March 26, 2020

Piñones 2: The Lemonade Stand Rule

Bagged piñon nuts for sale by a roadside vendor.
The "Lemonade Stand Rule" originated when I was driving one time on US 20 across western Nebraska. I went through a little town — Rushville? Hay Springs? —  and saw two little kids selling lemonade on the sidewalk in front of a Victorian house.

It was a picture-perfect small town scene. I was trying to be a photojournalist and to build up my stock-photo portfolio. But I knew that if I stopped to photograph them properly, I would have to track down a parent and get a signed photo release, which would mean some explaining— and did I really want to do that when I had an interview scheduled with this USFWS guy at Valentine National Wildlife Refuge (further east) later that afternoon?

I eased off the gas, thought for moment, and then drove on. But I soon berated myself on two counts: "You dummy! There were those kids alone under a big prairie sky. At least you could have bought some lemonade to cheer them up! And why didn't you take the time to get a good clear photo? You'll never be a professional!"

The Lemonade Stand Rule (LSR) states that unless I am extremely pressed for time or the traffic is impossible, I will always stop for kids' lemonade stands. In this over-regulated age, selling lemonade is a sem-Free Range Kids things to do, and the sellers should be supported.

(There should be an Oshá Stand Rule too, after the time I failed to stop at a table selling oshá root down in San Luisand something bad happened.)

What about piñon nuts (piñones) then? 

Last January I was driving and saw a pickup parked by the side of the road with a sign advertising piñon nuts. I applied the LSR, made a quick left across the oncoming traffic and pulled up behind it.

I got to talking with the vendor—he was a re-seller, a local guy—and we were trading a little basic info. He said he lived in the Wet Mountains, and I said, "Oh, up on XXXX  Creek?" and I was right. We had some things in common, and when he volunteered that he had done a little federal prison time (for a nonviolent offense nearly twenty years ago), I knew exactly what that had been about.

The nuts were not cheap. My last post explained why that is. But I bought a small bag and got back in the Jeep, thinking, "I must have lived here for a while."  (I have the photos too, but I am not using them here.)

Please stop for lemonade stands. Fight the Machine.

March 23, 2020

Piñones 1: Smart Birds — How Do They Know?

Some  late-season pinon cone with some nuts. You can see where the birds (jays?)
chopped out other nuts, so why did they leave these? Maybe they knew something.
The white droplets are sticky resin.
Where we live is a sort of a mash-up of the piñon-juniper forest (also known as "the PJ") and the montane forest of ponderosa pine, douglas fir, gambel oak, and yes, three kinds of juniper.

There is one big piñon pine near the house, but we have ignored harvesting from it — that's a messy job (see below) — preferring to just leave the nuts for the birds.

On the other hand, as wild-food chef Hank Shaw  (You will see his blog in the sidebar under "Elsewhere") writes,
If you’ve ever bought pine nuts in the store, chances are you’re eating Chinese imports that are often of dubious origin. And even if you are vigilant about where your pine nuts come from and buy, say Italian pine nuts, you may get high quality, but you pay for it through the nose.

Why aren’t there American pine nuts, you ask? Well, there are. You just have to go find them yourself.
Shaw offers a method for gathering nuts that begins,
First, buy a cheap pair of gardening gloves. The cones are coated in pitch, a sweet-smelling sticky resin that will get on everything. It happens to be one of the most lovely smells in the world, so it’s not all bad. But your gloves will get wrecked, so be prepared for that.
Not gathering pine nuts.
Alternatively, you spread sheets out and knock the cones off with sticks, sort of the old medieval "by hook or by crook" method.

M. was out walking in the woods lately and noticed cones with nuts still on one tree. Odd. She brought some back. We cracked them . . . and almost all of the nuts, while they looked good, had no "meat" inside them.

Which makes us wonder, how did the jays know to leave those alone? They looked normal. Smart birds!

Empty nuts!
The sticky pitch, which hangs in white blobs off the cones in the photo, was a handy glue for ancient people.

I just imagine some woman of the old Southwestern Basketmaker culture who has spent all day smearing the stuff inside a basket to waterproof it. Did she say, "Oh no, I don't have hands anymore, I have flippers!" She probably used some kind of little paddle to spread it.

March 21, 2020

Vodka, Cherry Coke, and an SKS Rifle



All the worries these days. So here is James McMurtry's "Choctaw Bingo." You know who his daddy is, right?

I mainly like this song because aside from being drenched in Southern Plains au-then-ti-ci-ty, it is the only song that I know of that name-checks my mother's birthplace, Baxter Springs, Kansas. And bois d'arc/bowdark trees.

Of course, she was one of the good girls, and her grand-daddy was the postmaster, as long as there was a Democrat in the White House. She would be horrified.

The lyrics, if you need them, are here.  The Russian navy still uses SKS rifles for some parade units, without steel-cased Tula ammunition.

March 07, 2020

"The Hatch is on"

The highway goes over this little crest and then turns down and left.
If you don't turn left too, bad things happen.

With a title like that, you probably think this blog post is about fly-fishing. It's not. I wish that it were. To be honest, I have had this flu-like virus since early December. It's not "the" flu with fever and body aches; it was more like fatigue and sore eyes and insomnia and shortness of breath with bronchial wheezing. Since breathing difficulties are listed as a symptom of coronavirus, I was saying that I had coronoavirus before coronavirus was cool, but in fact, it must have been something else.I thought that I had pretty well beaten it, but then it came back for a farewell tour this week.

It has all left me uninterested in x-c skiing, fishing, late-season quail hunting, anything of that sort. Just some hikes close to home, before February's snows made that about impossible. And wood-cutting. Always wood-cutting.

As I prepared for an afternoon of editorial work (editing someone's book proposal), everything electronic started pinging and dinging. "Motorcycle wreck at mile marker such-and-such. Unknown injuries." And  . . . we're off. The ex-chief and one volunteer were leaving the station in one brush truck — a small wildland fire engine; we use them for traffic control too. On the radio, he asked me to bring another, so I was about five minutes behind them, heading up a twisty mountain highway, babying the diesel engine until it fully warmed up.

This happens every warm weekend — clumps of motorcycle riders, from 8 to 20 or so, out for a ride on twisty mountain roads. "The hatch is on," M. and I say to each other when we hear the rolling thunder out on the state highway. Not caddis flies or mayflies or anything like that.

On the way, the dispatcher broke in, saying that the air ambulance had been "stood down." That could mean one of two things: injuries were minor and the county ambulance service had the situation in hand, or, no one needed an ambulance.

Twenty minutes later, I was on-scene, and Ex-chief positioned me to slow down traffic in a spot where oncoming drivers could see me, but I myself could not see down into the accident scene. No problem — I had gone through this year ago, when another rider went over the edge at the exact same spot, and we had to guide the helicopter in to pick up him up.

After a time, he called me up to the scene itself, because it was body-recovery time, and they needed more muscle. We zipped the victim into a body body . . . and then another body bag because that one had ripped because of barbed wire . . . and then six of us (two fire fighters, one deputy, one sheriff's posse member, and the two female EMTs) carried him up the steep rocky slope.

We stood around while the EMT's filled out the appropriate body tags. A mortician from a town twenty-some miles away arrived in an anonymous Ford Flex van, which he opened to reveal a gurney. We loaded the victim, strapped and zipped him in, and he was gone.

As we stood there, more clumps of motorcycle riders went by, slowing down to gawk. Sometimes I think we could carry a sign on the fire engines that we could set up at the scene: "This could be you!" The hatch definitely was on.

Everyone these days describes peak experiences in terms of "It was just like a movie!"

I get it. This was like the History Channel's Vikings series. A big guy (like 300 lbs. big) with a scraggly blond chin beard, he must have laid the bike over on his left side, which tore the foot and ankle nearly off. Then his un-helmeted head collided with a couple of granite boulders, leaving big deep lacerations down to the bone — maybe deeper. All I could think was that he looked like the loser in a Viking ax-fight.

Mountain Bluebird (Cornell Univ.)
Back at the fire house, more motorcycles were still passing, heading back to Colorado Springs or to the Denver-plex. (Our victim was from Aurora, if I heard correctly.)

But two mountain bluebirds zipped past over the concrete apron outside the engine bays, a sign of spring that I could endorse.

March 02, 2020

Please Don't Put Oshá on my Cookies

Biscochitos, official state cookie of New Mexico.
This post starts with foragers, but be patient, the Southern Rockies part is coming.

First, from Vice magazine, a piece on rural wild-food foragers in England, which includes this observation:

The pair's foraging ethos sits between the Bear Grylls-style of wild food ("forcing yourself to eat something that tastes horrible") and the "hipsterized" trend to add a foraged element as a garnish, rather than incorporating it into the dish itself. 

So then my wife is reading New Mexico Magazine, and naturally she is drawn to an article about forager-restauranteurs Johnny Ortiz and Afton Love, who operate a tiny restaurant called Shed:
Donning their muddy boots and with recyclable tote bags in hand, they probe the landscape for the edible plant life that a majority of Westerners have long been estranged from, owing to the rise of food monocultures. Ortiz’s food philosophy revolves around foraging and thus maintaining wild plant and animal ecosystems, as well as farming and raising animals, plus digging clay to make much of the ceramic ware in which his meals are served. Shed’s dinners, which consist of a prix fixe menu of 12 small plates, are but the “fruiting body” of an entire ecology.
And, wouldn't you know,
The dishes demonstrate the metaphor: a wafer-thin whole wheat bizcochito [sic] seasoned with fennel, covering a ponderosa pine bark ice cream, sprinkled with piñons shelled in a tortilla press and served in a black micaceous clay bowl made from earth he harvested at a “Taos Pueblo spot where my ancestors would’ve dug from.” There’s osha sprinkled on top.
Oshá, a root, is definitely medicinal — I went through several bottles of the tincture while fighting a virus with a lot of bronchial congestion earlier this winter.

Sprinkling it on a biscochito (essentially a sugar cookie), however, to me is like sprinkling turpentine on vanilla pudding. The taste is not exactly dessert-alicious. Maybe it is "hipsterized." I admit to not having tried it.

February 23, 2020

High Country News Editor Spooked by Cowboy Hats

Heather Graham in "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," a Nineties movie with a Seventies sensibility.

Brian Calvert, current editor of High Country News, recently had an anxiety attack about cowboy hats.

He probably has not read far enough back in the archive to know this, being relatively new, but this not the first time that HCN has tied itself into knots of political correctness over Western wear.

Back when HCN was published in Lander, Wyo., before Ed and Betsy Marston took it over in the 1980s (as I recall), they published an earnest editorial asking whether  environmental activists in the West could wear snap-button "Western" shirts, for example, lest they unwittingly identify with eee-vul ranchers and other earth-rapers.

The irony there is that "Western wear" as sold on Main Street was formalized by urban tailors after World War Two as costumes for musicians and actors. Even foreigners know this:
HCN founder Tom Bell wearing a
"problematic symbol." I don't mean
the eye patch.
El traje de vaquero era utilizado en esta época por los colonizadores, los hombres de montaña y durante la Guerra de Secesión o Guerra Civil Estadounidense. Igualmente, con los años ha ido popularizándose gracias a su relación con el estilo musical denominado country de la mano de cantantes como Gene Autry o Roy Rogers, muy populares en EE.UU. durante los años 40 y 50. 
In addition, without cowboy hat-wearing, environmentally concerned Wyoming rancher/biologist Tom Bell, who founded High Country News, Briant Calvert would not have his job and editorial pulpit.




Brian Calvert needs to tell these Navajo rodeo contestants
that their hats are "problematic." (VICE magazine).
Did he think about that before writing how the cowboy hat was "a symbol of power and exclusion"? That it is nothing but a prop to show who is American and who is not? He needs to get out more. Maybe he could meet these guys in the photo at right. They clearly are insufficiently "woke."


The broad-brimmed hat is practical in sunny country, as generations of wearers have known. And if it threatens to blow off, you need a "stampede string," as the old-timers called it.

And they are flattering to almost everyone. You don't have to be Heather Graham. I am sure that my grandfather, who sold Stetson hats in his store, had a whole line of patter about that!

Me, I've got one Stetson "Open Road, " kind of a compromise style, and one no-name low-crowned, pine sap-stained broad-brimmed hat in my cranial wardrobe. I plan to keep wearing both of them.

February 21, 2020

CPW Declares Victory over Wild Pigs


A few weeks ago I wondered about Colorado's wild pig population, but as commenter Ron was the first to point out, there now officially are not wild pigs. Officially.

"They are gone," says Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Colorado ist Wildschweinfrei,



If you see one — or know of anyone transporting them — call  USDA Wildlife Services at 1-866-4-USDA-WS (1-866-487-3297) or Colorado Parks and Wildlife at 303-297-1192.
Feral swine range as of 2016 (CPW).

But since wild piggies are mobile and don't read signs, the solution is obvious. Build a Wall and make Texas pay for it.

February 05, 2020

Pig-hunting Makes Sports Illustrated — What about Southern Colorado?

Feral pig (USA Today).
UPDATE, 21 Feb. 2020: Colorado Parks and Wildlife claims to have eradicated all the wild pigs. But did anyone tell their Texas relatives?


At Sports Illustrated, a Texas-centered account of North America's growing wild/feral pig problem and the hunting of same from helicopters by paying customers.
Wild pigs, by all accounts, make entertaining quarry for these sportsmen. They’re smart, elusive and faster than you think—up to 30 mph at a sprint. And that very appeal is, essentially, the root of the whole problem. America’s love of pigs as sport-hunting fodder has sowed a situation it can’t shoot its way out of. And might not want to.

“If they were not fun to hunt, we would not be in the shape we’re in,” says Higginbotham, a beard’s worth of mustache framing his mouth on three sides. “And I term it to be: We’re in a war.”
Up in Saskatchewan, where there are few good flying days, corral-style traps and "Judas pigs" are touted as an answer on agricultural lands. (I think I will start saying that whenever I am annoyed: "Well, Judas pig!")

I do not know if southern Colorado lacks a major pig problem, or if I have just not talked to the right people. So far, I have seen only one alive, in a little riparian area feeling into Pueblo Reservoir. Southeastern Colorado seems to be the place, but this outfitter is on the Western Slope.

Another time, my dog Shelby (the Bandit Queen, we called her) disappeared, and I found her about a mile away along a little gravel road, chewing lumps of fat off a discarded black pig's hide. So somebody got one somewhere. Shelby paid the price that night, vomiting copiously.

February 03, 2020

Exurban Mule Deer: Middleweight Sparring

These boys don't care who is watching. Or maybe they want an audience.

January 12, 2020

Wolf Reintroduction Makes Colorado Ballot — Who Will Pay?

 
In the video, wolf teachers encourage a grizzly sow to reduce her carbon footprint by not having too many cubs.

Last month, supporters of wolf reintroduction on Colorado's Western Slope said they had the necessary 200,000-plus signatures to put a measure on the ballot, and Colorado voters will make their choice on "Initiative 107" in November 2020. The initiative begins,
(a) Historically, wolves were an essential part of the wild habitat of Colorado but were exterminated and have been functionally extinct for seventy-five years in the state;

(b) The gray wolf is listed as an endangered species on the commission’s list of endangered or threatened species;

(c) Once restored to Colorado, gray wolves will help restore a critical balance in nature; and

(d) Restoration of the gray wolf to the state must be designed to resolve conflicts with persons engaged in ranching and farming in this state.
Item (c) is essentially a nature-religion theological statement. Scientific ecology has moved beyond the "balance of nature" thinking to more dynamic and complex ideas of constant change. Even the "trophic cascade" model, as applied to predator/prey relationships by Aldo Leopold in the early 1900s,  is now questioned by some researchers.
"It's a really romantic story," Utah State University ecologist Dan McNulty said. "It's a story about a world that doesn't really exist."
A year ago, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission voted 7-4 against wolf reintroduction. This month, former CPW commissioner Rick Enstrom, who served on and earlier "wolf working group," offered a negative opinion.
Predation [of elk herds] is hardly the only problem with wolves in Colorado, says Enstrom. The biggest issue is money. The proposed initiative calls for wolf management and predation compensation to be paid out of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) wildlife cash fund “to the extent that they are available.”
The wildlife cash fund pays for all wildlife operations of CPW. It’s replenished primarily by hunting and fishing licenses, and it’s always over-budgeted says Enstrom.
Where compensation for livestock losses will come from when there is no money available in the wildlife cash fund is left unstated.
The initiative states that the General Assembly "shall make such appropriations as are necessary to fund the programs authorized and obligations, including fair compensation for livestock losses that are authorized by this section but cannot be paid from moneys in the wildlife cash fund, imposed by this section."

In other words, costs created by the wolf-reintroduction would have to compete for funding with highways, social programs, universities, prisons, and everything else that the state has to pay for.
 
And the perpetually stretched-thin district wildlife managers (wardens), techs, and biologists will not have another huge responsibility dumped on their plates.

I hate to bang on about money, but 90 percent of the voters probably do not realize that Colorado Parks and Wildlife is not funded by the taxpayers — like the Dept. of Corrections, for example. CPWis funded mainly by license sales, user fees, some federal excise-tax money, and donations (the state income tax-refund donation).

And what license fee brings in the most money? Out-of-state elk licenses. So not surprisingly, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is against re-introduction.
“To be clear, RMEF strongly opposes the forced introduction of gray wolves to Colorado,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “We have witnessed 20 plus years of lies and litigation in the Northern Rockies concerning wolves. This Colorado effort is driven by the same groups using the same tactics to accomplish their agenda.”
Cat Urbigkit is a writer and an internationally known authority on livestock guardian dogs, which she and her husband (and others) use to keep wolves and coyotes away from the sheep on their western Wyoming ranch. She bluntly accuses the pro-wolf group of wanting to create a wildlife Disneyland, and she notes that the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project is funded mainly by the Tides foundation, rather than grassroots donors.
If one were to believe the spiel, wolf advocates are benevolent custodians of the public interest, and ranchers suffer from “the myth of the wolf” and “a fear deeply ingrained” that can be cured with education. A few recent examples of this custodial role show that the advocates propose “a wolves for thee, not for me” landscape – one in which decisions are made by unaffected residents of population centers on behalf of uneducated rural serfs (serfs whose work feeds the nation and are most impacted by ever-expanding wolf populations).
Anti-reintroduction groups, such as the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, are organized at Stop the Wolf, where they have plenty of photos of what wolf attacks look like as well as information on political opposition.

For a longer take on the pros and cons of wolf re-introduction, you should read this Colorado Politics piece from September 2019, "Is It Time to Bring Gray Wolves Back to Colorado?

Actually, if the billionaire-funded Tides foundation wanted to do it right, they would offer to pay for the reintroduction, instead of sticking an always-underfunded state agency with the job.

January 09, 2020

CPW: New Wolf Pack Appears in Colorado

Wolves -- our spiritual teachers (stock photo).

I have a longer blog post in the works about the upcoming Colorado ballot measure on the reintroduction of wolves. Meanwhile, they are again reintroducing themselves, says this Colorado Parks and Wildlife news release.
MOFFAT COUNTY, Colo. - Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials say an eyewitness report of six large canids traveling together in the far northwest corner of the state last October, in conjunction with last week's discovery of a thoroughly scavenged elk carcass near Irish Canyon - a few miles from the location of the sighting - strongly suggests a pack of gray wolves may now be residing in Colorado.


According to the eyewitness, he and his hunting party observed the wolves near the Wyoming and Utah borders. One of the party caught two of the six animals on video.



"The sighting marks the first time in recent history CPW has received a report of multiple wolves traveling together," said CPW Northwest Regional Manager JT Romatzke. "In addition, in the days prior, the eyewitness says he heard distinct howls coming from different animals. In my opinion, this is a very credible report."



After learning about the scavenged elk carcass, CPW initiated an investigation which is still ongoing. At the site, the officers observed several large canid tracks from multiple animals surrounding the carcass.

According to CPW wildlife managers, the tracks are consistent with those made by wolves. In addition, the condition of the carcass is consistent with known wolf predation.

"The latest sightings add to other credible reports of wolf activity in Colorado over the past several years," said Romatzke. "

In addition to tracks, howls, photos and videos, the presence of one wolf was confirmed by DNA testing a few years ago, and in a recent case, we have photos and continue to track a wolf with a collar from Wyoming’s Snake River pack.



Romatzke says from the evidence, there is only one logical conclusion CPW officials can make.

"It is inevitable, based on known wolf behavior, that they would travel here from states where their populations are well-established," he said. "We have no doubt that they are here, and the most recent sighting of what appears to be wolves traveling together in what can be best described as a pack is further evidence of the presence of wolves in Colorado." 


Romatzke adds CPW will continue to operate under the agency's current management direction.

"We will not take direct action and we want to remind the public that wolves are federally endangered species and fall under the jurisdiction of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. As wolves move into the state on their own, we will work with our federal partners to manage the species," he said.


The public is urged to contact CPW immediately if they see or hear wolves or find evidence of any wolf activity.  The Wolf Sighting Form can be found on the CPW website.

January 04, 2020

Hunter Steve Rinella Takes Down Movies' Hunting Scenes

I

"If you like animals, you like being out around animals and experiencing animals, you fall in love with the way nature is.

"Then you watch film renditions of it, and they don't love what it is. They wish it was different.

"And I'm like, Who are you to wish nature behaved differently than it does when it in and of itself is perfect?'"

Noted hunting writer/podcaster/ etc. Steve Rinella takes apart Out of Africa, Jeremiah Johnson, and other movies in which hunting is key to the plot. 

On Elmer Fudd-style cartoonish movie hunters:

"I don't hunt with anyone who puts an ear-flap cap on when it's warm out."

And then he goes into The Revenant, which I could not finish because it was just so inconceivable bad and improbable. As Rinella says, the actual story is one of resilience and forgiveness, but not the twisted Hollywood version  . . . 

The Deer Hunter: Everything is good, "and then [the movie makers] do the thing where they insert the wrong damn animal!"

Enjoyable!