Showing posts with label nature. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nature. Show all posts

September 21, 2010

First, Let's Kill All the Carnivores

"But if suffering is bad for animals when we cause it, it is also bad for them when other animals cause it," argues Rutgers philosophy professor Jeff McMahan in a recent New York Times opinion piece, "The Meat Eaters."

In other words, for the lion truly to lie down with the lamb, as Isaiah prophesied, we have to kill the lion. I say "we have to," because the lions are not going to do it themselves voluntarily.

Only then will we have a truly moral world.

Bang bang. No more lions.

"I am therefore inclined to embrace the heretical conclusion that we have reason to desire the extinction of all carnivorous species," the professional ethicist writes.

 Once rid of wolves and weasels, however, Professor McMahan's work is not done.

Got to hurry the seals and orcas to extinction. Bang. And all the toothed whales. Kaboom!

After the mammals, the birds are next. No more eagles, hawks, owls, shrikes. Rat-tat-tat-tat. Bang bang. Same with the carrion-eaters. No carrion, no vultures, condors, ravens, and other species who might upset the desired moral equilibrium.

And then the bugs. Ladybugs—kill them all. Praying mantises. Predatory wasps. Spritz 'em.

So now we have a world of (compulsorily) vegan humans, rats, cockroaches, and crows.

But wait. Are white blood cells carnivores? They eat the bacteria, right? They're not a "species," but they are still eating living organisms.

Kill everything! Ah, what purity. What a clear understanding and acceptance of the natural world.

What cruelty in the name of ethics!

April 19, 2010

Brits Discover Nature Deficit Syndrome

An article in the British newspaper  The Independent argues that being a "walker-friendly country" is not enough to stop nature-deficit disorder in the UK.

I call it the Don't Touch culture. The don'ts include picking or playing games with wild plants, catching pond life or flying insects, foraging for wild food, climbing trees, or burning wood on a campfire. Many people seem to think such activities are illegal. Doubt has even been raised about the legal position of picking blackberries by the wayside. Personal, direct contact with nature is being discouraged by fusspots and busybodies and control freaks who seem to want to regulate every waking moment of our lives. You can read their disapproval in the small print under the welcome sign at the entrance. Look but don't touch. You know it's illegal.

April 04, 2010

Blog Stew with Leftover Links

• What happened to the "viewing with alarm" that New Jersey could end up classifying feral cats as shoot-on-sight vermin? Meanwhile, noted conservation writer Ted Williams rips into the "trap, neuter, and release" treatment of feral cats.

• Have you been paying attention to the Magnetic North Pole? And do its wanderings have anything to do with our fringe digital-television reception, in that the antenna setting of 9 degrees North might be moving. (Joke, sort of.)

“The magnetic north pole moved little from the time scientists first located it in 1831. Then in 1904, the pole began shifting northeastward at a steady pace of about 9 miles (15 kilometers) a year. In 1989 it sped up again, and in 2007 scientists confirmed that the pole is now galloping toward Siberia at 34 to 37 miles (55 to 60 kilometers) a year.

• Used up your biological-diversity condoms yet?

• For mountaineering gearheads, a "history of gear." Here is Colorado's Mountainsmith, started by Patrick Smith, who now runs Kifaru. Ah for the days when a 14-year-old me would wander into the Holubar store in Fort Collins and gawk.

January 18, 2010

An iPhone App for Bears is Backwards Thinking

I think I need a new "gadgets in the woods" category.

Instead of knowing anything about bears, just count on your iPhone to protect you! (Only it would not, really, as the app's inventor admits.)

In its own way, this is about as dumb as the people who want to turn every discussion of bears into a discussion of which large-caliber firearm is best to carry.

While I do know of cases where a large-caliber firearm was needed, the average hiker, etc., is best off when equipped with bear spray.

Bear spray is easy to use, and you do not have to worry about bullet placement. Nor do you have to feel guilty about wounding or killing a bear toward whom you otherwise bear no malice.

And you don't have to be looking at a little screen or keypad or at the mercy of batteries.

The more gadgets you have, probably the less aware you are.

(Hat tip to Tamara. If you really want to ramp up your bear-anxiety levels, visit Bear Attack News.)

October 26, 2009

Nature is Scary! Get Me Out of Here!

The headline: Rescuers Fear Yuppie 911.

People carrying GPS-enabled emergency beacons ("Onstar for hikers", "Yuppie 911") are pressing them whenever they feel mildly inconvenienced, causing problems for seach-and-rescue teams and other first responders.

In the span of three days, the group pushed the panic button three times, mobilizing helicopters for dangerous, lifesaving rescues inside the steep [Grand C]anyon walls.

What was that emergency? The water they had found to quench their thirst "tasted salty."


Or the woman who activated hers because she was frightened of a thunderstorm. Great-grandmother would have hunkered down and waited it out, y'know?

Charging more people for unnecessary rescues seems like one option. Or fining them, as the National Park Service did the Grand Canyon idiots.

In Colorado, purchasers of hunting and fishing licenses automatically contribute to a Search and Rescue Fund that reimburses at least some costs of a rescue. Or you can buy a state SAR card that does the same thing. Three bucks, and you can get it online.

If a service is free, people will misuse it. Ask this guy.

UPDATE: New Hampshire bills hikers for rescues; other states differ.

July 15, 2009

The Primeval Rain Forest, Not

On the tracks of Colonel Fawcett's last expedition, writer David Gann paid a jungle visit on anthropologist Michael J. Heckenberger, author of The Ecology of Power: Culture, Place and Personhood in the Southern Amazon, AD 1000-2000,

Heckenberger writes of our tendency to view Amazonian Indians as natürvolkern—archaic and unchanging—who live in either (a) Edenic paradise or (b) "green hell." (For the latter, see Werner Herzog's memoir of filming Fitzcarraldo, published as Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo.)

It's the old virgin/whore dichotomy again, which we perpetually apply to the natural world.

A few observations, tangential to Heckenberger's thesis but more interesting to me:

• The natives probably seemed Edenic to the first naturalists, who saw the area beginning in the 1700s, after European diseases and, in some places, the slave trade, had reduced populations considerably. Native populations bottomed in the mid-20th century. Actually, Col. Percy Fawcett was right: there was a lost civilization, but its monuments were horizontal--dikes, roads, canals, moats, earthworks--not vertical.

• Those higher populations had affected the landscape considerably. The author observes,

Today, I would not assume that any part of the forest is "pristine" without a detailed examination on the ground. In place of small paths in the forest and minor openings related to plaza villages and gardens, I now envision tree-lined causeways, well-maintained, broad roads, large patchy tracts of agricultural fields leading out from the towns and villages ... and an equally well-constructed wetland environment, including major transportation canals, managed ponds, improved fishing, drinking and bathing reservoirs, raised causeways, wells, raised fields, and road systems, among other features.

In archaeology, he notes, "Amazonia has just appreared on the intellectual horizon."

I wonder if the activists who write enthusiastically of Amazonia as "the lungs of the Earth" and so on would falter if they could not think of it as a pristine region inhabited by natives "living in tune with the Earth." Can we value that nature that is not "pristine"?

November 24, 2008

The Airship that Swims like a Fish

Early builders of heavier-than-air craft tried to imitate birds, but no human has the chest and back muscles to flap a set of wings.

But an airship that flies like a fish, now that can work: Bayou Renaissance Man has more details and the stunning video. (And a cooler headline than mine.)

August 29, 2008

Gadgets in the Woods

Still life with GPS unit. Photo by Chas S. Clifton, 28 August 2008
Hawk's wing mushroom, king bolete mushroom, Samsung mobile phone, Garmin Gecko GPS unit, San Isabel National Forest map, topographic map.

Global Positioning System units, says Arizona writer Mary Sojourner, pollute the outdoor experience. Reacting against a High County News piece on geocaching, she explodes:

Here, in the increasingly mapped, sanitized and sold Southwest, geocaching is on a par with surveying. Some of those nasty zealot mesquite-huggers have been known to yank geocaches as gleefully as they once did stakes festooned with Day-Glo plastic.

So that is one argument against carrying a GPS unit: that they turn the self-created nonhuman world into just an outdoor gym -- the kind used by Spandex-clad athletes who run to the top of a fourteener, pausing only to check their elapsed times and heart rates on various digital gadgets.

Gadgets can cause you be less observant, less present, less aware, less involved.

With map and compass, you at least must learn relationships, a basic geometry of azimuth and distance. Or you can rely soley on GPS and end up like this.

Walking along staring at your GPS unit just feels wrong to me. You don't learn anything about the county by doing that -- instead, you need to be looking around (including back the way you came), thinking how this road runs in relation to that drainage, how there is less kinnikinick here and more vaccinium, how a hermit thrush is calling somewhere up the ridge ...

At the same time, I will admit that I own one. I can justify setting a couple of waypoints when making cross-country walks in thick forests with few landmarks. But then I always try to test myself against the GPS as well.

Its compass readings are good, but I have gotten drastically different distance readings when walking the same trail twice. Altitude readings can vary as well -- who knew the Earth's crust was so elastic?

And the biggest barrier to knowing what is around me is not the gadget but my own buzzing brain.

July 01, 2008

A Note Taped to the Steering Wheel

The writer of this New York Times piece on suicides in national parks could have talked to our county coroner.

The coroner could have told him that scenic places anywhere seem to attract people who want to end it all.

Meanwhile, add yet another item to National Park Service employee training:

Rangers are trained in suicide prevention, and park officials are contemplating closing certain areas at night and adding more guardrails. Employees in places like Grand Canyon are taught to keep an eye out for notes taped to steering wheels.

Our county coroner, meanwhile, runs an excavation service -- he installed our septic system, which is when we had our conversation about suicides in scenic places. I always imagine him driving up to the scene of the death in his truck, towing a backhoe on a flatbed trailer, and saying, "Yep, he's dead all right. Where do you want the hole?"

March 08, 2008

"Children and Nature Now"


Educator Cheryl Charles talks about children's need to be outdoors.

Blog Stew with Psychotropics

¶ Colorado leads nation in teen depression. Do you think nature-deficit disorder is involved? Berkeley Breathed might say so.

¶ The best sex on campus is in Environmental Studies. CSU-Pueblo used to have an Environmental Studies minor; I was on the steering committee. Then there was a change of deans, and it was canceled, for reasons I never fully understood.

¶ Game halted on account of owl: An eagle owl (the Eurasian equivalent of our great horned owl) flies into a Finnish soccer stadium during a game with the Belgian national team. The game is delayed while the fans chant, "Huukaja! Huukaja!" ("eagle owl" in Finnish). (Hat tip, Pluvialis).

¶ In Florida, meanwhile, professional golfer Tripp Isenhour kills a red-shouldered hawk -- by repeatedly driving golf balls at it -- for the crime of interrupting the filming of his instructional video.

Funny, it's soccer that is associated with thuggish fans. Golf is supposedly the gentleman's game.

¶ That must be some storm sweeping up the Ohio River country. This blog has had several hits today from people searching some variety of "thunder while snowing." And they are all coming from Ohio and Kentucky. One of my nature-writing students blogged about thunder snow in April 2007.

November 29, 2007

Blog Stew on the Purg

¶ In September I mentioned Michael Ome Untiedt's impressionist paintings of the SE Colorado canyon country. Some are on his site too. He also has a show opening on Wed., Dec. 5, at Ernest Fuller Fine Art in Denver and running through Jan. 25, 2008.

Timothy Smith's blog about birds and other wildlife attracted to British landfills may be found under "Elsewhere."

Pondering Pikaia is another natural history blog, this one from Alabama, and hence under "Elsewhere" too.

Tucson Weekly interviews J.P.S. Brown.

If you ask Brown who he is, he'll say "cowboy." He won't say reporter, Marine, boxer, movie wrangler, stuntman or whiskey smuggler, and he's been all those things.

If he says writer at all, it won't be first on the list. But he's a great writer, probably the best you've never heard of.

April 26, 2007

Antlers, Fashion, and Trendy Decor

In my part of the Rockies, it common to see deer or elk antlers hung from the gables of houses, garages, or barns.

When I see this practice, I think of King Hrothgar's hall, Heorot, and smile at the persistence of cultural memory.

But there is more, says today's New York Times article on trendy nature motifs, "If There's A Buck In It Somewhere".

“Antlers have a kind of maximalism that satisfies our urge for things to be overdesigned,” said David Wolfe, the creative director of the Doneger Group, which forecasts fashion and retail trends. “And because they are natural, we don’t have to take the blame for their being overdesigned. They are busy, convoluted objects, but they are natural.”

It is notable as well that many of the shops that are rife with antlers are targeting a new breed of male consumer who is dabbling in a stereotypically feminine embrace of fashion. At Hollander & Lexer, a new men’s store on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn with the feel of shopping in a slightly demented explorer’s club, a mounted African kudu head watches over Rogues Gallery T-shirts and Paul Smith jeans, as if to remind shoppers that fussing over their wardrobes need not be an effete pursuit.

The stag as an archetypal symbol was not lost on Lisa Kinoshita, who designs a jewelry collection called Mineral in Tacoma, Wash., which includes a sterling silver antler pendant. But she doubts that the current popularity is based on more than aesthetics.

“Where once the stag was a symbol of religious regeneration,” she said, “it could be said that today it appeals to those who worship modern design.”


There is more, as fertile minds in the fashion industry talk about their favorite subject, the fashion industry

January 22, 2007

Teaching Nature Writing - Part 2

As I mentioned, this blog started out as a nature-writing class blog--a group blog--and it is about to become one again for the next three months.

So please welcome a dozen or so new voices whose perspectives definitely will not be always the same as mine.

I will try to train them to always put in hyperlinks where possible.

December 13, 2006

Guns, testosterone, and hot sauce

Recently, Knox College senior Jennifer Klinesmith and a couple of her psychology professors set out to prove what I suspect they believed all along:

•guns are inherently evil

•testosterone is bad

•cayenne pepper sauce is an instrument of torture

The result: ""Guns, testosterone, and aggression: A test of a mediational model" (PDF, 88 KB)

As a man who grew up in a house with a number of guns and a bottle of Tabasco sauce on the kitchen table, I took a certain interest in the article. Apparently, I might be the man whom professors Tim Kasser and Frank T. McAndrew are warning you against.

Their methodology was simple: "30 male college students provided a saliva sample (for testosterone assay), interacted with either a gun or a children’s toy for 15 minutes, and then provided another saliva sample."

In fact, it was not even a real firearm but a "pelletgun identical in size, shape, and feel to a Desert Eagle automatic [sic] handgun."

Apparently no one controlled for whether the students were previously familiar with guns or not! It seems to me that, for example, someone least likely to react to the airgun as "a stimulus signaling competition and a threat to status" might be the guy who packs them in the airgun-factory shipping department.

Once presumably super-charged with testosterone, the subjects were told to put some drops of Frank's Red Hot sauce in a cup of water for someone else to drink. As in most experiments, the rats monkeys human subjects were lied to, having been told that the experiment was on "taste sensitivity in males."

Did anyone think of the well-known health benefits of ingesting cayenne peppers?

The researchers believed that their assay confirmed their hypothesis, and they found a compliant journal in which to publish.

What underlies such research? It's a belief, I think, that our basic nature is somehow "wrong." I come back to the Gary Snyder quote that I referenced earlier about whether or not humans are (wild) animals:

[M]any people who have been hearing this since childhood have not absorbed the implications of it, perhaps feel remote from the nonhuman world, are not sure they are animals. They would like to feel they might be something better than animals.

Consequently, our basic state as humans, testosterone and all, is presumably something that must be "outgrown." Let us have the new Postmodern Man.

August 10, 2006

Everything listed in the banner is here

Nature (as social construct): Make some time in your life for Jordan Fisher Smith's memoir of days as a California state parks ranger, Nature Noir.

"I can't make up my mind whether Jordan Fisher Smith is John Muir at the crime scene or Elmore Leonard with a backpack," writes Mike Davis in a cover blurb.

M. and I are also reading (listening to on CD, actually) Nevada Barr's Hard Truth. It's a tightly plotted mystery, starring her series protagonist, the indestructible National Park Service ranger Anna Pigeon,but Barr should fire her field researcher. (She is living in Mississippi now.) There is no manzanita in Rocky Mountain National Park, and Abert squirrels on Colorado's Eastern Slope are solid black, without the white tail of the Kaibab Plateau race.

Culture: Bumper sticker seen on a Range Rover in Chama, New Mexico: "Never mind the car. My real treasure is in Heaven." Evidently the Range Rover's owner is a member of the Elect and knows it. Translation: "I am rich, and I am saved."

Environmental news: After my Mexican spotted owl post, I had lunch with Erik Brekke, the BLM biologist who supervised M's and my owl-census fieldwork in the early 1990s. He said that several of the owls banded then are still alive, two of them 13 and 15 years old, which seems ancient for a wild bird. Tough little guys!

He also said that he started hearing Eurasian collared doves in Cañon City, Colorado, as long as four years ago. So maybe this was just the year that M. and I became sensitized to their presence.

Dogs: Radley Balko writes The Agitator blog and works for the Cato Institute, where you will find this essay on family pets killed in SWAT team raids.

The "poster dog" was the Labrador retriever shot down in the misconceived raid on Randy Weaver's house, just before FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi gunned down Vicki Weaver as she held her baby. (Big terrorist that she was, y'know.)

August 23, 2004

"Where You At?"

Rebecca of "What's in Rebecca's Pocket?" blog rediscovers the "Where You At?" bioregional information quiz, which first appeared in CoEvolution Quarterly, later known as Whole Earth Review, in 1981. I am glad to have done my part in disseminating it through my nature-writing classes.

(Whole Earth Review is no more, but the Web site still exists.)