February 27, 2011

New Mexico Wants Authentic Chiles

New Mexico lawmakers move to define and defend the state's chile peppers.

“What we’ve got is people coming in and selling chile and saying it’s from New Mexico, and some of it is being shipped in from Mexico or elsewhere,” said State Representative Andy Nuñez, a former chile farmer from Hatch and sponsor of the New Mexico Chile Advertising Act. “We’re trying to keep the integrity of New Mexico chile, which we think is the best.”

I wrote earlier how the promoters of Pueblo, Colorado, gazing southward, have begun defining that southern Colorado city around chile instead of steel, even though it produces more of the latter still.

February 26, 2011

'Cats Think You're Their Mother'

Science discovers . . . that cats bond more with women.
While cats have plenty of male admirers, and vice versa, this study and others reveal that women tend to interact with their cats — be they male or female felines — more than men do.
Having a mind stuffed with trivia, I thought of the 13th-century Ancrene Riwle, a handbook for anchoresses, an "anchoress"*  being a woman who voluntarily lived alone  in what amounted to a prison cell attached to a church, where she  spent her time in prayer.

The monk writing the rule book notes (updating the Middle English here), "Ye shall not possess any beast, my dear sisters, except only a cat."

This post's title comes from an observation by our friend Joyce, who went on to become a clinical psychologist: "A dog thinks you're another dog, but a cat thinks you're its mother."

*If male, an "anchorite," from a Greek work meaning to retire or withdraw.

February 25, 2011

After the Terrible Mine Closed Down

Hal Walter ponders the ebb and flow of population in his part of the Wet Mountains.

Homesteaders' cabins to trophy homes, horses to cars, railroad to no railroad—and where does the food come from?

February 22, 2011

Blog Stew Eaten in Abandoned Places

• Another site that finds abandoned structures to be sort of nonhuman.

• The Web site English Russia often features abandoned structures and machines of the Soviet era, as here: "Abandoned Soviet Trains in Belarus."

• Not abandoned: "Taos blue" doors—people still endorse the apotropaic significance of the color.

February 21, 2011

February 20, 2011

Firefighters Protect Endangered Dinosaurs

Photo: Rapid City Journal
A grass fire on a ridge in Rapid City, South Dakota, swirled smoke around these icons of my childhood—lifesize concrete dinosaurs built as a WPA project in the 1930s.

Pushed  by a brisk breeze, the fire burned about five acres on Dinosaur Hill.

I know just where the trucks were parked, because in September 2009, I stayed in a nearby motel, walked Fisher on Skyline Drive, and revisited the dinosaurs up close for the first time in many years.

Watch some raw video of the Rapid City FD in action.

Via Wildfire Today.

February 19, 2011

Not Dead Yet

After taking a refresher class last week, I went today down to the Nearby Town Volunteer Fire Department shortly after seven this morning to take what is called the “pack test,” the second part of renewing my federal wildland firefighter’s “red card.” (Unlike the legal immigrant’s “green card,” this one actually is the color named.)

The test is simple enough: to pass, one must walk three miles (on fairly level city streets) in less than 45 minutes while wearing a vest full of lead ingots weighing 45 pounds. Keeping up a military “Hup two three four” march cadence will do it.

Today I was paired with one of the Nearby volunteers, a guy at least twenty-five years younger and also taller than I. He knocked back one of those “energy shot” drinks (an expensive way to buy caffeine, if you ask me), put a pinch of chewing tobacco under his lip, and we were off.

He quickly outdistanced me and finished a good two minutes or more ahead, but with him for inspiration I came in at 39 minutes, which may have been my best time yet, and that felt good.

February 14, 2011

Another Stretch of the Arkansas River Conduit

The abandoned Arkansas River Conduit cuts through land south of Pueblo Reservoir. (Photo: Chas S. Clifton)

Last December I mentioned hiking along the old Arkansas River Conduit west of Pueblo. Today I learned that there actually is an official Conduit Trail, with signage. Never knew that.

Part of the trail follows the old watercourse behind the retaining wall in the photo and continues through the cut beyond.

I was looking to get away from the mud and ice up here in the foothills. There was no ice down there—but still plenty of mud. So it was not a real long walk.

February 11, 2011

Ski News from All Over

• In Stockholm, Maine (not the other Stockholm), a resurgence in cross-country skiing.
Laurie Spooner, the school's principal, said there's no data to quantify the healthful benefits of the skiing program, but there's anecdotal evidence to suggest it's good for kids and educators alike. "We don't have as many disciplinary issues on the days the kids ski," she said.
You don't say.

• If we were still in a Cold War mind set, we would need the Stockholm program across the North, because the Red hordes are coming.

• In Colorado, a similar approach to Stockholm, Maine's, but downhill skiing and snowboarding are emphasized. 

• At some Colorado ski areas, lift passengers are being searched as resorts bring in the Law.
But under its permitted lease agreement with the US Forest Service, which grants the resort rights similar to private ownership, Steamboat can legally search its paying customers.

February 10, 2011

Snowpack Map for February 1, 2011

Here is the West's mountain snowpack map as of February 1, 2011, meaning that the last week's snows do not appear. The Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service site has snowpack maps going back to 1980, if you want to make comparisons. (Click for larger image.)

In the contiguous 48 states, January was somewhat colder and drier than average.

As of the first of February, we, along with our northern New Mexico friends, were still in the tan blotch, unfortunately. About 15 inches of snow fell here at the house since then, however.

Blog Stew, according to George Leonard Herter's Celebrated Recipe

• A Web guide to the cult of George Leonard Herter, expert on hunting, fishing, cooking, surviving nuclear war, and living with a bitch. (Thanks for the link!)

• And George Herter would have had some pungent things to say about death by GPS! (Hat tip: Odious & Peculiar).

Two Colorado state parks win environmental education awards, one for an art class in the spirit of Andy Goldsworthy (whose work, believe me, is not as simple as it looks).
Since 2009, the Art in Nature Program has been a terrific vehicle to engage youth from the juvenile justice system's probation department. The young people start out yawning, uninterested and fidgety, but once they get outdoors, that attitude changes. As they gather the natural materials, including leaves, rocks and branches from the ground, to create a piece of art, they become engaged both physically and emotionally. They become children again, laughing and playing in nature. A sense of pride and community develops within the young people as they build their sculptures and work together.

How to Drive in the Snow

From the Car Lust blog:
I learned to drive in snow in the car I learned to drive in, a 1967 LeMans with a V-8 and automatic. I don't know what the front-rear weight distribution on that car was, but I wouldn't be shocked if at least 60% was on the front tires. Thanks to the nose-heavy bias, the Le Mans was very prone to losing rear wheel traction in all but ideal conditions. Because of some additional peculiarities in the drivetrain, it was often hard to find the "sweet spot" between too little throttle (torque converter stalls, car just sits there, driver feels stupid) and too much (engine races, rear wheels spin, driver feels stupid) when trying to get moving on a snow-covered road. If you gave it too much and then backed off the throttle to try and get traction back, often as not it would just bog down on you.
Me, I learned snow-driving in my mother's 1967 Mustang.

I learned to turn slo-owly. To brake slo-owly. To accelerate slo-owly. To be very afraid.

On the other hand, a friend who lived in the "Wet Kootenay" (West Kootenay) mountains in British Columbia developed a technique of using the walls of snow lining the roads as billiard bumpers.

The comments, for a change, are worthwhile.

February 09, 2011

AmeriGas's Phony Fran Found this Blog

GWherever people post complaints on the Web about AmeriGas's poor propane service, "Fran" is not far behind.

Fran wants you to contact her directly, and she will take care of things.

As if.

Fran is a fake.

Today she found my two recent posts about problems with AmeriGas: "AmeriGas: We'll Let You Freeze" and "AmeriGas: Poor Customer Service—Nationwide!"

"Fran" posted her usual cut-and-paste offer to help. "Hello, my name is Fran and I work for AmeriGas . . ."

But phony Fran fouled up. She signed in with her Blogger account, revealing that she is not "Fran," a competent, take-charge, fix-the-problem sort of gal, but one Stasia DeMarco from the Philadelphia area.

She is listed as blogger or co-blogger on no fewer than eight Blogspot blogs, none of which have been updated since 2010, and some not since 2008 or 2009. (I smell some kind of search engine-optimization scheme here.) Some are (were) co-blogged with one Bob DeMarco, identified as a "veteran Wall Street executive."

She hosts podcasts for Drexel University in Philadelphia. She has a Web site. She Tweets (but not about Amerigas.) She does radio work. And so on.

And she is the phony face of Fran for AmeriGas, part of their pitiful excuse for customer service on the Web.

Times must be tough. Maybe she fell victim to some kind of "work at home, make big money misusing social media" pitch from AmeriGas.

I expect that she is merely one of a group of phony Frans.

And that is how AmeriGas treats its customers—with phoniness and fake concern.

Snow Goose Festival Two Weeks Away

News release from the Colorado Division of Wildlife:

LAMAR, Colo. - The Ninth Annual High Plains Snow Goose Festival will again celebrate the arrival of tens of thousands of snow geese and other waterfowl during their migration through southeast Colorado.

The city of Lamar and the Colorado Division of Wildlife will co-host the activities the weekend of Feb. 24-27 throughout the city.  The popular festival is a chance to see enormous flocks of snow geese and other waterfowl in addition to a healthy number of eagles.

"This festival continues to get bigger and better every year," said John Koshak, a watchable wildlife coordinator with the DOW.  "The word is out that the migration of snow geese through southeast Colorado is one of the grand spectacles of bird migration in the western United States."

An estimated 55,000 geese and a large assortment of ducks were counted in the four counties along the lower Arkansas River last week; primarily at John Martin Reservoir and Mid Western Farms.& There are also about 15 bald eagles hanging out on the ice at John Martin Reservoir.

Festival-goers will offered guided excursions to watch magnificent flocks of snow geese take off and land as they come and go between feeding grounds and roosting sites on local reservoirs. "The sight of thousands of geese lifting off the water or circling for a landing is an unforgettable experience," said Koshak.

The weekend features a wide variety of indoor and outdoor activities beginning with several special tours on Friday. Besides the attraction of seeing the geese, other highlights include guided nature walks, a craft fair, birds of prey demonstrations, lectures, nature art workshop, hunting seminars, opportunities to explore the region's museums and historic sites and a banquet.

Jeffrey Gordon, president of the American Birding Association, will be the keynote speaker at Saturday evening's banquet at the Elks Lodge, 28157 US Hwy 287. Gordon is a respected leader in the North American birding community. He is a widely published writer and photographer, and has entertained and educated many as a naturalist and bird guide.

In addition to a wide variety of birding and nature tours and seminars, this year's festival has added a hands-on archery shoot Friday evening from 6-8 p.m. and Western music and cowboy poetry Saturday at 3 p.m.

Participants who plan to attend the outdoor tours are urged to dress appropriately and bring layered clothing to stay warm and dry.  The weather in southeastern Colorado is difficult to predict at this time of year, so it's best to be prepared for all kinds of conditions. "We can have sunny days in the mid-60s or wet weather with some snow," said Linda Groat, a wildlife education specialist. "It's best to be prepared for everything. The temperatures can change dramatically on the sunrise tours."

Organizers also suggest bringing a camera, binoculars and a bird identification book. Groat also said the event has a variety of indoor sessions for those who might not want to brave the weather on the outdoor wildlife viewing tours.

Participants can pre-register or see the complete schedule online. To inquire about festival activities, call (719) 336-4370.

February 08, 2011

Amerigas: Poor Customer Service—Nationwide!

Since my post last month about problems with Amerigas propane service, I discovered that I am not alone, not at all.

Just one of several Web sites for retail-business complaints lists pages of complaints about Amerigas.

And here's the thing: Propane is propane. There is no significant difference between propane delivered in an Amerigas truck and propane delivered by Joe's Propane Service.

The difference is in service, which Amerigas appears to be lacking nationwide, based on what a little Web-surfing has shown me.

So be a "locavore" propane customer.

When you do get your tank filled, it's a Good Thing. A friend living near Taos, New Mexico, wrote that she appreciates propane more after last week's natural-gas emergency in that state, which led to thousands of households losing gas service.

"We are among the luckiest in town right now with our propane heat," she wrote.

Of course, wood heat with propane backup is my favorite: the lambent glow of a wood stove plus a gas-fired furnace to keep the pipes from freezing when we go away.

February 07, 2011

Machines for Mountain Living

Eighteen years ago M. and I moved into our house in the woods, bringing with us four internal-combustion engines:
  • 1969 Volkswagen Westfalia camper bus
  • 1980 Volkswagen Rabbit pickup truck
  • Husqvarna 16-inch "Rancher" chainsaw
  • Human-propelled rotary lawnmower
Of those, the chainsaw remains. It has been to the repair shop two or three times, but it's still good.

The lawnmower broke and was replaced by a semi-commercial model with the oversize rear wheels—better for rough ground.

The Rabbit was replaced by M.'s Jeep Wrangler. (The pickup ran well but had poor ground clearance.) The VW camper was replaced by a newer Vanagon camper and then by a Jeep Liberty (see a theme here?) and a little trailer. Somewhere in there I picked up an old Jeep CJ-5 as a project truck and as a backup 4wd unit when we were both commuting.

Now the list of internal-combustion engines is up to seven. We also added a wheeled generator, big enough to run everything—and it does get used every year, sometimes in the winter and sometimes in the summer—and as of today a snow blower, the biggest one they had at the hardware store.

I blame my neighbor T. for the latest purchase. He was the guy with the tractor who could plow our long, picturesque, winding-through-the-trees driveway when it snowed two or three feet.

He had a backhoe for digging up leaking water lines, and if either of the local wells was not producing, he had a truck-mounted tank for filling your cistern, 350 gallons at a load.

And all for reasonable prices. (He is also the guy who welcomed me to the volunteer fire department.)

But then his wife took a job transfer to Gunnison, and T. was happy enough about that, because he grew up there.

As M. paced up and down the sidewalk in front of the hardware store, looking dubious as one of the clerks and I loaded the snow blower into the Liberty, I reminded her, "This is because we can't call T. anymore."

And I cannot always be borrowing the neighbor's snow blower, as I did after Saturday's foot of snow.

If we need backhoe work, we will have to pay someone else more than T. would have charged. I am not buying a backhoe, sweetie, really. Where would I park it?

February 06, 2011

When Archaeology Becomes an Embarrassment

Glenn Reynolds connects a politically complicated Chinese mummy with Kennewick Man. Despite their vast difference in age and place, they do have something in common.

'Mustang Mythology'

Conservation writer Ted Williams takes on the "feral-horse lobby" in Audubon magazine.
A feral horse is a far greater threat to native ecosystems than a cow. When grass between shrubs is gone cows move on; horses stomp the shrubs into the dirt to get the last blade. What’s more, when cattle deplete forage they’re moved to new allotments, and they’re taken off the range in winter. But horses pound vegetation all year. And because horses live on range incapable of consistently sustaining them they sometimes starve and, in the process, cause the starvation of such sensitive desert creatures as sage grouse, bighorn sheep, Gila monsters, pronghorns, and desert tortoises. Not only will horses beat springs and seeps into mud holes, they’ll stand over them, running off wild ungulates, people, and even sage grouse.

The feral-horse lobby dismisses these facts as fiction concocted by the BLM on behalf of the cattle industry.
Some follow-up here on his blog.

Like many Colorado journalists, I once wrote my obligatory news feature on the program in which state prison inmates in Cañon City work with wild horses to make them adoptable.

But there are thousands more horses than there are people who want them. And slaughtering them has been made almost impossible. So they end up in corrals.

Yet the mythology persists.

February 04, 2011

Abstract Landscapes

"How abstract can a landscape become while remaining a landscape?" asks Dutch photographer Gerco de Ruijter.

You can do close-ups of erosion in New Mexico—or photograph man-made landscapes in the Netherlands that do indeed verge on the abstract.

February 03, 2011

'Snow Shovels of Death'

With a nod to efficiency expert Frederick Winslow Taylor,Salon examines the inefficiencies of snow shovels.

Two thoughts:

1. I really like the bent-handled models. Being more than six feet tall, I find that short-handled shovels kill my back far worse. With the bent-handled model, I do more pivoting and less bending. I do keep a grain shovel on hand for tackling high drifts.

2. An elderly woman in Cañon City once showed me her trick of tying a rope to the handle of her shovel, which had much the same effect, I think, as does the second, perpendicular handle that the article describes.  She said it helped her work more efficiently.

February 02, 2011

Well, Yes, It's Cold

Minus 10 Fahrenheit (-24 C) when I took the dogs out for their morning walk. As long as they were trotting around to see where the foxes had gone (and in Fisher's case, just galloping up and down the road as he usually does), they were all right. But my face was getting cold after ten minutes—I should have wrapped it in a scarf.

At least I don't have two hundred heifers to worry about—just filling the bird feeders.