October 31, 2011

Some Colorado Springs Ghosts—and the Unquiet Ghosts of Teller County

Western Federation of Miners hall, Victor,1903.
A Colorado Springs blogger offers some ghost stories, mostly from the West Side.

In my young newspaper reporter days, I did my part for Cripple Creek and Victor.

At the time, I was covering both the gold-mining boomlet of the early 1980s and also some Colorado labor history, such as the activities of the Western Federation of Miners in the early 1900s.

They did not make it into the book, but I had a couple of woo-woo experiences in Cripple Creek and in the nearby ghost town of Goldfield of my own.

In one of them, I was walking into faded glory of the 1904 Teller County Courthouse to cover a hearing about leakage from a cyanide heap-leaching operation killing some horses. Just ordinary reportorial stuff.

I had never entered that building before. At the foot of the staircase leading up to the courtrooms, I almost had a panic attack. I was sure that I was walking up to my doom — but I wasn't "me."

In the second, I was leaving Victor and decided to drive through the site of the mining town of Goldfield, "a strong union town," instead of back via Cripple Creek on the way to Colorado Springs and the newspaper office.

The scene out the windshield was 1980 or 1981 Goldfield, which is to say, not much.  But to my ears and inner senses, it was all shouting and turbulence and emotion of the 1894 miners' strike, when the Cripple Creek police shot down the Goldfield constables, mines were dynamited, the militia was called out, and gunfights flared between miners and sheriff's deputies back by the mine owners.

It was like being in two places at once, one foot in the past and one foot in the now. The experience lasted less than minute but left me feeling emotionally exhausted.

That strike was just the beginning of the Colorado Labor Wars, when things got even worse.

Bad times—more or less swept under the rug of history now. Now we hear only of a street vendor selling  "hot waffles to miners, railroad passengers and barflies."

October 30, 2011

Michael Pollan's New Food Rules

Michael Pollan's new food rules, from the upcoming of the book of the same name.

I like #7, "Enjoy Drinks That Have Been Caffeinated by Nature, Not Food Science"

This also reminds me of the advice that I gave to students in magazine-writing class: you can always sell a story built around a list.

October 28, 2011

What Do You Think about Falconry?

Two British researchers, Helen Macdonald (University of Cambridge) and Mike Nicholls (University of Greenwich) have created an online survey on people's understanding of falconry and their opinions about it.

Although some questions are particular to the UK, respondents from other countries are welcome.

October 27, 2011

Not Always Happy Endings

Two day-old mule deer fawns after their rescue.
Last June 24th I wrote about how two mule deer fawns, the surviving pair from what had been triplets, were transported in a relay from the western San Luis Valley to some wildlife rehabilitators who live near us.

I learned yesterday that the smaller fawn, the little male seen here being fed from a syringe on the day he arrived, had gone into a sudden decline and died.

His caretakers were a married couple, both retired schoolteachers, and yesterday she wrote,
[Tuesday] morning he didn't want his bottle, and that was very strange. I noticed he had a very runny stool and then it turned to blood. He made it through the day quite comfortably and I had some hope  Last night when everyone left for the night I kept him in the shelter, knowing that if I didn't he would have a very miserable death out in the snow. The little guy never got to see the snow. I slept in the shelter with him til about eleven and then went inside. This morning I found him in his favorite corner in the fresh straw.
You have to be emotionally strong to do that job year after year. Yes, maybe this fawn was too undeveloped, being the smaller of the two survivors. Yet I had seen him just a week ago, running around the pasture and looking OK.

It is even worse at the Raptor Center, I know, where only something like 25-30 percent of the birds brought (if that) survive. Like the great horned owl that I picked up in September—it was alive and feisty, but a wing was shattered beyond repair—probably from a power line collision—and the director decided to put it down.

They have a couple of one-winged birds in captivity, but those birds never can get around well, and the protocol nowadays is to euthanize them.

Supporting San Juan Wilderness Act

Click to embiggen
Newspaper ad sponsored by Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and other pro-hunting, pro-wilderness advocates after introduction of the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act last month. Now to see if my congressman, Scott Tipton, can get behind it too.

October 26, 2011

Improbable Mountains

Last month the Denver Post's daily website quiz was a list of Colorado mountain ranges with the question, which name is bogus?

Anyone with a little historical sense could get it right. All the names were assigned in the 19th century, and there were no moose in the state then, so "Moose Range" has to be the right answer.

But a lot of people thought that the Wet Mountains were mythical. Perhaps that is a Good Thing.

Colorado Seeks Big-Game Hunting Photos, Stories

News release:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is giving big-game hunters the opportunity to share their hunting accomplishments with others.  Hunters who were successful during Colorados 2011 big-game seasons can submit stories and photos to be posted on a Hunter Testimonials page featured on the Parks and Wildlife website.

Hunters of all experience levels, ages and backgrounds are encouraged to participate.  The best photos may be used as covers for upcoming regulations brochures or in future editions of Colorado Outdoors magazine.    

Hunting stories should be limited to 250 words and be accompanied with high-resolution, digital photos detailing the experience. All submissions will be edited and reviewed to ensure rules and hunting regulations are followed. Publication is not guaranteed, and all submissions become the property of CPW.

For submission instructions and to view the "Big-Game Hunter Testimonial" page, click here.

October 25, 2011

Hunting, Fishing Video Games Threaten the Real Thing

Indoor pseudo-birding on a computer screen is bad enough. Maybe it is not a threat to real birding.

On the other hand, hunting and fishing video games like "The Strike" and "The Hunt" from Bass Pro Shops could threaten real hunting and fishing while pretending to promote them. In the fishing game,
The player starts out as a rookie looking to climb the ranks against competitive pros, collecting sponsors, boats and prize money that players can use to upgrade their equipment as they progress. Each tournament features a Sports Ticker to keep you updated on how the competition is doing. [from a news release]
See anything in there about species knowledge, about conservation, about habitat, about ethics? No, me neither. It's all about things.

And as a Nintendo Wii "hunter," 
The player also has to stay alert for one-of-kind Legendary animals as well as Dangerous predators hunting you.  Each level also allows the player to hunt a real life record-setting King of Bucks™.

The new Career Mode offers more realistic hunting challenges set in a Last Man Standing tournament structure.  
Real hunting is not a "tournament."  And the "King of Bucks" is not something you find in real life.

When you go hunting and you kill a rabbit, for example, you have ended the life of a living creature with whom you share the earth.

Its heart stops pumping, its brain stops buzzing, its essence goes to wherever a rabbit's  essence goes.  It was not a creation of pixels and electrons—it was alive the same as you are.

So eat it with respect and understanding.

Why would a game like The Hunt, to pick that one, threaten hunting?

• If it were realistic, it would show you that there are more places with no deer than with trophy bucks. But to keep game play moving, you have to find a pixel-deer quickly. Real hunters might walk or watch or sit in a stand all day and see nothing. Can't have that!

Of course, when you "see nothing," there is a lot to see. Real birds, for example. All the processes of nature—a coyote hunting mice while you watch him through binoculars. 

Consequently, someone who plays the game and then goes hunting—unless it is on a well-stocked commercial game farm—will probably feel cheated. How come they have to wait for hours for the action to start???

They will end up more interested in the video version of hunting than in real hunting—until another game comes out that they like better.

• There is no emotional investment in place. If I hunt an area for deer, I want to see it protected. I don't want to come back next year and find an oil well or an illegal off-road motorcycle track or anything else incompatible with the deer's existence as a species. Pixel-hunters probably could not tell you plants deer eat in their area.

•  They may end up confusing living, sentient animals with "targets." Bang! And your score goes up. They will never have to confront their direct, personal, bloody-handed involvement in processes of life and death. Instead, they just see what is on the screen.

They will never have to think things through: Should I take that shot? If I miss, will the bullet sail off toward the ranch house? If I kill an elk in this canyon, how will get I get it out?

• They will not understand that the work only starts when the animal is down. Field-dressing, transporting, butchering, cooking, and eating—those are all part of the hunting experience too.

• They will not be participating in the inevitable politics around hunting and fishing: habitat protection, gun rights, public input on wildlife management—all vital.

• Their hearts may race when the play the game, but they will never experience love—love of a place, love of wild animals (yes, even though we kill some of them), love just being "out there."

Put down the Wii controller, pick up a real fishing rod or gun. And if it's off-season, the membership fees at a lot of shooting ranges (around here, at least) are less than the cost of the game.

October 23, 2011

On Building Ski Fences

Photo: Jon Kovash
Mountain Gazette blogger Jon Kovash muses about that design classic of mountain towns, the ski fence:
If you live in a ski town, you can amass old skis with a perusal of ski swaps, free boxes and dumpsters. Most prized are skis without bindings because the bindings are a pain in the ass to remove. If you want a tall fence, with the advent of short skis, the old 200s will be harder to find. For colors, I prefer just going with the random cacophony of industrial day-glo, which gives you a kind of happy camo look, but you can also look for matches or color groupings.
The trouble is, you can't build one if you live in some planned development — "The Turds at Elk Meadow" — because of all the covenants.

And as Kovash experienced, some towns like Telluride reject "new vernacular architecture that supports our lifestyles and doesn't hog energy" because it doesn't fit the Mining Era historic-district look.

Leadville or Salida or Walden would probably let you build one though.

October 22, 2011

Federal Appellate Court Upholds the 2001 Roadless Rule

Doesn't enough of Wyoming look like this already? (Source: The Wilderness Society)
A federal appellate court has upheld the 2001 Roadless Rule on national forests in a case brought by the state of Wyoming.

The state tried to argue that by protecting roadless areas — which is a Good Thing for animals like elk — the Forest Service was creating "wilderness."

And "wilderness," in the legal sense, must be created by Congress, not the executive branch.

But the judges disagreed:
In a 120-page decision, the court said that full wilderness protection was far deeper than the mere banning of roads in certain places and that the Forest Service had broad jurisdiction in setting the balance of uses on the lands that it manages.

“The Forest Service did not usurp Congressional authority because the roadless rule did not establish de facto wilderness,” the court said in a decision written by Judge Jerome A. Holmes, who was nominated to the court by President George W. Bush.
This was the Tenth Circuit Court in Denver—the Ninth Circuit had reached a similar conclusion two years ago.

I am no legal scholar, but I think that as long as the different federal appellate courts agree, the Supreme Court is less likely to be interested in such a case. Qualified legal experts are welcome to enlighten me. But Wyoming could always try another appeal.

October 21, 2011

Why Hunting is not a "Sport"

Two interesting pieces of writing popped up this morning.

In a blog post, Galen Geer questions the very term "sport hunting." I tend to agree. (It comes after the part about checking his blood pressure in the duck blind to prove something to his physical therapist.)
[At a recent Orion institute seminar there] was a lot of free discussion about the present state of recruitment to the outdoors but I heard something that was, to me, very important for the future of hunting, and it was the simple statement that hunting would be referred to as “hunting” and not “sport hunting” or have any other adjectives affixed to it.  This is something that I totally agree with.  I believe that we must stop the practice of trying to hide hunting under a pile of adjectives.   I make this argument even after a great deal of research has shown me that the basis for “sport hunting” goes back to ancient Greece when the phrase “hunting for sport” actually appears in the writing of Xenophon.
Meanwhile, in an interview on the Huffington Post, Holly Heyser discusses the difference between male and female hunters, advice for beginners, and her philosophy on eating wild foods.
Yeah, I may be a bit of a radical with some of my thinking on this subject, but what the hell, here goes: When I decided to take up hunting, my secret fear was that I would become callous toward animals. Surprise, surprise - the opposite happened. My respect for animals has grown exponentially, as has my love for them.

I can hear the shrieks of horror already. "Respect? Love? But you kill them." I know it doesn't appear to make sense at all. Work with me: Most human relationships with animals are with domestic animals, and whether they're pets or food animals, they've all been reduced to a perpetual state of childhood, not just in their dependency, but often in terms of their mannerisms and behavior. The more I saw wild animals, though, the more respect I had for their amazing capabilities (and the more respect I had for wild humans, too).
(If you hear echoes of Paul Shepard there, you are right.)

Plus there is a list of outstanding contemporary books on hunting, and I was happy to see that I have an essay in one of them, A Hunter's Heart: Honest Essays on Blood Sport, David Petersen, ed.

But there is that "sport" word again. Galen has been researching its employment and concludes that it no longer fits. (It's like the term "sports coat," a 19th-century British coinage fossilized in the menswear industry.) Today the term "sports" means organized athletics, people wearing numbers on their backs.
We don’t box with, play tennis or football with, or any other organized activity, the animals we hunt.  We don’t need to lie to ourselves or to the non-hunter by falling back on euphemisms to soften our language.  We can start by removing one word and simply saying that we hunt, we go hunting, we are hunters.

October 20, 2011

Audubon Society Promotes Indoor Birding without Real Birds

I think that I just lost some respect for the Audubon Society.

I thought that they were about conservation, birds, and stuff like that. But now they have some West Coast  public-relations firm promoting "online birding." And it is competitive, because outdoor recreational experiences should always be competitive, not, y'know, experiential.
While “Birding the Net,” players are challenged to collect dozens of virtual birds on over 100 highly trafficked websites. The game is both educational and fun, helping the next generation learn about the natural world around us. Whether you live in a city or on a farm, you can spot these birds from the comfort of your own home, no binoculars necessary!
No, Liza Nedelman of MPRM Communications, that is not how you "learn about the natural world." As another large corporation's slogan put, "just do it."

Why not tell people that playing Angry Birds on their smart phone is a genuine interaction with nonhuman nature?

I suppose that someone that "kids these days" have to be introduced to an online experience before they can have the real thing. Really? Stay indoors? Look at a screen?

No links. If you think that "birding the net" is a wizard idea, look it up yourself.

October 18, 2011

New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division for the Win

Spotted ten days ago at the Black Hills Powwow in Rapid City. Would Colorado's fussier Department of Motor Vehicles approve it? Don't think so.

(More about mescal/mezcal. Or was the owner thinking of the bean?)

October 14, 2011

Various Thoughts on Bigfoot

I am not a Bigfoot hunter. Invisible partridge are challenge enough. So I am about two years late to the party when it comes to the Lumpkin County, Georgia (northeast of Atlanta) alleged Bigfoot sighting, captured by a deputy sheriff's dashboard video camera (YouTube) and witnessed by the deputy and his civilian passenger.

This video has been supplemented by analysis of the creature's apparent speed, reference to the terrain — the embedded GPS reading helps — and so, making for eight interesting minutes. (The Discovery Channel could get a hour-length program out of that, repeating everything six or eight times.)

I read about it in a recent issue of the venerable Fate magazine, "Bigfoot in Georgia," by Daniel Perez. (Georgia has some active hunters of "the Big Guy.")

Hmm, what about Colorado?

Back in the late 1980s, as a newspaper reporter, I interviewed a man who said two "creatures" had walked past his house and left footprints in the snow, which he photographed and showed me. The large tracks just ended abruptly in the fresh powder. Odd.

Having blogged once on the mystery of "Monkey Creek," with some trepidation I now typed "Colorado Bigfoot" into YouTube's search box. Here are the results.

The "Yellow Top Bigfoot" seems to move like a hunched-over human, if you ask me. So does this one. Several others all look like the same gorilla suit. One video's makers frankly call it a "mockumentary."

Meanwhile, in Central Asia

Central Asia and Siberia have a long history of big, shaggy bipeds. In fact, the same May-June 2011 issue of Fate that carried Daniel Perez's article mentioned above also reprinted one from its May 1961 issue, "Russia Seeks the Snowman," about a Dr. Alexander G. Pronin of the "Geographic Scientific Institute of Leningrad University" (no Google hits on that name, but there could be translation issues) seeing a "snowman" while on an International Geophysical Year expedition in the Pamir Mountains.

The hypothesis of a surviving population of Neanderthals, which has been explored in fiction, is brought out again:
Igor Burtsev, head of the International Center of Hominology in Moscow -- which investigates so-called snowmen -- told The Voice of Russia radio that "when Homo sapiens started populating the world, it viciously exterminated its closest relative in the hominid family, Homo neanderthalensis."

"Some of the Neanderthals, however, may have survived to this day in some mountainous wooded habitats that are more or less off limits to their arch foes. No clothing on them, no tools in hands and no fire in the household. Only round-the-clock watchfulness for a Homo sapiens around."
Hitting the Wall
One thing I notice with Bigfoot investigations (as with UFO investigations—and some say they are related) is that people get evidence and think that they are on the verge of the big discovery — and then it all stops. Nothing seems to be repeatable in a scientific way.

I have to say that sometimes I think that Bigfoot exists—but not in our world. Rather he/she/they are in a world that sometimes intersects with ours. Yep, like fairies, etc.

The late Grover Krantz, a physical anthropologist at Washington State University, published a book arguing for a physical Bigfoot that inhabited an ecological niche sort of like a nocturnal black bear—at least in the Pacific Northwest. Rather than Neanderthal, he suggested a surviving Gigantopithecus as a possibility.

But unless it had learned to hibernate, I do not see how such a creature could live in the Pamirs—or the Rockies. Black bears do not forage for food in the winter, and neither could an ape-man.

October 13, 2011

Cars Eat More Corn than do Animals

Corn production for ethanol has surpassed production for livestock feed and other food and non-food uses.

All along Interstate 90 in eastern North Dakota, the billboards tell you that burning ethanol is the patriotic thing to do. Maybe Tharaldson Ethanol, just down the road, paid for them.

Wildlife Viewing Workshop, Southern Colorado

From the news release...

8 a.m.–noon, Saturday, October 22nd., in the Brush Hollow Reservoir and Arkansas River areas, near Florence and Penrose, Colorado.

Learn about binoculars and spotting scopes to enhance wildlife-viewing skills. Bring binoculars and field guides if you have them.  Families welcome.

Meet for breakfast (on your own) at 8 a.m. at Coyote's Coffee Den, Colorado 115 at 6th Street, Penrose.

Please RSVP to Jena Sanchez, Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, jena.sanchez@state.co.us or (719) 227-5204.

"We have all these dead trees, but nobody's buying"

Forest Service tackles beetle-killed spruce in the San Juans, trying to at least clear dead trees that might fall on campers.

But as I mentioned earlier, the little sawmills that once might have cut them are mostly all gone.

October 12, 2011

Heat, Ducks, and Dogs

Cookie, a hard-working German wirehaired pointer.
Before I left for North Dakota on October 1st, Galen told me to expect cooler weather than on our previous years' September grouse hunts. Luckily I checked the forecast too, which predicted warmer weather.

Oh yeah. Like stiff breezes from the south and temperatures into the 80s F. Most un-North Dakota, but good for drying out the corn, beans, and sunflowers for harvest, I suppose. Somehow I ended up with both sets of waterfowling gear—the heavy neoprene waders and the light unlined hip boots, the insulated parka and the lightweight jacket, etc. Plus long underwear, wool pants . . . I am notorious for over-packing, but this was ridiculous.

Ducks were not yet migrating, so we ended up jump-shooting some of the abundant sloughs. Finally the last evening we did a "proper" decoy set and killed our last three ducks (one mallard, two teal) in the final seconds of legal shooting light.

Grouse should be eating the white buffalo berries.
Cry Damnit and Release the Dogs of Corn

As for the sharp-tailed grouse, this past severe winter and wet spring and summer might have hurt reproduction. I had one shot at one and missed it. The funny thing was that the grouse we were seeing were flying above and into standing corn, not in the prairie grass where we had found them before.

You are not supposed to hunt standing crops without the owner's permission, so we did not. Certain dogs might have been encouraged to run down the rows, however.

But the dogs did not want to go more than about three rows in. Perhaps they find the cornfields to be disorienting and spooky.
Invisible Species of North Dakota

This was my fourth North Dakota bird hunt, and I coming to believe that the presence of Hungarian partridge is advertised in order to sell licenses to gullible out-of-staters, but that they do not actually exist.

Likewise, I have seen ungulate-type droppings and large rounded hoof prints and am informed with seeming sincerity that they are made by moose.

No doubt the shelter belts and abandoned farmsteads are swarming with them, but I always happen to be looking in another direction. Perhaps they are snoozing moosily in the sunflower fields.

But I will be happy with my duck dinners.

October 11, 2011

It's All About the Dogs

Cookie, rear, and Fisher, front, in Galen's well-dogged GMC Suburban.
One dog hogs the camera, the food, and the digital ink. One dog can find a wounded duck in the thickest of cattails. One dog would rather run madly on the prairie. I will let you guess which dog is which.

October 06, 2011

Where Was I?

I have been on the road the past week, so I thought that I would throw in my first-ever puzzler. Be the first commenter to tell me in what region this photo was taken, and I will send you some little outdoor trinket or other. Precision counts. Don't just say, "Montana," for example. (Family members and people whom I visited on this trip are not eligible.)

The Answer (Oct. 14):  The photo was taken along the Niobrara River's "national scenic river" corridor east of Valentine, Nebraska. I know that I have one reader in Nebraska who should have gotten it. Oh well.

October 05, 2011

Convicts of the Corn

Sex offender being transported leaps from a prison van, allegedly upset with the poor quality of his vegetarian meals. (You can't make this up.)

He runs into a cornfield — bad move.

It's harvest time here in North Dakota. Mostly they are cutting soy and pinto beans. But when it's convict-hunting time, you change to your corn "head" and go.
The massive manhunt took a turn around noon today as the combines started to roll in to the Smith farmstead. Law enforcement officers hopped on board, fully armed and took off on a tear to find Megna.

"We decided that at the last minute, that if the corn was ready to take off, that this was the thing to do. We went after it and we did it."
 Watch the video at the 1:10 point.

Better than bloodhounds.