June 29, 2012

This Is What a Wildland-Urban Interface Fire Looks Like

Watch this in full-screen mode. It is a time-lapse video of the Waldo Canyon Fire from its discovery on Saturday, June 23 through its run toward Rampart Reservoir on June 25, its big blow-up in the afternoon and evening of Tuesday, June 26, and on through Thursday, June 28.

Thanks to reader Darrell for the link.

Readers from Southern California will please refrain from invidious comparisons. Colorado Springs, unlike, say, San Diego, is not used to this sort of thing.

June 26, 2012

Noonday Heat

T-shirt and jeans? Is this the 1950s? No, he's a volunteer who was working nearby, heard the call on his radio, which is on his belt, and came straight away.
Foaming the smoldering stump, which is on the other side of that cottonwood tree.

It's so hot, and I woke up too early this morning, so I thought that I would grab a quick nap, only for the telephone to ring: "Fire at Mile Marker 22."

Up on the national forest, an illegal campfire, although extinguished, had still managed to set a stump and a cluster of saplings on fire.

A man passing by (as I understand) saw smoke, drove up the little dirt road, and attacked with a stick (!). Then three of our volunteers who live nearby got the alert and arrived with a fire extinguisher, hand tools, and buckets. A neighbor and I were the next wave, coming from about three miles away.

And then two brush trucks, ours and another department's—and a Forest Service brush truck somewhat after the fact, but they had to come 25 miles. And our sheriff and two deputies. Lots of response, but it shows how nervous we are.

An hour later I was home drinking a cold beer in front of the electric fan, thankful that I don't have to be working outdoors all day in this heat, which is about 98° F / 38° C. Extreme heat and I are not close friends.  

June 24, 2012

Distracted by the Waldo Fire

Webcam shot from downtown Manitou with smoke from the Waldo Fire.
Of all the fires burning in Colorado today, the out-of-control Waldo Fire west of Manitou Springs, Colo., has the most of M.'s and my attention.

Manitou Springs is where we met and where we lived for our first years together — a total of fourteen years for her, eight for me. It is a still a sort of home town for us — a Charles Rocky painting of the town hangs on the wall of the room where I am writing this.

The idea that the town is completely evacuated (not to mention Cascade, Chipeta Park, Green Mountain Falls, and the rest) is completely astounding. Nothing like this ever before, despite its location in a forested canyon.

Add to that the fact that well could be an arson fire, perhaps set by the same serial arsonist who has been setting fires in Teller County, immediately to the west.

What's Wrong with Young People Today?

. . . asks writer and bowhunter Dave Petersen of Durango in this magazine ad for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

Keep going, Dave.

June 23, 2012

The Old Mose Memorial Tour

Black Mountain. Old Mose was killed just over the horizon and outside the frame to the left.
The Jeep rocked and pitched as we rolled slowly down a two-track dirt road coming off Black Mountain.

I wondered if Wharton Pigg's ranch wagon lurched down this same drainage — or one parallel to it — laden with a thousand pounds of dead grizzly bear, headed for his ranch, the Stirrup, still the largest in Fremont County.

With it went several ranch hands and James Anthony of Cañon City, who had shot the bear they called Old Mose, and the dogs who tracked him on Anthony and Pigg's final hunt: Ray, Dummit, Penny, Ginger, Ring, Prince, Jet, Gale, Zepher, Dowey, and Bluff, no doubt with tails high, knowing that they were Important and Successful Dogs.

It was the afternoon of April 30, 1904.

Old Mose, the Denver Post reported a few days later, was the "King of the Grizzlies." He was 45 years old, had killed three men (or four, or five) and countless livestock. The Cañon City Clipper called him "the largest and oldest bear criminal of Fremont County." He was the "terror of stockmen."  He ranged clear to the San Juan Mountains, over eleven Colorado counties, said the Post.  Moving more slowly, as befits a magazine, Outdoor Life, then published in Colorado, hyped Old Mose's reputation more later that year.

None of it was true. Except that he was a grizzly bear, and he might have killed two Hereford bulls — but no people.

According to later lab analysis of his teeth, he was 10 or 12 years old, but he was blamed for deaths occurring as far back as 1883.
The Stirrup Ranch today, with a newer, grander residence.
His range covered only parts of two counties, Park and Fremont, and with his death the population of grizzlies in Colorado, perhaps 800 in 1880, continued to plunge until it flickered out (as far as is officially known) in 1979.

When I lived Cañon City, I read and heard about Old Mose, the terrible mankiller. Periodically the Canon City Daily Record trotted out the story, and it was in the little local-history books as well.

But one writer had gone back to the original sources, walked the ground, and even arranged for the Arizona Fish and Game Department to analyze a tooth taken from Old Mose's head, now at the University of California, Berkeley.

Stirrup Ranch cattle. Waugh Mountain in background.
That was James E. Perkins, author of Old Mose: The King of the Grizzlies (2002). It contains a couple of errors (black bears do not have retractable claws), but it still ranks far above many works of local history that I have seen, because Perkins' narrative is supported by actual research instead of merely copying.

He makes a convincing case that the lives of at least three bears were conflated to produce the legend of Old Mose — and his argument is worth reading.

It is from him, to give one small example, that I got the names of the dogs. As Abbey Quillen said in her review for Colorado Central, it is "easy to read in one sitting, but you’ll probably find yourself flipping back through it again and again."

I have indeed been flipping through it again and again, for last week M. and I decided to tour Old Mose's home ground, at least by Jeep. Call it a mini-staff ride.

He deserves a shrine. Instead, I left a geocache on the nearest county road. So far, no one has looked for it.

June 22, 2012

Foxy Blog Stew

Red fox checks to see if the dogs are behind the fence.
• Red foxes are native to North America, yet some were introduced from European stock to the Atlantic seaboard. What do genetics say about the result?

• Please press "1" if you can no longer keep your dog.

• Fiighting fire in the 21st century—an operations chief explains strategy on the Little Bear Fire in SE New Mexico (9 min. video). Everything and everyone is a "resource," of course, and "IA" (initial attack) is used as verb. Still a good look at current Forest Service thinking.

More New Mexico Barbies

Socorro Barbie: Now an occasional tour guide to the Trinity Site, she comes with a roadhouse music CD and a waitress uniform. Favorite pastime is to park out by the Very Large Array, drink, and get nostalgic or regretful depending on circumstances.  Optional Ford Ranger pickup and Barbie Dream Quonset available.

Los Alamos Barbie: This Barbie is a homemaker who makes Martha Stewart look lazy.  Head of the PTA and the carpool driver to all after school events. Comes with a maxed-out Hobby Lobby credit card, a Dodge Caravan, and your choice of either Workaholic Ken or Pussywhipped Ken. Used to be classified, but was mistakenly leaked a few years ago.

Española Barbie: This recently paroled Barbie comes with a 9mm handgun, bowie knife, ‘78 El Camino with tinted windows, and a DIY meth-lab kit. El Camino may be traded at any time for a Chevy lowrider. This model is only available after dark and can only be bought with cash, preferably small bills.  Unless you are a cop. Then we don't know what you are talking about.  Hairspray and fake fingernails sold separately.

Read the rest.

Earlier models here.

June 21, 2012

Kenyans Don't Always Want Your Old Clothes

I believe in recycling. But we kid ourselves sometimes about how effective it is.

Take those bins for recycling plastic bags that are in supermarkets nowadays. Are they really about saving plastic stock, or are they chiefly a defense against anti-plastic bag laws.

"Look, we care! We're recycling!"

Supposedly they go into plastic decking. or into more plastic bags, but if the market dropped—especially in China, which is entering its own recession—they would probably going to landfill while we keep stuffing more of them into the collection boxes.

Then there's clothes. We drop them at Goodwill or Salvation Army or ARC, knowing that people with little money to spend—or college students looking for something ironically retro—will buy them.

Or not. The fact is, there are more used garments than buyers. So they go to a different kind of recycler.
There are thousands of secondhand textile processors in the United States today, mostly small family businesses, many of them several generations old. I visited Trans- Americas Trading Co., a third- generation textile recycler in Clifton, N.J., which employs 85 people and processes close to 17 million pounds of used clothing a year. Inside Trans-Americas, there is a wall of cubed-up clothing five bales tall and more than 20 bales long. “This is liter­ally several hundred thousand pounds of textile waste, and we bring in two trailer loads of this much every day,” Trans-Americas president Eric Stubin told me. The volume they process has gone up over the years alongside our consumption of clothing.
Without textile recyclers, charities would be totally beleaguered and forced to throw away everything that couldn’t be sold. Charities might even have to turn us away. The only benefit to this doomsday scenario is that our clothes would pile up in our house or in landfills, finally forcing us to face down just how much clothing waste we cre­ate. . . . . After the prized vintage is plucked out and the outcasts are sent to the fiber and wiping rag companies, the remaining clothing is sorted, shrink-wrapped, tied up, baled, and sold to used-clothing ven­dors around the world. The secondhand clothing industry has been export-oriented almost since the introduction of mass-produced gar­ments. And by one estimate, used clothing is now the United States’ number one export by volume, with the overwhelming majority sent to ports in sub-Saharan Africa. 
But even poor Africans do not want or cannot use it all. Now when every little kid in the smallest village in the bush has a Chicago Bulls shirt, what happens to the rest?

Read the rest.

June 19, 2012

Wildlife Taxi: Two Typical Fares

Diana Miller examines a kestrel as a visitor looks into the Raptor Center's ICU.
I put about 250 miles on the wildlife taxi (volunteer wildlife transporters) yesterday and today.

First was a call to pick up a fawn — M. and I were the third leg of the relay that brought it three hundred miles from Durango. These are all volunteer wildlife transporters — no Colorado Parks and Wildlife official vehicles.

The Fawn

Fawn getting a bottle.
The backstory as it was given to me: Some rafters (on the Animas River?) found a fawn struggling in the mud by the water. When they tried to help it, they discovered that it had a broken leg.

The leg was wrapped in an elastic bandage, but the fawn herself (as we later learned) was alert. In fact, she made soft "mewp" noises during much of the remaining forty miles. Someone had given her some colostrum supplement and milk replacement — and sent the remainder along with her. But she was less than a week old, still showing her dried umbilical cord, and she was hungry.

At the rehabilitation center (a private home) she got more milk and water and was left to to rest in a quiet, carpeted shed.

We got the news this afternoon that she had gone to the vet — and it was not a broken leg at all, but a knee dislocation. The bone was re-set, and the leg was placed in a temporary cast to keep it in place. So her prospects are pretty good.

The Hawk

This morning's call came from the Raptor Center — could we go to a different southern Colorado town and pick up a red-tailed hawk that had "fallen from the nest."

OK, we could. (Insert long drive.)

The hawk was at a warehouse / operations center belonging to San Isabel Electric Association. But it was no red-tail, it was an American kestrel. That is sort of like confusing a pickup truck with a Smart Car.

The SIEA manager had it in a cardboard box, which was good. Its nest mate was flying in the same roofed-over, open-sided storage area, landing on coils of wire and old transformers leaking PCBs into pans of kitty litter. A sign on the wall said that that was the storage area for PCB-problem equipment.

The sibling seemed stronger, although not yet fully confident about this whole flying business. Nearby on a wire one of the parents (I assume) was giving the kestrel "killy killy killy" call.

So kidnapping one offspring was enough, it seemed to us. I told the manager not to worry about the other bird, that it would probably be all right.

Back at the Raptor Center, director Diana Milller lifted the kestrel from the box in front of a group of kids who were on an educational visit. "American kestrel!" shouted one. Give that girl a prize.

Diana said the bird had grease or oil on one wing and set about washing it. Other than that, it looked all right, and I hope that with a little food, rest, and some time in a flight cage, it will be ready to be released.

There's More
As I was typing this, the telephone rang. It was the local rehabber. "Our" fawn already has a roommate, as two more came in today. And another might have to be shuttled down from Lakewood. Could we be available tomorrow?

UPDATE, JUNE 20: We picked up the fawn. The relay system worked, so we had to go only twenty miles for it. It was healthy—apparently seized from some ignorant person who had found an "abandoned" baby.

A Real Camera-Trapping Trophy

Forget what I said about ringtails and mountain lions. Now this was a trophy.

June 17, 2012

Journalists Discover How Few Air Tankers There Are

Today's Denver Post might have been mistaken for "Wildfire News," with the High Park Fire west of Fort Collins having reached the status of Colorado's third-largest ever.

And the mainstream media have discovered the gradual shrinking of the nation's firefighting air tanker fleet, which Bill Gabbert at Wildfire Today has been blogging about obsessively. 

At least the Post quoted him.

Another irony is that Air National Guard C-130s with retardant-dropping capabilities sit on the runways unused, thanks to rules that restrict their use in favor of private contractors.
Still, the eight Air National Guard C-130 cargo planes fitted to drop slurry sit in Wyoming, Colorado, California and North Carolina. The Forest Service says it may request the eight planes only when all private tanker planes already are fighting fires or are unavailable for use. The C-130 crews insist they're ready to roll on 48 hours' notice.
So we have to wait until all the private planes are in use and there is a complete firefighting crisis before the Air Guard can be called up. Ah, bureaucracy.

As Gabbert  has written repeatedly, there are fewer private tankers available than there were in 2000, and some are nearly sixty years old. The Forest Service has produced lots of studies about the problem, however.

A Camera-Trapping Trophy, But Blurry

 Continuing the narrative that started here and was continued here.

Some other animals came to the spring in late May, before it dried up.There was this red fox and two kits —the one at left is drinking.
Red fox family in the early dawn.
A wild turkey passed by the camera.
Wild turkey hen
Even a domestic dog —I suspect that it came up by an easier route than we do, from a small horse ranch about half a mile away. To reach the bowl from that ranch is easier than the route we must follow.

Once when I was hunting up there a few years ago, I saw a black-and-white farm collie trotting purposefully down in the direction of that ranch.

This dog missed meeting up with the rattlesnake.
And then there was this one, early in the morning on May 20th. If only it had slowed down a little for a sharper image!

I have always figured that to catch a mountain lion with the scout camera was a sort of Holy Grail. Now I will have to adjust my goal to a good image of a mountain lion — or else Holy Grail #2, which is a ringtail.

June 16, 2012

Another Camera-Shy Bear

At 5:20 p.m. on May 23rd, when the east-facing site would have been in partial shadow (hence the less-than-perfect photo), this bear walked past the camera.

It was, incidentally, walking right on the spot where the rattlesnake — whom I know think of as the guardian of the spring — waits in the mid-day hours.

Nine minutes later, it tripped the camera again. Two minutes later, the camera recorded one image — solid black. Given the "digital delay," at that moment it was probably lying on the ground.

Is this the same bear that wrecked my camera in 2010? I don't think so. That bear was a sow with a cub. This bear seems smaller, somehow, and appears to be alone. Maybe it is Camera-Destroying Bear's cub grown up — and with Mama's attitude toward cameras.

More tomorrow from this site.

June 15, 2012

First, Let's Get the Spooky Stuff Out of the Way

Camera Trap Spring (my name for it) is a tiny seasonal spring on some BLM land up and over a ridge behind our house — about a 40-minute scramble.

Teddy, why are you here?
It produces good scout-camera photos, but there is something spooky about the little bowl where it sits. Whether hunting, hiking, or whatever, I always feel a little on edge when walking up there.

Over the years, meanwhile, it has built up a wealth of associations. M. and I were walking back from there in 2011 when a forest fire blew up across the valley, forcing us to evacuate our home.

Today, the air smelled faintly smoky, probably from the Little Sand Fire.

In 2010, it was the scene of the "CSI: Camera Trap Spring" episode.

I put a camera up there earlier this spring, got a few images, then got busy in May and never switched out the data card or replaced the rechargeable C-cells, which are only good for two weeks at the most.

So we went back today. After the rattlesnake incident in May, we left Fisher the Chessie at home.

On the way up the ridge, M. spotted a foot. It looked like a house cat's front leg, actually. Whoever eats kitties — a fox? — often leaves the feet.

Then coming down into the bowl, I saw what looked like a brown furry pelt on the ground. I poked it with my walking stick, flipped it over — and it was a teddy bear.

Half a mile from the nearest house, thick brush and woods — how did it get there? Matted plush showed that it had been carried in slobbering jaws by the head and the back.

We started joking about Nearsighted Fox, who brought a plush toy home to her kits.

Approaching the spring, I tapped forcefully on the ground with my stick. Snake, watch out!

DIdn't see it.

The camera, meanwhile, was face-down on the ground. Someone ursine had smacked it hard enough to break the plastic brackets on the back, causing it to fall from its strap, which was still attached to a pine tree.

But I had brought another camera, which (a) I am not sentimentally attached to and (b) which uses eight alkaline D-cells, meaning that it will run for months and months.

There lay the camera on the ground.
Also I had brought a trowel to clear out the spring — but it had shrunk down to just a damp patch of soil under its overhanging rock. I decided to reach in and enlarge the tiny basin anyway.

About that time I heard a rustling in the dried oak leaves. I'm sure I said something eloquent like, "Shit, the snake!"

M. says I made a good jump backwards.

It was only four feet away — but it was on the move, not preparing to strike.

I must have looked right at it. Rattlesnake — the original digital camouflage. Why doesn't someone market that?

We finished the camera set up and came back. Teddy went into M's pack and has now been washed.

And there were lots of photos on the knocked-down camera, one of which made my day.

More to come.

June 14, 2012

Spanish Cave Paintings the Oldest Yet

New tests on prehistoric Spanish cave paintings are pushing them back into Neanderthal territory.
Testing the coating of paintings in 11 Spanish caves, researchers found that one is at least 40,800 years old, which is at least 15,000 years older than previously thought. That makes them older than the more famous French cave paintings by thousands of years.
That is thousands of years older than the paintings at Chauvet Cave, for example. Some researchers are starting to speculate that Neanderthal people, who are not thought as having "art," may have made them.

Too Much! Too Much! Not Enough!

I am always telling people that the stream of social media is like drinking from a firehose, which is why I try to keep my Facebook feed to a minimum, don't tweet, don't read tweets, and don't do much else. I'm a jumpy person by nature as it is.

As Diane Ackerman wrote in the New York TImes recently, "The new technology, for all its boons, also bedevils us with alluring distractors, cyberbullies, thought-nabbers, calm-frayers, and a spiky wad of miscellaneous news. Some days it feels like we’re drowning in a twittering bog of information."

On the other hand, she continues, "One solution is to spend a few minutes every day just paying close attention to some facet of nature. A bonus is that the process will be refreshing.

"When a sense of presence steals up the bones, one enters a mental state where needling worries soften, careers slow their cantering, and the imaginary line between us and the rest of nature dissolves. Then for whole moments one may see nothing but the flaky trunk of a paper-birch tree with its papyrus-like bark.

"Or, indoors, watch how a vase full of tulips, whose genes have traveled eons and silk roads, arch their spumoni-colored ruffles and nod gently by an open window."

Yes, like that. Get your attention span back.

I have,  however, been letting the scout cameras develop their attention spans, and some interesting things have turned up, which I will blog soon. In little chunks.

The Paradox of Outdoor Guiding

"By the time someone can afford this, they're almost too old to do it," says Colorado fishing writer John Gierach, somewhere on an Atlantic-salmon stream, putting his bachelor's degree in philosophy to work. (John paid his dues, no question about it.) H/t Patrick Burns.

June 13, 2012

Small Flies, Small Fish, Red Columbines

South Fooses Creek — tangles and pocket water
When I think of South Fooses Creek, a small stream in western Chaffee County, I think of three things. Two of them are pleasant.

Red columbine
One is that in summer I always find red columbines growing in its canyon. I have the hardest time with these at home — granted, home is a little low in altitude, a little dry, and a little alkaline of soil for optimum columbine cultivation, so I have to baby columbines along.

For some reason, the yellow varieties that I have seem more robust than either red ones or the official-state-flower blue-and-whites.

There are other flowers too: I think this one (right) is bitter cress, Cardamine cordifolia, in the mustard family. At least it looks like the picture in the field guide, and the habitat is right: "Grows in wet areas, such as stream banks, meadows, and forest depressions."
Bitter cress

And there are fish, mostly little brook trout, the kind that are mature and reproducing when they are six inches long. Once you venture off the Colorado Trail, which has been cleared of winter's blowdowns, the forest is full of fallen logs, and about every third fishable pool has a dead tree lying across it ready to grab your line with a hundred gnarly hands.

The rest of the pools you sneak up to — "Indian up on them," as Dad used to say — and drop a dry fly in for a short float that might produce a strike from an undersize brookie.

I keep a couple of the "trophies," but I don't photograph them.

When I return to the Jeep, I am standing by where we pitched the tent on Dad's last camping trip.

I had come down the same trail with some fish in my pack, only to find a clothesline rigged above our campfire with some underwear and socks drying on it.

He told me that he had gone down to the creek to fill a water bucket, but even though he had a walking staff, the boggy ground had thrown him off balance, and he ended up sitting in the shallow water. Hence the change of clothes. He seemed a bit annoyed.

And when he dropped me off at home, he opened the tailgate and started unloading stuff — the tent, the Coleman lantern, and so on. "It's yours," he said, "I'm through with camping."

After all those years. But If he couldn't trust himself to walk down to the creek without a fall, it was time to quit.

Sometimes I stand in the basement looking at the shelves of camping gear and I wonder, what should I get rid of?

June 12, 2012

The Winners: Penstemon and Flax

Bed of penstemon and flax
Next to our driveway, behind a stone retaining wall, is a demanding place to grow flowers. The soil is thin, and the site, which faces WSW, bakes in the afternoon sun.

Various plants, even succulents, have failed on that site. Two survive, however.

One is a purplish-blue penstemon, I forget which variety, which has established itself and even survived last summer's drought, although it was happier this spring.

Gardening sites talk about stratifying the seeds, but I just let it seed itself in the fall, which seems to work best for wildflowers.

The other is a blue flax, and I forget where I got it. Plants of the Southwest?

Here is how it looks on a grand scale. We've encouraged it to spread by tossing seed around.

Yes, they still need watering, but their ability to take the heat, wind, and dryness is impressive.

If I had room for a big flower bed, I would just grow every variety of penstemon that I could lay my hands on.

June 11, 2012

Gray Fox in Daylight

Click to embiggen.
I get a lot of nocturnal pictures of gray foxes on the scout cameras, but this was a rarer shot—a fox moving through the woods in mid-morning on May 31st.

June 10, 2012

If the Sky Seems Hazy . . .

. . . bookmark this page, so that you can see where the smoke is coming from. It shows fires in Canada and northern Mexico as well.

For a close-up on Colorado and New Mexico, bookmark this page.

June 07, 2012

The Hayman Fire, a Decade Later — and a Gender Issue

It has been ten years since the deliberately set Hayman Fire burnt the heart of the Pike National Forest and gave a good scare to such communities as Woodland Park, Deckers, the Air Force Academy, and the southwestern Denver suburbs.

I blogged a drive through the burn in 2008. This year, the newspapers are doing retrospectives: "Hayman, Then and Now" in the Colorado Springs Independent, for example.

The Denver Post has a package of stories. Today's focuses on how today's firefighting focuses more on property protection in the "wiildland-urban interface" and less on aggressive fire attack.

Another headline, "Questions Linger about Fire's Start," is simply pussy-footing around the truth.

Everyone in the wildland fire service with any knowledge of the investigation agrees, as far as I can tell: Terry Lynn Barton started it deliberately. The story about burning her ex-husband's letter at a campsite and the fire then getting out of hand was simply fiction.

"[Her ex-husband] denied that he gave her a letter," [Forest Service investigator Luke] Konantz testified in 2008. "And he said he was sleeping on the porch when she would have left for work and didn't see her."

But if she started a little fire in order to be a heroine by putting it out, that is atypical too. 

It is not unknown in the fire service for someone — often one of the newer firefighters— to think like this: "We've trained and trained, but we haven't had an actual fire. If I started one in this vacant building, it would be a great experience, and no one would get hurt. (And it would be tremendously exciting.)" 

Then there was the rural tradition back when the Forest Service hired people off the street of starting a little forest fire in order to provide some temporary employment. Not so much any more.

Frankly, you don't often hear of a woman doing that. It's more of a "guy thing." But maybe not always?

June 05, 2012

Mysterious Radiation in 775

It's already in Wikipedia: Something happened in or about 775 CE — a burst of radiation that affected Carbon-14 levels.
The only known events that can produce a 14C spike are floods of γ-rays from supernova explosions or proton storms from giant solar flares. But neither seems likely . . . because each should have been large enough to have had other effects that would have been observed at the time.

A massive supernova, for example, should have been bright enough to produce a 'new' star visible even in the daytime, as was the case for two known supernovae in ad 1006 and ad 1054. Such an explosion would have needed to be brighter than either of these . . .  because those events were not large enough to leave traces in the 14C record.
Read the rest.

Passing of Ed Quillen, Newspaperman & Expert on Victorian Undergarments

It was a small item on the Denver Post website, and it did not even register at first except semi-subliminally: "Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen dies at age 61 in his Salida home."

Well, crap. At least he went out without any hospital torment: a sudden heart attack as he sat in his easy chair.

A journalist since high school, later a columnist, and the founder of the still-published regional magazine Colorado Central, as a columnist, Ed was often the Post's only non-button-down, non-Denver-metroplex voice — a voice for the rest of us.
Quillen, who hated attending events where he couldn't appear in jeans and a sweat shirt, jabbed the moneyed set as "Brie and Chablis elitists." Homes thrown up in sprawling developments he called "plywood hutches." A certain class of politician he referred to as "rich, white guys."
He knew about water law, mining, agriculture, and Colorado railroads —the fundamentals— in a way that most reporters did not. 

As editor of Colorado Central, he used to come talk to my magazine-writing class about the business and freelance writing in general. And he published a few quirky articles that I felt like writing.

He told us that one trick to column-writing was to take a commonly accepted idea and extend it to the point of absurdity, or take an absurd idea and treat it matter-of-factly.
He published a collection of his columns in 1998 and co-wrote or ghost-wrote a number of books on such diverse topics as cocaine [The White Stuff, co-authored with reporter B.J. Plaskett—CSC] and mainframe computer programming. (Quillen may have come across as a country boy with his shaggy beard and rusty pickups, but he had been building his own computers for years.) 
As the Post article mentions, he and his wife, Martha, also wrote a string of "adult Westerns," which Ed defined by saying, "When Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty go upstairs, the book doesn't stop there," and he used to toss out obscure terms like "balbriggans." At least in his imagination, he knew all about 19th-century undressing.

There aren't enough like him, and now there is one less.

June 03, 2012

Clearing Trails in the Sangres

I mentioned concern in the Wet Mountain Valley that blocked trails in the Sangre de Cristo Range from last winter's windstorm would discourage visitors.

The Forest Service has been working clearing trails, but the job is not yet finished.

M. and I took a walk on the Rainbow Trail in late May between Venable and Hermit creeks.

We could hear chainsaws running further up the slopes, and the Comanche Creek trail was closed completely, as was Alvarado Campground.

On the Rainbow, some blockages had been removed, but there were still a number that looked like this.

At one creek crossing, falling trees had smashed the handrail of the footbridge.

June 01, 2012

A Guide to Field Guides for Birders

Laura Jacobs surveys the current best North American bird guides for The Wall Street Journal.

I'm sticking with Sibley's for now, but her mention of Richard Crossley's new one for Eastern birds brought back memories of his visit to our house.

He was not too sociable — it was a little like he was the sahib and we were the "natives." I don't know whether to put that down to his being English or to his being a professional photographer and consequently very focused. (Sorry, couldn't resist).  I've known a few like that.