October 31, 2012

A Hallowe'en Screed

I am tired of blogging about the fire, and I need to clean my desk — the whole room, in fact.

So visit The Mallard of Discontent and read Chad Love's updated "Hallowe'en screed" with Ray Bradbury references.

Steve Bodio offers additional commentary.

October 30, 2012

Under the Volcano (4): This Time as Farce

The red dot at left is our brush truck. Click to embiggen.
Things have been pretty quiet on the Wetmore fire, although the Forest Service is still patrolling at a reduced level. I thought it was safe to put on my city clothes, go to the city (Colorado Springs), and do city things (drink cappuccino, visit the computer store).

Oh, no, not so fast.

As I am nearing home, the cell phone starts ringing. Another fire call. Closer to home, I think I spot our brush truck heading away through the center of the burned area, leaving a cloud of dust on the dry gravel road.

Once changed into firefighting clothes, I call on the radio, get directions, and before long am creeping in the Jeep over steep, rocky, two-track roads into the burn. I've never been here before, but the radio helps. "Yeah, turn by that old water truck. You'll see where we cut the fence."

I find the two firefighters who were ahead of me standing on a knoll, looking out over the burn. There had been some smoke, they say, but a Forest Service crew was in the area. Maybe those other firefighters were just burning a "bone pile" of charred wood, or they had otherwise stirred up smoke in their mop-up operations.

Meanwhile, we see a smoking stump a couple of hundred yards away—at the spot from which I took this photo—so we hike over and put it out. That way we feel that we have done something to justify the drive into the burn.

It will never be easier to hike through oak brush (Gambel oak) than it is today, because it will come back in the spring and be thicker than ever.

October 27, 2012

Under the Volcano (3): Random Fire Jottings

Residents arrive in a tour van to see ruins of their homes.
(Why I use the term "volcano.")

When M. and I went to Pueblo on a supply run, I had forgotten my cell phone, which is why I did not know about the fire until we started back and saw the big, horizontal smoke plume. At first I thought — hoped — it was a big grass fire out by Pueblo Reservoir. The first state patrolman who stopped us set me straight.

* * *
Stopped at the last of four roadblocks on Tuesday afternoon as we tried to get home, I talked with one of the local sheriff's deputies, who said something like, "Good luck with your house. I lost mine." And he clapped me on the shoulder and sent us through. Outwardly calm, doing his job.

* * *
Overheard at the one of the many folding tables in the firehouse: "Does anyone have, like, a team leader badge?"

* * *
From the latest update on InciWeb: "Incident Commander Jay Esperance expressed his gratitude for local firefighters and agencies saying, 'It's been an honor working with everyone.' "

It is nice to be recognized, no doubt as much for my folding-table hauling (facing the threat of arrest!) as for putting water on fire.

* * *
Listening to radio chatter, I decide that some sheriff's deputies take a positive pleasure in denying access to reporters, particularly TV reporters. (Someone from the local weekly, however, is escorted by the sheriff himself.)

TV people crack me up though: One reporter does a stand-up in front of a bare foundation. It is, however, the foundation of a roadside tavern that burned to the ground in 1948, if I have the date correct.

For print and television both, if you read the news release on InciWeb and then read or listen to the broadcast, you will see where almost every word comes from. One reporter at the Cañon City Daily Record seems to have no qualms about putting her byline on a news release without even making a telephone call or two to "put a new top on the story."

* * *
Some animals died in the fire. Some fended for themselves. On Thursday, when I was taping fliers to front doors, I came to one mobile home and found dry cat food scattered on the front steps. As I turned from the door, a tabby cat circled my feet, meeowing. "Sorry, kitty, the folks are not back yet — but they'll be here soon."

October 25, 2012

Under the Volcano (2): A 'Critical' Mission

Steam rises from a house foundation being hosed down.
I am just back from a "critical' mission, driving around putting fliers on residents' doors reminding them to check to see if firefighters had turned off their propane tanks, that food might have spoiled because the power was off, or that we might have cut their fences.

"Smoke may still be seen over the coming weeks and months," the flier warns. Yup.

Certainly I was tempted to some fences on Tuesday evening while chasing spot fires in a cottonwood grove located on an old dairy farm. It was like a World War One battlefield — barbed wire fences everywhere in the trees, while loose pieces of wire waited to wrap around your ankles.

Yesterday — Wednesday — the fire had moved into grassland and scatted piñon-juniper country. The forecast renewed southwest wind never arrived, and with lighter winds, the aerial tankers (both fixed-wing and rotary) were on the job. It was good to see them overhead, especially when I went home to get a change of clothes, toiletries, etc. for M. and myself.
All the apparatus bays were full of tables, chairs, and people planning.
Because part of the fire was on public land, the Forest Service and BLM presence was heavy. Rather than fire-fighting, I found myself moving more folding tables and chairs from the community center to the fire house so that the "overhead" could spread out their laptop computers, maps, charts, and ample catered food.

An eager-beaver state patrolman actually pulled over my partner and me — a suspicious civilian pickup truck, loaded with tables and chairs. Must be looters!

Aside from that, we did truck and pump maintenance and ate some of the abundant food that the logistics people had procured.

The sheriff has said that power lines hitting trees in the wind (gusting over 70 mph) caused the fire. I did hear some radio chatter Wednesday evening about a "large piece of evidence" being impounded, but I do not know what it was.

October 24, 2012

Under the Volcano (1)

Camera Trap Spring is going to look a lot different the next time that I visit.

I have "war gamed" this fire in my head a lot of times. Usually the scenario has me doing structure protection on a nearby county road, which is indeed what happened.

So I did not have time for more than a quick grab shot from the driveway of the house where I was stationed.

Always knew that that heavily timbered little valley, full of blown-down trees, would burn like a volcano when it finally did.

I doubt that the guardian of the spring would have survived a fire this hot.

October 21, 2012

The $1,000 Duck

Cookie the doughty Drahthaar and a duck. Otherwise known as a German wire-haired pointer.

I write ths in Valentine, Nebraska, on my way home from the hunting trip to North Dakota. As I blogger earlier, Galen and I were weathered out for the first two days.

On day two, reconnaissance continued, and the rain let up enough to sneak up on some sloughs. Result for me: one mallard.

The next day — Saturday, the nicest day of our four-day hunt — we went off to see Farmer Dennis. He packed us into his pickup truck and took us on a 30-minute tour of his land ("I often see pheasants here when I'm working this field"), other huntable nearby land, a federal duck-protection area, and for a bonus, his gun room and collection of military memorabilia.

Finally free of his friendliness, we drove to a promising section of prairie grassland across the road from a harvested corn field, unloaded the dogs and started walking. And walking. And nothing of game bird size flew up.

So we moved a couple of miles to "this field," pushing through its brushy edges and some shelter belts. No birds but a harrier, which startled me when it swooped low over my head. Fisher munched some fresh moose turds, while I wondered what he (and I) would do if a moose loomed up in the shelter belt.

We decided that maybe the pheasants were still "dug in" after the windy, rainy days. Or maybe we just needed one of those big Midwestern pheasant-hutning productions with drivers, flankers, and blockers.

But the conversation was good, the skies were immense, and I got my annual dose of prairie.

Maybe in the end it was only an $800 duck, but whatever it cost, it was worth it.

October 19, 2012

Telling the Deer to Cross the Interstate is Irresponsible

Want to hear a talk-radio host with nothing to say? I heard about this episode when I arrived in North Dakota Tuesday. Now it has gone viral: Donna the Deer Lady.

Another example of being disconnected from the larger world.

October 18, 2012

Weathered Out

I am somewhere on the left side of this green swirl, drinking coffee from the battered metal thermos with the Ducks Unlimited sticker on it, but I am drinking that coffee indoors.

I am not too happy about that — and neither is Fisher the dog, whose frustration is audible — but with strong wind and horizontal icy rain and whitecaps on the sloughs, it has gotten to the point of being weather even too nasty for duck hunters and their dogs.


October 17, 2012

Here's Your Winter Reading List

From High Country News, new books with connections to the West or Western authors.

I have just started one of them, Tom McIntyre's The Snow Leopard's Tale.
There are a few creatures left in the world who live still untamed, prowling through the rocks, blinking slowly at the encroaching civilization far below. On China’s Bountiful Black Mountain, a snow leopard hunts alone, artifact of a vanishing age. But hungry, desperate, when he is finally forced away from the cold stones of his mountain home toward the tents and fires of the valley, he encounters an impossible, startling world. And as we follow him on his journey, as the talented pen of Thomas McIntyre shows us how we appear through the leopard’s eyes, it’s a vision that will finally startle us as well.
But first, some duck reconnaissance here in North Dakota.

On the Road: Newcastle, Wyoming

Donna's Main Street Diner — the classic knotty pine-and-deer heads Western cafe.

What did I eat? Some kind of scrambled up eggs-potatoes-meat combination.

Coal trains rumbled past the motel all night, but whereas highway traffic bothers me, trains do not so much. When I was a college student, a friend and I rented a house in Portland, Oregon, of which we said, "The Southern Pacific runs through the kitchen."

The trains kept me awake for one night, but never again thereafter.

Nourished at Donna's, I set out for a day poking around in the Black Hills.

October 14, 2012

On The Road: Flashback

No octopi today.

Still in the afterglow of our trip to the Monterey Peninsula, M. and I re-watched the movie last night.

One of these days I really need to read both books. I enjoy Steinbeck's work, but I just have not paid him a visit in a long time.

October 13, 2012

Gordon Novel and the Sipapu of Weirdness

A little off-topic but too weird to pass up . . .

At his blog Of Arms and the Law, lawyer Dave Hardy mentions the passing of Gordon Novel, whom I had not heard of but who sounds like one of the American Illuminati — or something.
Two things he would vigorously deny: (1) he said he'd never worked for the CIA. Hung out with them a lot, but never was employed by them. (2) He had nothing to do with the JFK assassination. Jim Garrison had subpoenaed him, he fled, and Garrison tried to have him extradited, but, he said, that was just to decoy Garrison, not because he had any useful information. 
Oh, but there is more: secret CIA footage of the massacre of the Branch Davidians? J. Edgar Hoover sex tapes?  Playboy magazine? A shaky trial over a "conspiracy to firebomb part of New Orleans by balloons on behalf of a world's fair Novel was promoting"?

Many stories have a New Orleans connection. Truly, that city is the omphalos, the very sipapu of weirdness in America.

Hardy's judgment: "There's no way to sum the man up: his Wikipedia page is just a beginning. The strangest thing was that with him, the more impossibly outrageous a claim seemed to be, the more likely it was provably true."

October 08, 2012

Blog Stew with Salt, All the Salt You Want

• Talk about a long dry spell. "The last sex between Neanderthals and modern humans likely occurred as recently as 47,000 years ago."

• You are not a hypertensive rat. And salt is not necessarily bad for you.
“You can say without any shadow of a doubt,” as I was told then by Drummond Rennie, an editor for The Journal of the American Medical Association, that the authorities pushing the eat-less-salt message had “made a commitment to salt education that goes way beyond the scientific facts.”
• Dry spell of the literary variety? Just write to your pal Robert Heinlein, and he will give you lots of ideas and advice. Oh, wait a minute . . .

October 07, 2012

Ballistics, and Why Animals Are Tougher than We Are

Hunters like to talk about ballistics and "stopping power." So do archers, with their own variations. Likewise, shooters concerned about self-defense carry on at great lengths about the advantages of this cartridge over that.

After reading "An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power," I realize why animals, pound for pound, are tougher than humans.

Image: Buckeye Firearms Assn.
In the article, Ohio police trainer Greg Ellifritz analyzes ten years worth of shootings by police and civilians both.
I talked to the participants of gunfights, read police reports, attended autopsies, and scoured the newspapers, magazines, and Internet for any reliable accounts of what happened to the human body when it was shot.
He developed tables by cartridge size for hundreds of shootings both within and without the law.
I documented all of the data I could; tracking caliber, type of bullet (if known), where the bullet hit and whether or not the person was incapacitated. I also tracked fatalities, noting which bullets were more likely to kill and which were not. It was an exhaustive project, but I'm glad I did it and I'm happy to report the results of my study here.
The results are counter-intuitive. Bigger does not equal better. For instance, the "Average number of rounds until incapacitation" number for .22 caliber was 1.38, whereas for the poplar and larger 9mm Luger round it was 2.45, and for the even larger .44 Magnum it was 1.71.

Does that make the .22 a better "man-stopper" than the .44 Magnum? Not necessarily. See below.

People generally don't like to get shot. We are likely to dwell on the consequences. "Oh shit, I've been shot." Bleeding . . . chance of infection . . . need for medical help — we think about these things.
In a certain (fairly high) percentage of shootings, people stop their aggressive actions after being hit with one round regardless of caliber or shot placement. These people are likely NOT physically incapacitated by the bullet. They just don't want to be shot anymore and give up! Call it a psychological stop if you will. Any bullet or caliber combination will likely yield similar results in those cases. And fortunately for us, there are a lot of these "psychological stops" occurring.
While a lot of attention is paid to stopping the psyched-up, adrenalin-filled opponent, even many criminals are not in that state of being. I venture to say that many people killed in combat are not either.

Ellifritz adds,
If our attacker fights through the pain and continues to victimize us, we might want a round that causes the most damage possible. In essence, we are relying on a "physical stop" rather than a "psychological" one. In order to physically force someone to stop their violent actions we need to either hit him in the Central Nervous System (brain or upper spine) or cause enough bleeding that he becomes unconscious. The more powerful rounds look to be better at doing this.
That brings me back to animals. They are tougher because they are immune to "psychology," I reckon, not because they can go "berserk."  They just keep on keeping on until they no longer can.

So if you look at page 12 of the Colorado big-game hunting brochure, you find minimum caliber requirements,  for instance, a minimum of .24 cal. (6mm) for big game with a minimum of 1,000 foot-pounds of energy delivered at 100 yards. As a hunter,  you want a quick "physical stop."

If there were a minimum requirement for a self-defense gun . . . it would not make a bit of difference. The Internet forums would still be as contentious as they are today.

October 05, 2012

Big Comet Coming

It is supposed to be a bright one:

National Geographic reports C/2012 S1 is expected to pass at about 6.2 million miles/10 million kilometers (0.07 AU (10,000,000 km; 6,500,000 mi) from Mars on October 1, 2013. This will allow NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars opportunity to snap pictures.

Astronomers at the Remanzacco Observatory, Italy have assured that the comet is not on collision course with Earth. They say C/2012 S1 "will get to within 0.012AU of the Sun at the end of November 2013 and then to ~0.4AU (about 37 million miles) from Earth at the beginning of January 2014."

October 02, 2012

False Alarm Forest Fire

Imagine yellowish-white dust, lots of it, rising in a column above the forest
Today was sort of like a bad dream.

Maybe not a bad dream, but more like one of those "stuck in a loop, can't do anything" dreams.

(This is a bad dream.)

I was working on an editing job when the phone rings, and it's a friend whose home was threatened in July by another forest fire.

She was seeing smoke, a big column. Her neighbors were seeing smoke.

I called the sheriff's office, but the dispatcher had no reports and no reports of controlled burns either.

So I took a radio and binoculars and drove about three miles to where I could see the area in question. No smoke was visible. I called the dispatcher again, on the radio this time.

"FIre," he said. Nearby Town's department was en route, staging on County Road Such-and-such, and requesting assistance.

I asked him to activate the fire siren and dashed home, asked M. to call our friend back, put on my Nomex clothes, grabbed my fire pack, stuck the magnetic red light on the Jeep, and headed back to the fire house.

No one was there. 

Two issues were in play.

1. It's policy that no fire truck rolls out of the house without at least two firefighters on board. This is a good policy. Even the little brush truck requires one person to watch the pump and/or drive while one or more firefighters advance a hose line.

2. For those (like me) who cannot hear the siren up the canyon, we rely on a telephone-tree system to notify firefighters. I checked with couple of the lead callers. They said that X, Y, and Z were at work. L and M were not answering their phones. E and F were moving cattle and not in cell-phone range. D was putting up hay two counties away. G was at a meeting up in the county seat. And so on.

Meanwhile, Nearby Town's brush truck went tearing up the road past the fire house, followed by a Bureau of Land Management brush truck. They waved to me as I stood in the open bay. I felt sort of useless. Then came Nearby Town's bigger wildland engine, driven by the chief himself.

I waved him down (and briefly considered asking for a ride). They had abandoned the idea of staging on the first road and were now headed up this one. Off they went. I kept feeling useless.

I waited. Various communications and non-communications ensued. The dispatcher said that County Seat's fire department had been "toned out," i.e., notified of a fire, and did I want them to come or should they stand down?

Cautiously, I suggested that they stand down. If I was wrong, that could be bad. I'm not the chief or anything. And where was he? (Answer, probably off working thirty miles away.) Such are the joys of accidental leadership.

Then here came Nearby Town's two engines, down the road, lights and sirens going, turning onto the state highway — what was that all about? 

Finally two of our guys arrived. Better late than never, I started the brush truck and off we went. The dispatcher said that Nearby Town had a structure fire in progress, which explained the rapid departure of their apparatus.

We started up into what I previously called Something Creek Estates, one of my least-favorite areas in terms of wildland-interface fire potential.

Up and up we went, pausing at times to look at tire tracks in the dirt, trying to trace the traffic patterns.

There was some chatter on the federal radio frequency: something about "up on the ridge" and "tell Pueblo" and "false alarm."

Then we saw the green BLM engine coming down. We pulled alongside. Its crew of healthy young firefighters was beaming. One guy with chin whiskers looked right out of Two Years Before the Mast. What fine specimens of wildland firefighters!

Yes, the driver said, that had been them on the radio. It was a false alarm. A water well-drilling rig at a home site up on a ridge had kicked up a tall column of dust. Just look at the photo above and visualize lighter-colored dust — lots more of it.

Nearby residents who had experienced a lightning storm four nights before had imagined the worst.

Twenty minutes later I was back at the firehouse filling out the incident report. You always have to do the paperwork.

I had just enough time to come home, change clothes, and take Shelby the dog to her appointment at the vet for an abscessed insect sting or whatever it was.  There went the day.

October 01, 2012

"Roadless Rule" Upheld

The Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court's decision in favor of the "so-called roadless rule, which prevents road construction and timber harvesting on 58.5 [some sources say 50] million acres of National Forest System lands."

According to the Salt Lake Tribune,
The state of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association said closing so much forest land to development has had serious consequences for residents of Western states and the logging, mining and drilling industries.
Supporters of the rule said the nation’s forests need protection from development to preserve pristine areas that provide wildlife and natural resource habitat for hunting, fishing and recreation.
I feel like this particular controversy has been ongoing through my entire adult life—and there is probably more to come.

Blog Stew at the Hot Springs

Bathing at Pagosa Springs, Colorado. See third link below.
•  I did not know it at the time, but I spent most of my childhood in the "state of Absoroka," one of twelve proposed states that never formally existed. "Jefferson," the one in northern California-southern Oregon, came close to formation in 1941 and still lives on in the hearts of some.

•  Despite campaigns against it, fashion designers are returning to fur. Some are conflicted:
Alice + Olivia designer Stacey Bendet, herself a vegan, wears fur and uses it in her collection. "It doesn't make sense," she once admitted. "Something about putting it inside me [sic] feels really barbaric. Something about wearing it just feels a little glamorous."

 • Peruse some photos taken 150 years ago in Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico,  and Utah.

Recycling is Good — Recycling is Bogus

Earlier this month I made the weekly drop-off at the recycling bins in town. While tossing the wine bottles into the "Clear and green glass" bin, I looked through the porthole and saw . . . a bunch of plastic water bottles. Like somebody could not read G-L-A-S-S.

But I'm sure that whoever did it felt virtuous about recycling, so virtuous that they did not have to even think about whether you can, in fact, recycle plastic bottles hereabouts. (You cannot, although I know that some places accept them.)

(When I taught a university composition class focused on environmental issues, early student writing would focus on recycling ("recycling is good") and riding bicycles — even though almost none of them rode a bicycle to school. But they knew how to recycle the platitudes of "green" virtue.)

When the paper-recycling stream is dirty, it raises costs at the mill — which in this case led to bankruptcy and thus further narrowing of the already narrow profit margin for recycling paper.

On the other hand, Denver Post reporter Aldo Svaldi does not explain how some recyclers can ask that shredded paper be bagged. Who removes the bags?

A university blogger (universities often try to be "green") explains the obvious:
But while higher recycling or diversion rates are generally better than low ones, that "conventional wisdom" kind of misses the point.  Recycling is good to the extent that it reduces the solid waste stream -- converts a portion of what otherwise would have been waste into a resource. 

But an individual or an institution can only reduce its solid waste output just so much without also reducing its solid stuff consumption.  Think about it -- however much stuff you buy, it all goes one of three places: waste, recycling, or storage.  For most of us, storage capacity is (in practical terms) fixed, so once that fills up the sum of waste out and recycling out is pretty much equal to the amount of stuff consumed.  We want to recycle as much of what we buy as possible, but we should want more to reduce the amount of stuff that we buy.  As individuals.  As institutions.
So, yes, recycling is good. It works well with metals (just ask the people stealing copper, brass, and bronze), pretty well with paper when the market is right . . . glass is still sort of iffy, I think. Plastic, I don't know, I wonder where all the bags dropped at the supermarket actually go.

But the real point is how much you buy (particularly packaging materials) in the first place.