October 31, 2013

A Too-Quiet Halloween in the Foothills

As I write, it is after eight o'clock on Halloween, and not one trick-or-treater has come up our driveway (usually by car, I should add).

Last year, a week after a wildfire took out part of the town, we had at least two groups, I recall. And in those instances, one or both parents were volunteer firefighters. Maybe they were showing that they were not defeated.

A year later, the road is darker and less-inhabited.

The fire did most of its physical damage in an hour, and by the time they brought in the Type 2 Incident Management Team and all that, it was already slowing down in spots, running out of heavier fuels.

The psychic damage came more slowly: the never-to-rebuilt houses, the not-even-cleaned-up sites, the abandonments, the deaths, the divorces, the business closings.

Now many small towns, especially on the prairies, have shrunk over the decades. Main Streets are full of empty storefronts. We had far less distance to fall.

When M. and I arrived 21 years ago, there were two churches, a post office, a little grocery store (where you would go if suddenly out of dog food or beer), and a bar-cafe with regular hours.

Now there are two churches, the post office with hours reduced, and a so-so steakhouse that opens two evenings a week.

I would call our community a village, except that in the West, no one but real-estate developers uses that term, reserving it for planned developments: "The Village at Elk Meadows," that kind of thing.

Maybe we are settling toward how Colorado writer Merrill Gilfillan, in his excellent Magpie Rising: Sketches from the Great Plains, defined the word "hamlet."
Hamlets have no visible means of support; no schools; no class plays; no historical museums; little public enterprise save the occasional gas station/grocery combination.
Except the nearest gas station is 14 miles away, in the small town of which we are effectively a suburb.

And maybe the deaths and divorces would have happened away. It takes two or three years to sell a house anyway — job changes often mean that people move away and leave the old place empty, paying two mortgages.  Or the heirs dump it cheap.

I certainly would not trade this situation for manic growth. I have been there much of my life.

One landowner — a rich doctor —buys up some of the properties that come on the market for his hobby-ranch empire. He claims to be saving us from rampant development. Really?

For now, the nights are darker. Mostly, M. and I are all right with that. We like the darkness. But sometimes I am troubled just a little bit by the sensation of community dwindling away.

And the irony there is that for at least ten of those years, we were just exurban refugees. We did not really interact with anyone but our immediate neighbors. We worked elsewhere (most people do). It took a long time to develop local social knowledge, even a little.

One family with young children has moved in nearby. We have talked with the father just a little. They are doing the whole chickens thing, and now there are goats. (How will that work out without irrigation?) But their kids did not come trick-or-treating. They too must find the darkness and distance strange and threatening

October 28, 2013

Blog Stew: Now with Quicksand!

¶ Trapped by quicksand: A hunter tells Denver Post columnist Scott Willoughby how he nearly died along the South Platte River.

¶ The Bureau of Land Management offered some big solar-power sites for auction — and there were no bidders.

I wish that we could understand that the best place for solar power is at the point of use — on top of the office buildings, etc. Not tearing up the desert (or in this case the near-desert San Luis Valley) and then building more transmission lines, etc.

¶ Evidently if you are Chinese, you set the bar for "harmony with nature" pretty low. Other funny stuff about Americans at the link as well.

¶ Ammonia from feedlots, big dairy farms, and other ag operations is affecting Rocky Mountain National Park.  At least they are not totally pretending that there is no problem:
“So if we can just get more exact data about how and when that ammonia is moving into Rocky Mountain National Park ... and then develop a warning system ... that could really go a long way in fixing the problem,” said Bill Hammerich, CEO of the Colorado Livestock Association. “We know we’re not the only contributor to the issue, but we certainly want to do our part to help fix it.”

October 27, 2013

Hunting Season? Your Dog Needs "Isa-tai"

Does your dog go into the woods during hunting season? Does he dart off the trail, refuse to come to the whistle, and then you find him gulping fat and guts where someone field-dressed a deer or elk — no doubt thinking that bears or coyotes would clean up the pile?

Does he then get diarrhea or, twenty-four hours later, throw up a mass of fat the size of both your fists together and stand over it growling because he thinks that he is going to re-eat it?

Most of the time, your dog eats food out of a sack, supplemented by whatever he can steal off the kitchen counters. He lacks the right blend of beneficial intestinal bacteria for digesting elk guts, hair, hide, etc.

He needs Isa-tai!*

Here at Hunt-Pro Labs, we start with the fresh feces of wild Wyoming wolves. We culture the bacteria and package it in clean, odorless capsules. A short course of Isa-tai and your dog will be able to digest everything that he finds in the woods, short of Amanita muscaria.**

He'll be a happier dog, and you won't have to clean up messes!

Isa-tai, for dogs who run a little wild!

* Isa-tai was a Comanche medicine man active in the 1870s on the Southern Plains. His name translates to Wolf Shit, although an alternative translation is wolf's (or coyote's) vagina. Some say the name was given to him derogatorily after a prophecy of victory went wrong at the Second Battle of Adobe Walls in June 1874.

** For that you want milk thistle.

October 23, 2013

Some Applause for Victorinox

Some web-surfing in September led me to the Victorinox Swiss Army Knife website, and I discovered that for $5 they would look and and if possible repair a damaged knife.

I had this knife in my pocket knives-and-key chains box — I don't even know where it came from — but the scissors were broken and the scales (side pieces) were both chipped. Miraculously, the tweezers and toothpick were still intact.

So I sent it in and about three weeks later had it back, good as new. They returned the old scales, don't ask me why.

October 22, 2013

Necropsy on Coyotes that Attacked Boulder County Man

An update on the attack by three coyotes on a northern Colorado man earlier this month.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife news release:

DENVER – Three coyotes were killed last week in response to an unprovoked attack on a 22-year old man last Monday morning in Niwot.

The man was walking to work around 5 a.m. on North 73 St. when he heard a sound in the grass close to him.  When he turned with his flashlight, three coyotes ran at the man and proceeded to attack him, jumping, scratching and biting at him for about 70 yards as fought back.  He was brought to Longmont United Hospital for treatment and released later that day.

Two coyotes were removed at the immediate location of the attack on Monday (10/14) and Tuesday (10/15).  The third was taken within the vicinity on Wednesday (10/16).  Officials observed and tracked two distinct groups of coyotes in the area, this group of three and a group of four around ¼ mile west of the first group.

All three animals tested negative for rabies. Other details on the necropsied animals are as follows:

--#1 coyote was an adult female, no placental scars (had not dropped pups), good body condition, large rodent (possibly prairie dog) in stomach.

--#2 coyote was an adult female, placental scars for 3 pups, good body condition, large bird in stomach.

--#3 coyote was an adult male, good body condition, feathers, 2 mice and thick skin probably from domestic dog or cat in stomach.

Coyote attacks on humans are rare; however, coyotes in the metro area become habituated to human presence.   Habituation can cause coyotes to lose their healthy and natural fear of people, become territorial and sometimes aggressive.   Coloradoans can share the landscape with these wild neighbors by following three important tips:

-- Don't feed wildlife!

-- Protect your pets!

-- Haze coyote when you see them!

Finally, in the event of an attack on a person, fight back!  Report any attack on a human to Colorado Parks and Wildlife or by calling 911 as soon as possible.

For more information on coyotes.

Blog Stew with "Thump Thump Thump"

¶ "Wind-turbine syndrome" — on its way to becoming a diagnosis.

¶ Colorado, where you can't bank your legal marijuana money, but you can defend it with firearms.

¶ "Dead zone" is putting it a little strongly, but yes, if you live in the mountains (or parts of the prairie) the ambulance is thirty minutes away. So is the fire engine and the deputy sheriff. Have a plan and hope for the best?

¶ Now this is truly a "sportive dackel." (Literary reference.)

October 21, 2013

An Incident on the Prairie

Griggs County, North Dakota

West of the Sheyenne River things are different. The sloughs and ponds that are everywhere in my friend Galen's county are fewer here. The country has more of an upland feel — it's snowier too, he says — and there are more "No Hunting" signs.

That is not necessarily a problem. North Dakota allows hunting on unposted private land, and even posted land can be negotiated.

In fact,  at one point we pulled overwhere a guy tacking up a "no hunting" sign and talked with him, and it was as Galen had suspected — he wanted to keep out deer hunters for some reason,  but he had no problem at all with us walking his pastures for sharp-tailed grouse.

But before that encounter, we found a little valley that was open, parked, released the dogs and started walking. I took the high route along some hills like those in the background of the photo. The grouse often hang out on the leeward slopes — and they were there— but so were little copses of wind-stunted trees — some looked like crab apples (!?).

Two or three times grouse flushed on the other side of the trees, making their er-er-er, and I was unable to see them until they gained some altitude, by which time they were rapidly going out of range.

I watched one circle downwind way out over the little valley until it was just a dot against the grass. It sat down somewhere near the little cabin in the photo.

Walking on, I munched rose hips for locavore Vitamin C (It is not only Alberta that is "wild rose country") and marveled at the spread of wormwood onto the prairie. I struggle to grow a little in the herb garden here, and there it is scattered all over the place.

We were were just on the prairie, Mother Earth below, Blue Sky God above — and us, like the fleeing grouse, just dots. Mobility is crucial.

When Fisher the Chessie and I came up to a fence enclosing a pasture with cattle in it, we stopped and walked down toward the truck. We all drove to a spot about half a mile away, putting most of the little valley upwind.

Again we loaded our shotguns, called the dogs, and started a big loop out across the valley floor. Occasionally the wind brought the chug-chug of a tractor where one of the ranch hands, half a mile away, was pulling a manure spreader.

Fisher was off on Galen's side, so I whistled, and he came running, big happy grin, and as he passed through the tall grass, a whitetail doe popped up just behind him — he never sensed her.

I laughed at that and turned to go forward as he passed me, and then a grouse (that same grouse?) flew up on my left, er-er-er-er.

I spun counterclockwise, fired the first barrel wildly as the grouse caught the wind, and as my finger slipped to the second trigger, knew I was right on it, and it fell thump. This is my body, which is given for you.

Off in the distance, the manure spreader drew brown contours on the hillside.

On the Road: Name That River (3)

No one is winning the fabulous invisible prize, so I will try one last time.

I wanted to photograph this river on my first traveling day (October 4th), but the weather was just too dismal. It was not so dismal on the way home, but still dismal in some respects.

I got a winner . . . on the Facebook feed. It's the Dismal River in the Nebraska Sandhills.

October 17, 2013

Brian Sykes Says The Yeti Is A Bear

From my occasional interest in things Bigfoot-ish: Noted British geneticist Brian Sykes says that purported yeti (abominable snowman) hair samples from the Himalayas are actually from a bear.
Sykes compared DNA from hair samples taken from two Himalayan animals — identified by local people as Yetis — to a database of animal genomes. He found they shared a genetic fingerprint with a polar bear jawbone found in the Norwegian Arctic that is at least 40,000 years old.

Sykes said Thursday that the tests showed the creatures were not related to modern Himalayan bears but were direct descendants of the prehistoric animal.
So in a way that conclusion replaces one mystery with another one.

South Dakota As You Have Never Seen It

Dakotalapse is a site featuring time-lapse photography videos created by Randy Halverson of Kennebec, S.D. (That is the White River in one series.)
I shot Horizons from April - October 2012 mostly in South Dakota, but also some at Devils Tower in Wyoming. From the rugged Badlands, the White River valley and the Black Hills, the horizons seem to endlessly change.
You can download the videos for a small fee. They are gorgeous.

October 15, 2013

The Passing of "Dr. Trout," Robert Behnke

Robert Behnke (Phil Pister via Trout Unlimited)

Robert Behnke of Colorado State University, a leading conservationist and authority on trout and salmon, died last month.
Bob was best known for his interests in native trout conservation and taxonomy.  He was a traditional taxonomist and depended heavily on body morphology, color and spotting patterns, and the like to differentiate species and subspecies.  On this, he was a great authority.  Most of us depend on his seminal books: Native Trout of Western North America and Trout and Salmon of North America as the bibles of taxonomic and distributional studies for trout and salmon.  These are highly recommended for any trout enthusiast.
Colorado Trout Unlimited has a page up with more information and a place to share memories of him and his work.

October 14, 2013

It's about Selling Clothes, not Praise for Outdoor Passions

At Clash Daily, Doug Giles likes it that Ralph Lauren is using some pseudo-vintage hunting photographs to promote a clothing line. He writes,
I'd like to personally thank Ralph Lauren for …

a.) Creating a line of clothes for dudes that’s not effeminate.
b.) Showcasing these awesome, traditional designs in a hunting and fishing context.

Hunters, Anglers and Outdoors-men: Check out RRL and show your support for Ralph’s praise of our passions by purchasing some of his bad ass threads
Me, not so much. Pseudo-vintage is just a tool for Lauren (born Ralph Lipshitz). Whether it is an East Coast WASP horses-and-sailboats vibe, or his fantasy-Western ranch outside Ridgway, Colorado, Lauren's designs often have a nose-pressed-to-the-glass feeling to them. "If only I could be one of those people."

But even if you have it, do you really have it? As Ed Quillen's review of a book about Ridgway and the "New West stated,"
[The book] will resonate in many other towns undergoing an uneasy transition from Old West to New West — a transition from neighbors who relied on each other to get through hard times to residents who moved there precisely because they don’t want neighbors and who remain isolated from the local economy.
And Lauren is Exhibit A.

Models in clothes with the flavor of 1910? Color me unimpressed.

October 13, 2013

Blog Stew: Only Partly Faked

¶ "Nature-faking" at the BBC. This is nothing new.

¶ Cornell Ornithology Lab has owl sounds for free download. Missing: spotted owl, flammulated owl, but a pretty good North American selection otherwise, since a lot of owling is done with the ears.

¶ The rising trend of fake service dogs. I have noticed this in the last two or three years. But service dogs are supposed to be calm, so there is no point in strapping a SERVICE DOG vest on Fisher.

¶ How mulching helped the High Park burn scar during last month's deluge.

October 10, 2013

On the Road: Name that River (2)

This river is a tributary to this one. Its name would be familiar in sound to anyone in Wyoming or eastern Colorado, but this river's name is spelled differently.

Identify it for a fabulous invisible prize!

ANSWER: This is the Sheyenne River, which flows into the Red River of the North, photographed in Griggs County, North Dakota.

October 09, 2013

On the Road: Name That River

Identify this river and win a fabulous invisible prize.

Hint: it is colorado but not in Colorado nor is it the Colorado.

For an even bigger invisible prize, from what state was this photo taken?

ANSWER: The river is the Red River of the North. The photo is taken from the Minnesota side in East Grand Forks, looking at the greenway created after  the big 1997 flood that badly damaged downtown Grand Forks, North Dakota, on the opposite bank.

October 08, 2013

Blog Stew on the River

¶ Legal challenges to zee artiste Christo's "Over the River" continue.

¶ Do vultures take baths? Chris Weems has the video. Also owls.

¶ Colorado's first legal industrial hemp crop is harvested.
Loflin used social media to line up about 45 volunteers to hand-harvest his crop on Saturday and Sunday
Probably not a long-term harvesting model, however. Don't the Canadians have a combine head for hemp?

Colorado Flood Diary

Thoughts on flood survival from a contributor to Survival Blog.
FEMA help is a mixed blessing.   They provide a lot of help, but are pretty nosy. I paid my taxes for 40 years, and getting some back would be soooo nice. FEMA is a road show - they may leave here this week, so coordinating their inspectors with my Jamestown expedition is challenging. 
Hat tip to Peter Grant. And be ready to take care of yourself.

October 07, 2013

It's Tarantula Sex Season

We have been seeing tarantulas crossing the county road lately, ever since the fall equinox. Normally they are almost invisible, but now it's mating season. (Funny, I was just at Cabela's and did not see any bull tarantula calls.)
The warm weather is perfect for the males, who will be out looking for love. After living in burrows for the first five to 12 years of their lives, the males risk all sorts of dangers as they seek to sow their seed.
And you never find older males living in Mom's burrow, because if they do, they are eaten
(Hat tip, Holly Heyser.)

October 05, 2013

Let's Re-Brand Turkey Hunting

I don't see any "outdoor" televisions when I am home, but now I am on the road and have just finished watching an episode about turkey hunting on the The Outdoor Channel.

Now the problem is that when you are in ideal (private, I'm guessing) turkey habitat along the Black Warrior River in Alabama, and you have champion turkey caller working with a veteran turkey hunter, everything just goes so perfectly.

And all the products and shows advertised are "extreme" or "ultimate." Where is left to go?

There might be more drama or at least comedy in a show called Incompetent Turkey Hunters" or Newbies Afield, but you won't see, because those would not be the TV personalities  to endorse the extreme ultimate hunting products.

Since all galliform birds — especially the bigger ones — seem most to evoke their reptilian ancestors, let's re-think turkey hunting.

Let's call it dinosaur hunting. That name also gets you away from the negative slang meaning of "turkey."

"Sweetie, I'm going dinosaur-hunting this weekend." That's primal!

And think of the marketing possibilities, not to mention the cooking shows.

Bison, Bears, and Wolves . . . in Europe

That buffalo (bison) in the photo banner up top is part of a private herd at the Wolf Springs Ranch in Huerfano County, Colorado. Where he is grazing is historic habitat, but the herd was re-introduced and built up by a wealthy rancher, Tom Redmond.

His distant relatives in eastern Europe, once almost extinct, are making a managed comeback in Poland and Belarus. So are some other species that seemed likely to be preserved only in museums and heraldry, says The Telegraph:
The European bison, which was extinct in the wild in Europe at the start of the 20th century, has increased by more than 3,000 per cent after a large-scale breeding and reintroduction programme. It now has particular strongholds in Belarus and Poland.
Brown bear numbers have doubled and the grey wolf population of Europe quadrupled between 1970 and 2005.
There were also sharp rises in numbers of several species of bird, including the Svalbard breeding population of the barnacle goose, the white-tailed eagle and the Spanish imperial eagle.
But tell me, did someone at The Telegraph use a stock photo of North American bison? Compare to these.For a moment I wondered if someone was cross-breeding our bison, but I don't think so. The website of the European Bison Conservation Center says, "The [captive breeding] program should ensure separation of the pure Lowland and the Lowland-Caucasian lines and avoid hybridization with any other related species."

October 04, 2013

Backcountry Hygiene for Women

Answers to all the difficult questions, from a woman who has backpacked the length of South America — and more.
Even if you’re a guy, it’d be worth reading this article: If you ever want your girlfriend, fiancee, or wife to join you on a backpacking trip, your ignorance on this subject could be major roadblock.
Hat tip: Mountain Matters