June 28, 2010

It's a Banner Year

Golden Banner (Thermopsis divaricarpa) in the Wet Mountains
For more on gardening with native plants, including golden banner, visit this site maintained by the Colorado State University herbarium.

June 23, 2010

A Quick Bigfoot Retrospective

I could be blogging about the latest fire--started by the Royal Gorge tourist train, we are told--but it is thirty-plus miles away, and the smoke is going a different direction. (And my little fire department has not been been summoned and probably will not be.)

So let's have a Bigfoot round-up.

What prompted this was a recent piece about a North Carolina man who said that a bigfoot responded to his predator call.

The real question, however, is why J.R. Absher wrote, "Self-proclaimed North Carolina mountain man."

Back in my newspapering days, I was told by an editor that we used "self-proclaimed" to distance ourselves from a descriptor that might otherwise be considered libelous. (The example was "self-proclaimed witch" for a follower of the Wiccan religion.)

So "mountain man" is libelous? Or is the writer just questioning Peeler's credibility?

During the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Colorado rendezvous two weeks ago, the topic of Bigfoot came up again, as it might when you're walking through a thick stand of lodgepole pine amid wisps of fog.

Here is one originally from the Denver Post  seven years ago: "Legitimate scientific study of legend gains backing of top primate experts."

Another piece from 2001 by the same writer, Denver Post environmental reporter Theo Stein, mentions huge footprints along Colorado's Eagle River. (Stein is now communications director for the Colorado Dept. of Natural Resources, which is officially mum on Bigfoot.)

This Bigfoot site has quite a list of articles.

When it comes to giant hairy primates, I am firmly agnostic. People who spend more time in the woods than I do have "seen stuff."

The late Grover Krantz, a physical anthropologist, made the case for a creature occupying somewhat the same ecological niche as a bear--but more nocturnal--in his 1992 book Big Foot Prints.

Krantz taught at Washington State University, and his evidence and arguments pertained mainly to the rainy Pacific Northwest  forest.

But I cannot imagine a flesh-and-blood giant primate living in the harsher climate of the Rockies without the ability to enter a state of near-hibernation like a bear, because there is not much for an omnivore to eat in the winter time. No other primate does that.

June 22, 2010

Followed by a Bear?

This article about Denver resident Kelly Guzman's experience of being lost for eleven days contains an odd detail.
"She had some cuts, and there was some blood. Everywhere her trail went there were always bear tracks as well," said [her husband, Tom] Ashford, who aided searchers Saturday and Sunday and was there when his wife was found.

"When they asked her if she knew that a bear had been following her, she said: 'I had other things I was worried about,' " Ashford said.

June 21, 2010

River Dogs II

That blurred piece of aspen pole at upper left is the dog's goal.
The big yellow Lab is swimming hard through the white water, but it's his four legs against the cold, fast-moving Arkansas River.

A hundred yards downstream, he goes over the little dam and into the froth of the kayakers' "play hole" at the F Street Bridge in downtown Salida, Colorado. M. averts her eyes, afraid he is gone for good.

But the dog's  head pops up again, the fluorescent green retrieving dummy still in his teeth. He scrambles onto the riverside boulders and starts up back toward us. There is applause.

Some dogs wore racer's bibs, no less.
A stadium wave passes through the crowd as people stand to let him pass. The clock is still running for him.

By the time he delivers the dummy to the middle-aged man with the prosthetic leg, his time on the retrieve has passed one minute, which means he will not place in the money at the Puff Memorial Crazy River Dog Contest, part of the annual (since 1949) FIBArk whitewater boat races on the river between Salida and points downstream.

Next to us, Boone, a chocolate Lab, big in the shoulders, whines and shrieks much like my young Chessie, Fisher, would do if he saw other dogs retrieving what he clearly believes to be HIS sticks and dummies.

Finally, Boone is up and makes brisk, workmanlike retrieves, spending the minimum time in the fast water, but they are good enough only for second place, even though he swims with such strength that his shoulders rise from the water.  He is a regular competitor; I noticed his power four years ago.

You can tell that some contestants are not used to retrieving in moving water--they swim to where the stick/dummy/ball was, rather than to where it is a few seconds later.

The smart handler is the one who tosses a deflated soccer ball for his dog--it floats high, and the dog sees it and pursues it in the current, making a successful grab.

June 20, 2010

Some Italian Locovores and a "Battalion" of Dogs

Note the silver-haired gent with the "30 odd 6 calibre" rifle. The people at Plum TV try to include hunting in their genteel lifestyle programming, but they don't speak Gunny. Click at lower right for full-screen version.

(Via Suburban Bushwhacker.)

June 19, 2010

Blog Stew with Water Droplets

• A gardener's myth destroyed: Watering plants in mid-day does not cause water droplets to focus the Sun's rays and burn the leaves.

• At Smart Dogs: how dogs react to perfume. (One word: vetiver.)

•  Field & Stream columnist and hunting writer Tom McIntyre now writes a blog (yes, the technology has reached northern Wyoming). I liked this entry on old, hunter-friendly hotels. Back in its day, the Fairplay Hotel in South Park (Colorado) was one of them.

• Galen Geer is thinking that Amtrak could still be more hunter-friendly too. It's a creature of the federal government, so how come it gets to make such arbitrary rules?

June 17, 2010

Smelling Smoke in the Air

June 18: Médano Fire smoke plume blows east across the Wet Mountain Valley
About 8 o'clock this morning I walked the dogs up the ridge behind the house and thought I smelled smoke, but I could not see smoke.

Just as a test, I said nothing to see if She of the Sensitive Nose would smell it. Nope.

This afternoon, my friend Paul called to say that his wife had spotted smoke to the south of their house and could I see it?

In fact, I could, once I walked uphill a little. Checked the Pueblo weather radar, and there was definitely a fan-shaped echo to the southwest. And we were smelling smoke for certain this time.

By 5 o'clock in the evening smoke was definitely moving into our valley—apparently a small fire at the Great Sand Dunes National Park doubled in size today and is sending a smoke plume eastward.

That is miles and miles away from here, but the smoke is dropping down as the evening air cools.

They are calling it the Medano Fire, from the creek running past the dunes. And as a commenter on the linked site points out, that is pronounced in local English as "MAD-naw."

Really. It's Spanish from an Old Castillian word for mountain, and in Spanish there is an accent mark on the E. Not Med-AH-no, which some people say in the mistaken belief that they are pronouncing a Spanish word correctly.

"Why can't we enjoy summer?" M. asked rhetorically when she smelled smoke. And, adding the catchphrase of the season, "I want my life back."

UPDATE: It's mentioned on Wildfire Today as well.

The Medano fire in Great Sand Dunes National Park, about 70 miles southwest of Pueblo, Colorado (map) has not been doing much… until today. Lightning started the fire on June 6 and yesterday it was about 373 acres, but by Thursday evening it had burned about 3,000 acres, according to park spokeswoman Carol Sperling. The National Park Service is not putting it out, but is allowing it to benefit the natural resources.

June 16, 2010

An Adventure Tale That Assigns No Blame

"Art [Moffett] took us to a place of peace, and ever since--during these last fifty-three years--I have been trying to rediscover it," writes George James Grinnell in Death on the Barrens: A True Story of Courage and Tragedy in the Canadian Arctic.

Much outdoor-expedition writing seems to be about placing blame when things go wrong. Jon Krakauer writes Into Thin Air about a 1996 expedition to Mount Everest that ends in catastrophe, and then mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev, insulted by Krakauer's account, writes The Climb, with his own perspective on the tragedy.

And so it goes.

Death on the Barrens is an "old man's book,"a genre unto itself. Grinnell was seventy when he finished the revision that was published. In that it reminds me of Norman Maclean's posthumously published Young Men and Fire, which while trying to determine what went wrong on the Mann Gulch Fire back in 1949 also stops at times to patiently reflect that there are times when the universe is just against you.

In Grinnell's case, six twenty-something men, with a slightly older leader, set off in 1955 to spent a summer canoeing and portaging through hundreds of miles of northern Canada. Their leader, Art Moffatt, an experienced wilderness canoeist, died of hypothermia after a disastrous spill in cold rapids, and the others came close to dying before finally reaching the Hudson's Bay Company post that was their goal.

While the canoeists' trip could be critiqued—inadequate food, too many days  spent relaxing during good traveling weather—Grinnell does not place blame. Instead, he remembers how their leader took them "to a place of peace" and "a time when my fears had been elevated through beauty into awe, when my vanity had been transformed by awe into love, and when love had bathed my soul in the waters of eternal peace."

For that he experienced starvation, frostbite, and near-drowning.

After Grinnell himself had become a university professor, two of his sons died on a canoe trip down northern Ontario's Albany River, along with two of their friends: "The four of them embarked down the longest wilderness river in Northern Ontario in quest of peace, harmony, and reconciliation. Forty days later, they were all dead."

"Canoe trip as spiritual pilgrimage" is a trope in Canadian literature. You can even take deliberately designed "contemplative" canoe trips. No doubt the survival rate is higher than on Grinnell's more extreme canoe trip.

Yet though Grinnell admits being lost in despair at times, this is a book of recovery and acceptance.

Farley Mowat writes in a cover blurb that Death on Barrens records the inner process of "looking for an explanation where perhaps none exists." That too reminds me of Young Men and Fire. Sometimes what happens cannot be explained. Sometimes blame cannot be assigned.

June 07, 2010

A Camera Trap in a Forest Fire

Despite the loss of the camera to the bears, I was pleased with my last set of camera-trap photos.

But here is something more amazing: a video camera trap that inadvertently captured a forest fire—the Station Fire last year near Los Angeles—as well as bears and mountain lion.

(I consider mountain lions to be my Holy Grail of camera trapping right now.)

It is just amazing that the camera itself survived. What a testimonial.

Angeles Requiem from Tocho on Vimeo.

(Via Wildfire Today.)


Blog Stew with Oily Slime

• Before there was a projected Peak Oil, there was a real Peak Wood. [!]

• Galen Geer writes poignantly about helicopters, oil platforms, Agent Orange, and the price we pay. 

• We may stipulate that BP chief executive Tony Hayward is as slimy as a Gulf Shores, Alabama, beach. The BP television ad that he appears in does not even mention lost animal life. When he says, "We will make this right," he probably means only quantifiable lost human income--and even then, I don't believe him.

• Tongues, not tails, are wagging: celebrity dog trainer Cesar Millan and his wife, Ilusion, are no longer a pack.

June 06, 2010

CSI: Camera Trap Spring

"This is kind of creepy," said M., looking at the forest floor around her.

The ponderosa pine-needle duff was scraped and gouged as though a wrestling match had taken place.

More seriously, my game camera was no longer strapped to the big pine where I had left it. The battery compartment door was over there, the main control-panel cover somewhere else, and the silver C-size batteries gleamed in the underbrush.

Best of all, the camera body itself was in the spring. So was its nylon mounting strap.

Something there is that does not love a camera--other than grumpy movie stars. We reviewed three possible culprits:

1. Bear. The torn-up ground, the muddiness of the camera, a paw print near the spring, and the general destructiveness suggested Ma or Pa Bruin. Plus I had gotten bear pictures at the same spring on May 26.

2. Human. Someone had unbuckled the strap. On the other hand, a hostile human would have likely just taken the camera--or picked up a stone and smashed it to ruin the electronics. Or shot it with a gun.

3. Bigfoot. Just in case we ruled out numbers 1 and 2.

 But hurray for secure digital (SD) cards. At home I pulled the card from the camera, wiped the mud off with alcohol, and downloaded 51 images.

Here are the highlights:

The three foxes were back on the morning of June 2.

(One is drinking from the spring in the shadows at the left edge.)

Just after noon the same day, a bull elk in velvet came to the spring.

Around 10 a.m. on June 3, something knocks the camera askew. Here is the probable culprit.

Two minutes later, someone is back--or had never left.

Then four hours later, around 2:30, the camera captures a shot of a brown ear, a total white-out as though something blocked the lens, and then this bear cub walking away.

A minute later, Mama Bruin comes back. Maybe she is getting annoyed now?

At 3:15 p.m., mama and cub depart. It looks as though the adult bear waded into the spring up to its elbows and then sat in it, since its hindquarters are muddy and there is no other open water nearby.

But wait! Let's smack the camera around some more! This photo was followed by others of the camera pointing 180° from its original position, and up towards the tree tops.

A bear--presumably the same one--came back around 7:35 p.m. In this photo you can see brown fur to the left.

At 7:38 the camera was being knocked around again. (Was this when the bear unbuckled the mounting strap?) For ten more minutes, the passive infrared detector was still being triggered, although the photos were only of tree tops.

And at some point it was "disemboweled," its batteries came out, and it was deposited in the spring. There it lay for three days until we returned for it.

No, it does not seem to work. The case is water-resistant, but there is a limit to that. And the clear plastic disk covering the lens appears to have been bitten.

June 05, 2010

Quick Review: K-Light Solar Lantern

M. saw this solar-powered LED lantern mentioned in Audubon magazine and wanted to try it as a summer alternative to the Coleman lanterns (both liquid and gas-fueled*) that we use in the camping trailer.

The maker, PiSAT Solar, has been working with a foundation to make these lanterns available in African villages "where people still rely mostly on air polluting and potentially dangerous kerosene lamps to light up their homes after dark."

Does it "cast a brilliant light" as the company claims? Yes and no.

Our test is whether or not we can read by it. The K-Light's design sends light up from LEDs to reflect off a mirrored cone and spread sideways and down. But even at the high setting, the light is too dim for comfortable reading unless the lantern is tipped over to give extra light on one side, leaving the person sitting opposite in the shadow.

As a flashlight--held horizontally by the legs--it will help you find your tent, but the lantern's top casts a big round shadow in the center of the beam. If you want a focused beam for searching, get a Maglite or something.

For just sitting around, dressing and undressing, cooking and eating, the lantern light would be adequate.

But in terms of light output, I do not think LED technology has caught up with the good old single-mantle Coleman lantern yet.

 My other worry is the solar panel itself, which measures about 3.5 x 6.5 inches. I had already experimented with small solar panels to serve as 12-volt trickle chargers, and I learned that those panels are fragile. You would have to pack the panel carefully when traveling and treat it like a precious jewel.

K-Light solar lantern, $59.95 with solar panel. AC charger $19.95.

* The gas canisters are convenient but do not last long. The only place that I have ever seen a recycling drop-off for them was at Yellowstone National Park—and who knows what campground-operator Xanterra actually does with them after the park visitors go home?

June 04, 2010

If Conversation Lags while Duck Hunting . . .

... as you are gazing at the horizon, mention the first recorded incident of homosexual necrophilia among mallard ducks.

After the inevitable wisecracks, mention that it's now an unofficial holiday in the Netherlands: Dead Duck Day, June 5.

Perhaps the Chinese restaurants are promoting it, as the end of this Boing Boing post might suggest.

June 03, 2010

Just Another Day in the Wet Mountains

A day of breakdowns and fixing things.

1. It began with a continuation of yesterday afternoon, when a neighbor and I finally located an underground leak on the water line from the communal well (serves six households). We called in a backhoe operator, dug up the line, and fixed the break yesterday.

Today, after checking that the leak seemed to be stopped, we filled in the trench. But did I have time for breakfast? No . . .

2.  . . . because I had to meet the assistant fire chief and fill two 1,000-gallon tanks that serve as a firefighting reservoir during summer months.

And the pump on the brush truck (our sole engine) was acting up, so we had to do it with the  floating pump (video above), which puts out maybe 45 gallons per minute (?) -- and which is a whole lot louder than it sounds on the video. I could hear it running from half a mile away when I made a short trip to the post office.

But you cannot have a malfunctioning pump on the fire apparatus, so we went to the county road-and-bridge shop, where the fire chief is employed, and disassembled and cleaned the fuel system with solvents and compressed air.

(Apparently no one put fuel-stabilizer in the gasoline over the winter, and various sorts of gunk were plugging the internal valves and screens.)

3. Then I came home, and M. told me that northern flickers were again trying to nest inside the back wall of the guest cabin, so I nailed up two more plywood patches, adding to the collection already there, to thwart their housekeeping plans.

4. Finally, Fisher the Chessie had to go to the vet's in Cañon City because of an ear infection.

There was the day.

June 01, 2010

Blog Stew with Dandelions

• Nature 1, Technology 0: Dandelion fluff cripples British locomotives.

• Also from the UK, another dog who finds his way home past many obstacles.

• You can tell when the bloggers at Field & Stream are having a slow week. The comments are interesting, for a change.

• Patrick Burns is tearing into veterinarians for "price-gouging, selling medically unnecessary services, upcoding, and bill-padding."

I hate to say it about the veterinary profession, but he is right--and I fell for one or two of the "unnecessary services" before I wised up.

When one of our old vets sold his large-and-small animal practice to someone who focused more on the "small" side, I began to see that she had taken the seminars on how to increase your billing, right down to sending the sympathy cards a week after putting down your dog.

Tornado 'Captured' in Baca County

The Denver Post reports on a tornado in Baca County, with an excellent photo.

Experienced tornado chasers corralled it and returned it to Oklahoma, its natural habitat.

Now that it is gone, relieved Baca County residents can go back to their normal weather diet of blue northers, blizzards, searing drought, and tennis ball-sized hail.

Red Fox and Kits

More photos from Camera Trap Spring. These were taken at the edge of the camera flash, and the resolution is not the best.

Here comes a red fox with some sort of prey—a wood rat?—at 3 a.m. on Sunday, May 23.

Two kits are playing near the spring on Monday, May 24, at 4:20 a.m.

It looks as though Mom (?) is ready to be on her way on Thursday, May 27, at about 2:30 a.m., but someone is chasing her and making a play bow.