July 30, 2011

America: A Little Less Tame

Recently a young male mountain lion walked from the Black Hills of South Dakota to Greenwich, Connecticut, where it unfortunately was struck and killed on a highway.

The appearance of this cat in Connecticut, where the only "cougars" were thought to be in the bar at the golf club, drew much media interest.

The New York Times turned to David Baron, whose book The Beast in the Garden thoughtfully explored human-mountain lion conflicts on Colorado's Front Range.
A single cougar, especially one that is now dead, is not going to transform the lives of many Americans, but what that cougar represents just might. Cougars possess a kind of Pleistocene wildness, reminding us of a time — deep in our evolutionary past — when we were prey to big cats. Even today, cougars in the West on rare occasions kill and eat people (more commonly they kill and eat dogs), and they are reclaiming former habitat, moving into the suburbs and onto the Great Plains. The Greenwich cat may have been a lone scout, but you can be sure others will follow. The resilient, elusive cats that haunt the Western landscape will increasingly haunt the East.
I walked the dogs up onto the national forest today, and they suddenly struck out for a patch of oak brush that they had ignored two days earlier.

Fisher trotted back out with a large bone in his mouth. I found Shelby standing in a smelly, fly-buzzing area of scattered hair and quickly leashed her before she decided to roll in it.

It looked at quick glance (I was busy dog-wrangling) like a lion might have killed a deer, and then other scavengers (bear? coyotes?) had moved in and cleaned up what the lion did not eat right away.

As Baron says, "America has grown a little less tame."

Velociraptor with Feathers and Other Updated Dinosaurs

One of the most famous Stegasaurus fossils was found near Cañon City, Colorado, a little more than a century ago, and the "most complete" skeleton was found there in 1992.

But a lot has changed in our understanding of dinosaurs over the intervening years, as this "top ten" post makes clear.

Some people, however, believe that dinosaurs were created by (drumroll) Satan. The Lone Star Parson has the details. What does that say about all the little boys who love dinosaurs?

Me, I do believe that there was a separate Creator for the insects—not anti-human or even anti-mammal, just profoundly alien.

July 29, 2011

Where's My Nomex Poncho?

Double rainbow in the foothills
A fire call in the middle of a thunderstorm—smoke reported somewhere along the county line to the east, where the foothills meet the mesa-and-canyon country. Given my location, I headed directly there, counting on someone else to bring the brush truck, figuring that I could be more use as a scout.

Visions of fighting a wildfire in a rainstorm passed through my head.

At the turnoff from the state highway, a Forest Service engine was parked. They were dispatched too—but had no idea where the alleged fire was. Rain beat down, and lighting crashed so close that we could hear the "click" before the boom.

A firefighter from "Mesa-and-Canyon VFD" pulled up—he and his wife had been eating at a nearby restaurant when he was "toned." (Pagers don't work in our more rugged area, so we use a combination of telephones and a siren to alert the volunteers.)

Various radio and cell-phone communications ensued. Thunder boomed. Rain poured. Our guys at the firehouse, about to roll, said they had been called back by the sheriff's office. Likewise the other department, by their county's dispatcher. Likewise the Forest Service, by whoever dispatched them.

So either it was a false alarm (mist mistaken for smoke—this happens) or else if the rain did not put it out, we will see it again in a day or two. At least there was rain.

After I filled out the incident report, I got to see this double rainbow.

Dazed and Confused, the Bull Elk Version

I had a camera up for the past week on an old logging road-turned-game trail in the Wet Mountains. Below is the first image I downloaded—and it baffled me. What kind of apparition was it?

Then I saw the one snapped fifteen minutes later. I don't know what caused this bull elk to investigate the camera in the first place—usually they ignore it—but this one did, and he got a blinding flash in the face, it looks like. So he hung around for a while? (If it's the same elk, of course. Probably.)

There is no hunting pressure at this time of year, but maybe the hot weather has encouraged the elk to be more nocturnal. Bulls are often shyer anyway. The other photo I had at a location a mile or so away from this one showed a bull moving past at 8:30 p.m.

July 28, 2011

Wounded Trees of the Wet Mountains

Trees are damaged in various ways. This big Douglas fir on a high point has been struck by lighting, which left a long scar down its trunk and produced profuse "weeping" of sap.
It's easy to see what happened to this little white fir. (Hint: It had four hooves.)

Here are a fir and an aspen, both with similar kinks in the trunk at points higher than my head. The snow never gets that deep, so what happened to them?

July 27, 2011

Anti-Christo Residents Sue State Parks-Wildlife Board

Last May, the Colorado Wildlife Commission voted against letting the artist known as Christo drape six miles of fabric panels over the Arkansas River in the narrow canyon followed by U.S. Highway 50 west of Cañon City.

The state parks board, however, liked the idea when it voted in June. (The land involved is managed by state parks as a recreational corridor, although it ultimately is under jurisdiction of the federal Bureau of Land Management.)

Then Gov. Hickenlooper rammed through the ill-conceived merger of the Division of Wildlife and the Division of Parks.

Now the new, combined board is being sued as an attempt by the anti-Christo forces (local residents, some rafting outfitters, and fly-fishing outfitters) to stop the project.
“We basically filed this lawsuit saying of they are not following their own rules,” [Rags Over The River] president Dan Ainsworth said. “They’re basically going against all of their duties and their rules and their regulations to protect the river, and they’re a big part of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area.”

Ainsworth said a tax- and fee-supported public area should not be turned over to one individual and his own private profit or gain, and the board “sold out” to Christo. . . .

Ainsworth said if OTR [Over the River]gets the green light from the BLM to proceed with the project, Christo will have complete control of the river for the next five years.

“Parks is basically giving up their control of the river and their overseeing of the activities on the river to Christo to do with as he pleases,” he said. “We think that’s shirking their duties to protect the river, protect the wildlife and protect the impacts on the residents and they’ve just totally handed it over to Christo.”

MMJ University Goes Up in Smoke

Too funny. Guys start a "medical marijuana university" (a misuse of the term, it's true) and neglect to mention the small matter of their prior felony convictions for embezzlement and mail fraud.

The state shuts "Greenway University" down.

July 24, 2011

Comparing 2011 to Other Drought Years

An informative blog post with graphics on the "Texas-centered drought" through June 2011, with comparisons to other drought years such as 1918, 1934 (still the worst), and 1956.

Blog Stew with Ticking Sheep

• Using sheep as tick bait in Scotland, partly to preserve the traditions of the Glorious Twelfth. Clever, but probably would not work in North America.

• What the American Kennel Club has in common with the Roman Catholic Church—and not in a good way.

• A National Park Service ranger (you know, the helpful ones) goes all "respect my authoritah" on a middle-aged female tourist. Sounds like NPS vehicles should have those helpful dashboard video cameras, like in Canton, Ohio.

July 23, 2011

Watching Thunder

The orchestra of thunder is tuning up behind the Wet Mountains. Like a tardy stagehand, a fire-fighting helicopter crosses from stage left to right—north to south—carrying a bucket.

Where is the fire? M. and I are at the firehouse, dropping off small appliances and boxes of kitchen ware from the "peculiar cabin" for the next fund-raising yard sale. We watch the copter pass. The telephone is silent. The alarm siren is silent. We drive home.

The lighting is flashing now with the thunder only five seconds after. I unplug the computers and the modem, take a bottle of beer out to the long veranda.

We watch rain move through the little mountain valleys, obliterating  one with mist and showing another ridgeline row of pines in sharp relief. It is moving toward us, north to south.

Then spoke Holt Mountain: DA.  And it's raining on the waste land of the Sand Gulch Fire and the Mason Fire, while the unnamed ridge behind us answers: DATTA.

Mountains are talking as the gray wave passes over us. The veranda's metal roof gives its applause.

It is raining on the ridges, where the hermit thrush sings in the pine trees. Here at the bottom of the unnamed ridge, the rufus and broad-tailed hummingbirds do not cease orbiting the sugar-water feeder. There is not even silence in the mountains.

The storm moves off to the southeast. The fire-fighting helicopter returns, that sound high in the air. It is flying fast to the north, to its base, the bucket trailing behind on its long cable, responding gaily to a hand expert with stick and throttle, the air is calm.

We need to hear the sound of water over a rock this summer.

You Know You're From New Mexico ...

Another one of those lists that goes around. Pretty accurate.

"You know Vegas is a town in the northeastern part of the state. You are afraid to drive through Mora and Española." Yeah, that takes me back.

July 22, 2011

Here's Your Paleo Diet

"Cut bear meat into pieces. Add salt and pepper. Roast meat in oven adding a little lard to pan."

From the Eskimo Cook Book, written by school children in 1952. Recipes for seasonal wild plants are included too.

"Inside of barbirch there is something that is yellowish. That is called the meat of willows. They are very good to eat. People eat it with sugar and seal oil."

Like a Fox in the Headlights

I mentioned how M. and I recently bought some land adjacent to ours that included a peculiar cabin, of which more later.

The owners made some noises about selling the furniture and appliances separately, but we just sat tight, and in the end they walked away from it all—leaving the beds still made, food in the cupboards (but not in the refrigerator, thank heaven), clothing in the dresser drawers, etc.

Taking some boxes of crackers and granola bars, some abandoned dry dog food, and some peanut butter and honey that we did not want, I decided to put it out in the woods—well away from any dwelling—and set up a camera.

The bears had been in the area—overturned basketball-sized rocks told the tale—so maybe they would find this bonanza.

But it was not the bears who came. Gray foxes got it all.

These photos were taken with the infrared flash, which also puts out red visible light. I like the second photo—the slow shutter makes it look as though one fox is dematerializing. (Click photo for slightly larger view.)

Since gray foxes are adept little omnivores, I expect that they enjoyed the granola bars, etc. and would have then gone on to looking for their next meals. This was a one-time feast that will not be repeated.

July 20, 2011

Soft-Drink Industry Fights Anti-Obesity Programs.

The carbonated water-and-high fructose corn syrup industry is trying to clog the legal process as politicians move against them.
[American Beverage Association] spokesman Chris Gindlesperger said his group made the same request as the New York Times, but that the newspaper received more information than the ABA.

"Public health departments are going out and aggressively misrepresenting our products in advertising and using taxpayer money to do that," Gindlesperger said. . . . .

At various times, states and localities have considered taxing sugary beverages to cover obesity-related health costs. In 2009 and 2010, as such proposals became more frequent, the ABA, Coke and Pepsi collectively spent $60 million on lobbying, up from $8 million in 2007 and 2008, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets.org.
Yeah, well, first they came for the smokers, but they died or quit. Soft-drink makers are being cast as the next deserving victims.

Cooking King Henry and Other Vegetables

Not really a Rockies story, but an interesting New York Times piece on forgotten vegetables.
The mystery of Good King Henry made me wonder about other Colonial-era vegetables that have all but disappeared from our gardens and dinner plates. Gardeners today will routinely raise a dozen varieties of tomato, a plant utterly foreign to early Americans. So why do we neglect common Colonial food plants like burnet, smallage, skirrets, scorzonera, gooseberry and purslane? And how would they taste to us now? 
When it comes to the Chenopodium genus, we do eat some of the lamb's-quarter that pops up in the garden—and anything else that comes under the category of wild greens, quelites, or whatever you want to call them.