April 27, 2009

Longleaf Pine and Wiregrass

I will be away from blogging for a week or a little more, visiting a different ecosystem.

See you later in May.

April 22, 2009

Another Sure Sign of Spring

As sure a sign of spring as the return of hummingbirds is the news release from the Colorado Division of Wildlife advising people not to pick up "abandoned" babies.

It seems counter intuitive, but according to wildlife experts, it is normal to find young wild animals without an adult animal nearby. Well-meaning people sometimes scoop up baby wildlife and bring them to wildlife rehabilitation facilities, veterinary clinics, or Colorado Division of Wildlife offices, but experts say that is the wrong thing to do.

If you find young wildlife, enjoy a quick glimpse, leave the animal where it is, and keep pets out of the area.

"The best thing to do if you are concerned is to quietly observe the animal from a distance using binoculars. Don't hover so close that the wild parents are afraid to return to the area," advises Colorado Division of Wildlife Officer Jeromy Huntington.

"If several hours go by and the parent does not return, it is possible the newborn was abandoned or the parent is dead (hit by a car, for example) then report it to the Division of Wildlife. Do not move the animal yourself," he said.

Although M. and I did take the wildlife-transport class, we have not yet had any calls to transport critters.

April 21, 2009

The Noise of Summer Begins

The first of the hummingbird seasons started today with the arrival of a single male broad-tailed.

The earliest arrival that we have noted was on April 5, 2007, but I wonder if that bird survived, while the latest was about May 1, 1995, a year with an exceptionally cold, wet spring.

Often there is one last snowstorm after the first hummingbirds arrive. Did they fool us this year by out-waiting the spring storms?

The Everett Ruess Mystery Solved?

Via Odious and Peculiar, I learned today of a National Geographic Adventure piece offering a solution for the 1934 disappearance of the young artist Edward Ruess somewhere in the canyonlands of southern Utah.

A "vagabond for beauty," to use the subtitle of Bill Rusho's biography of him, Ruess spent part of three years exploring and making art, often alone, until vanishing. Speculation abounded: Was he killed by cattle rustlers? (There were some in the area.) Did he fall off the slickrock? Did he marry a rural Mormon girl or a Navajo and vanish into obscurity? Or was he murdered not by rustlers but by someone else?

The medicine man told Nez that the only way he could cure his cancer would be to retrieve a lock of hair from the head of the young man he had buried decades earlier, then use it in a five-day curing ceremony. "I was 19," Johnson said. "I was home for the summer. That was the first time I ever heard anything about the young dude the Utes had killed down there in Chinle Wash."

You could compare him to Christopher McCandless, but somehow Ruess comes across as a more sympathetic character, less egotistical and erratic, leaving behind an impression of talent cut short. When a friend finished reading the Rusho book, he said, "Now I remember what it was like to be 20."

The illustration is one of his linoleum cuts.

April 17, 2009

A Texan Encounters Snow

A staple of Colorado humor: A Texan looks at snow -- and also "Large, oddly lightweight plastic shoes in alarming colors, worn with socks."

Ah, Spring

A fine mix of snow, sleet, rain, and fog

A mix of rain, sleet, snow, and fog started during the night and continues. The dogs react differently to it. Jack, the old Chessie (his 13th birthday was last Wednesday), pokes around in the brush, oblivious.

Oblivious for a while, that is -- the rug in front of the wood stove eventually charms him more.

Shelby the collie did not want to leave the verandah. I urged her down the steps -- surely she needed to pee! -- and just as she reached the bottom, there was a flash and a crack of thunder. She bolted back up the steps.

She does not like loud noises -- even a far-off gunshot bothers her. Jack, on the other hand, ignores thunder. Maybe it's a breed thing. And when he was a puppy and I saw him get a little nervous about an oncoming thunderstorm, I took him down the driveway, fed him dog biscuits, and told him that I would never let the thunder hurt him. He believed me.

M. and I have planted some early vegetables and annual flowers, so from the gardening perspective, this storm is wonderful.

April 12, 2009

Blog Stew with the Usual Carrion

• A scout-camera trifecta: mountain lion, wolf, and coyote. (Via Wolf Watch.)

• Stray dogs in Moscow take the subway to the city center to beg and scrounge, or so claims English Russia.

Wildflowers are showing at the Pueblo Mountain Park, which is similar in habitat to my house. But you will not see them today, thanks to a nice soggy Easter snowstorm.

April 11, 2009

Another Wildlife-related Festival: Plover in Karval

Maybe "festival" is too strong a word. But you have to start somewhere.

The town of Karval will host its Third Annual Mountain Plover Festival, April 24-26. This year's event adds new bird watching sites, a photography contest, and an extra day of activities including a Friday night stargazing trip. Karval is a farming hamlet, population "about 35," in southern Lincoln County. Registration deadline is April 15.

Despite their name, mountain plovers do not breed in the mountains, instead, they prefer shortgrass prairies. The eastern plains of Colorado are the primary breeding grounds for the mountain plover and more than half of the world's population nests in the state. Mountain plovers, are a considered a species of "special concern" in Colorado because of declining numbers.

"The Mountain Plover Festival is a great way for people to experience the small town atmosphere of a rural community while watching birds and learning about the culture and history of Colorado's eastern plains," said John Koshak, a watchable wildlife coordinator with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

I once thought that some kind of corner in becoming rooted in place would be turned when we started having festivals more rooted in natural cycles.

And I don't care if someone at the Chamber of Commerce came up with the idea (see, for instance, Pueblo's Chile & Frijoles Festival) -- the message is bigger than that.

First came the Monte Vista Crane Festival, followed by Lamar's Goose Festival.

It's a trend, and a good one.

Mountain plover photo courtesy of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

New Fire Gear

hard hat, protective clothing, and fire pack. photo by Chas S. CliftonIt was like Christmas today at the fire house as we opened boxes of new wildland fire gear.

Things have been quiet lately. We have had some snow and rain, and the neighbors seem to be obeying the outdoor fire ban. So there is time for more training for us new guys before the season of lightning storms begins.

No more turning out in jeans and denim jacket and the old yellow hard hat that I had in the basement. The new fire pack replaces the ex-German Army rucksack I had kept my stuff in.

(All this new gear is so new, of course, that I am tempted to put it on and roll in the dirt.)

Meanwhile, we are preparing for the big chile cook-off. We talked about that today, discussed some key operational differences between the pumps on the two trucks -- and also discussed upgrading the telephone tree.

Many of us live out of earshot of the fire siren down at the county road shop, so we depend on a telephone tree -- a group of people (usually at home) who will in turn call a list of firefighters.

The discussion was enlightening. Mrs. So-and-so is increasingly hard of hearing -- do she and her husband even hear the siren if they have the TV on? Shouldn't someone replace her as one of the lead callers on the tree?

Neighbors A and B rarely turn out for fires unless their own homes are threatened -- move them down the list!

Neighbor C is all right, but he works outside the county these days, and if you catch him after 11 a.m. on a Saturday, he is usually on his way through a twelve-pack.

And Neighbor D is probably not physically up to anything beyond directing traffic anymore.

One volunteer assigned herself the task of calling everyone not present at today's work session and seeing if they still want to be on the telephone tree.

And that is how the work gets done in the fire-fighting "militia."

April 08, 2009

This Way to the Egret

Great egret, Socorro Countym, New Mexico
Going to New Mexico meant seeing birds that we do not normally see, like this great egret, as migrating species follow the Rio Grande north.

(Historical pop-culture reference in blog post title.)

April 06, 2009

A Great Horned Owl at Home

Last year when M. and I visited Libby and Steve Bodio, we looked in on this owl nest in Socorro County, New Mexico, but it was empty.

But this year we saw a great horned owl on her nest.

They are one of my favorite species, not least for their weird variety of calls.

April 02, 2009

On the Road

On the road for books, brew pubs, and botanicals. Blogging will be light for the next few days.

March 29, 2009

Cattle Mutilations: Déjà Vu All Over Again

I almost hate to write this post. It's déjà vu all over again.

Such was my reaction to a recent headline in the Pueblo Chieftain: "Two More Cows Found Mutilated."

Eastern Colorado was central to the "cattle mutilation" meme of the 1970s. I was younger and wishing that one day I would be a newspaper reporter so that I could really learn what was going on.

Later, after the furor died down, I did write for the (now defunct) Colorado Springs Sun. And at one point I assigned myself a retrospective article about "mutilation madness" that eventually spawned a feature in dear old Fate magazine.*

I write "meme" for a reason, and the Chieftain article illustrates it perfectly. The news media tend to follow these "rules" of reporting topics that are pre-judged to be non-serious.

1. Assume that these events are paranormal, inexplicable, or silly.

2. Treat anyone--such as a self-proclaimed UFO expert--as a legitimate source.

It happened in the 1970s, and it's happening now. The only part that is missing is the post-Vietnam War narrative in which crazed Huey pilots conduct crazed nighttime mutilation missions to get the adrenaline rush that they got in 'Nam. (Think Iraq and give it time.)

When I did become a journalist, I decided that the reason that editors did not take the whole cattle mutilation narrative seriously was that

  • it was rural
  • it did not fit into a neat box (sports, crime, politics)
  • it was rural
  • it was difficult to cover, and there were no official spokespeople
  • it was rural
  • it was non-serious, "soft," involving UFOs and what-not.
Consequently, the reporters involved were not necessarily the A-Team. At the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph, the main reporter was a middle-aged feature writer, a friend of my dad's, who had mastered the art of being inconspicuous and inoffensive. She never rocked the boat and always wrote down what her sources told her. (She did have a more interesting life outside the newsroom, however.) Her stories were treated more as entertainment than as "hard news" -- and yes, the blatant phallicism of that term is entirely appropriate.

What strikes me about this newest story is the totally uncritical acceptance of the old 1970s narrative.

The mutilations are carried out with "surgical precision." Oh yeah? Did you ask any surgeons, veterinary or otherwise? Did you know that a cut in flesh, left to sit in the sun for a day or two, will swell and look smoother (more precise), even if made with canine teeth?

There is "no blood." Have you studied what happens to blood in a corpse, how it pools at the lowest point and coagulates?

And who is interviewed? Some UFO expert.

Who is not interviewed? An expert on four-footed predators. A specialist in veterinary necropsy (your local vet is not a specialist). An expert on narrative frames applied to inexplicable events, such as "satanic panics, " witch hunts, and other folklore.

The last is perhaps the most important. The woo-woo factor, you know.

A couple of days after the Chieftain article, another piece appeared in the Denver Post: "Wild Dogs Terrorize Eastern Plains."

Delivery drivers have been stranded in their vehicles, cattle stampeded and stockmen have lost sheep, goats, lambs, calves and even pet dogs, county officials say.

Do you suppose there might be a connection? There could be other explanations, equally mundane.

But once the woo-woo narrative frame is imposed, events are seen as strange and mysterious, revealing our fears about satanists, Vietnam veterans, or whatever the latest scary thing is.

* Chas S. Clifton, “Mutilation Madness,” Fate, June 1988: 60-70.

March 28, 2009

Blog Stew with Flowers

• How the properties of water limit tree growth.

• Carnivorous plants do not grow hereabouts but they still have their admirers.

• A Flickr-based wildflower field guide organized by color.

• Every man should carry one of these -- and, of course, women might as well stash one someone on their person as well.

March 26, 2009

Western Wear in Theory and Practice

I do like living in a part of the country that has its own regional dress. Sure, put on that bolo tie. But sometimes there is a gap between theory and practice.

Our sheriff and the one deputy who lives nearby dropped by the volunteer fire department meeting last night to discuss enforcement of the outdoor fire ban.

They were both picture-perfect Western lawmen: tall and lean and firm of jaw--in their sixties, but no potbellies. They wore dark-green uniform shirts and tan trousers, topped with crisp, immaculate cowboy hats.

They finished their business and left after a round of hand-shaking. Then the rancher/fire department board president resumed the meeting—until the telephone rang.

It was for him. He spoke briefly, then stood up. "Sorry," he said, "I have to go have a calf."

And he put on the cap I always see him wearing in cold weather, the kind with ear flaps and an imitation-sheepskin lining. In his truck or on horseback, he typically dresses like a Midwestern dairy farmer.

This man runs one of the two large working ranches in the area, but he never seems to go for the "stockman " look.

And in that he is not unique, when you get down to it. Just practical.