November 08, 2018

A "Wolfy" Aspen Tree

"Wolfy" aspen tree, Wet Mountains, Colorado
A "wolf tree" has nothing to do with Canis lupus. It is a tree that has grown larger and broader than normal for its kind.

A New England definition:
These trees are large individuals that have a large diameter trunk and a widely spreading crown. There is also a good chance that a wolf tree will have some or even extensive damage. This may be a large limb that has broken away from one side of the tree or the top being blown out, usually from a lightning strike.

Wolf trees are the result of having grown in an open area. In many cases these trees were once in or at the edge of an open field. Wolf trees were initially left when forest was cleared to create a pasture or they got their start in an existing pasture and somehow managed to remain despite their cleared surroundings. Since a wolf tree once grew free of competition with other trees they were able to grow wide, broad crowns.
A Michigan definition:
If you have ever seen a tree in the forest that seems out of place because it is much larger than the trees surrounding it, you may have seen a wolf tree. A wolf tree is defined as a tall forest tree with large girth and great, spreading branches. Wolf trees are usually surrounded by smaller trees, signifying that the tree was once the only tree in the area and that the smaller trees have grown up years after the wolf tree was established. 
The Rocky Mountain definition that I learned as a kid was closer to the first — a tree, typically a conifer, that grew alone, broad and bushy because it did not have to grow up and up in search of sunlight.

Dad, a forester, scorned them because they did not produce as many board feet of useful timber as they would have when growing in a denser stand.

On the other hand, once retired, he turned landscape painter and depicted a few wolf trees.

Range conservationists also will use the term: "The grass in that pasture is old and wolfy. It needs to be burned."

November 03, 2018

Red-Jacketed Rangers Give Up Their Lee-Enfields; Somber Danes Keep Theirs


A Canadian Ranger shoots his Lee-Enfield rifle in .303 British.
I like shooting old wooden-stocked bolt-action military rifles, so I was a little sad to learn recently that the Canadian Rangers were giving up their Lee-Enfield rifles, based on the model adopted by the British army in 1895.

The Canadian Rangers are military reservists who establish a government presence in the Far North ("sovereignty patrols"), perform search and rescue, and so on. Why the bolt-action rifles? Mainly for hunting and for aggressive bears. As reported by the National Post, the Lee-Enfield worked well for decades:

Canadian Rangers with Lee-Enfield rifles
at a shooting match in Ottawa (National Post).
Since 1947 the Lee-Enfield has remained the main service weapon of the Canadian Rangers, a part-time force mainly devoted to Arctic patrols. [In August 2018]  the Canadian Rangers began replacement of their Lee-Enfields with the specially commissioned Colt Canada C19.
Unlike many other antique items in the Canadian military, the Lee-Enfield didn’t hang on for so long out of apathy or tight budgets. Rather, it’s because it’s still one of the best guns to carry above the tree line. . . . .

The Lee-Enfield is on
the Rangers' insignia.
Its wood stock makes it uniquely resistant to cracking or splitting in extreme cold. The rifle is also bolt-action, meaning that every shot must be manually pushed into place by the shooter. This makes for slower firing, but it also leaves the Lee-Enfield with as few moving parts as possible.

“The more complicated a rifle gets … the more prone you are to problems with parts breaking or jamming in a harsh environment,” said Eric Fernberg, an arms collection specialist at the Canadian War Museum.

“It might seem old-fashioned … (but) the retention of the Lee-Enfield by the Canadian Rangers was a wise choice for their role and environment.”
The Rangers' new C19 in .308 Winchester.
The new rifle, still bolt-action, is lighter and more accurate, says the government.

Canadian Rangers march with their Lee-Enfield rifles.
As the photos show, the Rangers are mostly Indians and Inuit people.
The Canadian Rangers provide a limited military presence in Canada's remote areas and receive 12 days or so per year of formal training (often more days of training are offered but attendance is not mandatory), albeit they are considered to be somewhat always on duty, observing and reporting as part of their daily lives. Canadian Rangers are paid when formally on duty according to the rank they hold within their patrol and when present on operations or during training events. They are paid in accordance with the standard rates of pay for Class-A (part-time) or Class-B (full-time) Reserve forces, except when they are called out for search and rescue missions or domestic operations (such as fighting floods and wildfires), when they are paid as Class-C Reserves and receive the full Regular Force pay and benefits ("Canadian Rangers," Wikipedia.)
When I was introduced to mountaineering as a teenager, I received two conflicting pieces of advice about colored outerwear.

One was to wear bright colors because they cheered you up, particularly if the sky was grey and the wind was blowing. I took that counsel to heart during my five years in western Oregon, where my burnt-orange cotton anorak was my go-to jacket. I had a bright red down-filled jacket too, but it was better back in Colorado, out of the Northwestern drizzle.

The opposite advice came from famed mountaineer Paul Pedzoldt, founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School. I never met him, but I read somewhere that he told his students to wear subdued colors above timberline as a courtesy to other mountaineers. Let other climbers sit on a summit and enjoy the view without having to look at dots of orange, bright blue, or red on the next ridge over — that was the gist of it.

While the Canadian Rangers have their new rifle, another elite group of Arctic patrollers, the Sirius Dog Sled  Patrol, part of the Danish navy, is sticking with a related Enfield — in their case, the Model 1917 American Enfield, as carried by many "doughboys" in World War One.

And while the Rangers favor their British red, the Danes seem to be in Pedtzoldt's somber-colors camp.

You can see them in this recruiting video (in Danish with English subtitles):


November 02, 2018

Looks Like Less Daylight Ahead


A couple of weeks ago, this was me (less the abnormally straight backpack) calculating whether there was sufficient time to eat supper on our WSW-facing veranda before the sun went behind the ridge.

Now, why bother? Standard time resumes in the wee hours of Sunday morning, don't forget.  And there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth from one member of this household.

October 31, 2018

A Coal Camp Ghost in Southern Colorado

Ruins of coke ovens at Cokedale. Coke is made by heating soft coal in an airless atmosphere,
so it is to coal as charcoal is to wood, sort of.
Today us  Halloween, which means that newspaper editors are open to ghost-hunting stories.
In this case the ghosts are in a southern Colorado coal camp. The most infamous of those was Ludlow, the company-owned coal-mining town forever associated with the Ludlow Massacre of April 1914.

This ghost-hunting, however, takes place in nearby Cokedale (not to be confused with Coaldale, which is on the Arkansas River between Cañon City and Salida).
For the past several months, Light in the Dark Paranormal — a local group that specializes in ghost towns and mining sites — has focused its investigative efforts on the Cokedale Mining Museum, a onetime company store located in the heart of the former coal mining camp west of Trinidad.

These investigations, Paul Hill said, were prompted by reports of unusual activity from museum staff and even Cokedale's town clerk.
Cokedale's mining musuem.
"We conducted an initial investigation back in February," said Hill, joined by his wife Adrian and Louise Bosche in Light in the Dark Paranormal.
"And we discovered, quite readily and easily in a short time, quite a bit of evidence."

Evidence, Hill said, that included an antique wooden wire cutter mysteriously spinning around and Maglights turning on in response to questions.

That's all well and good. But I wonder if they would have the cojones to go ghost-hunting at Ludlow. Occasionally I visit the monument where the strikers died — the last time was in September — but I go only in the daytime, and the place gets under my skin even then.

October 26, 2018

Nebraska Cattle and a Lemonade Stand

Along US 20 in the Nebraska Sandhills
"Pastoralists often have the same distinct qualities of personality regardless of the region of the world in which they live.  Specifically, men in a local group tend to be cooperative with each other and aggressive towards outsiders.  They usually can make important economic decisions quickly and act on them independently.  They have a profound emotional attachment to their animals."

Dennis O'Neill
(study materials for a cultural anthropology class)


Nebraska Sandhills from space, 2001 (Wikipedia).
I was flying from London to Denver, sitting ahead of two young English guys who had bought a ski-holiday package in Breckenridge. I think it was their first trip to the United States. The airplane was gradually descending over the South Dakota and Nebraska, when one of them spoke up: "What's that?"

I had a window seat, so I looked down.

There were the Nebraska Sandhills, looking like multiple loads dropped by a gigantic dump truck. Unlike hills formed by erosion, these are grass-covered sand dunes, formed by particles eroded and wind-carried from the Rocky Mountains when the last Ice Age ended.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) designated the Sandhills as an ecoregion, distinct from other grasslands of the Great Plains. According to their assessment, as much as 85% of the ecoregion is intact natural habitat, the highest level in the Great Plains. This is chiefly due to the lack of crop production: most of the Sandhills land has never been plowed. ("Sandhills (Nebraska).")

As we dropped lower, the two Brits, coming from a land of winding lanes, were equally amazed at Colorado State Highway 71, running ruler-straight for miles north of Brush and I-76.

Nebraska State Highway 2 gives the best east-west trip through the Sandhills, with US 83 the best north-south view.

For variety, this time I took US 20 west from Valentine, which brought up an old memory.

I was driving it the other way, having left southern Colorado early and hoping to make it Valentine in order to interview this staffer at the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge office near Valentine before he went home for the day.

Passing through the little town of Rushville, I saw two young children sitting by the curb with a lemonade stand (it was June) in front of a Victorian house.

Wanting to become a better writer-photographer, I saw them as a perfect subject for my personal stock photos files. But there was question of photo releases—could I get one? They were out in public, so I did not really need one, but some editors were fussy.

I kept going. Had to get to Valentine. But then I kicked myself (mentally) and kept kicking myself for the next forty miles;

Forget the perfect neo-Norman Rockwell photograph, what I should have done was stop and buy some lemonade!!

So I made a vow that I have more or less kept since then: when I see a lemonade stand, I stop and buy some, even if it is crappy lemonade made from a powdered mix.

At that time in Rushville, Lenore Skenazy had not yet popularized the term "Free-Range Kids," but buying lemonade is sort of reinforcing Free-Range behavior.

Back Across the Wide Missouri: This Explorer's Record Was Real

Leaving Pierre for Fort Pierre. You know it is pronounced "Peer," right?
When I re-crossed the wide Missouri at Pierre, South Dakota, homeward bound, I stopped to see a historical spot that I had never visited.

Looking across the Missouri R. at Pierre, South Dakota, from the Verendrye Site.
The Verendrye Site is in Fort Pierre, Pierre's smaller sibling on the west side of the river. The leaders of a French expedition in 1742-43 left a lead plaque here memorializing their visit as they gazed over the junction of the Bad and Missouri rivers.
There is a small public park at the site today.


The French explorers placed their lead plate in a cairn, which fell down or was destroyed, but local children found it again in 1913.

Unlike the Thoen Stone, which is sort of the Kensington Runestone of South Dakota, the veracity of the  Verendrye plate has never been questioned.

Found in 1887, the Thoen stone was supposedly cut by the last survivor of a group of gold prospectors who had entered the Black Hills illegally in 1834..  If you know the history of the Kensington Runestone, you can see a certain parallel: "I (we) am (are) the last survivor(s)"
Looking downriver across Fort Pierre from the Verendrye Site.

October 25, 2018

"Fields End Freedom"

Harvested cornfield and corn bins, North Dakota
"As centuries, then millennia passed, the areas open for retreat [back to a hunter-gatherer way of life] dwindled, and farming culture became ingrained and habitual. The assumption of its  'superiority' has likewise become ingrained in us, its modern inheritors.This is the assumption that we now have to question. Superior it certainly was in most cases as the mode of production at the base of a new competitive complex — the militarized urban-agrarian state. But in terms of the quality of life for the general run of the population at the time of its introduction, as opposed to the elite? It seems doubtful. It must be remembered: fields end freedom. Whatever the astonishing subsequent achievements of civilization, it had a little-recognized price: humanity itself became one of its own domesticated species. We enslaved ourselves to conquer."

Chapter 5, "War and the Logic of Short-term Advantage."

October 24, 2018

Abandoned Farmhouse


Looks like the perfect place for a Halloween pop-up store, right? I just wanted to post this because it permits me to say that I was there with the guy who used to be married to the step-daughter of a man who grew up on a nearby farm and used to date a girl who lived here.

Are we clear?

October 22, 2018

Across the Wide Missouri

The bridge across the Missouri River on US 212 near Charger's Camp.
Friday found me driving through western South Dakota's buttes county. There was the famous Bear Butte — state park and ceremonial site —hazy to the south, like one of the Black Hills that had wandered out from the herd. 

Mud Butte (also the site of a famous T-Rex skeleton, but not as complete as Sue's, was close to the highway. There must be stories about it that go way, way back.
"Hey, remember the time when there was that little herd of mammoths on the north side of the butte? Crazy Kid, Many Arrows, and White Dog were going to circle around on the west side, but they bumped into some of those really big wolves that had the same idea. They about shit themselves."

"Oh yeah, those big big wolves. Haven't seen any since I was a kid."

"Me neither. Not so many mammoths either."
"That's all right. I like the taste of bison better anyway."
The story of Charger's Camp. Click to enlarge and read.
The Missouri is wide here, but what you are seeing is Lake Oahe, backed up by a dam down by Pierre, the state capital. One of those big Corps of Engineers projects from the 1960s. Still, the river was big enough for 19th-century steamboats, at least during a window of high water from late spring into late summer.

If we followed the geographer's rule that a river is named from its longest piece, not for a tributary, then the Missouri (2,341 miles/3,767 km) is the main river, while the Mississippi (2,320 miles/3,734) is, by a riverine whisker, the tributary.

Huckleberry Finn and Jim would have rafted the Missouri River. The bluffs at Vicksburg and Natchez would look down on the Missouri. Some people like that Missouri Delta blues sound, while levees keep the Missouri from flooding New Orleans.

Most of all, instead of the Mississippi dividing the 48 states into East and West, the Missouri would divide the continental US on a sort of northwest-southeast line, and I wonder how differently that would make us think about ourselves — how it would line up with cultural patterns.

For instance, "East Dakota" and "West Dakota." West Dakota would have been scenic but economically struggling until the Bakken oil came in.

October 19, 2018

That Steampunk T-Rex named Sue

It was big news in paleontology circles in the 1990s when private fossil hunters in western South Dakota unearthed an outstanding Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton that was given the name of Sue, after  discoverer Sue Hendrikson.

A lengthy custody battle ensued (hah), with an FBI raid and a state-private-tribal-federal kerfuffle, since the site where Sue was found was managed by the Department of the Interior in trust for the Sioux nation. Ultimately, the private fossil hunters lost, and the skeleton was auctioned by Sotheby's and bought by the Field Museum in Chicago for $7.6 million.

"Sue" by John Lopez.
So Sue is in Chicago and now quite famous, but in Faith, South Dakota, the little town nearest the site, she is also created in a very fine and sort of steampunk-ish sculpture by South Dakota sculptor John Lopez (here is his studio website with other examples).
Built to last. Note the heavy drive chain.



October 18, 2018

Heading onto the Prairie

Northbound, breaking free of the Colorado Front Range corridor
I don't drive Interstate 25 north of Denver very often, but when I do, it reminds me more and more of Interstate 95 in New Jersey. Like how many shopping malls can there be? Or how about RV dealerships the size of Army posts?

There comes a time, though, when you leave all that behind. It's like Fort Collins just sucks three-fourths of the vehicles off the road.

I stopped briefly at the Sierra Trading Post mother ship in Cheyenne for a cappuccino and to browse the discounted hiking pants. Lots of great deals for short, tubby guys there! Bought some socks.
Somewhere south of Newcastle, Wyoming
I continued north on US 85 along the western edge of the Black Hills, Inyan Kara mountain, and so on. One of my favorite drives.

Tomorrow, some serious prairie melancholy.

October 10, 2018

Blog Stew in a Lost Landscape

Craig Childs' Atlas of a Lost World: Travels in Ice Age America won a special jury award at the Banff Mountain Book Festival.  This is a book that I have read once, loaned out to a friend, and may be reading again this winter. Click the festival link for more on travel, fiction, mountaineering, etc.

•  KOAA Channel 5 profiles the only wildlife rehabilitator in the Colorado Springs area who handles fawns, Linda Cope of Wild Forever Foundation.

Loved to death: You now need a permit for photography at the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site. Wedding photographers hardest hit.

Related to that: You have learned to "leave no trace" when camping, etc. Now there is a digital version of Leave No Trace.  It's like not writing about the pool where you caught the big trout.
People want to learn how to get outdoors and most want a blueprint for the easiest way to do this. But that’s the thing: there is no direct route. And now, Leave No Trace is confirming what many have been noticing for awhile: social media is causing significant impact on our wild spaces.

October 04, 2018

"Dogs will be attracted to foot-hold traps . . . "

You may not like trapping.  Or you may have no problem with trapping as long as trappers follow the rules.

Regardless, these videos contain information that you can use — especially the second one, on releasing your dog from traps.  They were made by Idaho Fish & Game, but everything in them pertains to other states as well, except maybe the wolf part.


Basic rule: Compress the springs, don't pry the jaws. If nothing else, learn the Conibear trap, which starts at about 3:40 in the video. "Your dog is most likely to be trapped by its head or neck, so it's critical you learn how to act quickly to save your dog."



If you have any actual experience with dogs in traps, I would like to hear it. But if you just want to talk about how you want to put some trapper's head in a large-size Conibear, well, I have heard that before.

October 01, 2018

A Bunch of New Blog Links — and a Squirrel

Grey-phase Abert's squirrel.
Unlike some bloggers, especially a certain gunwriter who never updates her blogroll even when someone dies (cough cough), I think of my blogroll as a resource for readers.

I have been eliminating some that have gone dark or have not updated in a year, my cutoff point.

But I have found some good new (to me) blogs as well.

In the sidebar under Southwesterners:

High Country Gardens — produced at a commercial plant nursery in Denver, this blog has good archives on growing both native and non-native plants in the sometimes brutal Colorado Front Range environment.

The Last Word on Nothing — a group blog, including Craig Childs, author of Atlas of a Lost World: Travels in Ice Age America, who writes from Colorado's Western Slope.

Mountain Climer — Jeremy Climer, Colorado writer and photographer. "The wilderness is my life blood.  Everything I do in civilization is for the purpose of returning to the wilderness and everything I do in the wilderness is to keep me centered while in civilization." (We are calling him a Southwesterner by grace, since he lives in the South Platte drainage.)

Raven Dreaming — Dyer Lytle and Liz Blaker of Flagstaff, Arizona, feature "Southwest nature in words and photographs."

In the sidebar under Elsewhere:

Bedrock and Paradox a backcountry and wilderness hunting and adventure blog by Dave Chenault.

Corvid Research — by Kaeli Swift, a "post-doctoral researcher at the University of Washington studying the foraging behaviors of Canada jays in Denali National Park." (They are now "Canada jays" again, not "Gray jays," according to the American Ornithological Union.) She is interested in the full range of corvids, however: crows, ravens, jays, magpies . . .

Food for Hunters — Rick and Jenny Wheatley's wild game cookery blog, "borrowing from our American, Mexican and Vietnamese backgrounds." They live in Nebraska.

Forage! a group blog by ethnobilogists for anyone interested in foraging or growing wild plant foods, "fostering the ethnobiological community and movements."

Go over there and poke around!

These Texans Could Have Used Some Blog Stew

• What could be romantic than coming from Texas to Colorado and proposing marriage on a mountain peak? How about getting lost on the way down? That sure will test your compatibility!

• Do you wonder why you see more of some birds and fewer of others during the winter? Cornell University's annual Winter Bird Highlights is available for download. It is a PDF file (2.2 MB).

• Our favorite wildlife rehabilitators (now in their third decade at that site) were profiled recently on a Colorado Springs television news show. There is video this year's bunch of bear cubs too.

• I was outside yesterday and heard that sound southbound Sandhill cranes passing overhead. I have two memories associated with it — one good, one sad. The sad one was walking down a crowded sidewalk on the Colorado State University-Pueblo campus when a flock was passing overhead and not one person looked up, except me. Should I have turned into a sidewalk bird evangelist, exhorting the students to connect?

On the other hand, one October morning when I was new to the volunteer fire department, we were doing some engine maintenance outdoors on the concrete apron in front of the fire house. A flock passed over on the same flight path as yesterday's, and those stopped to watch. So I figured that they were all right.

September 27, 2018

Lambsquarters Is the New Kale

Some tiny lambsquarters seeds and a book that has nothing
about lambsquarters in it.
M. and I ate a lot of lambsquarter (lambsquarters? lamb's-quarter(s)? anyway, Chenopodium album) this summer, as I wrote in early July: "Not-Gardening in a Time of Drought."

They, wild amaranth, and our nettle patch provided most of our early-summer greens — on their own, mixed into pasta, or baked with cheese in Greek pie (spanakopita).

We did not know how trendy we are! Lambsquarters was (were?) recently featured in a Los Angeles Times lifestyle blog: " Lambsquarters: Weed harvested as wild food."
Volunteer lambsquarters.
Mia Wasilevich, a wild foods chef, and her partner, Pascal Baudar, lead classes in foraging in the environs of L.A. When they have collected a wild harvest, Wasilevich transforms the weed into something more civilized -- pesto or spring rolls with a brilliant green dollop of lambsquarters glistening under the rice paper.

“It’s a wild food and I prefer to cook it down, even for a short time,” she says. “I do a pureed green velvet soup with it that’s lovely. It can go in any number of sauces. I just did a lambsquarters benedict, like a florentine, with quails eggs. It makes a beautiful sauce.”
I guess that makes M. a "wild foods chef" too, since she is also adept with mushrooms.

But there is more. Ethnobotanists are pursuing lambsquarter(s) as well.
"It's a bit like Jurassic Park," I told a greenhouse visitor while I tucked another inflorescence into a glassine paper bag. "People ate this like quinoa almost 4000 years ago. The variety grown here vanished hundreds of years ago, but with a bit of work we can bring it back". . . .
In the past, lambsquarters may have been prepared and eaten the same ways as quinoa and huauzontle. The archaeological data are clear that lambsquarters was an important crop in prehistoric eastern North America, but many details about the extinct crop are hard to pin down. Where did it come from? How was it grown? How was it eaten? What is known comes from seed cashes and storage pits where seeds passed the centuries until archaeologists uncovered them.

And from the sadly defunct Colorado foraging blog Wild Food Girl, recipe for "Lambs' Quarters Pesto with Sunflower Seeds."

More:
This is a weed of garden beds and landscaping. Like a dedicated pup, it follows us humans around, much as we have sought it out. In The Forager’s Harvest (2006), Sam Thayer explains that the goosefoot C. berlandieri has been used by native people here for thousands of years, prior to contact with European settlers, who brought their own strain of edible Chenopodium to North American soils, whether or not intentionally. There is archaeological evidence for Chenopodium seeds in North America dating back thousands of years, he explains, citing Smith (1992). “Depending on classification, these seeds may or may not represent C. album; but some of them certainly represent plants that would commonly be called “lamb’s quarters,” he writes.
In past years, we have always counted in the lambsquarters coming up on its own in various spots. Unlike the guy in LA, we don't have to keep them a secret — they are right next to the house.

What we have done this year is gather some seeds, just to make sure that they keep coming up. Who knows, maybe we will devote some garden space to lambsquarter(s) — our own little Neolithic Revolution. You can be a foodie and eat like the Old Ones at the same time!

September 24, 2018

Sumac and Hummingbirds


I took a break this afternoon to walk up one of the nearby roads. The sumac is turning red already. It can't wait. Somebody always wants to be at the head of the line.

Saturday night when we ate supper on the porch, not a single hummingbird came to the feeder. "It's like they have a calendar," I said. "They know when it's the equinox!"

Ah, the Calendar of Nature. And then last evening one came by — it's always a female broad-tailed — proving that, as usual, not every individual reads the manual.

But none today.

September 17, 2018

Quick Review: "Alpha," Where Boy Meets Wolf (Dog).

Kodi Smit-McPhee as Keda with a Czechoslovakian wolfdog that plays Alpha
(who has a surprise for the humans)
Just to save you the trouble, I will list some things that anyone familiar with hunting large animals will object to in the movie Alpha.

And then I will tell you that this story of a boy and his wolf is worthwhile anyway.

First of all, if the village hunters were going after Pleistocene bison, they would not walk miles and miles, leaving their families behind. Everyone would go. Non-hunters could still help drive the buffalo over the cliff by flapping skins and making a commotion. Throwing spears to create a "fence" is not going to stop charging bison.

When it is time to process the meat, you need everyone. And a lot will still be wasted, as archaeologists can tell you. Or visit the most famous and weirdly named such site in North America! (The movie too was filmed in Alberta, except for the CGI parts.)

Second, according to my archaeologist friend, 20,000 years BP is too early for bows and arrows, according to current information. I would give the movie-makers a pass on that one.

Third, when winter comes, why do people keep living in a windswept snowfield in what looks like northern Labrador instead of moving to a more sheltered place that might offer some fuel?

Fourth — and this is more of a continuity lapse — during his time along, Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) starts to grow some teenage whiskers, yet in the final scene, they are gone. But going by his father's beard,  this is not a culture where men shave.

And a goof, which someone at Internet Movie Database also noted, "In the first cave scene, Kedi [sic] is kneeling to approach the wolf, and the bottom of his boot clearly shows a rubber lugged sole." Yeah, it did.


Now for the positives

First,  Alpha is a beautiful movie to watch. Some of that is Alberta and a lot of it is CGI, I will grant. But wow, Shining Times. If you were an old man by forty, you still would have lived a life filled with wonder.

Second, it's a "dog story" with a happy ending, a bit like the lines from Kipling's Jungle Book:

When the Man waked up he said,
'What is Wild Dog doing here?'
And the Woman said,
'His name is not Wild Dog any more,
but the First Friend,
because he will be our friend
for always and always and always.'


Its images and story will stay with you.

September 16, 2018

Bears Are Hungry in the Fall

Grizzly bears (US Fish and Wildlife Service)
Tennessee: A black bear killed a man in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some confusion ensues.
Park officials have shot and killed the bear associated with the investigation into a man's death.
Spokeswoman Julena Campbell said it happened around 9:45 Sunday morning [Sept. 9].
A news release Wednesday said the National Park Service had euthanized a male bear after finding it near a man's body in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On Friday, the park said rangers actually had not yet found and killed the bear.
Wyoming: A bowhunter and his guide were attacked by grizzly bears in the Teton Wilderness; the guide was killed.
As initially reported, a grizzly bear attack on an elk hunter and his guide wounded the client hunter Corey Chubon, from Florida, and left the guide, Mark Uptain, dead. His body was recovered yesterday from the scene in Turpin Meadows at approximately 1:15pm.
After interviews and visiting the scene, Undersheriff Matt Carr said Uptain was rushed by a grizzly bear in “a very aggressive manner.”
“They were field dressing this elk. They were in thick timber and this bear was on them very quickly,” Carr said. “There was apparently no time to react.”
UPDATE: More information on the incident. Apparently bear spray was used.
Oregon: A woman hiking was killed by a mountain lion in the Mount Hood area.
The hiker who went missing on Mount Hood in late August and was found dead at the bottom of a ravine Monday was likely killed by a cougar, authorities said — a shocking twist in the missing persons case. 

The body of Diana Bober, 55, was found Monday [Sept. 10] at the bottom of a 200-foot embankment on the famous Oregon mountain's Hunchback Trail, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday.

End of the Season in a Mountain Town


M. and I went over to Westcliffe Friday night to watch a movie in a real (and historic) theater.

Westcliffe is not a ski town, not a river town, not a mountain-biking town. When its one ski area, Conquistador, finally faceplanted too many times and shut down in 1993, the town gave a collective yawn and got on with its real industry, building mountain mini-mansions.

There are a bazillion photos taken looking west down Main Street toward the Sangre de Cristo Range, all variations of this one:
Add more a few more trees, neo-historic streetlamps, paving, and diagonal parking,
and you have the Westcliffe of today.


It occurred to me as I sat on a street bench across from the Jones Theater that you could pick up the whole place and set it down in, say, Phillips County—only with neo-historic streetlamps and a "dark skies" ordinance. The two counties' populations are about the same, and the buildings would fit right in.

The only difference is that almost no one is building mini-mansions all around Phillips County, thus supporting numerous small construction firms. On the prairie there is maybe less talk about agricultural "heritage" and more actual agriculture.

Walking down Main Street, it seemed like every third retail space was for rent and almost every restaurant for sale. Chappy's, our favorite bar for Westcliffe visits, was "closed for renovation." I hope that's not a euphemism.

The Chamber of Commerce types want more economic activity. Factories? In all these towns and small cities the refrain is, "We don't want our kids to move away." But guess what, the kids are going to move away.  Maybe some will come back later and find a way to make a living. Most will not. (Did I go back to Del Norte or Rapid City? Nope.)

What you can get in a place like Westcliffe:
  • First-run movies
  • Hardware store merchandise (the Ace store is pretty good)
  • Carhart clothing (at the hardware store)
  • "Western decor" items
  • Paintings by local artists
  • Grass-fed beef
  • "Lowest-common denominator groceries" (M.'s phrase)
  • Hiking boots 
  • Firearms
  • Automotive repair
  • The rural health clinic

What you cannot get:
  • Auto parts
  • Books
  • Other clothing
  • Appliances
  • Specialized medical care
  • All kinds of other things that send people "down the hill," leading to much Facebook angst about road conditions
Then there is the new but growing Amish population (buggies at 8,000 feet!) who have a different set of shopping needs and probably rely sometimes on mail order from Gohn Bros. or wherever.

So there is much complaint about how retail businesses (except hardware) cannot succeed with a season that is only four months long.

On the other hand, there seems to be little desire to be one of those resort towns with a different manufactured "festival" every other weekend throughout the year. The argument goes around and around.

But the views!

September 13, 2018

What I Found in the Woods on Wednesday

First there was the jawbone. I went to check the cameras at Ringtail Rocks (more coming from them — you saw the sexy skunks, right?) and there on my usual route was this mandible. The size and shape said "fox" to me, and the Internet tells me that is probably from a red fox, not a gray fox. Both live on that the ridge.

"Digested" grass.

At another time, I was coming down with The Dawg, not taking our usual path, when I saw this large clump of partially digested-looking grasses (compare to pine cones). My first thought was "stomach contents of a deer or elk," but there were major problems with that.

No one has been hunting up there during bow season. Second, if there had been any carcass or gut pile, said Dawg would have smelled it and run like an arrow straight to it, because there is nothing he loves more than Dead Things. That close to our usual path, I would have smelled it too.

So where did these tightly clumped grasses come from? They had a look of nesting material too. Had someone — perhaps someone of the ursine persuasion — dug out a wood rat's nest? I looked around but did not see any such disturbance.

Sorry about the backlighting, but the sun was not yet
over the ridge to the east (behind me).
Aha. The grass was part of a disintegrating squirrel nest, probably Abert squirrels, since they are all over these pine woods. Here's a great read on the relationship between squirrels, fungus, and trees.

The only difference is that 98 percent of our Abert squirrels are the black (melanistic) color phase, not the two-tone variety seen in Arizona and New Mexico.

September 12, 2018

It Takes Two (Skunks) to Tango

The testes of the male spotted skunk "are most massive by late September."

But it looks like the fun has already started up on the ridge, where  Western spotted skunks are exhibiting "courtship behavior," and maybe something more.

These little skunks (smaller than the more common striped skunks) like "arid, rocky and brushy canyons and hillsides," which pretty well describes where I live.





Range of the Western spotted skunk.

September 11, 2018

Deception Works!

"Wildlife Survey. Please Do Not Disturb."

I have a few scout cameras out in the woods most of the year, some on our property, some on nearby BLM or national forest land.

This one is about a quarter-mile from the house, on national forest, on a lightly used game trail that no one ever travels on two legs, as far as I can tell. It has produced some of my best bear photos.

"Never say never."

A couple of days ago, I was starting up the Forest Service road on The Dawg's morning walk when I see a man in full camouflage coming down, carrying a compound bow. (It's archery season, has been since August 25th.)

"Is that a Chesapeake?" he asks as he is being sniffed, thus establishing himself as a Friend of Dawg.

We chat a moment, then a younger man walks down the road, also with a bow. It turns out that they are father and son, from a little town to the south.

They are hunting deer but don't know this area well, so it's partly a scouting trip. The son got close to some, but not close enough to loose an arrow.

"I went up this little drainage," he says, "and I saw this CPW scout camera . . ."

I am biting my tongue. What I said about no one going into the woods at that location? I was wrong.

But the son not only buys into my camera's "camouflage," he is convinced that its presence means that this is a good deer area. After all, while standing by the camera, he heard a twig snap.

It's true that Colorado Parks and Wildlife has done some deer research nearby, but it's more of the tranquilizing-and-radio-collaring variety, not with scout cameras.

I could plead no-contest to impersonating a state government camera. Having had one stolen, I will take the risk.

I am mostly just laughing at myself at this point. Never say never.

September 06, 2018

Gnawing at Memory on New Mexico 21

The Tooth of Time at Philmont Scout Ranch.

New Mexico Highway 21 is the platonic ideal of a foothills road, climbing, turning, and dipping, but never  so much as you can't enjoy the scenery. On the right (west) side as you're going south lies the huge Philmont Scout Ranch, which reaches from the High Plains up into wooded mountains.

On the left (east) side, is the big Express UU Bar Ranch, managed for cattle, hunting, and vacations, and owned by Oklahoma businessman Bob Funk (I've met him) a self-made land baron who owns a swath of Colfax County, including the outlaw-haunted St. James Hotel in Cimarron, and operates through a subsidiary the municipal airport at Raton.

A few yards from the asphalt you can spot the ruts of the Mountain Branch of the  Santa Fe Trail. South of Raton Pass, it hugged the foothills, presumably for better access to water, grass, and firewood, while today's railroad and Interstate 25 run further out on the plains.

Once at some event I talked with a National Park Service staffer from the Santa Fe office. He had bicycled the trail — whether the whole thing or just from Bent's Old Fort down to Santa Fe, I don't recall.

He talked about the Tooth of Time — everything at Philmont is the Tooth of Time This or That. People traveling on US 64 get a glimpse of it, but when you follow the Trail, he said, you stay in sight of it for at least a couple of days, traveling at bicycle speed. For the teamsters walking alongside their laden freight wagons, it meant that only a week of travel was left before reaching Santa Fe.

Stay on the Trail, and you can end up in the Mora valley. In the old days, people were always coming and going from there to Fort Pueblo and other places—its agricultural products were sent north and south. Now, Mora is out of the way; it's a place that you have to want to visit, whereas it was on the main route of the Santa Fe Trail.
Rayado at Philmont—I think the dining hall was in the farther building,
and we slept in wall tents on platforms back beyond that.

I stopped at Rayado. It's kind of dangerous to go back to some place that you last saw when you were 14 years old. But I did not have to worry about a golden haze of nostalgia—Rayado looks better now than I remembered. Lusher and irrigated. A thicker riparian forest.

Because it was Labor Day weekend, everything was locked up and deserted, which made the visit feel more dreamlike — just me and the landscape of memory. I could have told it like, "I dreamed I was in this valley — there was a long adobe building . . ."

I was there for some kind of "conservation camp" (two weeks?), not the usual Philmont backpacking trek. (Now there is a Roving Outdoor Conservation School, which combines the two — fieldwork and backpacking. Sounds like fun, but you have to be 16.)

So what did we do? There had been a flash flood earlier that spring  — I think we built check dams, etc. Do we get any credit for the improved riparian area?

There was a little classroom time — basic forest ecology and so on — and one shorter backpack trip into the high country where we cut dwarf mistletoe out of pine trees with pruning saws, probably a useless exercise.

I remember the poker games after hours in the tent, but not the organized activities. That figures.

September 04, 2018

Yes, It's Real Hunting. Yes, I Might Well Do It If I Had a Speedy Terrier


My sister just posted on Facebook that her Lhasa Apso killed a rat in the flower garden. See, all those little dogs have a genetic urge to hunt rats!

August 31, 2018

I Was Here, Where Were You?


Encountered in the Wet Mountains

I feel like I have been somewhere, that is for sure. I was on-deadline the second half of August, and while the grass grew and the dog's walks were a little shorter than they should have been, I bashed out the 8,000 words required. But I missed blogging.

Now I am at a Secret Location in far-northern New Mexico, clearing out my emails. It's nice when Secret Locations have decent wifi.

Meanwhile: here are a few things of interest.

How they used to burn the prairies. Not just the prairies. As I ride Amtrak through the Midwest, I often mentally conjure a dry, breezy day and a line of people with drip torches. (Link goes to video.) I mean, there used to be buffalo in Kentucky.

• I remember my dad walking through our garden in the Black Hills, pulling the husks off ears of corn, and tossing them away with a curse if they were infected with smut. Sadly, he did not know that the Ancestral Puebloans (and the Aztecs) considered Ustilago maydis to be a delicacy and derived nutritional benefits from eating it!

• From Women's Outdoor News, some tips and hacks for better family car-camping. With S'mores, so you know it is family-friendly.

July 23, 2018

A Little Weirdness — but Polite Weirdness

Abandoned railroad tunnel on Gold Camp Road (Atlas Obscura).
Last Tuesday, the 17th, I talked with a man whose ball cap displayed a Bigfoot silhouette and the words "Gone Squatchin'." Bigfoot-hunting, in other words.  It's something you can do, like rock-hounding or ghost-hunting. Or skeleton-hunting, apparently.

A couple of days later came this unrelated email:
I have an emotional and perhaps strange inquiry I was hoping you could help me with. First of all, I am a hiker from Denver who found you through google searches. I found a particular article in CoZine magazine (http://cozine.com/2003-november/ghosts/). You talked about your childhood pet, and his grave at Eagle Rock.

I realize this may be hard to read and I apologize for that. The reason I am writing you is that I was up off Gold Camp Road [SW of Colorado Springs] exploring today, and I found a shallow grave. I have been researching all day for possible human disappearances. Your story matches up to what I saw today. I found the site right off the road. There were a few rocks covering it, and an old college blanket on top.

If this is indeed your beloved dog, please know it should be covered up with more rocks. I can help if needed. I have dogs and know how much they mean to people.

All I would like to know is that I don’t need to go to the police for some poor buried person up there. Thank you for reading this and I hope you have a nice day. The GPS coordinates of the burial are 38.XXXXX, -104.XXXXX 
I wrote back and said, "Thank you for writing, but my dog was buried in Park County," whereas the "hiker from Denver"  had been in El Paso County.

And only then did it really hit me: "researching all day for possible human disappearances." Really? That's a thing?

It's true that people from Colorado Springs have used Gold Camp Road, a former railroad right-of-way that runs to Victor and Cripple Creek, to dispose of unwanted romantic partners, drug-dealing associates, and the like.

The other favorite locale for body disposal was (is) Rampart Range Road, which climbs from the west side of Colorado Springs and makes for a twisty, gravel route to Woodland Park.

If I were this guy, I would search there too.

July 20, 2018

I Skipped National Grasslands Week — for a Reason


You probably missed this because you were watching migrating birds or something, but National Grasslands Week was June 18th-24th.

Or maybe you skipped it because the Comanche and Cimarron national grasslands are interesting country but it's just too damn hot there in June for recreation. Especially this year. (There are other national grasslands as well.)

I went to the Purgatory River dinosaur trackway that week in 2015, and while it was a good experience, I would much rather have gone in December. I have hunted in shirtsleeves on New Year's Day in southeastern Colorado.

January is also good, absent any blizzards. Or February. I used to take the nature-writing students out to Vogel Canyon (in the upper-left light-blue area on the map below) in early February.

It's a good entry point for the grasslands experience — all that aridity and melancholy and mysterious rock art.

It must have been someone sitting in an air-conditioned office who put National Grasslands Week in June. The bureaucratic mind at play.