Showing posts with label California. Show all posts
Showing posts with label California. Show all posts

October 18, 2016

Take These Links with 100% Agave Tequila

¶ Without bats, no tequila? There is some motivation for conservation!
Aside from consuming loads of crop-destroying insects, bats are plant pollinators, and Medellín's prized lesser long-nosed bat pollinates the cactuslike blue agave plant, the single plant species from which Mexican tequila is produced.
Habitat destruction has been especially harmful to the lesser long-nosed bat, first listed as a threatened species in Mexico in 1994. By 2008 it was well on its way to recovery, thanks largely to Medellín, a tireless advocate who's been dubbed the "Bat Man of Mexico" for his work with bats. (Medellín, a Rolex Laureate and National Geographic grantee, has also worked to help a variety of other plant and animal species.
 ¶ A study showing that bear spray works better than bullets for stopping bear attacks.  Yes, there are exceptions. Some bears don't read the rule book. But we are talking about statistics here, not about individual bears.

Link to a video on fire in California forests, set by Indians (and some early Anglo settlers too!) until the Forest Service put a stop to "light burning," as it was called a century ago. Now the term is "cultural burning.

¶ Silly tourists and professional nature-fakers: the ugly side of wildlife photography.
In 2009, the image of a “jumping wolf” by photographer José Luis Rodriguez won for him the prestigious wildlife photographer of the year award conferred by the British Natural History Museum. It was later discovered that the wolf was trained for the shoot. Rodriguez was disqualified.

February 21, 2016

Winter Camping and the "Hundred-Mile Stare."

The view from my tent
Winter camping

It's the third day, and my hands are already looking wrinkled and cracked. It's so easy to get dehydrated.

Last night I kept zipping up my oversize Big Agnes sleeping bag more and more as drafts snuck down my back. And sometimes my feet slipped off the closed-cell foam pad, so with only some snug socks and two layers of nylon between them and the snow, they got cold.

It must have been colder than the previous night. My confact lenses froze in their case, but if I slip them in the pocket of my nylon cargo pants, they will warm up quickly.

I sit up, slip on a jacket, and pull the Nalgene water bottle out of the sleeping bag, where I put it so it would not freeze.

I pour some in a pan, click a cigarette lighter under the stove, and whoosh. Soon I will have a mug of tea to clear my head. The view from the tent door is a perfect Colorado winter day.

This is winter camping too

Your name is Sarah Graves Fosdick. You are 22 years old. Eight months ago, you married a man named Jay Fosdick, age 23. You thought that he was Mr. Right. You were happy together as the wagons crossed the Kansas prairie in the summer of 1846.

Now, just a few feet away from where you sit in the snows of the Sierra Nevada mountains, someone is roasting his heart on a stick over a campfire. You don't mind. You took the one usable item of clothing from his frozen body — a black silk scarf he had wound around his neck — everything else is rags — and you turned your back. In fact, you told the others, "You cannot hurt him now."

For reading, I had tucked into my pulk* a copy of The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party.



Sarah Graves Fosdick (undated)
I thought that I knew something of their story, but Brown gives it greater depth, and he goes into "rabbit trails" on such topics as the celebration of Christmas in the 1840s, the physiology of starvation, and how 19th-century people had no concept of "post-traumatic stress disorder." 

Many people perhaps assume that the Donner Party, about eighty people, after taking bad advice about a "cut-off" south of the Great Salt Lake, were snowed-in and forgotten at Truckee Lake, now called Donner Lake.

Not so. Their companions who had taken the longer, less-risky route missed them and wondered why they had not come over the mountains on time. Were they camped for the winter at Truckee Meadows (site of Reno, Nevada today)?

Actually, two members of the party had already crossed the mountains to get provisions at Sutter's Fort and take them back to the main group.

When the heavy snow of that El Niño winter came early, the Anglo pioneers already living in this area near today's Sacramento organized several relief expeditions, but initially found it impossible to bring horses and mules through four then six then eight feet of snow. Rescuers had to travel by snowshoe.

Relief parties did reach the stranded pioneers, although for some it was too late. Men carried small children for days on their backs, and some of those children lived well into the 20th century.

Sarah's father, Franklin Graves, age about 57, was a frontier farmer. He was a skillful man, and he knew about snowshoes from his boyhood in Vermont. He split the wooden wagon bows to make snowshoe frames, and the women cut strips from the hides of the oxen they had eaten and wove the webbing and made harnesses — fifteen pairs in all.

The "snowshoe party" was one of several breakout attempts from the famished camp on the eastern slope. It was successful, sort of.

Fifteen of the fittest people, including Sarah, Franklin, and Jay, started out. (Two of them were Miwok Indians who worked for John Sutter of Gold Rush fame, whom he had sent east to meet the travelers earlier, along with supplies.) There were nine men, five women, and a boy.

They left the lake on December 16th, struggling with unfamiliar gear in fresh powder snow. They were slammed with more bad weather as they topped the range. The sun shone on the alpine landscape, and they had no protection against snow blindness. Progress was slower then they had planned, and their provisions ran out.

Their guide — one of the two emigrants who had already crossed over and come back — was suffering snowblindness and exhaustion. Eventually he sat down to smoke his pipe and refused to get up. They went on without him. (His bones were found later, at the spot where he smoked his last tobacco.)

They missed the route — the wagon tracks were buried under snow — ending up in the canyon of the North Fork of the American River.

Out of their home country, the two Miwoks were as lost as the others. Antonio, one of Sutter's vacqueros who had been sent to aid them, was also lost.

Franklin Graves died during a storm, urging Sarah and her sister to push on for the sake of their mother and siblings back at the camp. Another of the party, an Irishman named Patrick Dolan, died the next day, as did Antonio, followed soon by the 13-year-old boy.

The cannibalism began. Carrying more flesh for provisions, they pushed on. Eventually they could travel without snowshoes, but they had to fight through manzanita brush and mud.

One man killed a deer, but it was not enough. Jay Fosdick, weak and falling behind, heard the gunshot but was too feeble to catch up. Sarah stayed with him as he died during the night.

It was mid-January when the survivors (two men, five women) came to a settlement, and mid-February before the "First [Successful] Relief Party" in turn reached the camps at Truckee Lake. And the saga was far from over.

People talk about combat soldiers displaying the "thousand-yard stare." Not to say anything against them, but I think that Sarah and her companions in the "snowshoe party" must have had "hundred-mile stares."

A young Engishwoman living in California met Sarah and the other snowshoe survivors and wrote, "I shall never forget the looks of those people, for the most part of them was crazy & their eyes danced & sparkled in their heads like stars."

Yet they carried on.


• • •
Brown's writing is restrained. He lets the Donner Party speak for themselves, but diary entries and letters are often so terse that it is hard to say whether their style reflects hunger and fatigue or just a controlled habit of mind. What he offers is not speculation but context for their suffering.**

The Indifferent Stars Above is meticulously documented, and Brown traveled much of the party's route from Illinois to Bear Valley, California. Oddly, it lacks maps, but you can find those online.

If, like me, you thought you knew the general story of the Donner Party, you will get much more from reading it.

 * Pulk: a human-drawn transport sled, from the Finnish pulkka.

** As the emigrants struggled in the snows, Sir John Franklin's two doomed ships were icebound looking for the Northwest Passage. No one was expecting him to return until at least 1848, however, so they were not yet a subject for concern.

December 28, 2015

Massive 2015 Year-End Link Dump! Something for Everyone!

Chef Jess Noy. See squirrel item.
I too often save a link to blog about it but them am too busy to do so. So here they are! All free!

Aspens in western Oregon could be "refugees" from Ice Age floods.

An article on Outdoor Wire wondered if the movie Wild would give a boost to backpacking or if The Hunger Games would increase the sale of archery gear. Well, did they?

• Not sure how this turned out: a Jewish kind-of-guru and a land-use battle in the Huerfano Valley of southern Colorado.

• What is the best survival knife? I would say that it's the knife you have with you. But, gear heads, read this article.

• When I was in the 6th grade at Kullerstrand Elementary School in Wheat Ridge, Colo., my teacher, Miss Carter, became engaged to the son of a carnation-raising family. She took us on a class trip through the commercial greenhouses — there used to be operations like that all over the area. Then, boom! no more. All the cut flowers came from Colombia, thanks to the War on Drugs ("We will pay them to grow roses instead of coca.") Now, "Colorado farmers, florists seek renaissance for local flower scene."

• Cañon City commercial herb and flower grower Tammy Hartung blogs on "Protecting Wildlife in the Garden & Farm Landscape."

• BoingBoing offers "The Best Adventure Stories for Kids from 1965." Is having adventures retro-cool? Elidar was actually one of Alan Garner's weaker books, I thought.

• Counting roadkill is depressing: "Our Highways' Toll on Wildlife." A game warden in Fremont County, Colo., once told me that he figured a deer or elk was killed every night of the year by a motor vehicle. No doubt some of those drivers think that hunting is cruel.

The English discover that squirrels are tasty. Also, redheads rule.

The Salton Sea was an accident, but birds love it. I finally saw it this past March.

• It's cold this week. Are you at risk for "the frozen five"?

The "locavore movement" boosts deer hunting, in case you did not know.

• What southern Colorado needs is a good "guntry club." But I expect that northern Colorado will get (or has gotten) one sooner, since that is where the money is. Still, I can fantasize.

• Are you feeding the birds this winter? Some thoughts on where to put your feeders. And keep them clean.  And if you want birds, you have to tolerate some insects.

• What happens when a professional wedding photographer goes elk hunting.

Don't make these dumb moves when you go to a gun shop.

• I have heard some of these: "Female Hunters Share Tales of Sexism."

How to shoot down a drone. Hint: they are more like pigeons than geese.

• It kind of amazes me that Bishop's Castle is the must-see tourist attraction in the Wet Mountains. But almost everyone who rents our cabin goes there.

• When I worked at the Cañon City Daily Record, part of my job was visiting the local humane society and photographing the adoptable pet of the week. I learned some these things by trial and error, but I wish that I had had this article to read.

October 11, 2015

War and Groundwater

Someone once explained the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel fought off Syria, Jordan, and Egypt and ended up controlling the Golan Heights, in terms of water.

By capturing the Golan Heights, the article asserted, the Israelis controlled the recharge area where precipitation filtered down to the wells watering their farms.

Western kid that I was, I thought, "Oh, I get it, it's all about water. No wonder the tanks are rolling."

Some students and I once kicked around alternative bioregional histories for southern Colorado. I suggested that if Kansas and Colorado were separate countries fighting over the Arkansas River's flow, we probably would have had a hard time stopping their troops. The citizens of Pueblo would have been digging trenches, like those of Warsaw in 1920. The border would probably be at Fowler now.

Fortunately, we have a judicial system which settled things, meaning that Coloradans do not have to say "Ar-KAN-sas" like those barbarians to the east. But I digress.

We all have heard about the California drought and the over-pumping of groundwater there. We should know that the same thing is happening on the High Plains (another argument for industrial hemp over thirsty corn).  Cities such as Santa Fe and Albuquerque, not to mention some Denver suburbs, depend on ground water—how long will that last?

What I did not know is that the Saudi Arabs have been playing the same game, and in about thirty or forty years they have drained an aquifer in the name of growing wheat. Saudi Arabia a wheat-exporting country? Who knew? Not me. But they are hitting the wall called No More Groundwater.

Just one more thing to stir up the Middle East. Over there, the tanks do roll.

March 08, 2015

Women Going Feral — And Then Writing

Last fall, during a layover at Sea-Tac airport, I was checking email on my laptop when this young woman walked up and asked if she could share the table (there were too few of them).

She had two books with her — one of them was Cheryl Strayed's Wild, while the other was a novel. "I can't decide which one to read," she said.

"Read Wild," I said. "My wife loved it — I've read parts of it — it's good."

Later, M. and I saw the movie, which was overlooked in the Oscars — too odd for the judges, too many trees? — fairly faithful to the book, but with Extra Hollywood Stereotyping.*

Meanwhile, having read her former blog and her book on the cultural history of falcons, and corresponded a little, I was awaiting Helen Macdonald's memoir H is for Hawk

 I knew she could write. There had been the blog post where she described a goshawk flying through trees: ". . . the gos spooled away through the trees. He looked like a coin falling through water, flashing silver and grey. Some kind of metal. A very fierce one. Potassium, Sodium, Goshawk."

(We hates her, preciousss.)

H is for Hawk picked up a bucket of literary prizes in Britain, and reviewers on this side of the pond have been equally laudatory.  

The New Yorker gave it four pages (!!), reviewer Kathryn Schulz writing, "Books about nature, like the category 'animal,' sometimes suffer from a sin of omission: in both cases, people belong inside them but are often left out. Books about grief run the opposite risk; too much of the person can be left in, too much of the world omitted. Macdonald, who is writing both kinds of book at once, makes neither mistake."

Painted with a very, very broad structuralist brush, both books tell the same story. The writer loses a dear parent (Strayed her mother, Macdonald her father.) Both have been been drifting — both have self-destructive streaks (Strayed's more developed, perhaps) — both struggle with loneliness.

Photograph by Christina McLeish 
Both seek the wild, Strayed in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges, Macdonald, the falconer and academic historian of science, in more domesticated England, in the yellow eyes and murderous flights of Mabel, a newly acquired goshawk.

Strayed, backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail, tells one of the female solo hikers whom she meets, "Honestly? I'm lonelier in my real life than I am out here. I miss my friends, of course, but it's not as if I have anybody waiting for me at home. How about you?"

Macdonald, looking at her life alone in the woods with her goshawk, feels numb: "My heart is salt."

Both must enter the woods and then follow the thread of their stories out — but how far, and for how long? 

* Strayed meets a farmer who is "working," which seems to consist of driving a tractor up and down a dirt road in the desert, no cropland in sight and nothing attached to the tractor.

August 23, 2014

Would You Eat Amanita if David Arora Cooked It?

David Arora's book All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms  is one of our favorites, right after Vera Evenson's Mushrooms of Colorado and the Southern Rocky Mountains. (His magnum opus is Mushrooms Demystified.)

So with that expertise, would you sit down to a steaming plate of Amanita muscaria (fly agaric) if he cooked them?

Wild-food blogger Langdon Cook did and got an education.

More than any other species, though, Arora is known for serving his guests Amanita muscaria. This practice is not uncontroversial. Amanita muscaria, also known as the fly agaric for its ancient use as a pesticide, is generally considered by English-language field guides to be a dangerous toxic mushroom. It’s been documented as a hallucinogen and used as a drug by social groups as varied as middle-class American hippies and Siberian reindeer herders, and occasionally it’s implicated in deaths, though not directly. In one recent case a victim ate the mushroom for its psychotropic effects and died of hypothermia.
But, as Arora points out in his workshops, Amanita muscaria is also used as food. It turns out the mushroom can be easily detoxified and consumed.

But you still get the feeling that Cook is torn between his desire to write honestly and worries about telling people to go eat any kind of Amanita.

June 04, 2014

Cannabis and Water Law: A Western Reportorial Twofer

Despite the huge importance of water issues in Colorado — headwaters of four or five major rivers (depending how you count) and home of more water lawyers than anyplace — news outlets often don't cover water issues well.

On my first reporting job, at the now-vanished Colorado Springs Sun, it seemed like my colleagues found water issues to be arcane and scary. "Water is hard," to paraphrase Teen Talk Barbie

On my second reporting job, I sat out to educate myself — with not a little help from the late Charles "Tommy" Thompson, long-time general manager of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District — or as I liked to think of it, the secret government.

The concepts of Colorado water law are fairly simple, but their permutations are endless, and the system operates like warring tribes — if you don't fight, you lose.

But add cannabis culture, and suddenly water issues are not just vital, they are sexy!

"Water District Votes Dry on Pot" (mostly paywalled)

"[Pueblo West] water available for pot growers; St. Charles Mesa keeping moratorium"

"Pot Shop Battles for Water Supply

But this is all the legal stuff. Drought-stricken California sees legal, semi-legal, and outlaw grows using up water and polluting streams:

"Pot Farm Pollution: Too Dangerous to Deal With?"

"Study Finds Medical Pot Farms Draining Streams Dry"

May 02, 2013

"Bird Language"

A short essay on mid-twentieth-century cowboying (unexpurgated) and the languages of nature. 
As the old man sang, each new verse detailed another page of the cowboy’s improbable voyage along the Chisholm Trail from Texas to Kansas, which was a sequence of increasingly unlikely and anatomically doubtful accounts of said cowboy’s congress with a host of shady characters including a horse, a rattlesnake in a pile of sticks, and an old woman who gave him nothin’ but hell. And a social disease. If my memory serves me correctly, it concluded with several verses about his ending up in what would now be termed a “long-term relationship” with a cow, and what the cow did when she caught him “puttin’ on airs” with a buffalo who “was no better than she should be”, but by then we were laughing too hard for me to remember much of anything.
Read the rest. It does move on to birds and animals eventually!

February 10, 2013

Up the Line to Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wildfire Today

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

October 14, 2012

On The Road: Flashback

No octopi today.

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

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

September 18, 2012

On the Road: The Kudzu of the Coast

Of the invasive plants in my country, I think that tamarisk and cheatgrass are the worst.

On the recent train trip to California, I saw stands of tamarisk that looked mostly defoliated along the Colorado River downstream from Dotsero. Maybe the beetles are starting to have an effect.

California has its own problems with invasive species — Scotch broom was one that I knew about.

The Monterey Peninsula, where M. and I were staying, offers every kind of succulent from everywhere (particularly southern Africa). It reminded me of places that I have visited in southern England, where the horticultural spoils of empire adorn thousands of suburban gardens.
Ice plant on coastal dune, Pacific Grove, California
There ice plant is the villain. Like kudzu in the South, it was introduced partly for erosion control on highway cut banks and such — and it controlled and controlled until it had driven everything else away and formed big solid monocultural mats.
Death to ice plant!
At least it comes up easier than kudzu.

September 16, 2012

On The Road: M's New Villa


M. has a new dream house.



We walked by this house a number of times in the past few days. It's a little bit Tuscan villa, a little bit Arts & Crafts.  Some touches, such as the rounded ends of exposed beams, have a Green & Green vibe. M. was ready to pick it up and bring it home.


Obviously the residents are tired of architecture fans.


But another big draw for me was this huge Brugmansia, also known as "tree Datura," thriving in that mild climate.

The house is on Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove, California, uphill from the downtown business district, should you happen to be in the neighborhood.

September 14, 2012

On The Road: Sea Lions, Bird Rock, the Stench

Sea lions on Bird Rock.
Just a portion of the hundreds of sea lions that hang out at Bird Rock, off the Monterey Peninsula.

My little point-and-shoot camera can't really capture much resolution at that distance, but take my word for it, there were lots of them.

And they stink. I have seen sea lions before, but never what looked like a sea lion feedlot.

The wind off the rock is like dog anal-gland secretion times one thousand. The old days of guano-mining here cannot have been any worse.

September 13, 2012

I Went Down to the Mont'rey Bay Aquarium

I went down to the Mont'rey Bay Aquarium,
I saw no baby otter there.
They were laid out on a green kelp bed,
"Exhibit closed" —the sign I read.


Let her go, let her go, God bless her,
Wherever she may be.
Otter-watching from an Aquarium overlook.
So the exhibit was closed for remodeling, but with spotting scope or binoculars you could watch a "raft" of otters not far off-shore. Some are radio-tracked, wherever they may be.

Weirdly related: this blog about the song referred to as "SJI."

July 22, 2012

Major Wildfires Since 2001

Mike at Firefighter Blog has an interesting graphic of major fires in the 48 states. What's going on there in eastern North Dakota? Combines full of dust and chaff catching fire? (I saw that once a couple of years ago.) Galen? Anyone?

As a Californian, Mike is most interested in the Next Big One of the incendiary variety and shows where he thinks that it is due to hit.

May 27, 2012

Blog Stew, Hold the Vinclozolin

• Common agricultural chemical has multi-generational effect on rats, suggested as cause of rising autism rates, obesity.

• "Green jobs" are not appearing as promised. In fact, this article says that wind-energy jobs have fallen, although wind energy production is up. (So it's a mature industry?)

• To live today means balancing beauty and destruction: Chris Clarke on the Golden Gate Bridge.

March 24, 2012

Fire Monks: Five against a Wildfire

The warm months of 2008 exhausted California's wildland firefighters with a series of big fires. Inland from Big Sur, the Basin Complex fire burned 162,818 acres between late June and late July.

In a steep valley surrounded by fire stood the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, built at the site of a former hot springs resort hotel.

The Zen Center had survived fires in the late 1970s and 1990s. The monks were not unprepared. They had a fire cache with tools and protective clothing. They had built a sprinkler system out of PVC pipe to protect the main buildings of the monastery complex, fed by pumps from a creek that still flowed And as the 2008 fire moved closer, they got some short-term help from two hand crews who built fire lines and did other mitigation.

Cover of Fire Monks by Colleen Morton Busch
But was it enough?

As the fire closed in on Tassajara, guests and some staff were evacuated, leaving a crew of twenty to defend the monastery.

Finally the word came from the US Forest Service that the one dirt road into Tassajara was close to being overrun by the advancing flames.

Their on-scene adviser, a Cal Fire captain, told them to evacuate—which they did.

But at the last roadblock—the point of no return—five senior staff, four men and one woman, turned around and returned to the monastery grounds to "greet the flames."

They were the fire monks. And, soon enough, the fire would greet them.
The summer's elusive guest had finally arrived. They'd been waiting for this moment for almost three weeks, imagining scenarios, educating themselves, guessing which direction it would come from. But they'd never imagined there would be only five of them to meet it. And they hadn't imagined it would arrive on three sides simultaneously, plowing downhill as if trying to make up for lost time. . . .

There wasn't a moment where they all stood together as they had in the emergency meeting . . . or huddled on the road, [at the roadblock] to collectively make a decision. Yet they had to make a decision, to either bunker in their safe zone as the fire passed through the valley or make a stand to try to defend Tassaja. Here was another pivotal moment, from which so many possible outcomes could spin, the kind of moment that might be held up to the light afterward. . . . .

The five Zen priests at Tassajara weren't in the habit of dividing choices into right or wrong, good or bad. They'd practiced seeing everything that happens as a part of a continuous and always completely unified stream of events. Each moment flowing like the creek, from what came before into what comes next, all of time moving together . . . .

In Zen, you can't really make a "wrong" decision. But you can't make a "right" decision, either. You can only respond moment to moment in a way that feels the least harmful and deluded, the most compassionate and true.
Writer Collen Morton Busch, a Zen practitioner herself, was not present for the fire, but stitches together a compelling, page-turning narrative.

In her writing, she frequently references Sitting with Fire, a blog kept by the evacuees—here is a sample entry from the height of the emergency.

Mike Morales' Firefighter Blog, which is still published, also covered the struggle for Tassajara, but he was wrong about one thing: the cavalry (engine crews, air tankers) never did come riding to the rescue.

In this video, Busch discusses her book, Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire at the Gates of Tassajara. The San Francisco Zen Center, Tassajara's parent organization, also remembers the fire on this web page.

November 26, 2011

Amtrak, Raccoons, and the California Zephyr

The California Zephyr climbs the Big 10 curve west of Denver
M. and I are home from a week-long trip to San Francisco -- mostly business for me, but she got to spend time with family.

We took the California Zephyr west from Denver, "mountains and rivers without end."

And we got where we needed to go, although there was one rough patch at the beginning.

As usual, click the photos to enlarge them.

You usually end up dining with strangers but can always talk about the trains.



We woke up at dawn in our Denver hotel, checked the Amtrak train-status page, and oh no, the westbound train was six hours behind schedule. Later we would learn that it had been held up waiting for work crews to repair some damaged track somewhere in Iowa or Nebraska.

So we went out to breakfast, read exotic magazines at the Tattered Cover's LoDo store, and eventually got a lift in the hotel's town car to the temporary station that Amtrak is using while Denver Union Station is being renovated.

In the photo, two guys who just met through the dining steward's command to "Sit there" are getting acquainted.

Passengers ("Pax" in train-speak) on the platform at Fraser, Colo.
The first "fresh air stop" after Denver is Fraser/Winter Park, immediately after you come out of the long darkness of the Moffat Tunnel through the Continental Divide.
The station in Glenwood Springs, Colo., right in the center of town.
After Fraser, the railroad follows a roadless area of the Fraser River Canyon, breaks out into Middle Park, and then enters roadless Gore Canyon, where the river is already freezing over in spots. It then passes a few isolated spots like Radium, State Bridge, and Bond, before rejoining I-70 at Dotsero and continuing on down Glenwood Canyon.

Western terminus of the Zephyr: Emeryville, Calif.
And a bus ride over the Bay Bridge, a taxi to the hotel, and we're there, only three hours late at the end.

We left Wednesday the 23rd for home. Everything started well: up through the across the Delta, up through the eucalyptus, cypresses, and palms of Roseville, then into the Sierras, with cedar, manazanita, firs, and other conifers.

Into Reno on time. Through basin and range -- Winnemucca in the late afternoon, Ely after dark, then salt flats and Salt Lake City. The "gray desert" around Green River, Utah. Into Grand Junction on time, and we saw a bald eagle sitting in a snag along the Colorado River somewhere between Dotsero and State Bridge.

Through Middle Park and the Moffat Tunnel, everything tickety-tock, running even a bit ahead of schedule.

Then Conductor Renée comes on the p.a. system: the westbound Zephyr hit a "herd of raccoons" in Iowa the previous evening, had to wait for a replacement locomotive, and has now limped into Denver many hours late. We must wait for it to clear the wye at the station before we in turn can back in. So we wait, somewhere in Arvada, and eventually arrive an hour behind schedule. No problem. 

But a "herd of raccoons"? Since when do coons come in herds, as opposed to small family groups? And how big a herd does it take to damage (air hoses, etc., she said) a full-size locomotive?

You know Amtrak does not put out news releases about such incidents, so it must remain a mystery of rail travel.

UPDATE: Here is a posting on a train-fan web site, which gives a location and speaks of a "pack of raccoons."

September 21, 2011

Revew: The Last Season--When a Park Ranger Goes Missing


In the summer of 1996, an experienced backcountry ranger went missing.

Ranger Randy Morgenson was in his early fifties. He had grown up hiking and climbing at Yosemite National Park, where his father worked for The Yosemite Park & Curry Co., the park concessionaire. He was also an expert cross-country skier.

He had studied public-lands recreation management in college, served in the Peace Corps, married, and worked many seasons at Yosemite and Sequoia & King's Canyon National Parks.

He loved the wilderness and respected its power in an almost animistic way. He was the kind of man who would seriously consider whether a tree wanted its picture to be taken. He hated to hear anything in the natural world described as a "resource." He even preferred to say "treeline" rather than "timberline" because "timber" sounded too much like a "resource."

At the same time, he was known as courteous and helpful to visitors, even when confronting their destructive behavior. He had participated unflinchingly in search-and-rescue and body-recovery missions. Everyone looked up to him.

But backcountry rangers are like the adjunct professors who teach more than half all all university classes.. They do the work, but they have no job security from one year to the next. They have no pension plans and far fewer benefits than permanent employees. And Randy Morgenson was past the middle of his career.  His marriage was going downhill.

One day, he missed his radio check, part of the routine for backcountry rangers who camped out and worked alone. And the next day.  His colleagues grew worried. Eventually a full-scale search was mounted: ground teams, airborne searchers, search dogs, even a Navy helicopter with forward-looking infrared radar. All backcountry campers and hikers in his patrol area were questioned if they had seen him.

Nothing.

Given that the conclusion is beyond his control, Eric Blehm has written a masterful nonfiction thriller in The Last Season.

I raced through the last two chapters two evenings ago and had weird park ranger dreams for half the night afterward. That is the price you pay for reading such an absorbing book.

April 14, 2011

Medical Marijuana's Claimed Contribution to Climate Change

An article in the San Francisco Business Journal links medical marijuana to climate change, via the energy costs of the crops.
People growing marijuana indoors use 1 percent of the U.S. electricity supply, and they create 17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year (not counting the smoke exhaled) according to a report by Evan Mills, an energy analyst at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

After medical pot use was made legal in California in 1996, Mills says, per-person residential electricity use in Humboldt County jumped 50 percent compared to other parts of the state.

In order to produce some 17,000 metric tons of marijuana this year, Mills estimates authorized growers will use $5 billion worth of energy. That works out to the output of seven big electric power plants.
Seven? 

But since Colorado also permits medical marijuana, I am waiting for one of the many clinics advertising in the Colorado Springs Independent, for example, to trumpet their "solar-powered MMJ."

(Via Ann Althouse.)