July 17, 2007

Death on the Arkansas

Tracy Harmon, my former colleague at the Canon City Daily Record, summarized this year's rafting deaths on the Arkansas River, a story that several Colorado newspapers have picked up.

Hers is a story that a Fremont or Chaffee County reporter can write every year. While not a big river, the Arkansas is cold and fast in its upper reaches (above Cañon City), and it kills a few boaters every year.

I wrote my own version in about 1990 and got a telephone call in response from Jerry Mallett, now a Chaffee Co. commissioner but back then a p.r. man for the rafting industry.

Why was I writing a "negative" story about the wholesome rafting industry, which does so much for the local economy and blah blah blah?

Jerry, I said, why do so many rafting companies have the word "Adventure" in their names? It seems to me that without at least a remote risk of death, it's not really an adventure.

We never did see eye to eye.

I wonder if Tracy got a similar call from whoever has that job now.

July 08, 2007

Bureaucratic Idiocy: the Forest Service

Journalists are starting to put "cash-strapped" in front of Forest Service the way that they put "tiny" in front of Rhode Island.

Here on southern Colorado's San Isabel National Forest, our local ranger district is making noises about closing recreational facilities such as picnic areas and campgrounds.

This is not only stupid and wrong, it would be a huge historic irony.

When you set the Forest Service's "multiple use" doctrine against the realities of the San Carlos Ranger District, here are the realities:

• Mining: minimal.

• Grazing: some, but much less than there was perhaps forty years ago.

• Watershed protection: always important, but sort of passive.

• Timber: less important than in the "get the cut out" days of the 1980s, even. I see fewer timber sales than there were back then, and of the three small sawmills adjacent to the ranger district, at least one relies entirely on private lands. There is no one to even bid on a big timber sale.

• Recreation: the main use of the forest. In fact—here is the history part—the very first national forest campgrounds in the Rockies were built on the San Carlos District. (But the FS institutional memory is usually afflicted with bureaucratic Alzheimer's.) The San Isabel NF is all about recreation and not much else.

Take away recreation, and how will those FS staffers justify their jobs?

Right now, this planning exercise was stopped by a decision by the 9th Circuit federal courts that the FS's new speeded-up planning process violated federal environmental laws. So nothing is happening right now—no public meetings.

If it is really all about the budget, the USFS (Agriculture Dept.) plays that game even worse than the National Park Service (Interior Dept. The Park Service, which has its own nonprofit cheering section, has been known to close or threaten to close something prominent, like the Washington Monument at the height of tourist season, if they need to make a point about money.

So why not close down a national forest: campgrounds, offices, the whole thing?

Of course, to do that, some political appointee at the agency's head has to be willing to take a risk.

Don't hold your breath,

July 05, 2007

On the Road

I just wanted to mention that I am traveling right now, but I will return soon with something about the pivotal role of acorns in the Western United States -- and maybe more.

June 27, 2007

Wildland Firefighting Video

Some Wyoming firefighters made this video to give a sense of their work. It's the real deal.

Me, I own a hardhat and a pulaski, but I never did the real paid firefighting. When I was a little kid, they wore jeans and T-shirts, and nobody had a radio.

It's addictive work for the people who do it. Think of walking up on a fire when you can't see it -- but you can hear it. (Via The Goat.)

"All My Flycatchers"

SEASON ONE: After a lapse of some years, Cordilleran flycatchers return to our porch. Lucinda (all females are named Lucinda) investigates a philosophical paradox.

SEASON TWO: Lucinda starts a new family. Again she lays four eggs, but only three young survive to fledge.

SEASON THREE: Lucinda starts to build a nest in the same old spot, but June 6 brings an unseasonal windstorm. On June 7, I notice that the nest is gone.

Lucinda and a male are still in the area; we hear their calls. On the 22nd, with M. and me away in Colorado Springs and the dogs shut indoors, she starts rebuilding.

And she is still rebuilding. Is there time to rear another brood? In mid-July, a contractor will be coming to install new double-paned windows about ten feet from her nest site. Will she tolerate the disruption?

Stay tuned for All My Flycatchers, Season Three!

June 26, 2007


Hail stones bouncing off the roof

The late Sam Arnold of The Fort restaurant in Morrison, Colorado, helped to keep alive the hailstorm, a Southern Plains version of the mint julep.

Although many early nineteenth-century mint julep recipes called for brandy rather than whiskey, the hailstorm is a whiskey drink:

Hail Storm Julip
From the 1830's the earliest known mixed drink served in Colorado, from Bent's Fort. Originally made with Monongahela wiskey from Pittsburgh, or wheat wiskey from Taos.
# 3 oz bourbon
# 2 teaspoons powdered sugar
# 2 sprigs of fresh mint leaves

place crushed ice in pint size mason jar, add bourbon,
sugar and mint screw top in place,
shake at least 50 times...remove lid and drink from jar.

June 25, 2007

Voodoo Greenwashing

Damn near any product can be "green," if you are creative enough.

lastic-handled paint brushes were touted as nature-friendly because they were not made of wood. Wood-handled paint brushes were promoted as better for the planet because they were not made of plastic.

An electric chainsaw? Green, because it was not gas-powered. A bug zapper? Ditto, because it was not a poisonous spray. Manufacturers of paint thinners, electrical screwdrivers and interior overhead lights claimed similar bragging rights simply because their plastic or cardboard packaging was recyclable.

Via Glenn Reynolds.

June 24, 2007

Wind and Wine

Although written about Illinois, this post could be translated to Coloradan, in parts.

But you know what the corollary is: we need to drink more domestic wine.

June 22, 2007

The 24 Hours of LeMons

It's an article about recycling. Really. Sort of.

Call it the "new new nature writing." (Via Hell in a Handbasket.)

The Age of Whales

Whales and whaling are outside the remit of this blog, but this news rocked me back. Apparently some whales can live as long as two centuries:

In studies that could rewrite biology textbooks and establish whales as the longest-living mammals on Earth, scientists in Alaska and at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla have estimated the ages of three bowhead whales killed by Inupiat Eskimos in northern Alaska at 135 to 172 years. At the time it was killed, a fourth bowhead whale was believed to be a stunning 211 years old, the researchers concluded.

June 18, 2007

A Nation of Wimps -- With Maps

The "nation(s) of wimps" meme has arrived at Boing Boing:

The Daily Mail has an article about how kids have been restricted from roaming far from their houses when they play or go to school and why this is bad for their mental health. It includes a map that shows how, over four generations, the roaming range afforded to kids has shrunk to the size a a backyard.

And tonight's ABC news featured The Dangerous Book for Boys.

Meanwhile, Denver Post op-ed columnist Stuart Clark Rogers thinks that his grandsons will not need to know how to use a pocketknife, tie a necktie, shoot a gun, etc. Apparently others will do all those things for them. Maybe they will not even need to go outdoors?

'Transitioning' into Montana

I mentioned Larimer County, Colorado's, online Code of the West.

But some find such documents a little ... harsh.

Counties throughout Montana have long published Codes of the West for newcomers, which basically warn them not to expect the same level of government services they received back East and not to be shocked if, say, they wake up one morning to see a rancher driving cattle through their yards.

“When you read them, they sound almost punitive,” said William Bryan Jr., executive director of the Rural Landscape Institute.

Instead, new Montanans can view the Path to Eden DVD, narrated by anchorman Tom Brokaw and designed "assist landowners in transitioning into Montana’s rural way of life." Renters and students are on their own, I guess.

(Via Mary Scriver.)

A Sure-Fire Bestseller

You know the old publisher's joke about "Lincoln's doctor's dog," right? (If you do not, then Google probably is your friend.)

So why not "Hitler's Jack Russell terrier"? Patrick Burns has the basics.

Me, I see it as a children's book. In Robert Harris's world.

Wildflowers and Bad News for Bears

Back from South Carolina, I walked down the driveway this morning to look at wildflowers. But part of what I saw is bad news for bears--and for me.

The wet spring has meant profuse waxy white yucca blossoms...

... and the American vetch is blooms along the driveway, together with ...

tall (a/k/a one-sided) penstemon.

M. loves to see abundant yellow sweetclover, which seems to move from place to place each year.

This cobweb is catching "cotton" from the cottonwood trees along Hardscrabble Creek.

But the bad news is that the wet spring seems to have produced an outbreak of "plum pockets," a fungus disease that destroys the fruit. I did not see a single good-looking plum developing. Normally the bears get most of these wild plums--I collect maybe one bowl full. But this year they won't. Maybe they can make up for them with feral apples.

(Flower identifications from Plants of Pueblo Mountain Park, the best flower guide for these foothills.)


Jack bays back at the  coyotesJack rouses himself from his porch bed to bay back at the coyotes across the valley.

No, that is not doggie ectoplasm projecting from his throat but one of a set of antlers hanging from the porch railing.