September 30, 2011

Big Ag Strikes Back

It's not enough that we eat their products, but we are supposed to love them too.

Worried, apparently, by bloggers, book authors, and documentary-film makers, "Big Ag" organizations like the National Milk Producers Federation ("Got Milk?") and the American Egg Board, have formed the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance in "a bid to 'reshape the dialogue' about the American food supply." 

Conspicuously absent: organic farmers.
The battle is over more than labels. Also at stake is the $25 billion annual budget for discretionary spending by the Agriculture Department, and crop subsidies worth even more. Bob Stallman, chairman of the Alliance, is also president of the American Farm Bureau, the farmers’ main lobbying group in Washington. 
In his column in the current issue of Colorado Central magazine—not yet available online—Colorado food writer Hal Walter suggests, "Eating may be more effective than voting."

"Start by voting with your fork," he continues. "Every dollar you don't spend with big food is one dollar that doesn't feed the beast, and instead nutures both your community and yourself."

I have been picking up copies of his free publication about independent, mostly organic farmers and ranchers in Colorado's Arkansas Valley this summer.

Call The Farm Beet, it is also available from his web site.

September 24, 2011

Pueblo, A City of Readers (?)

Some survey claims that Pueblo, Colorado, is the seventh-best city in the country for book lovers, not so much for bookstores and literary events but for its library system.
(Portland, Oregon, was number one.)

Yes, the library is popular with all types. I was at the main (Rawlings) library yesterday and was approached inside by two panhandlers and one girl selling fund-raising candies for some school thing.

No, You Can't Eat That, Says the Judge

Wisconsin judge says that there is no "right to eat" food that you yourself produce.

According to Wisconsin Judge Patrick J. Fiedler, you do not have a fundamental right to consume the food you grow or own or raise. The Farm To Consumer Legal Defense Fund, the pioneers in defending food sovereignty and freedom, recently argued before Judge Fiedler that you and I have a constitutional right to consume the foods of our choice. Judge Fiedler saw no merit to the argument and ruled against the FTCLDF. When they asked him to clarify his statement, these were his words:

“no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or a dairy herd;”
“no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow;”
“no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice…”
 Read the rest.

September 22, 2011

Boulder News: Yoga, Accupuncture . . . and Dog-Walking

But if Joan Zalk's accupuncture technique is similar to her "dog-walking" technique, I would look for a different practitioner.
When officers arrived and spoke to Zalk, she admitted to telling the women she had a gun, but said she only did it because she felt threatened and trapped, the report said. She said she doesn't own a gun, and there wasn't a gun in the car.
Just as well. She may not be too clear on the difference between legitimate self-defense and felony menacing either.

John Fayhee's Tribute to the Gila Wilderness

Where external-frame backpacks, thrift-shop hiking clothes, and cigars are still acceptable.

His personal website is here.

Traces of Yellowstone Grizzly Bears

Wapiti Lake access blocked (MSNBC, July 2011).
On Monday, Sept. 12, which was a rainy day, M. and I car-toured the eastern side of Yellowstone National Park. (I had never seen some of its famous sights, such as the view of the falls from Artist's Point.)

When we passed the turn-off to the Wapiti Lake Trail, it was blocked every kind of barricade and tape in the Park Service warehouse.

Electric signs on the main road warned drivers not to stop and to stay in their vehicles. (And what about the many bicyclists? Are they just bear bait?)

Why? Because of the grizzly bear attack that killed a California hiker, Brian Matayoshi.

At the time, the bear that killed Matayoshi was not hunted down, but treated as a sow with cub exercising a legitimate right of (perceived) self-defense.

Now the Powers That Be are blaming Matayoshi and his wife for running and triggering the bear's predatory instincts.  
Authorities concluded that the couple's reaction - running, yelling and screaming upon the bear's approach - might have escalated the severity of the attack, according to reports.
Bear safety experts recommend people talk in a low, calm tone and stand their ground when encountering grizzlies. They say bears will sometimes "bluff charge" toward a perceived threat.
 Well, that settles it. 

In August, a visitor from Michigan, John Wallace, was killed on the Mary Mountain Trail, which we noticed was also barricaded at both ends.
"We recommend people carry bear pepper sprays," wildlife biologist Kerry Gunther told ABC. "It gives people a lot of the confidence to stand their ground." 
Yes, we carried  bear spray. On our one backcountry hike, we encountered an excited Canadian couple coming the other way who said that they had seen a sow grizz and a cub.

(I think they were Canadians because the guy used "half a mile" and "200 meters" in the same sentence.)

They were wearing bear bells. Personally, I don't think that bear bells do any good unless you chant Om Mani Padme Hum as well. Then if a bear eats you, you have a beneficial rebirth.

A German (?) man was walking out the trail behind them calling "Bär bär!" at intervals.

I decided just to fish a little more where we were, because the brookies were hitting a bead-head nymph pretty regularly.

Eventually we hiked in to the lake and back out again. I carried the bear spray canister in one hand. Saw nothing. I noticed that the older hikers tended to have bear spray, while the younger ones did not. Make what you will of that.

It's always interesting being in the (possible) presence of a superior predator. Sharpens your senses. But the truth is that although I have had many black bear encounters, I have never seen a grizzly bear in the wild (unless I did on my childhood trip to Yellowstone—can't recall).  That comes of living in the Southern rather than the Northern Rockies. Ours were eliminated a century ago, except for the puzzling grizz killed in 1979 in the Southern San Juans.

UNRELATED POSTSCRIPT: Amazon warrior on a big Percheron-cross horse saves boy from grizzly attack in Montana.

September 21, 2011

Revew: The Last Season--When a Park Ranger Goes Missing

In the summer of 1996, an experienced backcountry ranger went missing.

Ranger Randy Morgenson was in his early fifties. He had grown up hiking and climbing at Yosemite National Park, where his father worked for The Yosemite Park & Curry Co., the park concessionaire. He was also an expert cross-country skier.

He had studied public-lands recreation management in college, served in the Peace Corps, married, and worked many seasons at Yosemite and Sequoia & King's Canyon National Parks.

He loved the wilderness and respected its power in an almost animistic way. He was the kind of man who would seriously consider whether a tree wanted its picture to be taken. He hated to hear anything in the natural world described as a "resource." He even preferred to say "treeline" rather than "timberline" because "timber" sounded too much like a "resource."

At the same time, he was known as courteous and helpful to visitors, even when confronting their destructive behavior. He had participated unflinchingly in search-and-rescue and body-recovery missions. Everyone looked up to him.

But backcountry rangers are like the adjunct professors who teach more than half all all university classes.. They do the work, but they have no job security from one year to the next. They have no pension plans and far fewer benefits than permanent employees. And Randy Morgenson was past the middle of his career.  His marriage was going downhill.

One day, he missed his radio check, part of the routine for backcountry rangers who camped out and worked alone. And the next day.  His colleagues grew worried. Eventually a full-scale search was mounted: ground teams, airborne searchers, search dogs, even a Navy helicopter with forward-looking infrared radar. All backcountry campers and hikers in his patrol area were questioned if they had seen him.


Given that the conclusion is beyond his control, Eric Blehm has written a masterful nonfiction thriller in The Last Season.

I raced through the last two chapters two evenings ago and had weird park ranger dreams for half the night afterward. That is the price you pay for reading such an absorbing book.

September 20, 2011

What Has the 'Food Movement' Accomplished?

Michael Pollan considers the gap between image (Michele Obama's organic garden—do the Obamas ever eat from it? No one says.) and actual agricultural policy.

His article, "How Change is Going to Come in the Food Industry," is part of a special issue in The Nation.
To date, however, the food movement can claim more success in changing popular consciousness than in shifting, in any fundamental way, the political and economic forces shaping the food system or, for that matter, in changing the “standard American diet”—which has only gotten worse since the 1970s. Recently there have been some political accomplishments: food movement activists played a role in shaping the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act and the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, both passed in the last Congress, and the last couple of farm bills have thrown some significant crumbs in the direction of sustainable agriculture and healthy food. But the food movement cannot yet point to legislative achievements on the order of the Clean Air Act or the Clean Water Act or the establishment of the Environmental Protection Administration. Its greatest victories have come in the media, which could scarcely be friendlier to it, and in the food marketplace, rather than in the halls of Congress, where the power of agribusiness has scarcely been disturbed.
True enough, but you don't suppose that the marketplace might actually lead Congress, do you? 
Here is the table of contents for the entire food-related issue.

September 19, 2011

The Best Shower in Yellowstone

Gables at the Old Faithful Inn, completed in 1904, Yellowstone National Park
OK, you have been camping for a few nights. Maybe someone wants to wash her hair. But most of the campgrounds do not have showers. And the rivers (except the Firehole) are pretty cold.

Go to the Old Faithful Inn. You could go to the hotel in Mammoth too, but let's face it, the Old Faithful Inn is the most tradition-soaked, parkitecture-perfect building in Yellowstone.

Bring a bag with a towel, soap, shampoo, etc., unless you want to pay extra.

Walk up to the registration desk and tell the clerk that you wish to take a shower. The clerk will collect $3.45 and direct you up the creaking stairs to a restroom with shower stalls in the back.

The stalls are clean, tiled, and have windows that open to views like the one above. The shower is an old-style pierced disk high overhead. It feels wonderful.

Once clean and dry, stop at the Mezzanine Bar for a Snake River Lager, then carry it outside to one of the benches facing the Old Faithful Geyser and watch for it to erupt.

September 18, 2011

At Yellowstone: Why Close So Many Campgrounds in Early September?

At Madison CG, Yellowstone National Park
On Friday we arrived at the big Madison Campground at Yellowstone. Like all park lodging and most of the bigger campgrounds, it is operated by a concessionaire, Xanterra Parks & Resorts.

At this time of year, campgrounds are closing—too fast, I think. Madison (85 sites) was full every night of the four that we stayed there. Norris Campground (100 sites) was full too.

My old favorite, Slough Creek, has become impossible since the advent of the wolf cult.

Canyon CG was already closed, although the weather was warm, and the Canyon lodge-restaurant-visitor center area was swarming with people. It seems to me like they could make money keeping it open—I would have preferred to stay on the east side of the park.

One thing M. and I had anticipated was being spared all the news media navel-gazing over the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. But right across from our campsite someone had draped their motorhome with the banners pictured. Like we needed their help to "never forget." Sheesh.

September 17, 2011

Second Night Out: Gros Ventre Campground

Young bull moose sparring at the Gros Ventre CG, Grand Teton National Park
On Thursday, Sept. 8, after breakfast and a little exploration of one corner of Colorado State Forest State Park, we continued north into Wyoming: Saratoga to Walcott  to Rawlins to Rock Springs to Pinedale (burger stop at the Wind River Brewing Co.)  to Jackson to Grand Teton National Park.

We passed our usual North Park campsite: Cowdrey Lake State Wildlife Area north of Walden, Colo. If you want the basics—a flat place to park, an outhouse, and a small lake in which to fish—it meets the bill.

North of Cowdrey, some volunteer firefighters and the Jackson County sheriff's office were dealing with a fresh one-minivan rollover wreck. M. is still talking about the luxuriant black handlebar mustache worn by one of the deputies. Very 1890s.

Once through Jackson, we took the road that leads to Kelly, Wyo., the hamlet closely described in Ted Kerasote's Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog.

Before Kelly, you pass by the Gros Ventre Campground, which the park's website describes as rarely filling—a good thing, since you cannot make a reservation.

Its 350 sites extend through a big grove of narrowleaf cottonwoods. A river runs through it.

The only downside we could see is that the campground is somewhat in the approach/departure corridor for aircraft using Jackson Hole Airport, the only commercial airport located in a national park.

As the sun peeked over the mountains, I got up to use the restroom and encountered moose—two young bulls alternately feeding and play-sparring.
Moose stalkers and bear-proof (or bear-resistant) dumpster.
As the two moose moved through the campground, they were stalked by early-rising photographers—from a safe distance.

On Friday morning, we ate breakfast, took a stroll through the campground, then packed up our pop-up camping trailer and continued north into the weird and the wonderful that is Yellowstone National Park.

September 16, 2011

First Night Out: Ranger Lakes Campground

One of the small Ranger Lakes. The streak at right is a swimming beaver.
First in a series of rambling and disconnected posts about our recent trip to Yellowstone.

The first night out, we stopped at the Ranger Lakes Campground in the Colorado State Forest State Park (not a misprint) at the edge of North Park, a high valley or basin.

A trail from the campground goes along the Michigan River, where moose were reintroduced to Colorado a generation ago. (That's human generation, not moose generation). But we did not see any. The next campsite would be different.

Just down the road is the tiny community of Gould, where my parents lived as newlyweds, first in a tent and then a log cabin—Forest Service housing for a newly qualified assistant district ranger on the Routt National Forest. It was more of a logging town then.

The area must have seemed truly isolated then. Now Colorado 14 is paved, and in good weather you can cover the 75 miles from Fort Collins (over Cameron Pass) fairly quickly.

The campsites have electrical hookups. The campground used to be heavily treed, but since the epidemic of beetle-kill, most of the lodgepole pine has been cut down—so that dead trees don't fall on someone's tent or trailer, I suppose. And the fire danger.

If I were making a longer stay in the park, I would pick a campsite more in the middle. Ranger Lakes CG is right beside the highway—but there is not a lot of traffic in the middle of the night.

September 14, 2011

Biking Across the Country

M. and I are on our way home from Yellowstone National Park, and I will have a few more posts about that soon.

This is another version of the logo.
While reading a historical marker, we encountered Missourian Brian McEntire, who is bicycling across the country on what I still think of as the 1976 Bicentennial route. He seemed surprised when I told him that there was still one of the old green-and-white "bike-centennial" signs on Colorado 96 outside of Pueblo.

He has been keeping a log in blog form.

September 10, 2011

Philip Connors and Lookout Lit

Being a fire lookout sounds like the perfect writer's job: paid isolation.

But if you want to write about being a lookout, you are in a literary tradition. "Lookout lit" might be considered a subdivision of "hermit literature," which goes back at least as far as Han Shan in the East and various god-bothered hermits in the West.
I settled at Cold Mountain long ago,
Already it seems like years and year.
Freely drifting, I prowl the woods and steams
And linger watching things themselves.
from a poem by Han Shan/Cold Mountain
translated by Gary Snyder

At the pinnacle of lookout lit sits Gary Snyder himself, who mined a couple of seasons on Sourdough Mountain in the Cascades for miles of poems and essays—good for him.

One summer he talked Beat writer Jack Kerouac into being a lookout too. Phil Whalen and some other writers tried it too: you can read all about those days sixty years ago in Poets on the Peaks

So when Philip Connors of Silver City, New Mexico, wrote his own memoir: Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout,, he knew that he was part of a literary mini-tradition—lookout lit, I call it—and he makes the appropriate bows to the tradition.
It's no wonder our Forest Service brethren think of us lookouts as the freaks on the peaks. We have, in the words of our forebear Edward Abbey, "an indolent, melancholy nature." Our walk home is always uphill. We live alone on the roof of the world, clinging to the rock like condors, fiercely territorial. We ply our trade inside a steel-and-glass room immaculately designed to attract lightning. Our purpose and our pleasure is to watch: study the horizon, ride out the storms, an eagle eye peeled for evidence of flames.
Some of the Beats wanted the lookout to be a mini-Buddhist meditation hall—Buddhist or not, every lookout deals with solitude:
That thing some people call boredom, in the correct if elusive dosage, can be a form of inoculation against itself. Once you struggle through that swamp of monotony where time bogs down in excruciating ticks from  your wristwatch, it becomes possible to break through to a state of equilibrium, to reach a kind of waiting and watching that verges on what I can only call the holy.
There are still some lookouts, but solitude may be hard to come by. A man named Bill Ellis has worked the Devil's Head Lookout for 27 summers. But because of the site's nearness to Denver and easy hiking access, he sees 15,000 visitors every season.

That must not leave much time for Snyder-style cosmic musings.
This whole spinning show
    (among others)
watched by the Mt. Sumeru L.O,.

From the middle of the universe
& them with no radio.
 From "Burning," published in Look Out!, No Nature and other collections.

September 09, 2011

What the Flaming Gorge Pipeline Would Wreck

Durango writer Dave Petersen lays it out. The proposed pipeline to bring water from the Green River in Wyoming to Colorado's Front Range would be devastating to northeast Utah's fish and wildlife:

We are lucky to have a world-class fishery in our own extended backyard, on the Green River below Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Unfortunately, this great run of river is now threatened by a monumental boondoggle that could destroy one of the finest fishing destinations on the planet. Aaron Million's proposed water pipeline would stretch from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming and Utah, some 560 miles to the massive population centers of Colorado's Front Range. After all, why should we worry about preserving what little is left in America of wild nature when water board members believe the river's flows would be better used to maintain wasteful blue-grass lawns, golf courses, swimming pools and car washes around the Denver area?

In addition to the obvious self-centeredness and amorality of Million's outrageous proposal, consider the construction cost, currently estimated by state agencies to run as high as $9 billion, with another $123 million per year, in perpetuity, required to operate and maintain the pipeline. Just what we need in a strapped economy! Nor would it be a bargain for Front Range residents, requiring farmers and homeowners to pay the highest fees ever for water.
Read the rest.

September 06, 2011

GPS: Better on Foot than in the Car?

Getting ready for the first of two fall road trips, I won't be using a GPS, other than for a little geocaching at various destinations.

I can find Yellowstone National Park without a map. Just go north-northwest for two days until you hit it—either east of the Wind River Range or west.

This article from The New Atlantis discusses ways in which GPS makes people worse driver and navigators.
Aside from the growing mounds of anecdotal evidence, there is some research to support the idea that GPS navigation weakens driving ability, and that, as a 2008 review by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration put it, “the mere presence of a navigation system in a vehicle might encourage increasingly frequent and unnecessary use of the system, including browsing through lists of attractions.” However, most of this research only compares different types of navigation systems to each other (and to using a paper map during the actual act of driving); as of yet, there seems to be no research comparing GPS navigation to internalized navigation, nor are there any comprehensive statistical studies on the effects of GPS on accident rates. But one 2008 survey found that GPS devices had contributed to 300,000 crashes in the United Kingdom, and over a million drivers veering dangerously while following GPS directions. And a 2007 Dutch study found that GPS devices increased traffic accident casualties, and “purposely put the driver into a situation of unacceptable social behavior.”
But I mentioned geocaching.  This piece from the Durango Herald makes the case that it brings kids outdoors:
During the last three years, interest in “Trail Trekkers” – a children’s hiking program offered by Durango’s Parks and Recreation Department – had cratered. John Robinette, supervisor of youth recreation, was flummoxed
“When I started 10 years ago, the hiking program was really popular,” he said. “But then last year, almost no children signed up. We had to end it. It just wasn’t cost-effective.”

Through seminars and literature on continuing education in parks and recreation, Robinette learned about geocaching.

“I bought the starter kit, went to the website,” he said. “We decided to offer a six-week geocaching program for kids three days a week. Three of four sessions totally filled up.”
Robinette said the program had been a great success.

“Kids nowadays, they want a little bit more from the outdoors,” he said. “Some of them had their own GPS devices. We’re definitely going to offer it again next summer, and maybe this fall.” 
I admit to mixed feelings there—should you need the gadget?—but the old rule of teaching is that you have to start where your students mentally are.

September 04, 2011

Who Is Walking In 'Our' Creek?

It's not "our" creek in a real estate-ownership way, but it flows near our house. The real-estate market here is moribund, as in many places, and the house near which this part of the creek would flow—if it were flowing—has been vacant for nearly two years. So I posted a camera for three nights to see who was traveling up and down the dry stream bed.

The first visitor was a cat, maybe a neighbor's. It could also be a feral cat, although they don't last too long around here.

 Next came the animal you would expect to see, a raccoon.

In fact, there were two raccoons.

A black bear poked its head in front of the camera. I'll spare you the following bear-butt shot.

Finally, some juvenile hominids exploring new territory. They saw the camera, I know, but did not disturb it. Knowing their inquisitive nature, I think I will "rest" this spot for a while.

September 03, 2011

Perversely, The Ancient Ones Might Be Impressed

A survey of flood damage following the Las Conchas Fire, which burned over much of Bandelier National Monument in northern New Mexico, turned up a healthy marijuana plantation.
Superintendent Jason Lott said park workers spotted the pot field in rugged terrain last week when they flew a helicopter over areas in the northern part of the park that flooded after 3 inches of rain from back-to-back storms.

An interagency task force of about 35 personnel raided the area at 4:30 a.m. Thursday, then began the labor of ripping out the plants that they estimated could have had a street value in the million of dollars. The illegal site also featured an irrigation system, he said.
I have no quarrel with moderate cannabis usage, but I despise growers who tear up public lands and threaten whoever goes near their operations.

That said, given how dry the summer has been, don't you think that the Ancestral Puebloans of Frijoles Canyon would be impressed that someone managed to grow something?

September 02, 2011

Possum Living, NASA, and Naturing.

Back cover of 1980 paperback edition
Possum Living: How to Live Well without a Job and with Almost No Money was published in 1978, an autobiographical  how-to book about a teenage girl and her father living ultra-cheaply in eastern Pennsylvania outside Philadelphia.
The economy was as dismal as the one we’re in now, but Dolly and Frank were quite happy to have no jobs—they rejected the “money economy,” choosing instead to make their own way and avoid the “gracious living” and acquisition-based one-upmanship that seemed to make so many other Americans miserable. “We have and get the good things of life so easily it seems silly to go to some boring, meaningless, frustrating job to get the money to buy them,” Dolly wrote, “yet almost everyone does. ‘Earning their way in life,’ they call it. ‘Slavery,’ I call it.” She and Frank referred to their existence as “possum living” because “possums can live anywhere.”
Possum Living contains twenty chapters with titles such as “We Quit the Rat Race,” “Health and Medicine,” and “Meat.” It includes instructions for mending clothes, pickling vegetables, and buying bargain homes in what Dolly called “sheriff sales” and everyone now calls foreclosure, plus recipes for the kind of food she and her father cooked and ate, like creamed catfish, rocket pickle, and dandelion wine. “We aren’t living this way for ideological reasons, as people sometimes suppose,” she wrote of the home she called Snug Harbor. “We aren’t a couple of Thoreaus mooning about on Walden Pond here. … We live this way for a very simple reason: It’s easier to learn to do without some of the things that money can buy than to earn the money to buy them.”
But Possum Living has an edge to it, which comes out in lines like "Daddy has shot fish with a pistol." Unconsciously, you always expect to turn the page and read, "Our neighbor died, so Daddy and I decided to try eating him."  Frank—Daddy—was not only an urban survivalist, but also a mean drunk when he had enough home-made wine in him and something of a law unto himself.
When developers started building houses nearby, those houses mysteriously burned. Barking dogs disappeared. When the derelict hotel across the road burned to the ground, everyone (wrongly) assumed vagrants. “If someone’s playing loud music at the creek behind the house, you or I would go ask them to turn it down,” says [his ex-wife] Marie. “Frank would go cut their tires. It was just Frank’s nature.” 
Sometimes you wonder if Possum Living sort of shaded off into Winter's Bone. Is is just coincidence that the 17-year-old protagonist of Winter's Bone has the surname of Dolly?

After her one-shot book success, Dolly Freed dropped off the survivalist/homesteading radar. Despite her sketchy formal schooling, she was effectively self-home-schooled, and she attended  Drexel University, getting A's in fluid mechanics, physics, and calculus. She ended up an aerospace engineer for NASA (as is her husband)—and also an environmental educator, still "naturing."

Frank died in a car wreck, estranged from his daughter, in and out of jail and halfway houses.  Ironically, before dropping out, he too had worked in the space program, as an electronics technician for a NASA contractor.

(Thanks to Roberta X for the link.)

September 01, 2011

Paleolithic Survival Skills Not Forogtten

Brooke Collins of Juneau
•  Juneau woman punches black bear that grabbed her dachshund.

•  Back in 1971, a 17-year-old girl walked out of the Amazonian rain forest after an airplane crash of which she was the only survivor.