February 26, 2013

Mad Winter Tumbleweed Sex

A 2006 tumbleweed storm in Pueblo West, Colorado.

Brought from Russia in the 1870s by the Volga Germans or someone, bless their little hearts.

Q. What caliber for tumbleweeds?

A. Doesn't matter. When they die, they just spread their seeds.

February 25, 2013

An Oversupply of Veterinarians — But Not Here

Just as law schools are cranking out more lawyers than the market can absorb, the same thing is happening with veterinarians, says the New York Times.
They don’t teach much at veterinary school about bears, particularly the figurative kind, although debt as large and scary as any grizzly shadows most vet school grads, usually for decades. Nor is there much in the curriculum about the prospects for graduates or the current state of the profession. Neither, say many professors and doctors, looks very promising. The problem is a boom in supply (that is, vets) and a decline in demand (namely, veterinary services). Class sizes have been rising at nearly every school, in some cases by as much as 20 percent in recent years. And the cost of vet school has far outpaced the rate of inflation. It has risen to a median of $63,000 a year for out-of-state tuition, fees and living expenses, according to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, up 35 percent in the last decade. 
Reporter David Segal did not mention a recent case of a Georgia veterinarian who euthanized her dogs and herself — some people speculated that money troubles drove her to it.

As with law schools, however, vet schools are increasing:
Four more vet schools, both public and private, are either in the planning phases or under construction, one in New York, two in Arizona and one in Tennessee. If all are ultimately built, there will be thousands of additional D.V.M.’s on the market in coming years.
Not only an over-supply in vets, but fewer patients, particularly horses:
That belief has been tested. Not only are there fewer dogs — from 2006 to 2011, the number of dogs in the country dropped for the first time, albeit slightly, to 70 million from 72 million, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association Sourcebook survey — but the amount owners paid to vets fell, too. Owners reported they spent about $20 less a year in inflation-adjusted terms in that five-year span. 

The declines are more significant when it comes to cats. About 36.1 million households owned at least one cat in 2011, down 6 percent from 2006. During that period, the number of cat visits to the vet declined 13.5 percent. In the business, this is known as “the cat problem.” 

The horse market has suffered the most. Pet horses are expensive, and the market for them since the start of the recession has been crushed. Thoroughbred racing, meanwhile, has been hurt by the expansion of casinos, reducing the number of horses in need of veterinary care.
Considering that the nearest veterinary clinic to me is 25 miles away, I keep wondering why no one has opened a practice in Nearby Town, which is only 15 miles.  A ten-mile radius ought to offer a population of  . . . 6,000? Enough to support a vet who can do large/small animal work?  Or does no one want to be a generalist anymore?

Governor Hickenlooper's High-Capacity Dilemma

For President Obama, the Keystone Pipeline project forces him to chose between two constituencies, labor unions and environmentalists. (Prediction: he will approve it and try to find some other bone to toss to the environmental groups.)

For Colorado Gov. John Hicklenlooper, an ultimatum issued by Magpul Industries puts him in a similar dilemma.

The Christian Science Monitor sums it up:

While Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, for example, has said it's time for new limits on some guns and ammunition, threats by a major Colorado arms manufacturer, Magpul, to take hundreds of jobs out of state if the governor signs such laws appears to have given Mr. Hickenlooper some pause. [Actually, Magpul does not make guns as such but sights and accessories — and also iPhone cases.]

After the House passed four specific gun control bills recently, including limiting the kind of magazines that Magpul builds, Hickenlooper has not yet signaled whether he'll sign the measures into law. (The Colorado Senate has yet to vote on the package.)

“We haven’t taken a specific position on that bill yet,” Hickenlooper said this week, as reported by Colorado Public Radio, “but I from time to time have said contradictory things on it.”

While Magpul employs 200 people directly, it's slated to spend $85 million buying goods, particularly injection-molded plastics, from other Colorado firms in 2013. The company says it would spend that money elsewhere if Colorado moves ahead with its gun control package, saying their customers would object if any or all of the product was built in a gun-critical state.

So will the governor run for re-election and let his opponent say that he destroyed hundreds of jobs? (Denver Post: "Magpul's Departure Could Crack Plastics Industry.") Care to bet? After all, economic development is a big part of a governor's job.

Funny thing, I knew the Magpul name, but I did not know that the company was located in Colorado. But then it is in northern Colorado (Boulder County), which increasingly seems to me like a different, unfamiliar state.

February 23, 2013

The Prepper Paradox

Commenting on the image of "survivalists" and FEMA's own advice for short-term survival, Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds comments, "I think it’s funny that if you do what the government recommends — have several weeks of emergency supplies on hand — you’re a crazy anti-government extremist."

The fact is, "preppers" are a very diverse group. 

You won't learn that from the mainstream media, though.
As far as the mass media are concerned, America's preeminent preppers are the Alabama kidnapper Jimmy Lee Dykes; Nancy Lanza, whose son raided her gun collection before he carried out the Sandy Hook massacre; and the people who appear on the National Geographic TV show Doomsday Preppers, who might charitably be described as "colorful." Dykes "is described by neighbors as 'very paranoid,' anti-government and possibly a 'Doomsday prepper,'" the New York Daily News reported


YOYO. Remember that acronym. It stands for "You're on your own." I learned it a couple of weeks ago from a woman who works with animal rescuing and sheltering during disasters such as hurricanes and forest fires.

But I had already figured it out. Even when government works, you're on your own for a time. Looking at recent disasters, I would estimate  it takes 24 hours for local government agencies to deploy when they function at peak efficiency. It takes a week or more for the feds to get rolling, and we know what lumbering beasts those agencies are.

Meanwhile, you're on your own.

You want food and water? Store some. You want electricity? Have a generator or maybe solar panels if they will work for you. (I have one solar-powered lantern, that's all.) Have alternate ways to cook, bathe, shit, etc.

And get to know your neighbors.

Jesse Walker, writer of "Stop Demonizing Preppers," writes how his "liberal and feminist" Vermont friend Ceredwyn Alexander joined the volunteer fire department because preparedness requires "learning skills and community involvement . . . not freeze-dried food and razor wire."

Not a bad idea! Want to find an organized, service-oriented, group of people who know how stuff works, who lives where, and have the radios to communicate? If you can handle the job, join the volunteer fire department. (Something like 70 percent of American firefighters are volunteers.) Most departments have some auxiliary roles beyond fire-fighting too.

I cannot speak for all departments, but I suspect that my fellow vollies here are well-armed for the zombie apocalypse as well.

February 22, 2013

This is a 'Bark-Up' Household

And that means that fifty percent of Norwegians would agree with me, while the other half would not.

The success of a Norwegian television program on firewood (when will the Discovery Channel copy it?) resonates with those of us who do heat with wood. If I could, I might watch it.

It excites passions among Norwegians:
“I couldn’t go to bed because I was so excited,” a viewer called niesa36 said on the Dagbladet newspaper Web site. “When will they add new logs? Just before I managed to tear myself away, they must have opened the flue a little, because just then the flames shot a little higher. 

“I’m not being ironic,” the viewer continued. “For some reason, this broadcast was very calming and very exciting at the same time.” 

To be fair, the program was not universally acclaimed. On Twitter, a viewer named Andre Ulveseter said, “Went to throw a log on the fire, got mixed up, and smashed it right into the TV.”
At one particular Northern California commune I remember, sitting and staring silently into the wood-burning stove at night was referred to as "watching Channel 47."  Forty-seven seemed like an impossibly high number back then.

February 21, 2013

Bats, Birds, Bighorns: Colorado's Wildlife Festivals

Mallards in the San Luis Valley, from Crane Festival website.
I remember how when the Monte Vista Crane Festival started in the 1980s I thought it was good to have a festival keyed to the natural year rather than another variation on "Pioneer Days."

Now there are many more such events: Colorado Parks & Wildlife provides a comprehensive list for 2013, including such wonders as Grand Mesa Moose Day. (Here is the 2012 announcement for Moose Day, for background.)

February 20, 2013

How I Spent Last Weekend

I could describe it, or I could just embed Eric Lynn's video. Hmmm, which is harder?

February 15, 2013

A Publisher Who Loved Colorado History

The first book — OK, a booklet, really — that I ever published was called Ghost Tales of Cripple Creek. It was a spin-off from reporting that I was doing for the Colorado Springs Sun on the early-1980s mini-revival of gold mining in the Cripple Creek-Victor district, pretty minor stuff compared to the open-pit mining going on now

The core of it, some feature stories published in the Sun, had barely seen print when I was caught in a mass layoff of about twenty editorial employees.

Shortly afterward, I was talking with Leland Feitz, who was a sales rep for a Colorado Springs printing firm, but owned a house in "the District," and published his own line of saddle-stitched little books on Colorado history under the imprint of Little London Press. (Little London was an 1890s nickname for Colorado Springs, because of the influx of British mining capital, investors, fortune-and-health seekers, etc. in that decade.)

I think he bought me lunch, said,  "When one door closes, another one opens," and suggested that I do a book. (We just dodged the whole issue of work-for-hire!)

Leland's arrangement with authors was simple and direct. After each press run of your book, he paid you a royalty in advance. When all those books were sold (in gift shops, museum shops, regular bookstores, news stands, and so forth around the state), he would reprint that title, and you would get another check.  If only all publishing worked that way! I received royalty-in-advance payments for about twenty years before his health declined and he withdrew from publishing.

Now he is gone.
“We have lost our storyteller. The stories won’t be coming anymore,” said Loyal Campbell, a long-time friend.

No subject was too large or small for Feitz to preserve. He gave equal time to outhouses and whorehouses, churches and gold mines, the famous and not so famous. He wrote about encounters with Duke Ellington, Lowell Thomas, Harry Truman and neighbors who warred over placement of a rhubarb plant.
I think that I need to track down his autobiography.

February 12, 2013

The Westcliffe Saw-whet: Our Transport Season Starts

Saw-whet owl in a cardboard box.
Yes, what about that left eye?

The phone rang this afternoon, and it was the director of the Raptor Center, wanting to know if we could go to Westcliffe and pick up a saw-whet owl.

A local man had found it over the weekend. He told us, "I was driving and thought I saw a lump of snow in the road. But something made me turn around and go back."

He picked up the owl and took it home. Its left eye was apparently injured, but I don't know if it was in the road because of the injury or if something like a car collision had injured it.

Saw-whet owls get their name because their call sound like someone sharpening (whetting) a cross-cut saw with a file:: a "series of whistled toots."

If the eye cannot be saved, I do not see how the owl could ever be released. It would end up in captivity as an "education bird." How could it hunt without binocular vision?

At least by now, as I write this, it should be in the Raptor Center ICU with a full belly. I will update what happens to it, but you have to understand, only about half of the owls we have brought in have lived.

Dressing up the Dogs

Pet fashions: big dogs are "in." 
Now, the Fashion Institute of Technology, which offers a professional certificate program in pet product design and marketing, is stocking classrooms with dog dressmaker forms from tiny to huge, said Joan Volpe, managing coordinator of the school whose graduates include Calvin Klein, Norma Kamali and Michael Kors.

As bigger dogs grew in popularity, the industry responded.

"Every dog today needs boots. Every dog needs a raincoat. Every dog needs a sweater," she said.
Try telling a Chesapeake Bay retriever that he needs a raincoat. He is a raincoat.


February 10, 2013

Up the Line to Death

Years ago, I read Norman Maclean'sYoung Men and Fire (1992), which is an old man's book. He was in his eighties when he wrote it, and it is full of observations of how, for instance, some days the universe is just against you, no matter how strong and determined you may be. I copied out a few passages. (Where is that notebook?)

I remember Dad, the district ranger, indoctrinating some seasonal firefighters (no S190 class then—much more informal), telling them never to run uphill from a fire, that men died doing that. He must have been talking about Mann Gulch, still relatively fresh in the Forest Service's institutional memory, but it never came together in my mind until I read Young Men and Fire.

(I did not know until today that Canadian songwriter James Keelaghan had composed a song about it, "Cold Missouri Waters.")

More recently, having heard so much about them, I started on some of the books by John Maclean, Norman's son, beginning with the Colorado one, Fire on the Mountain (1999), since I had at least seen the location.

It's about the 1994 South Canyon (a/k/a Storm King) Fire near Glenwood Springs, where 14 firefighters died for a patch of scrub oak and PJ, thanks to various sorts of miscommunications, bad judgment, and hubris. A true tragedy as my eighth-grade English teacher defined it—when people do what they think is the right thing and bad stuff happens anyway.

John Maclean himself writes elsewhere of drama where "the sense of inevitable disaster builds until it overpowers the participants, who are swept along on a pathway to destruction. The audience watches with compassion and horror, aware of what's coming and as powerless as the actors to stop it."

The book audience is also muttering, "Get in your truck and go look at it, you idiot," and so on, but the end point is still the same.

I let a little time go by, went back to the library, and checked out The Thirtymile Fire (2007). I read a few pages and sat it down — I just was not ready to deal with another hand crew, full of confidence, setting off to fight a "minor fire" that would finish some of them.

But now I have started it, watching with compassion and horror.

Lines like this in The Thirtymile File remind me of Maclean senior: "For the Hagemeyers, the day would bring one missed portent after another, which added up to one huge miscalculation: that the natural world they counted on for spiritual solace cared in turn for them."

Eventually, I will get to the new one, The Esperanza Fire : Arson, Murder and the Agony of Engine 57. In due time. Meanwhile (because it is set in southern California?), a movie version is in the works.

Wildfire Today

Yes, there is a literary allusion in my title. I wonder if Norman Maclean owned that book; he might well have.

The Question of Neanderthal/Modern Coexistence Contnues

Lately we have been told that the tip of the Iberian peninsula was the last European home of Neanderthal people, even as modern humans were spreading everywhere else.

Anthropologists have speculated how the two groups might have interacted.

A new group of researchers, however, argue for an earlier end to Neanderthal occupation:
The scientists, by applying this new method, assure that the Neanderthal occupation of the sites did not last until as late as previously thought; instead it should be placed approximately 45,000 years ago.
Read more here at Heritage Daily.  How this affects the issue of Neanderthal DNA in our bodies is another question, apparently.

February 09, 2013

From Denver to Escalante Canyon

Captain Smith's cabin in Escalante Canyon (Colorado Preservation Inc.)
Some historic structures in Colorado are deemed worthy of a place on Colorado's 2013 Most Endangered Places list.

The list is compiled by Colorado Preservation Inc. to publicize their work. You can watch a slideshow of last year's nominees as well.

February 08, 2013

Pine Beetles Down, Spruce Beetles Up

A new report from the Forest Service shows that the pine beetle infestation that has been so widespread in northern Colorado is waning, but spruce beetle activity is increasing, particularly in  the San Juans.

Read the entire summary here, with maps and graphs.

February 07, 2013

Mountain Snow Pack, Feb. 1, 2013 — What It Looks Like

Here is the map . . .

Click to embiggen.
. . . and here is what one of the tan areas looks like.
On the east side of the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Yesterday I had some x-c ski and other snow equipment to test in advance of an upcoming overnight trip — will this boot work well in those bindings, and that kind of thing.

So M. and I drove off toward the Sangres looking for snow.

The last time we had gone up this road in winter time was February 2009, and we parked her Jeep about halfway from this spot to the green timber and skied up from there.

This year I was driving on up into the timber, partly on dirt and partly on ice and corn snow, until I came to the end of "easy 4wd conditions," parked it, and got out the gear that I wanted to test.

At least I came away with some ideas about how to modify those climbing skins to fit on these skis. I have been feeling awfully house-bound lately.

All snow pack maps are here.

Happy Ninth Blogiversary

It was nine years ago today that I made my first post on this blog, which actually began as a class blog for my nature-writing class.

That first post included a photo of yet another ex-student, Mario Medina, in his historical persona as an interpreter at Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site near La Junta, Colorado.

When I made the blog my own, I removed the students' content — they had long since all moved on anyway.

February 06, 2013

Blog Stew — You Pack It Yourself

• The evolution of the external-frame backpack, starting with Ötzi. Some fascinating archaeological and historical examples.

• I was pleased when I got this "trophy" photo. But this one, on the other hand, is somewhere between "very interesting" and Paleolithic nightmare territory.

• Colorado wineries and farmers stall BLM energy leases in the North Fork Valley. The New West wins again.

February 01, 2013

'Maybe Teens Aren't Interested in Nature Because We're Selling Them Too Much Freedom to Consume'

Ryan Jordan of Backpacking Light, who is also a Scout leader in Montana, narrates a brief video on "boys in the wild."

In the film, and in a short article he speculates about why some boys are energized by wilderness backpacking while others are discouraged "that the mountain is so steep."

Facebook's Colorado Mountain Men group.

Meanwhile, I am looking at their gear and thinking how much lighter and better it is than when I was 14 going on multi-night backpack trips with Troop 97, Fort Collins.