March 15, 2010

Wolves Kill Alaska Jogger--Implications for Colorado

The recent death of a woman runner in Alaska makes me wonder how the "New West" world of outdoor sports would mesh with increasing wolf populations here in Colorado.

Perhaps some of the people who welcome the wolves' return for ecological--and even spiritual--reasons are also the same people who do things like trail running.

The woman who gets out of the car is forty years old, athletic, the mother of two children, with shoulder-length reddish brown hair. She wears a pair of blue nylon shorts, a cranberry sleeveless T-shirt, running shoes, a hat, and cotton gloves against the morning chill. She locks the car and puts the key in a little pouch attached to one of her shoes. Carrying an apple and a water bottle, she leaves the road, running down the trail into the neighboring state park.

The writer is Jordan Fisher Smith, at the time a California state park ranger, reconstructing the death of Barbara Schoener, killed by a mountain lion near Auburn, California, in 1994, in his excellent book Nature Noir.

A similar event occurred in Idaho Springs, Colorado, in 1991 when a high-school cross-country runner, practicing alone, was ambushed by another mountain lion. (More attacks listed here.)

I suspect that back in the Stone Age, people did not go running alone for recreation—or if they did, they carried spears and looked over their shoulders frequently.

Colorado has a healthy mountain lion population. Now we have wolves moving in—inevitable, given the increasing populations to the north.

I understand the ecological aspects of wolf return—the trophic cascade and all that.

But we also have a recreational culture that regards the Colorado Rockies as a big gymnasium-with-trees, put there for the express purpose of skiing, mountain biking, trail-running, etc. Imagine the interaction of a wolf pack with the Leadville 100.

No one goes to the gym expecting to be eaten.

About those "2 Inches" ...

That was last night's forecast from the National Weather Service. And below you can see what "2 to 4 inches" looks like. More like eight to ten.
I don't fault them completely, however. Usually the forecast is accurate. But "upslope" storms are hard to predict, I think, both in how much snow they will drop and how long they will linger before moving on.

(That is not our house but the guest cabin, if anyone was wondering.)

March 14, 2010

Snow Terror

It's snowing, which is normal, although we do get tired of winter by the third week of March. (Cure: go out and play in it. Must do that.)

Meanwhile, it's always worse in Russia.

March 13, 2010

The Vole in the Trail

 I had an odd wildlife encounter on my winter camping trip two weeks ago.

While skiing down from the Eagle's Nest Wilderness area, I met a couple skiing up with their big dog—some kind of hair-in-the-eyes sheepdog, wearing booties, no less.

Further down the trail (a dirt road in the summer), I saw a dark lump in the snow, and my first thought was that the dog had pooped there.

Then I came alongside the lump, and it moved. It was a vole. Since we were in the mountains, I assume it was a montane vole. (Photos here.)

It froze in a ball—not the smartest strategy when you are a dark gray animal on a white background. I tapped my ski pole near it, and finally it scooted back into the snow bank.

They make runways in dense grass and burrow under the snow as well. In areas with winter snow, voles will burrow in and through the snow to the surface.

 I had been hoping to sight a moose—we saw some old tracks—but had to settle for this vole-unteer.

March 10, 2010

Breaking Taboos that You Didn't Know Existed

Sometimes you find that you broke a taboo that you did not know exists.

A recent news story in the New York Post described a chef who made cheese from his wife's breast milk—with her permission.

The response has been generally positive from those who've tried the cheese, although many customers are too squeamish to attempt it.

"I think a lot of the criticism has to do with the combination of sex and cheese, but . . . the breast is there to make food," said Lori Mason, the chef's wife.

Back when I was a reporter for the Cañon City Daily Record, I wrote a weekly outdoor column in addition to my reporter/photographer duties.

In our accounting department worked a young woman from rural Fremont County whose father was a noted mountain lion-hunting guide. At one time Colorado paid a bounty on mountain lions (abolished in the 1970s, I think). A guide might get paid by a client and  collect the bounty, which helped buy food for his lion-hunting dogs.

Let's call her Debbie, since it was her name. A statuesque blonde, Debbie grew up riding and shooting but had never gone lion hunting. "The shoemaker's children go barefoot," as the old saying goes.

Debbie got married and moved to northwest Colorado near Craig. A few months later, she dropped by the newspaper office to see her old workmates.  I looked up to see her standing by my desk.

She had finally prevailed upon her father to take her lion hunting with horses and dogs across the rocky ridges of northeast Fremont County, and she had the photos to prove it.  Would I like to write about it for "Gone for the Day," my weekly column?

I always needed new material, so I sat her down and interviewed her. In the course of our talk, she mentioned that she was about three months pregnant, a detail that I included in my column.

After the column ran, the editor mentioned that it had received a couple of complaints from readers.

It wasn't the lion hunting that bothered them. It was that the lion had been killed by a pregnant woman.   Something about life and death and fecundity.

The editor and I shrugged our shoulders over it all. With my column, I had broken a taboo that I had not known existed.

March 09, 2010

A Slap from the Colorado Legislature

Because Colorado's lawmakers in their wisdom are trying—and failing—to make Amazon.com collect state sales tax, Amazon has cut off all of its Colorado affiliates.

From my perspective, the legislators were willing to sacrifice individual "Amazon affiliates" who happen to live in Colorado (like me). In return, they get nothing except the satisfaction of making some kind of point that will be lost in the general political noise.

I never made big money as an Amazon affiliate. It was about enough to pay my Web-hosting and email account bills for the year. Who knows, I might have spent part of my commission in Colorado and paid Colorado state sales tax.

But no more.

Way to go, wise legislators! (I just had to vent.)

March 07, 2010

Italian SAR is Piste Off

Search and Rescue (SAR) teams in the Italian Alps are increasingly unhappy with out-of-bounds skiers, reports the Times of London.

The official reponse? More rules:

In a crackdown on “avalanche tourists”, Michela Vittoria Brambilla, the tourism minister, announced that she was drafting strict rules, similar to the Highway Code, to govern off-piste skiing. 

Yeah, that'll work.

Pix, Pulks, and Plinking



February 26-28 I went winter camping for the first time in a very long time, skiing in to a site on the Arapho National Forest north of Silverthorne, Colorado.

Blogger Sawtooth has put together a slide show about it.

It was a good trip, but my old down sleeping bag is not adequate for -18 F. (-26 C), and if I am going to repeat the experience, I need to upgrade!

March 06, 2010

A Nature Walk on Mars

"Ready for a nature walk?" asked T__, the assistant fire chief, after we had donned our self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and walked out of the Big Sister Department's building.

"On Mars," I answered. That's what it felt like, all bundled up with the sounds of inhalation and exhalation all Darth Vaderish inside my facepiece—like I was exploring an alien planet.

We walked around the building, down the alley, up along the irrigation ditch, back around to the front. Slowly, watching our breathing. "Yogic fire breathing" suggests something else, but in sense, that's what it was. We're not trying to raise kundalini, just trying to make the air in the tank last.

Right: Firefighters prepare to practice putting on breathing apparatus in less than one minute. I can't do it yet--hoses and straps get tangled ...

I grew up around wildland firefighting. I have done a little. I have my federal "red card" certification.

Now some of us in our little rural department are going through Firefighter I state-certification training.  It's the real deal. Today, for the first time, I wore SCBA (borrowed). I climbed ladders in bunker gear and practiced hauling stuff up to rooftops, such as pike poles, chainsaws, and other ladders. More weeks of training lie ahead.

Luckily, the same knots I learned as a Boy Scout are pretty much the same knots used here, and they are still in my muscle memory.

Here is the irony:  I joined the local volunteer department 14 months ago after the county Search and Rescue (SAR) outfit told me that my services were not needed. That seemed an odd way to run a volunteer operation—there is always turnover. People move away or whatever. You need new blood all the time.

Now the local weekly runs an article on how SAR is looking for volunteers. Well, too late. I am committed to the fire service.

I think the fire departments are a little more blue-collar than our county's SAR. They are the people with mountain bikes and backgrounds in rock climbing and backpacking. You see more pickup trucks with lift kits at the fire department, meet more former military NCOs. But that's only a rough comparison—I would not push it too far.

I'm going up the ladder, and I'm thinking, "Two years ago I would have been grading essays on a Saturday in March."

March 05, 2010

"No: [sic] Plants in Soil"

So, like, um, how do you do a "science fair" without science?

Once again, supporting the stereotypes about Boulder, Colorado ...

This is why at low points in my career I never thought of teaching in a public school. Based on my career as a student, I would have been kicked out for disrespecting authority figures.

The first thing I would have told them is that the colons in the list of rules are useless and ungrammatical.

(Hat tip: MacRaven)

March 04, 2010

Now We Are Six

Tuesday (when M. and I were in Colorado Springs) was Southern Rockies Nature Blog's sixth "blogiversary."

And in tribute to such longevity, here is the first post, which I did not write.

That's right. This started as a class blog for English 325, "Nature Writing in the West," a course that I designed at CSU-Pueblo. (I don't know if it survived my leaving.)

Consequently, many of the earlier postings are by students. And it was hard to get some of the student writers to hyperlink names, terms, etc. in their posts--or even put titles on them!

When the semester ended, I hated to see the blog die, so I kept posting. Later other nature-writing classes also participated.

This is post number 1,358, by the way.

March 03, 2010

Cooking (and Meat) Made Us Human?

From the BBC, scientific speculation on how a change in diet from raw to cooked foods may have speeded evolution:

Without cooking, an average person would have to eat around five kilos of raw food to get enough calories to survive.
The daily mountain of fruit and vegetables would mean a six-hour chewing marathon.
It is already accepted that the introduction of meat into our ancestors' diet caused their brains to grow and their intelligence to increase.
Meat - a more concentrated form of energy - not only meant bigger brains for our ancestors, but also an end to the need to devote nearly all their time to foraging to maintain energy levels. 

(Hat tip: Bayou Renaissance Man)

March 01, 2010

When Dogs Tell Lies

It's a common observation that dogs have a moral sense.

Today I was reminded that they can tell lies as well.

I was out shoveling snow. Fisher, the Chesapeake, was quietly gnawing a bone. But Shelby, the ninja collie, kept trying to slink away down the driveway.

Just when I was about to give up on calling her back and put her behind the gate on the veranda, she spotting something off across the gully between our house and the neighbors.

She gave out an alarm bark and charged off across the gully. Fisher leaped to his feet and ran after, barking excitedly.

I suddenly suspected the worst. Calling them, I slogged through the deeper snow in the gully and up to the other side.

It had all been a ruse. There was no intruder on four feet or two. Fisher and I were both (momentarily) snookered. He turned and came back. She was gone, as fast as she could run.

A hour later she came trotting back up the drive, having made her rounds of the neighbors' places, just checking for free food or other excitement.

She has pulled that trick once or twice before. When will I learn?

High Country News Misrepresents National Parks Gun Law

On February 22, it became legal to carry concealed weapons in national parks and wildlife refuges according to the laws of the state in which they are located.

Most states require classroom instruction, a firing-range session, and a criminal background check in order to grant a concealed-carry permit. Vermont and Alaska do not require permits. Arizona permits "open" carry.

It's been a whole week, and mass carnage has not yet erupted.

Sitting her office, Betsy Marston, retired editor of High Country News, "views with alarm" the new regulations: "tourists around you might be packing an assault rifle."

(High Country News always seasons its good environmental reporting with plenty of stereotypes and liberal guilt.)

Right. Frankly, I doubt that Mrs. Marston could define "assault rifle" if you handed her a pencil and piece of paper. And even using Wikipedia evidently is too much trouble.

Let's go back to that key word: concealed. It means, "you can't see it," and that fact pretty rules out rifles and shotguns.

But why let simple facts get in the way of editorial opinions?

National parks are not always safe places, and the dangerous predators usually walk on two legs. (I prefer pepper spray for the four-legged type.)

Meanwhile, on the East Coast, Sebastian of Snowflakes in Hell puts boots on the ground, looking for carnage in parks and monuments, but he finds none.

Funny about that.