of ruins of an Indian pueblo in western Kansas. Since we usually associate rectangular, stone-and/or-adobe buildings with the Southwest—New Mexico and Arizona—this was certainly an "outlier" in several senses.

Last Saturday I visited it, part of Scott State Park: How strange to see such a foundation in this land of cattle ranches, center-pivot irrigation, and gigantic farm machinery. There is a historical marker out on US 83 for those travelers in a hurry.

Tom Witty, former chief archaeologist for the Kansas State Historical Society, describes the site's discovery in the 1890s:
There were two naturalists ... actually, they were paleontologists from the University of Kansas—Williston and Martin And they excavated and found the remains of a small, seven-room pueblo ... just the foundations, with the floor literally covered with burned corn and artifacts. They had the pueblo, and then they discovered three major irrigation ditches. These run off of the springs that were there at that time.
[Witty describes] this rancheria as a large village complex, in which the Taos Indians built their pueblo structure and practiced horticulture in nearby garden plots, while the Apaches with whom they were associated roamed farther afield.
As mentioned, more refugees from Picuris followed those from Taos:
Tu-pa-tu, one of the principal leaders in the revolt, was a native of Picuris, and after the slaughter of all resident Spaniards, led the warriors of the pueblo to Santa Fé to take part in the siege of Otermin. The Indians not only massacred the priest, whose name was Mafias Rendon, and burned the church and surrounding buildings, but they killed every individual Spaniard living in the valleys of the vicinity. There is no record of the escape of even one to tell the tale. When the reconquest took place, quite a fraction of the population, not reconciled to renewed subjection to the Spaniards, emigrated to Cuartelejo, on the plains of western Kansas, but they gradually returned when matters became settled and their fears had subsided.
Visiting the site on a chilly, windy November day, I can attest that the small valley (or large arroyo, depending on your perspective) protects you from the gentle prairie breezes. But it must have been tough there on really severe-weather days, huddling over a fire of buffalo chips.

We have only the Spanish account for why they allowed themselves to be "retrieved." (An earlier Spanish expedition passed by on its way to disaster.)
For the moment, however, we must note the activities of Governor de Vargas, whose reconquest of New Mexico compelled him to engage in the fall of 1696 in an expedition to the east. In that year some Pueblos, obstinately refusing to accept the Spanish king and God, rebelled and fled from their homes eastward over the Taos Mountains. De Vargas, setting out at once from the Picuries Pueblo recaptured, after an exciting chase, the majority of the rebels but the rest escaped in company of some Apaches. The general’s Journal of the event does not give sufficient information to state how far he penetrated on this march. He later stated he traveled eighty-four leagues; but whether this is the distance for one or both ways is not clear. His entire journey, going and coming, however, consumed only seventeen days, two of which were spent in camp because of a blinding snowstorm. Colonel Twitchell, nevertheless, has interpreted his remark and the diary to mean that the journey took de Vargas eastward beyond Clayton, New Mexico, into the western Panhandle of present Oklahoma.

In the following year, 1697, the Reconquest of New Mexico was completed but the re-occupation of the lost province still presented serious problems to the Spaniards. Constantly on the qui vive against a new uprising, they were quick both to investigate suspicious rumors of revolt and to lend helpful hands to the Pueblo Indians. In this latter spirit the governor despatched in 1706 an expedition to the far off Cuartelejos to bring back the fugitives who escaped De Vargas in 1696, and others there enslaved, and who now sought the privilege of returning to their kinsmen. The expedition, commanded by Captain Juan de Uribarri, journeyed through the Jicarilla country of Northeastern New Mexico, the Carlana country south of the Arkansas and then eastward from near present day Pueblo, Colorado, to the Cuartelejos in Eastern Colorado of to-day. These savages received the expedition with genuine expressions of friendship, offered no objection to the loss of their slaves and servants but loaded the Pueblo ponies high with corn and sent off Spaniards and Indians rejoicing.

Enslaved? So the Spanish were doing them a favor? You have to wonder. Poor, grateful savages. Or, perhaps, some Picuris people were indeed enslaved by the nomadic tribes, separate from those living at El Cuartelejo settlement. Who knows? Other accounts give a different reason for abandoning the settlement:

By the 1730s raids by Comanche, Ute, and Pawnee had decimated the Cuartelejo Apache. The survivors moved south to join the Jicarilla Apache at Pecos. However, after 1763 and the French retreat from the area, the pueblo was abandoned. Its walls decayed and the structure was buried by drifting soil.
And that was the story until American scientists re-discovered it in what was now called the state of Kansas.

November 24, 2010

Blizzards, Forest Fires Possible

At Odious and Peculiar, Peculiar notes a characteristically Southwestern weather alert.

M. and I meanwhile are still in the Boone's Lick Country (a/k/a Boonslick), where it is raining. But my thoughts are in El Cuartelejo as I prepare a long historical blog post about an Indian pueblo in Kansas.

November 23, 2010

Motel of the Admonishments

If you did not already feel like a person of low moral character before checking in to the Cowboy Cabins Motel in Scott City, Kansas, you will feel like such a person after a few minutes in your room.

First, there was the sign by the office: "5 MPH THIS MEANS YOU." Ok, fine, no speeding in the parking lot.

Once in the room, however, lists of rules blossom on every wall, including such casually spelled admonishments as "Do not leave doors open with air conditines on. It freezes them up and burn's compressers out."

Likewise, the cold-weather guest is cautioned against leaving the door open while carrying items to or from a vehicle, lest the entire Great Plains become unwontedly warm.

A surveillance camera is mentioned. And there is one in the parking lot, pointed at the owner's pickup truck, from what I can see.

It all comes down to this: "Do not clean pheasants in the room or we will put you out."

November 19, 2010

Off to the Boone's Lick Country

M. and I are packing for a trip to the Boone's Lick Country. For the next week, this may be a cross-country photo blog.

Some small business related to my late sister's estate remains in Little Dixie, but I don't think that I need to see Moberly, Huntsville, or for that matter Clifton Hill, again.

To put ourselves in the mood, we watched Winter's Bone. Of course, that is southwestern Missouri, not the central part. No similarities, nope, not at all, no sir.

But in addition to family, we intend to focus more on historic hotels, sightseeing, and wineries.

"Dogs Don't Undestand Basic Concepts Like Moving"

This blog post at Hyperbole and a Half is rapidly attaining Web platinum status.

November 15, 2010

A Little Victory

After six months of back-and-forth, the Internal Revenue Service has decided that M. and I do not owe an additional $250 federal income tax for last year.

Not a huge amount, but, damn it, we did not owe it!

If we had prepared our own tax returns and had not had our tax accountant to hold our hands through this process, we might have thought that we really did owe more money. How many people just pay up?

But he generated some "Prove it, you stupid, clumsy bureaucrats!" letters, and the IRS backed down. He probably has the letter template in his computer and just inserts the clients' names.

I used to tell my writing student that "the IRS hates freelancers." Funny that this happened the first full year of my return to freelance work.

We don't make very much money, but we make it in complicated ways, filing a federal tax return fat with Schedule This and Worksheet That.

November 11, 2010

Elk Country . . .

In the Wet Mountains, just before the snow began to fall.
. . . is keeping me busy right now.

Those are tooth marks on the aspen bark from winter nibbling.

November 09, 2010

Hunting on Junk Food

I am trying to clean eighty-plus emails from my inbox, plant some flowers for spring, and gather my gear for the afore-mentioned elk hunt.

If I get an elk (far from guaranteed), I can brag on its being "natural meat."

The funny thing is, when I hunt alone and no one else is cooking, I tend to run on processed foods, the kind that are bad for you long-term.

There will be an MRE in my day pack. Like what's in those? And supermarket burritos for fast breakfast while I am trying to get the dogs organized so that I can leave.

I suppose a hunk of bread and some cured sausage would be more authentic. Maybe next year.

(For a historical look back into the nutritional needs of people toting rifles in rough country, visit this site on military nutrition.)

November 08, 2010

A Grizzly Bear in Hot Pursuit

Alex Wypyszinski, a retired professor and amateur photographer, shot this amazing series of photos of a grizzly bear chasing down an injured bison when he stopped to take photos of geysers in Yellowstone National Park in May.
I have two days to get ready for a short elk hunt*, so I leave you with a series of photos (if you have not already seen them elsewhere) of a grizzly bear's pursuit of an injured bison right down a highway in Yellowstone National Park, courtesy of Field & Stream.
Something that makes these photos even more remarkable is that [Alex] Wypyszinski didn’t use a high-end camera and lens to shoot the series.

“It was just a (digital) point-and-shoot, but it had a 15x zoom lens on it. The professionals are always out there with their 800mm lenses and run around in a group when they hear about something like this…”
As the man (possibly Weegee) said, "f/8 and be there." Today, it's more like "fresh batteries and be there."

* The elk are regular-size. The hunting period is only five days.

November 07, 2010

Why [Blank] Love Their Guns

"Why Do East Tennesseans Love Their Guns?" asks an article in the Knoxville, Tenn.,Metro Pulse, an "alternative" newspaper.

Answer: Pretty much for the same reasons as Coloradans, New Mexicans, Vermonters, or any one else:
  • Personal protection
  • Hunting
  • Recreational target shooting
  • Competitive shooting
  • Collecting
The article asks why "we" are "obsessed" with guns, but it does not really try to answer that question.  Given the venue, it is remarkably calm writing.

Via law-blogger Glenn Reynolds, who is quoted in the story.

Reynolds thinks the gun-control movement was partly driven by civic panic in the 1960s and ’70s in the wake of high-profile assassinations and mounting urban crime rates. As crime rates have fallen even while gun ownership continues to grow, he says, “Maybe we’re back to sort of a renormalization”—a society that is growing more comfortable with guns on its streets, in its office buildings, in its restaurants and movie theaters.
 The most-blogged gun shop in America (thanks to Tam) is prominently featured.

November 06, 2010

Driving Miss Vulture

Why do wildlife-transport calls and fire calls always come an hour before suppertime? That is M.'s lament, and to be honest, it does seem to be the pattern.

This time it was Diana Miller, director of the Raptor Center, who had been contacted by some people from the other end of my county.

They had picked up an injured turkey vulture—which otherwise should have migrated south by now. They were willing to bring it down our way—could we bring it to Pueblo?

Well, of course. We accepted the bird at the little store out on the state highway, and they already had it in a cardboard box, so my carrier was not needed.

Raptor Center director DIana Miller examines the turkey vulture that we had driven to Pueblo this afternoon.

She was young, hungry, and her wing injury had mostly healed on its own—but she will never be fully able to fend for herself, so she will become an "education bird," a permanent resident of the center who is taken to schools and so forth.

We also checked the progress of the peregrine falcon that we transported at the end of August.

She now resides in a 95-foot-long flight pen, and demonstrated that she could fly to the far end quite well, thanks very much, rather than be bothered by people. Diana said that she will be moved to a larger flight pen later this winter and released in the spring, if all goes well. We hope to be on hand for that event.

Western Colorado is Burning--Underground

Wildfire Today links to an interesting piece on western Colorado coal fires that burn for decades. I did not realize that there were so many in southwestern Colorado. It's the sort of thing that I associate with, say, Pennsylvania.

November 05, 2010

EPA Rejects Lead Fishing-Weight Ban

Last August the Environmental Protection Agency rejected a ban on lead ammunition.

Now the EPA has also rejected the second part of the petition, against lead fishing weights.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the American Bird Conservancy, the Association of Avian Veteranarians, [the astroturf "hunters group"] Project Gutpile, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed the petition on August 3 to ban the production and sale of lead based ammunition and fishing tackle under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) of 1976.

EPA sent a letter to the petitioners today [Nov. 4]  stating that they failed to demonstrate that the rule is necessary to protect against an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment. The letter also states that the increasing number of limitations on the use of lead fishing gear on some federal and state lands, as well as various education and outreach activities, call into question whether a national ban on lead in fishing gear would be the least burdensome, adequately protective approach to address the concern, as called for under TSCA. EPA's letter also notes that there are non-lead alternatives currently in the marketplace.
Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, and Maine, as I understand, do ban small (under 1.0 or 0.5 oz., depending) sinkers (split shot, etc.), partly to protect loons. I think that there is a ban on such in Canada (all provinces?) too.

From the Outdoor Wire, a daily digest of outdoor-industry news and agency news releases that you can subscribe to.

November 01, 2010

Vote Thomas Jefferson for President . . .

. . . and see your dwellings in flames.



Anyway, I hope you voted.

October 27, 2010

Dogs' Licking Exposes Them to Drugs

Dogs go into heat after licking owners' hormone creams.

In female pets, the symptoms resemble heat: swollen genitals, bloody discharge and behavioral problems. Male animals are showing up with swollen breast tissue and hair loss. Standard treatments and even repeated operations have had no effect.

Now vets have identified the culprit. The pets were all owned by women who used hormone creams on their hands, arms and legs to counter symptoms of menopause. Animals who licked or cuddled their owners, or rubbed up against their legs, were being inadvertently exposed to doses of hormone drugs.
 
(Via Instapundit.)

October 25, 2010

Bumper-Sticker Philosophy

Patrick "Terrierman" Burns offers what might be the ultimate pro-hunting more-than-a bumper sticker.

And another one that is actually a bumper sticker.

What is That Little Girl Doing to the Weather?

This broad-strokes weather prediction for the upcoming winter by meteorologist Art Horn suggests that much of the northern United States and Canada (and China and Europe) are in for a cold winter.

This La Niña appears to be special, at least so far. It is well on its way to being the strongest of these events since the super La Nina of 1955-1956. During that powerful La Niña that lasted two years, the global average temperature fell nearly one degree Fahrenheit from 1953 to 1956.

....

For the last year, the world has been dealing with the warming effects of a strong El Niño. The El Niño [sic] warms the ocean waters of the tropical Pacific Ocean and in turn heats the atmosphere. Western Russia melted under a record heat wave this summer, after freezing from record cold last winter. Many parts of the southern United States had record heat this summer, but also shivered under record cold last winter. The persistence of the jetstream to blow in patterns that changed very little for long periods of time contributed to these extremes of temperature. This locked in jetstream wind pattern enhances temperature anomalies by restricting the exchange of air flow from one place to another. What would be hot becomes very hot, and what would be cold becomes very cold.

It is common for the jetstream to behave this way when the sun is in the solar minimum, such as it has been for the last three years. We are emerging from the minimum, but the sunspot numbers are continuing to be very low. Some solar experts say this next sunspot maximum may be one of the weakest in 200 years. As a result, the tendency for the jetstream to blow over parts of the Earth with little month-to-month variability may continue this year. That would result in continued extremes of temperature. The difference would be this time cold areas would be even colder due to the oncoming super La Nina and the falling global temperature.

He is suggesting much late-winter snow in the western United States, but I suspect that such snow will mainly be a Northern Rockies event. The NOAA Climate Prediction Center suggests a warmer, drier winter for the Southwest, so if that is true, we will be worrying about water, as usual.

All weather, like politics, is local.

October 24, 2010

Rodents and Fire

How frequently do you read about someone's house being destroyed by a fire "that started in the electrical wiring," and you wonder "How? Did the wiring short itself out?"

No, maybe it was the rats. Or squirrels.

And this is the time of year when some outdoor rodents start moving indoors (attics, garages, basements) looking for warmth.

October 21, 2010

When You Own a Dog Like Fisher . . .

 . . . you come home to scenes like this.

It's like the story of the wolf who kills all the sheep in the flock for the sheer joy of it. Only this is Fisher with M.'s hoard of plastic bags, which he discovered while we were in Colorado Springs yesterday.

October 15, 2010

Grapes Among the Ruins: A McElmo Canyon Vineyard

Looking at the books on sale at the Navajo National Monument visitor center, M. commented on how books about Navajo art, culture, etc. were on one side while pertaining to the Hopis and other Pueblo peoples were on the other.

Books on ethnobotany were on both sides, however, and I went away with one:Wild Plants and Native People of the Four Corners.

We always want to learn more about Southwestern gardening and to expand our knowledge of useful plants. In fact, the book inspired me to one experiment that I hope to blog later.

As for the Anasazi, who built the cliff dwellings that the monument preserves, they ate mush. Corn mush, ricegrass mush, bean mush, whatever. It sounds like the most boring (and nutritionally risky) diet ever on which to construct large stone buildings, trek across the landscape on ceremonial pathways, and otherwise carry on daily life.

If I am correct, a thousand years ago they did not even have chile peppers to give the mush some zing.

Animal protein? No buffalo in the area, just deer, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn antelope. Given the high population levels before the Great Collapse, which must have meant a lot of agile hunters with bows and throwing sticks, I suspect that those animals numbers were low and that venison was a rare treat indeed.

Even if you brought down a cottontail rabbit with your throwing stick, it probably had to be split eight ways.

But if they had grown grapes, their joie de vivre might have improved.


Switch on the alternative-history machine: Spanish explorers in the 16th century encounter Pueblo peoples whose cool, inmost rooms contain big clay ollas decorated in black-on-white Chaco designs where the wine is stored.


Later arrivals bring other European grapes, and in protected regions of the San Juan plateau the vineyards thrive. Chaco Canyon becomes  known for its chardonnay ...

OK, that is fantasy but Guy Drew Vineyards is not. In just twelve years, with liberal application of water and money, Guy and Ruth have created an excellent winery, one of several in the area. See the "Four Corners" listing here. Lots of people are growing grapes for the new wineries.

Coming home from the Kayenta Plateau, we stopped there, sampled the reds, and left with several bottles, supplemented with the partial bottle of their Petit Verdot from dinner that night at Nero's Restaurant in Cortez.

When I see vineyards, I see permanent habitation and local culture, something that ought to last as long as "great houses" and ceremonial trackways, maybe longer. It's a hopeful sign.

October 12, 2010

"It's a Sad Occasion"

Sunset shadows over Crestone Needle, Sangre de Cristo Range, 8 October 2010.
A cold front rolled down from northern Colorado, and M. was hinting this morning that a "quick blast of fire" from the wood stove might be nice.

So I built a fire, the first one of the season, which had an official "end of summer" feel to it.

"It's a sad occasion," M. said, as she prepared to do some yoga in front of the bright orange light from the Pyrex windows.

Then she recalled that she had built the first fire last year on September 9th during a spell of cold, rainy weather. This year's fall season has been warm, and it may warm up again.

(I think that we are looking at an "open winter," as the old ranchers say, when you do not get snowed in so much.)

As a matter of religious principle, however, I never turn on the furnace until the 1st of November.

Meanwhile, there is some discussion of bread-baking today.

October 10, 2010

House of Rain, House of Pain

National Park Service Ranger Pat Jovesama, a Hopi Indian,  set off down the canyon trail at a deceptively slow amble that still kept him ahead of the group.

It had rained hard all night, one thunderstorm after another shaking our little pop-up trailer at the campground at Navajo National Monument* in northeastern Arizona.

"Administration," he said, in his soft, low-key Hopi way, might order him to abort the ranger hike to Bétatakin Ruin if the weather looked too bad.
Setting off in the sunshine down the Betatakin cliff dwellings trail.
So he did not pause to talk about flora and fauna, except to briefly point out the Ice Age-relict stand of aspen and Douglas fir—seemingly out of place here in northeast Arizona—in one side canyon.

Following him were the couple from Tahoe with their elementary school-aged two kids (getting credit for "independent study" from their charter school—what a deal!), the couple from Middlebury, Vermont, with the rented motor home (you see so many of those in the Southwest, rented at the Phoenix airport), and the middle-aged Navajo woman, herself a former park ranger at Mesa Verde, with her two teen-aged daughters. 
Part of Tsegi Caynon on the Kayenta Plateau in NE Arizona. We were walking from the rim to the bottom.
Down, down we went, hundreds of feet, almost to the bottom of Tsegi Canyon, when the word was passed forward to Ranger Pat: the Navajo woman had sprained (or maybe broken) her ankle on the loose rocks of the trail. We gathered around where she sat with her leg straight out in front of her.

Ranger Pat was doing something with his first aid kit. The woman from Vermont offered some Motrin, which were accepted.

Dilemma. He had to stay with the injured woman until help came. Unaccompanied visitors are not allowed at Bétatakin, lest they walk off with it or something, so we could not go farther. He had radioed for help, which was coming. The rest of us should just walk back out of the canyon to our vehicles.

Rain was coming too, we could feel it. (The forecast was "80 percent chance of heavy rain.") On the descent, I had noticed that one section was just steps cut lightly into the slick rock, and I had wondered what it would be like to try to climb them in pouring rain.

I hiked out with the Vermonters, who were the fastest. The two teenagers were not far behind us. ("See you later, Mom.") At the parking area we met two park rangers unloading a folding stretcher. Three men still seemed like too few to carry a rather chunky woman up the steep canyon trail.

We offered again to help, but one ranger explained that "liability issues" prevented it. The message: We are park professionals. You are park consumers. Stay on the trail.

One more ranger was coming, so maybe with four they could break into two teams.

Bétatakin cliff dwellings, from the easy trail near the visitor center.
And then later the storms did come again, lashing and rocking the trailer, only to end in a sunny late afternoon.  For the second time, M. and I walked out to the overlook where you can see the ruin from across the canyon, which is enough for many visitors.

The woman's injury might have been a blessing, she suggested, because otherwise the storm (which spawned tornadoes elsewhere in Arizona) would have caught us hiking out of the canyon. Her pain, our gain.

I have been to many other Anasazi/Ancestral Puebloan ruins. To be frank, I was mainly curious to hear how a Hopi ranger would discuss the ruin, which the Hopi call Talastima, meaning "Place of the Corn Tassel." (The Navajo name, Bétatakin, means "House on a Ledge.")

Park Service interpreters always give a bland, non-controversial spiel, and Hopis keep secrets, but still, I wanted to hear his spin on the history.

Lacking that, however, here is a quotation from Craig Childs' excellent history House of Rain, which I reviewed earlier.
[The dwellings were occupied for less than a century. Tree-ring data reveals that] Mesa Verde ... produced no tree-cutting dates after 1280. Finally the large Kayenta sites of Kiet Siel and Betatakin saw their last construction in 1285....The Anasazi made their last attempts to hunker down, and finally no one was left. Ten years after Mesa Verde fell, Kayenta went down right behind it, like the successive toppling of dominoes, a wave of immigrants and abandonments heading south, pushing down walls as they went, uprooting everyone.
*Yes, the monument protects ruins built by the ancestors of the Hopi tribe, but the Navajos lived there later and their reservation surrounds it, hence the name, I guess.

Blog Stew Without Helmets

It looks like a "La Niña" winter ahead, meaning drier than average in the Southern Rockies, according to John Orr at Coyote Gulch.

• "Bike Helmet Wars." Apparently helmet laws actually cut the number of kids who ride bikes—not good. But we can't have people making decisions when and when not to wear them—unless they are president of the United States.

• Blogger Cat Urbigkit, who with her husband is touring the world to research wolf-stopping livestock protection dogs—a trip financed largely by the state of Wyoming—is now in Portugal, her first stop.

Walking the streets and roads of the natural park, we met up with our first guardian dogs, of two native breeds. There is a program in place to distribute the Transmontano mastiff to cattle and sheep grazers in the park to protect their herds from wolf depredation. The park maintains a registry of mastiff litters and makes these dogs available to producers. Since the program’s inception in 1994, the result has been a decrease in depredations on both sheep and cattle.

In Europe, natural parks include towns and farms, hunting and livestock grazing, etc. A natural park is a protected area that includes "natural, semi-natural and humanized landscapes, of natural interest, representing harmonious integration of human activity with Nature." 

October 09, 2010

Why Bo Won't Heel & Other Snippets

• The Obamas' dog Bo joins a long line of untrained White House dogs. The reason is simple, writes Patrick Burns. Burns' linked photo says it all.

• The feds give Colorado $450,000 to lease "walk-in access" hunting rights on private agricultural land. In an age of big farms and absentee owners, plus the usual urban-rural disconnect, this is a good thing. And as the next item mentions, upland bird hunting (and small game too) get no respect from outdoor marketers.

• Or in Jay Kumar's words, "Why has everyone given up on the upland bird market?"
If you don't believe me, here's a comment left on a Field & Stream blog: "Now everyone is antler and gobbler crazy. It's what's on TV. It's what's hyped up in the ads. There is no record book or super slam for grouse. A fine morning of wingshooting isn't cool or awesome or fist-pumpy. You can't use the latest tech or signature gear. You have to like, walk around in the brush. That's no fun anymore."
• The Denver Post frets that beetle-killed lodgepole pine are not being removed fast enough in northern Colorado.

Some foresters, however, suggest that as these standing dead trees lose their limbs, they actually become less of a fire hazard than dense, live conifers. Although the Post's story mentions one fire, we have not seen "the big one" in the beetle-killed stands.

And there is the money issue:
One challenge facing contractors is getting rid of the cut trees. Timber mills in Montrose and the San Luis Valley and a pellet factory in Kremmling have been hard-pressed to pay loggers enough to make that tree-removal work profitable.

October 07, 2010

This Fall Foliage Photo Has Been Posted in Accordance with Law

Fall colors near Ouray, Colorado.
This photo of fall aspen colors is posted pursuant to the Colorado Photography Act of 1964 (familiarly called the "Ektachrome Act"), which requires that all professional and semi-professional photographers in the state—essentially anyone who has ever sold a photo—shoot at least one full roll of slide film on scenic shots featuring golden aspen groves. 

That most photography is now digital appears to have escaped the legislature, which has not updated the statute's language.

(Journalist/blogger Hal Walter demonstrates his legal compliance as well. Con Daly is not in compliance, thus far.)

October 03, 2010

The Mill at the Camp Bird Mine, 1940 and 2010


Photo by Russell Lee, 1940, for Farm Security Administration

The Camp Bird Mill above Ouray, Colorado, from a series of color photos of American life that nowadays cause people to react, "How slim they were! How dignified!" Yeah, what about that?

That building is gone, but the tailings pile remains (below), helping to give the Uncompahgre River its uniquely milky-green toxic appearance.

September 28, 2010

14,882 Human Skeletal Fragments

A discussion on the Archaeology magazine blog by Heather Pringle about how archaeological interpretation follows cultural concerns--war, environmental destruction, climate, whatever--using the long-hushed-up evidence of group violence among the Ancestral Puebloans (a.k.a. Anasazi) of the American Southwest.

My response is in the comments.

September 24, 2010

Self-Advertisement in the Nebraska Sandhills

The faint type reads "Best Cow Country in the World."
A photo from Nebraska Highway 2 in the Sandhills. I had not realized that CBS News' Charles Kuralt once called Highway 2 "one of America's 10 most beautiful highways."

He was right. Highway 2 is to the prairie what California 1 is to the Pacific Coast.

Only instead of a sports car or motorcycle you want a big crew-cab pickup truck, full of BNSF railroad workers out to the job site on the double-tracking project near Mullen.

The empty road curves gently, the hills roll away, the native prairie grasses ripple in the wind.  Everyone talks about "climax forest," but the Sandhills (map here) are one of few places were you can still see huge pieces of "climax prairie." (They just lack buffalo in large numbers.)

Yet the Sandhills are best comprehended from the air. Then you can see that unlike typical uplifted and/or eroded hills, they actually are sand dunes. They line up in rows, as though placed sequentially by a gigantic dump truck.

This must have been awfully raw country when the ice had just melted and the winds blew off the Rockies and the grasses had not yet covered and softened the dunes.

Crossing the Great Divide

We Coloradans tend to be obsessed with the Continental Divide. We speak of being on the Eastern Slope or the Western Slope. We name businesses etc. after it.

It runs through other parts of North America as well—see the red line on the map below.
(I am told that the divide was supposed to be the border between Idaho and Montana, but someone screwed up the survey in the 19th century, hence the narrow Idaho panhandle.)

Homeward bound from a recent trip to North Dakota, I paid tribute to another divide as I crossed from the Arctic back into the Atlantic (Gulf of Mexico) watersheds by visiting a geocache placed to mark it.

Here is a closeup of that area. I was right where the medium brown meets the light brown in southeastern North Dakota.


And here is the view from the divide, looking to the southwest, a typical scene of soybean field and slough full of waterfowl:

September 21, 2010

First, Let's Kill All the Carnivores

"But if suffering is bad for animals when we cause it, it is also bad for them when other animals cause it," argues Rutgers philosophy professor Jeff McMahan in a recent New York Times opinion piece, "The Meat Eaters."

In other words, for the lion truly to lie down with the lamb, as Isaiah prophesied, we have to kill the lion. I say "we have to," because the lions are not going to do it themselves voluntarily.

Only then will we have a truly moral world.

Bang bang. No more lions.

"I am therefore inclined to embrace the heretical conclusion that we have reason to desire the extinction of all carnivorous species," the professional ethicist writes.

 Once rid of wolves and weasels, however, Professor McMahan's work is not done.

Got to hurry the seals and orcas to extinction. Bang. And all the toothed whales. Kaboom!

After the mammals, the birds are next. No more eagles, hawks, owls, shrikes. Rat-tat-tat-tat. Bang bang. Same with the carrion-eaters. No carrion, no vultures, condors, ravens, and other species who might upset the desired moral equilibrium.

And then the bugs. Ladybugs—kill them all. Praying mantises. Predatory wasps. Spritz 'em.

So now we have a world of (compulsorily) vegan humans, rats, cockroaches, and crows.

But wait. Are white blood cells carnivores? They eat the bacteria, right? They're not a "species," but they are still eating living organisms.

Kill everything! Ah, what purity. What a clear understanding and acceptance of the natural world.

What cruelty in the name of ethics!