August 12, 2008

Monsoon Mushrooms

Puffball and king boleteIt has been raining a lot in southwest Conejos County, but most of the mushrooms M. and were seeing were not the ones that we wanted to eat. M.'s Trujillo Meadows bolete patch of 2006 produced only the one in my hand.

Were we too early? Too late? I guess that uncertainty is why they call it "mushroom hunting," not "mushroom gathering.

Young, pickable puffballs were pretty prolific. They are just not as interesting to eat.

We will be looking closer to home in the Wet Mountains next, now that we have had some rain here.

August 08, 2008

Asses and Passes

Local burro racer Hal Walter wins the Leadville men's division while Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen continues his quixotic quest to make burro-racing the official state sport.

Putt-putting on the Rails

I have always thought that a trip like this should be instituted on the mostly unused tracks from Pueblo to Minturn, up the Arkansas River and over Tennessee Pass.

But since railroad speeders have a rough ride, as the writer points out, why not one of the pickup trucks equipped with flanged wheels that the railroads also use?

Somebody please start this tour business so that I can be one of the first customers.

August 07, 2008

Wolves, Madness, and Mushrooms

I have started Nevada Barr's latest novel, Winter Study

It is set in Isle Royale National Park in midwinter, and Barr, whose latest efforts seemed to be lapsing into chick lit, has raised her personal bar on this one. A group of wolf researchers seemed to be stalked by . . . something, and everyone is on the edge of going mad, I tell you, completely mad.

Or in Barr's words, "A crazy-making current was running through the island." I suspect the explanation will be prosaic, but the build-up is fun.

Meanwhile, after two days (!) of later-summer rains, M. is starting to crack. She mutters about living in the Pacific Northwest. She talks to moths. We had better dry her out soon.

Still, August rains mean mushrooms. Blogging will drop off after Sunday, for we are are going mushroom hunting.

For mushrooms, I favor a light, expanding bullet. Shot placement is everything.

August 02, 2008

The Rattlesnake Initiation

When I was bitten by a rattlesnake just outside Tucson, where writer Erec Toso lives, I spent two nights in the hospital, got rid of my crutches after a week, and was completely healed after a month.

Toso had a much rougher time, but he got a book out of it, one that uses the encounter with Crotalus scutulatus to talk about a number of larger issues, including the whole New West issue of how we should live among sharp-toothed and/or venomous wildlife.

That book, Zero at the Bone: Rewriting Life after a Snakebite, was published last year by the University of Arizona Press.

We meet Toso first off as trail runner, painter, U. of Arizona writing teacher, husband and dad, still cherishing romantic dreams:

Why, I wondered, had I caved into this life? . . . . It had not been my vision to be a householding teacher, a worker bee. . . . I thought I should set up my life to be more free, maybe move to Montana and get a big dog, a sheepskin coat, and write muscular action movels about climbing mountains or running rivers, or outrunning and foiling the greedy corporate evildoers.

But walking across his own front yard one evening, bringing his sons home from the community swimming pool, he is bitten:

As sophisticated as a syringe, the delivery system did its work. Then the snake rattled a dry leaves whir.

And all his life evaporated . . .

I became little more than a piece of meat that was being digested by highly toxic enzymes, a body that soon could not work or walk and that was in the first round of a fight for its life. The fibers I wove together as a kind of shield to protect myself against the pains and threats of the world, both inside and out, unraveled, leaving me holding only threads, a searing vulnerability.

And then the medical part begins, with Toso taking the first initiatory journey on the wings of venom and morphine. I know that one: at one point, as my gurney was wheeled down corridors from the emergency room to the ICU, the Tucson PD K-9 officer walking ahead of us turned into a fullblown Guardian of the Underworld.

Toso had the additional misfortune of contracting a secondary infection—all snakebites leave bacteria behind, bacteria deposited by the last defecation of their prey on its way down the snake's gullet. Sent home in a wheelchair after four days in the hospital, Toso has barely started to catch up on the new semester when an infected abscess sends him back to the emergency room.

As the medical story progresses, however, what interests Toso the writer is the snake story--how one culture treats them as holy while another wants to kill them on sight. As Southwesterners keep moving to the desert's edge, snake encounters increase, and as a biologist whom he interviews remarks, "We need to reconfigure the stories we tell about snakes. The ones we have just don't work when it comes time to share the desert."

Meanwhile, Toso sees himself changing, becoming more mindful, less driven—changed. If you came for the scary rattlesnake story, you get it, including biochemistry and a little herpetology from the biologists, but Zero to the Bone is really the story of a man "in the middle of the road of my life," to quote Dante, who awakes in an emergency room where the true way was wholly lost and has to re-evaluate everything.

July 31, 2008

The FLDS Come to Live Among Us

Last May, the local weekly reacted predictably when the editor learned that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had established compounds in Fremont and Custer County. (That is a Fremont County example above.)

The Custer County sheriff searched one FLDS compound for zoning violations, and of course he found some. Secretive religious groups always violate zoning regulations: obedient to to a higher power, they don't have to show you any stinkin' permits.

Anti-polygamists arrived to make their case by screening Banking on Heaven: Inside Warren Jeffs' Polygamous Cult. A former colleague of mine watched and was impressed.

There is not much sympathy for the FLDS here, but a journalist friend tells me that the sheriff's move was not well-received by everyone either.

It's the legacy of Waco and Eldorado. At Waco, the Branch Davidians were shot and burned for the crime of ... what was it exactly?

The FLDS "ranch" at Eldorado, Texas, was raided and women and kids hauled away, based on one telephone call that was probably bogus. I predict that the legal dust will take a long time to settle there.

So right now the local FLDS enjoy some sympathy for having been the victims of governmental jack-booted thuggery. But that could change.

Some complain that the FLDS spend no money locally. A bigger problem would be if they were seen to be block-voting in local elections.

Don't forget that that is what made Joe Smith unpopular in 1840s Illinois. He was offering the block Mormon vote to state politicians in return for granting him favors, such as being able to charter his own bank. He ended up murdered by a mob, after being arrested for destroying the office of a critical newspaper.

I have a funny feeling that the FLDS are more his spiritual heirs in some respects than are the mainstream Mormons.

UPDATE It was amusing to note that it took less than two hours after posting this item to get a hit from the FLDS stronghold of Colorado City, Ariz.

Fluffy and Rover are Infidels

In case you needed another one, here is one more reason why Saudi Arabia is a sick society.

July 29, 2008

Blog Stew with Bigfoot

¶ Nothing says "late summer news" like a good Bigfoot sighting. Here is the alleged footprint.

UPDATE: Take a picture of Bigfoot and win big money.

¶ CSU-Pueblo is adding some solar power. It's a good idea -- the hulking International Style-buildings already turn the center of campus into a solar cooker during the summer anyway. More on that in the future.

¶ This looks like small-scale community gardening in donated yards. Denver area only, at this time.

¶ Department of Pretty Pictures: Winning entries from the National Park Foundation's photo contest.

July 28, 2008

The Thistle Dilemma


Butterflies on musk thistle (Carduus nutans)

Here are the butterflies sipping nectar from a thistle. Happy happy butterflies. Everyone likes butterflies.

But the musk thistle is declared to be a noxious weed almost everywhere, including Custer County, Colorado. Bad bad thistle--it sometimes takes over pastures, particularly over-grazed pastures.

And every summer there is a "spray the noxious weeds" program. M. goes ballistic at the idea of anyone spraying anything anywhere near our place, and I am not too keen on it myself.

The last time I saw county spraying in action, it was one guy driving a flatbed truck down the road with a sprayer mounted on the bed. He steered with his right hand, while waving the spray wand wildly up and over the cab with his left.

Not exactly what you would call "targeted application." I could smell the spray 100 yards away.

So I try to control thistles mechanically, in the hopes that I don't give anyone a reason for spraying here. Alas, poor butterflies.

Anyone want to identify the butterflies? Some kind of fritillaries? They look like the Variable Checkerspots on this page to me.

UPDATE: In the comments, photographer Tom Whelan identifies it as a greater fritillary.

July 22, 2008

How Oil Shale is like Argentina

Senator Ken Salazar's recent op-ed piece in The Washington Post about oil shale reminds me of the cynical old saying about Argentina: It will always be a country with a brilliant future.

I am still waiting for some bright (or Bright) person to re-invent Project Rulison and apply it to oil shale.

For an interesting rant on energy issues, go here. As LabRat, the writer, makes clear, the big problem (in rhetorical jargon) is that we have not "achieved stasis." There is no agreement on what the argument is actually about.

July 21, 2008

Blog Stew with Kenaf and Squirrels

¶ I thought that every rural deputy sheriff could recognize marijuana plants -- but evidently not in Mississippi.

¶ Squirrels: Are you with them or against them?

If suburbanites painted murals on their walls like those on the Lascaux caves, you would see plenty of squirrels.

¶ I wonder how the sleepovers with sheep are going? The reader comments on this one are amusing.

¶ Ken Salazar will push the Brown's Canyon Wilderness Area bill. The Backcountry Hunters & Anglers have been active in support of it.

¶: Die, tamarisk, die. Some good reports from the Grand Junction area. (Via Coyote Gulch.)

¶ The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States spend most of their donations on further fund-raising. You were surprised?

Back through the Hayman Burn


Looking south across the Hayman Burn with Sheep Nose in the distance, July 2008.

In January 2003, just before my father's death, he and I went up to look at the Hayman Fire site, where 138,000 acres had burned the previous June, turning most of the South Platte Ranger District on the Pike National Forest into habitat for woodpeckers and other cavity nesters.

We started up the Matukat Road, near where the fire started, but encountered a locked gate, no doubt to keep out sightseers like us. When he was on the Pike NF staff, Dad had the master key that unlocked every gate. I found it a couple of weeks later in his jewelry box, and I wondered if it still would work, twenty-plus years after he retired.

I did my own bit of "destruction tourism" in June 2003, driving from Wellington Lake to Deckers via Stoney Pass. Except in some canyons, the land was flayed of trees, and there were vistas that probably had not been available in centuries or millennia.

I did not re-visit the burn until last Sunday, making the same drive with M. from Wellington Lake but continuing south on the Matukat. Trees that can grow from their roots, such as willows along the creeks or aspens higher up, are recovering -- there are a lot of head-high aspen groves. Other trees take longer.

Goose Creek Campground, for instance, which I always remembered as being at the bottom of a deep, dark canyon, is now a green sliver, an oasis among treeless ridges. I see that the Forest Service, always wanting to remove developed campgrounds, considered closing it five years ago. It's a good thing that they did not, because it was full of campers. (They did close Molly Gulch CG, another victory for the bean-counters.)

Perhaps in 20 years people from Colorado Springs will drive their (high-clearance) electric cars along the Matukat Road to see the fall aspen colors.

On a high ridge we met a Forest Service employee changing a tire on his agency pickup and bitching about Dodge trucks in general. Since both the truck and his T-shirt said FIRE on them, we stopped to chat about a little smoke we had seen earlier in our drive.

He knew all about it -- and three or four others -- and he pointed to a big column of smoke that we had not seen because it was behind us: the expanding Oxyoke Fire.

I have to admit that my first thought to myself was, "Do you mean there is something left to burn?"

July 20, 2008

At the Campground

M. and I spent a long weekend with a group of friends who meet annually at Wellington Lake, southwest of Denver.

Down the shoreline from us, a group of Boy Scouts were yelling loudly during their swimming races -- and even more loudly during the next event, which was gladiatorial combat in canoes or something.

All around the lake, it was a festival of sunburn and canoeing and eating and shouting, just the sort of mass car-camping experience that I used to snobbishly abhor. Me, a Forest Service brat, introduced to backpacking early -- I looked down on the common car-camping crowd.

Now, though, I am just happy to see the kids out running around -- like the four girls maybe 11-13 years old we met descending one of the steeper trails that enters the Lost Creek Wilderness. It's a trail like a rocky staircase, and there they were in shorts and flip-flops. And you know what, it's OK with me, even if they have never heard of the Ten Essentials. At least they were not working on their MySpace pages at that particular moment.

July 16, 2008

I Ain't Lyin'

Even with mystery beasts running amuck in eastern El Paso County, it's time for me to take a slight blogging break.

M. and I are heading for the higher and hopefully cooler mountains for a few days to investigate a post-forest fire landscape and possibly annoy some trout.

Blogging will resume next week.