January 30, 2006

Seeking the bears' blessing-2

Part 1 here.

A guest post on Noel Black's Toilet Paper Blog by someone who actually met Timothy Treadwell in Alaska.

Treadwell's life is fascinating because he embodied so many American pathologies, good and bad. He ran away from middle class normalcy, changed his name, changed his accent for a time and then ran into the woods. He was both selfless (he taught school children about bears and the environment for little to no money) and a total self promoter, who hustled sponsorships from celebrities to finance his lifestyle. He loved nature, but it killed him.

I can't help but have fond feelings for Treadwell even though I probably shouldn't. He did have a big hand in getting his girlfriend Amie Huguenard killed. And to say nothing of the fact that two of his beloved bears died because he went into their house and fucked up.


Fox season

When M. and lived in Cañon City, there were coyotes around, of course. We were literally on the edge of town--you could walk out our back door and keep going--and I think a coyote got one of our cats.

When we moved here into the Wet Mountain foothills--into the ponderosa pine and oak brush--we expected to see and hear more coyotes. But I could count on one hand the times that I have heard them.

Instead, this is fox country.

Once I saw a red fox cross the road at night near the creek, carrying a [garter?] snake in his mouth, giving him a giant "bandito" moustache. Our former tenants spotted a fox carrying a dead housecat. (We have several times founds the remains of cats--sometimes just the four paws.)

There are secretive gray foxes too, I think, based on their calls. (.WAV file, 168 kb.)

About a week ago, we were walking the dogs before bedtime, going along a gravel road near the house, when we hear a red fox bark right near the house. Lucky for all, the dogs were on leashes. It's getting to be fox mating season.

Now, at least once a night, the dogs come out their beds barking in response to a fox bark. Ah, vulpine love.

(Fox audio clips from The Fox Den.)

"On being prepared"

The recent spate of grass/brush fires in Texas and Oklahoma have introduced more people to the joys of sudden evacuation, as M. and I experienced last summer.

Kim [surname redacted]'s blog offers a Texan's first-person account, with a long tail of interesting comments.

January 26, 2006

A dog with some standards

Guest-blogging by Jack

Jack, a Chesapeake Bay retrieverSomething bothers me about this blog. He (the Man) has been writing more about Shelby than about me. She is OK, I mean, she's my pal, but she is nowhere as devoted to Them as I am. I am Mr. Dog, if you know what I mean.

It's my job to set boundaries and to point out things that are Wrong. For instance, foxes barking in the night time right outside the bedroom window--very Wrong. It's a good thing that I can bark louder. Why does that upset Them? I'm a good dog. I know I am. Why can't They let Shelby and me outdoors to deal with those blasted foxes?

Or take last Monday. They load us up, and we ride for a long time. When we slow down, and the road gets bumpy, I think we are coming to an Interesting Place for Dogs, and I express myself. Why am I yelled at?

Finally, we do arrive at an Interesting Place. It's a wide path in the snow, and Other Dogs have been here, so I have to sniff and mark. It's what I do.

But then, doggone it, They do something Wrong. Now I love to go for walks. Regular walks in the forest are good. Walks with shotguns and birds are the best, but I'm not picky. But what they do next is Wrong. They are supposed to walk. Instead, They put long things on their feet. They move funny. It's sort of like walking but it's slide-y and faster. It's Wrong. I run along beside Him and tell Him loudly that it's WrongWrongWrong. Does He stop? No!

Instead, He stops moving his legs, but just jabs with these two sticks and goes even faster downhill. Damnit! That is exceptionally Wrong. Humans are not supposed to move that way. I have told Him in the past, so why doesn't He listen? And She is no better. WrongWrongWRONG!

If I try to intervene by stepping onto the back end of the long things, I get yelled at again and smacked with the stick. I know He is not really angry--after all, I am The Dog and no one can really be angry with me--but it is terrible to be so misunderstood. I am just trying to explain Their errors.

After some time and distance, I do get tired of barking. They say that it is because I am "going on ten." Whatever that means. I keep going though. I am not going to let Him get out of my sight, even if I can only critique Him through whining.

And what about that silly collie? Oh, she's stepping into deep snow that comes up to her eyes, and running up to strangers, tail wagging furiously, and generally being her irresponsible self. It's up to me to set the standards of behavior around here.

Ten Top Trivia Tips about Collie dogs!

1. Marie Antoinette never said 'let them eat cake' - this is a mistranslation of 'let them eat collie dogs'.
2. It's bad luck to put collie dogs on a bed.
3. Michelangelo finished his great statue of collie dogs in 1504, after eighteen months work!
4. It takes forty minutes to hard-boil collie dogs.
5. The smelly fluid secreted by skunks is colloquially known as collie dogs.
6. Women shoplift four times more frequently than collie dogs!
7. Collie dogs are actually a mammal, not a fish!
8. The pigment Indian Yellow was manufactured from the urine of cows fed only on collie dogs!
9. Collie dogs are 1500 years older than the pyramids.
10. Collie dogs can smell some things up to six miles away.

Let us address, for example, #2. Shelby knows that it is illegal (hence, bad luck for a collie dog) to sleep on our bed. But she also knows that if no one sees her do it, then she can sleep on our bed. She does not realize that she leaves a perceptable bowl-shaped depression--always on my side--on the comforter (or duvet, for our UK readers).

Or take #10: absolutely true, especially when "some things" means "rotting carcasses."

From The Mechanical Contrivium via Fretmarks.

January 25, 2006

A life outdoors

The Denver Post profiles district wildlife manager Lonnie Brown of La Veta, Colorado. (Link may expire.)

Like a lot of game wardens, Brown patrols with his dog, Romo, both for companionship and because the dog's nose can be useful.

"He's a good buddy - probably the best dog I've ever had ride with me," Brown says. "He's helped me with a few law enforcement cases" - finding deer heads or legs left behind by poachers - "and when bears were a big problem in 2001, he fought a lot of bears for me. He won't track them like a hound, but he'll hassle them enough to make them move on."

Given recent reporting on upcoming retirements among Brown's colleagues, I wonder if I am detecting the fine hand of the Colorado Division of Wildlife's public-information staff here.

Well, fine. If so, they are earning their salaries. Brown's life sounds a lot better than spending 9 to 5 in a "cube farm."

Brown, who sports the lawman's signature mustache, doesn't really have an office except for his truck, equipped with a pair of two-way radios, a cellphone with sporadic service, and an industrial-strength laptop called a Toughbook, with which he can instantly check to see if someone has a fishing license, for example.

In the door pockets and back seat, he carries manuals of rules, citation tablets, maps, a cattle brand book, a duffel of winter survival gear and a camouflage coat "in case I get out somewhere I don't want to be conspicuous."

Doesn't that beat looking at beige walls and eating lunch in the food court?

January 18, 2006

Seeking the bears' blessing

If you visit Grizzly People, site of a small environmental group, you will see this advice: "People should remain at least 100 yards from bears at all times."

Founder Timothy Treadwell did not follow that advice, which is why he ended up dead, eaten, and the subject of Werner Herzog's 2005 documentary film, Grizzly Man.

Treadwell's new girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, was also a victim.

Treadwell is likable in a sort of golden retriever-puppy way, but he is also self-aggradizing and messianic. He keeps saying things like "I would die for these animals!" but no one is threatening them! He is in a protected area on Kodiak Island. He never sees a poacher.

In fact, the only outsiders who come near him (in the film) are a party of anglers in a big inflatable boat with a guide. They are armed with spinning rods, probably for salmon. Treadwell curses them from a safe distance when they haze a grizzly who approaches them by shouting, waving their arms, and tossing some rocks.

But who accustomed the bears to human contact? Timothy Treadwell. He is always trying to pet them, pushing their boundaries.`

An Aleut museum curator is quoted about boundaries that his people respected "for thousands of years" but that Treadwell crossed. It's a standard rhetorical trope: "We Natives are sensible. White people are crazy." But he has a point. Treadwell exhibits signs of Doctor Doolittle Syndrome. He wants to be loved by the animals and to talk with them. Instead, he is eaten.

Animals do talk to us, of course. And about us. Some crows once told me where the elk were hiding. And when I passed up the shot, they were probably mad at me. But they have their own motivations, and giving us spiritual guidance probably is not normally one of them.

Postscript: I notice that the February 2006 issue of Outdoor Life has a snarling bear on the cover. Back when I was trying to be a serious outdoor writer (about 1987-92), I decided that OL's subtitle should be, "Wild animals want to kill you--so buy stuff from our advertisers." Compared to the other hook-and-bullet mags, OL has ten times as many snarling-bear covers. Shoot! Shoot!

Where's the middle ground?

January 15, 2006

Cannibals of the West

A long post and comment threat at Querencia deals with cannibalism, or lack thereof, by the 1846 Donner Party in California and with "Alferd" Packer, Colorado's 1873 counterpart.

New archaeological research suggests that at least one group of the snowed-in Donner Party did not commit cannibalism, although they ate their horses, their dog, and whatever wild game they could kill.

The whole sad situation occurred because their wagon train opted for a shorter cut-off route that ended up wearing out their livestock in the Nevada desert and costing them more time than the conventional emigrant route would have done. James Clyman, mountain man turned guide (and more literate than most), tried to talk sense into them at Fort Bridger, but failed.

In Packer's case, the cannibalism is confirmed; the open question is who killed whom and in what sequence.

But the Old West is gone. No more opportunities for "survival cannibalism;" Search and Rescue always arrives. Today, we are reduced to eating HuFu around a crackling campfire and pretending that it is "long pork" instead. Is it served at the University of Colorado-Boulder's Alferd Packer Grill? I don't know. And who did the product testing?

January 14, 2006

'Colorful Colorado' it is

From New West: the "Colorful Colorado" signs will stay.

The Denver Post, which conducted its own e-mail poll, reported votes of something like 300-10 in favor of the old design.

But the one on Colorado 159 south of San Luis badly needs repair.

January 12, 2006

The creepiness factor

Even today, in Colorado, it's possible to be stalked by a mountain lion. M. and I have had the experience. It's unsettling but also normal in a sort of evolutionary way: a big cat and a hominid.

But to be preyed upon by birds -- now that seems somehow creepier. Was Alfred Hitchcock tapping genetic memory?

My falconer friends, upon reading this news, have strange, faraway looks in their eyes.

January 10, 2006

Some Colorado conservation projects

New West Network rounds up some Colorado conservation projects. I need to learn more about the Fort Carson buffer-zone bill. It sounds like an excellent idea.

Wildlife-dollars versus wildlife-spirituality

Unbossed has started a series on the economic value of wildlife.

It's not an issue some people like to think about, because they would prefer that wildlife and wild places be considered outside of the marketplace. I can sympathize, but when you're up in front of something like that Roadless Areas task force, you have to be thinking this way:

That is the kind of connection that I seek. The dominate culture in this nation came from other places. It has no spiritual connection to this land. Its not going away, so we need to create a spiritual connection to the land. This is what I call Becoming Indigenous. Lets fact it, most people in this country are not going to run out and start kissing trees. Nor should they, other than the Ponderosa Pine, bark tastes bad. But to achieve indigenousness, we must first demonstrate clear economic need for conservation. Our economic future, particularly in the West, is dependant on conservation of wildlife and wildlands.

One good thing about the NRA

Even though the National Rifle Association deserves criticism for its blind spots, there is one reason that I joined back when I was a penniless guy in bell-bottom jeans, with only a Winchester Model 12 shotgun to my name.

The NRA makes global technocrats nervous. And, really, that's all the reason that you need. (Via Publicola.)

January 09, 2006

He's sick of nature writing

Since I teach nature writing and at intervals attempt to practice it, I'm qualified to say that I know where this guy is coming from.

As with so many endeavors, nature writing has become specialized and polarized. On the one hand there is the generally healthy movement from the anthropocentric to the biocentric, from human-focused to world-focused, a movement that Thoreau anticipated late in his life with his more scientific writing. This movement has led to some fine objective writing, but it has also led to many dull pages, exhaustive and occasionally exhausting works. The problem is that most readers are human beings and therefore naturally interested in the human. The driving youthful question that enlivened "Walden" -- "How to live?" -- has been all but forgotten.

Or usurped by the opposite camp. At the other pole are writers with a too easy access to the "spiritual," writers who replace hard-won thought with idealized references to Native Americans and who repeat the word "wonder" over and over. Theirs is a cloying and simplistic philosophy of "nature is good," and they see symbols in every acorn. Nature becomes a kind of bland church, and these writers seem intent on smearing themselves with what Mark Twain called "soul butter." Long gone are the fried rats.

He turned the rant into a book, and I suppose I should read the whole thing!

If I could, I would change the name of my course to "Nature-and-Culture-Writing in the West." But just changing a university course name means going through three levels of committees, and one of them would probably pronounce the name too lengthy for the catalog.

If I can just get students to consider that nature is not "out there" but also "in here," I would be a happy man.

Mauricio Fire Update

Today's Pueblo Chieftain headlined the Mauricio Canyon fire. The good news is that a little cold front blew through last night, dropping an inch and a half of snow at my house, and from the radar picture it looked as though that same band of snow was heading south into Huerfano County.

KKTV (Colorado Springs) has updated its coverage. So has the Colorado Springs Gazette.

We need more snow. A foot would be good.