August 25, 2006

Mushroom days - 2

With thunder in the distance, M. and I took a walk in the Wet Mountains on Thursday looking for mushrooms.

We walked into a mother lode of hawk's wing mushrooms (Sarcodon imbricatus), getting that crazy mushroom visual effect where you see one and then suddenly your eyes adjust and you realize that you are surrounded.

I think the king bolete-hunters had already been through, because we were finding only a few old ones (and we were close to the access road), while other similar-appearing mushrooms had been knocked over but left in place.

Then, in a tight, doghair stand of little firs that we had to push into head-down, we found a sackfull. It's like elk hunting: "They're in the thick timber, boys."

The book in the photo is, of course, Vera Stucky Evenson's Mushrooms of Colorado and the Southern Rocky Mountains.

To stay bemushroomed in the literary sense, read Andy Letcher's Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom, which is actually about much more than Amanita and Psilocybe.

For one thing, Letcher demolishes R. Gordon Wasson's distinction between "mycophobic" and "mycophilic" cultures with clear historical evidence.

August 20, 2006

Blogroll update

SE Colorado Birding lets you follow SeEtta Moss of Canon City as she lists species that I, for one, never knew lived in this area, like the yellow-billed cuckoo. (Mockingbirds, yes.)

Reading Patrick Burns' Terrier Man blog makes me want to use the word "feral" again, and that would be the second time today that I have used it. Only now I use it in a good way.

Burns is a craftsman as a writer and as a hunter, putting me in mind of this line from the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset's famous Meditations on Hunting:

For hunting is not simply casting blows right and left in order to kill animals or to catch them. The hunt is a series of technical operations, and for an an activity to become technical it has to matter that it works in one particular way and not in another.

(I just noticed that Meditations on Hunting is not included in Wikipedia's list of his publications. Interesting. . . .)

'There are no innocent victims in this place'

The bitter pill of environmental history goes down much more easily if you mix in meth dealers, tree thieves, feral gold prospectors, and suicial bridge-jumpers.

Nature Noir, Jordon Fisher Smith's memoir of days as a California state parks ranger, led one reviewer to state, "I can't make up my mind whether Jordan Fisher Smith is John Muir at the crime scene or Elmore Leonard with a backpack."

Can Smith write "noir"? Try this:

She was stoop-shouldered woman in her late thirties who looked like this [automobile] crash wasn't the first bad thing that had happened to her. Her clothing was asexual--old jeans and a lumpy brown blouse. She wore no makeup. Her face was weathered and plain, and bore an expression of blank-faced sadness you see in women whose main talent in life is getting mixed up with the wrong men.

Another excerpt here.

Definately a good read, and you come away knowing more about California parks history, the social history of map-making, what happens when dams are rushed to completion, and Lyme disease.

August 14, 2006

Mushroom Days -1

The past weeks' rains, at least in the southern part of Colorado, have stoked mushroom hunters like Roger Kahn of Crested Butte. Read the article (before it expires) for a list of Colorado mushroom festivals.

'Rags over the River' wrap up

"JC" at High Plains Messenger summarizes the problems with Christo's "Over the River" project from both the human and other-than-human viewpoints.

He comes to southern Colorado and "makes nice" to the residents about how his project will fully consider their views and feelings, but I don't trust him. I read a subsequent article, which I wish I could find online, in which during a presentation in Austin, Texas, he basically referred to people here as ignorant hicks who failed to appreciate (his) great art.

August 11, 2006

Jim Harrison on dogs and money

Jim Harrison is a novelist, poet, essayist, and screenwriter. If you are not familiar with his work, a little Googling will bring up a lot of information.

I am reading his memoir/collection of rants, Off to the Side, and offer one of its many aphorisms, this one about his bird dogs:

A dog can escort you away from our current empire and into a more private world where literature is allowed to thrive.

In one online interview, Harrison discusses the moment that writers never forget: the first time that they ever did it for money.

(For me, it was a short story that won a $100 Scholastic Magazines prize when I was a student at Fort Collins High School. I bought a Smith-Corona portable typewriter with my winnings.)

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 08, 2006

Mushroom days

M. and I spent Thursday-Sunday camped on the Conejos River in far southern Colorado. Driving in the thick fir forests near Trujillo Reservoir, we saw several groups of people walking into the woods with plastic buckets.

It's mushroom time. It rained every day we were there, sometimes torrentially, like a Pacific Coast rain--no thunder, just downpour.

She picked some boletes on one walk, which went into that night's soup. Had we brought a dehydrator (memo for the future), we could have it plugged in right now at our Taos motel, surprising the maid who wonders why the room reeks of fungus.

Monday's Albuquerque Journal noted that this is the best mushroom year since 1931 in northern New Mexico. (Story behind a pay-wall, but you can wait through the ad.)

In a weird juxtaposition, the same section carried an Associated Press item about Mexican Indians dying from eating poisonous mushrooms.

Wait a minute, aren't they the experts? Maria Sabina and all that?

The story continues, "But recent genetic mutations have made some form of mushrooms consumed for years in Indian communities newly poisonous, officials say."

"Officials say" . . . what officials? The local mayor? What in fact is going on? Is this just bureaucratic bafflegab or an actual biological change?

August 02, 2006

A New Mexican's tips for beating the heat.

Beat the heat like a Southwesterner.

One of John McPhee's essays mentioned an old-time Wyoming rancher who carried an umbrella as a sunshade. He set it down and ate his lunch in little patch of shade. Can you imagine seeing them at the ranch-supply store? Or in a Colorado mountaineering shop? Someone's missing a marketing opportunity here.

July 30, 2006

Redundancy helps America grow!

According to an insert in yesterday's Cañon City Daily Record, the Cañon Coffee Café is now open for business at 1520 Royal Gorge Blvd.

The Cañon Coffee Café is in full compliance with redundancy standards promulgated by the Office of Redundancy Office, a unit of the US Department of Commerce located on Table Mesa Drive in Boulder, Colorado.

Ants who aren't ants

As long as I am bashing Disney for moving oak trees into Australia, another "nature faker" prize should go to the movie The Ant Bully, here witheringly reviewed by the Washington Post's Stephen Hunter.

And the only thing that even makes it marginally arguable is, as I have said, anthropomorphism gone pathological. As movie design, the ants have been prettified and given eloquent voice and movement; their pincers, meant to tear the flesh off other ants in their ceaseless wars, have been stylized into design accessories in the form of well-placed, clearly vestigial decorative shells resembling earrings. The ants aren't ants anymore, but human beings. Their very anthood, their genetic reality, has been obliterated and replaced with idealized archetypes from some touchy-feely new agey pacifist's infinitely superior brain.

I like a reviewer who can speak his mind. (Hat tip: Hell in a Handbasket.)

July 29, 2006

'Hunters, anglers should back roadless wild areas'

That's the headline on enviro-blogger Jonathan Hanson's recent op-ed piece in the Arizona Republic

Colorado, too, is finishing this laborious and pointless roadless-area review--pointless because we went through it just a few years ago, and the public comments were overwhelmingly in favor of roadless areas then, as they were this year.

One quick excerpt from Hanson's piece:

Some say we need more roads for fire crews to fight wildfires. But according to the Forest Service, destructive fires occur much more frequently in roaded and logged areas than in roadless areas, and human-caused fires are almost five times more likely to start near a road. The Roadless Rule allows firefighters motorized access to fight wildfires within roadless areas.

Some hunters say roadless areas make hunting more difficult. But as true conservationist hunters, we should consider the health of the game first, our own convenience second. Several studies have shown that roadless areas make the best wildlife habitat. And I'm happy to work hard to enjoy a quality hunting experience in wild country unspoiled by the noise of vehicles.

Oh yeah, he's a Republican. Where do we get this idea that only Democrats favor environmental protection?

10-Bird Meme: No. 6, Cordilleran flycatcher

Cordilleran flycatcher young, 13 days oldShould you name a wild animal?

I have always tried to avoid it, on the principle that “Nature cares about species, not individuals.”

Still, if you are Doug Peacock or Timothy Treadwell, and the animals involved are individualistic and, more importantly, capable of eating you, it would be understandable if you would name them. Honorable adversaries and all that.

But what about small birds?

This summer a Cordilleran flycatcher (Empidonax occidentalis) nested on a porch beam. We had a nest there last year, and also once in the 1990s. M., who takes the position that wild animals are individuals, named her Lucinda, a name that sort of incorporated her “tseet” call and was also a bit of a tribute. Her mate became Sidney.

She laid four eggs. As happened last year, the fourth egg hatched late, and that chick soon disappeared from view. This morning, after not having checked the nest for a couple of days, I saw only two fledglings, almost fully feathered and sitting outside the nest, but still being fed a healthful diet of moths by their parents. Did the oldest already depart, or did #3 die? I plan to check the nest for remains but not until it is empty.

Last year and this, they have influenced our lives. We never turn on the porch light, and we shush the dogs when they bark directly underneath the nest. During the incubation, we peer out the living room window to see if the female is on her nest, and we worry when she is missing during a thunderstorm. We watched Sidney drive off a larger black-headed grosbeak who landed on the telephone wire too near the nest, while Lucinda beat up on a pine siskin likewise.

Of course, we really cannot do anything for the flycatchers other than having provided them with a convenient nesting ledge.

UPDATE, July 30: This morning when I checked the nest, the two fledglings were gone. Maybe #1 made an earlier departure after all. Unlike last year, there were no dessicated remains of #4 in the bottom of the next, so that hatchling's fate is a mystery.

Talk about feeling like “empty-nesters.”

Die, tamarisk, die!

Coyote Gulch links to a hopeful piece of news: a biological control for the invasive, wildlife-habitat-destroying tamarisk may just be working. (Newspaper link may expire.)

From the Rocky Mountain News:

Releases in 2001 at four sites, two in Nevada and two in Utah, have matured and beetles are defoliating hundreds of acres of tamarisk. . . . beetles released in 2004 near Moab, Utah, are taking hold.

The tamarisk, a tree native to Eurasia, has crowded out native species such as willows and cottonwoods and sucked up vast amounts of water in the West.

Labor-intensive efforts to eradicate tamarisk cost $1,500 to $3,000 per acre. The tamarisk leaf beetles may be able to do the job for less than $10 per acre, according to U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Mel Lloyd.

Are you cool enough to buy our stuff?

Jed Baer blogged on being treated as invisible in a Colorado gun shop, and Wadcutter took up the topic too. But it's not just gun shops that can be this way--although I had a similar experience last Friday. (I won't name the establishment because I will be surprised if it is there this time next year.)

Is it the outdoor business in general: fly shops, bike shops, mountaineering shops?

You walk through the door, and the clerk's look says, "Are you cool enough to be shopping here? Do I recognize you from Outside or Fly Fisherman magazine?"

There are exceptions, of course. I nominate Absolute Bikes of Salida, Colorado, as a shop that is chock-full of bike geekiness, yet its staff seems attentive to every tourist who wanders in, not just to Lance Armstrong-wannabees.

So your choice is to try to get on the "known customer" list or to go to some big-box store where the selection is just the lowest common denominator, and the sales clerks (if you can find one) were working in consumer electronics or women's wear last week.

Baer says it:

At no time did anyone think to utter those 4 little words which are so noticeably lacking in the retail business these days: "May I help you?" Guy #2 was obviously too busy to bother with something so unimportant to the retail trade as helping a customer, or even being courteous. . . . I've worked retail. I know what it's like. Never, ever, during that time, did I fail to greet a customer, no matter how busy I was.

And you wonder why people are slow to take up these activities.