April 21, 2013

Blog Stew: Cook it for a Merit Badge

"Pimp My Walk" — an article on the glory days of walking canes, with comparison to today's hiking apparatus: "I’ve noticed an inverse correlation between the use of paired aluminum walking sticks and eye contact — they’re often like car drivers who don’t like to make eye contact with pedestrians.

• Being a locavore is fine, the writer says, but, contra Michael Pollan, is it a good idea for government to require locavorism?

Were Boy Scouts of 1911 tougher than today's or merely living in a "just do it" society?
One way to illuminate these changes is by comparing the original BSA handbook, published in 1911, with the modern version – the 12th edition was introduced in 2009. In an incisive book review for the Claremont Institute, Kathleen Arnn conducts this type of side-by-side analysis. She points out that while the modern version contains many of the same skills as the original, “its discussions of these things have been pared down and lack the verve, punch, and adventurous spirit—the manliness—of the original handbook.”
• • •
Modern badge requirements also diverge from the old in their more abstract, mental nature. While the 1911 badge requirements are all direct actions, often of the physical, hands-on variety, the modern badge requirements emphasize more thinking than doing. The hands-on tasks are now tucked into long lists of requirements that ask the scout to thoroughly Review/Describe/Explain/Illustrate/Demonstrate the underlying principles and context of the badge’s subject matter before trying their hand at it.

April 20, 2013

Signs of Spring (3)

(Illustration from National Geographic)
While I was away in South Carolina, M. reported that she came outside on the 13th to find a bird-feeder opened up and licked clean of sunflower seeds. So the bears are out.

Then yesterday, as we stood in the mud discussing something about the garden water system, there was a buzzing around our heads. Chico* the broad-tailed hummingbird had arrived and was circling the area where the sugar-water feeder should be. Very soon, it was.

Something about the arrival of the hummingbirds always clutches me. It may well snow again, but when they are here, it is the summer half of the year. And in September, even though the weather may be hot, the day comes when the last one (always a female) shutters and locks the summer house, takes her tote bag full of paperback novels, and goes away, and then it isn't summer anymore.

*All male broad-tails are named Chico, just as all scrub jays are named Timmy. Why Chico? Perhaps because he seems to have come home from the wars.

Ludlow, 99 Years Ago Today

Ludlow Massacre site the day after (Wikipedia).
People toss the phrase "class warfare" around a lot these days — and with reason — but it's a bloodless warfare in the news media and social medial and schools, for the most part.

This on the other hand, was real "class warfare." Southern Colorado blogger Rosewolf is reminds us of an anniversary today (scroll down past the snowstorm part).

I have been known to take hitchhikers on Interstate 25 on a short, unscheduled side trip to see the monument.

But today's Coloradans can only put one association on the date "4/20".

April 17, 2013

Yesterday versus Today

Yesterday: A wild tom turkey struts his stuff near Beulah, Colorado.

Snow, snow, glorious snow.
And the best part is that the snow is continuing to fall on the burn scar from last October, which was re-seeded with grass seed last week as a flood-prevention measure.

Get Local. Get Plovered

Mountain plover being banded. (Colorado Parks & Wildlife)
Every Colorado town that wants to bring in tourists has a festival. Some have many — I do believer that Salida, for example, has a different festival every two weeks. There are Pioneer Days and sporting events, antique-car shows and massed plein air paint-ins, music festivals and fishing tournaments.

Some celebrate charismatic megafauna: bighorn sheep in Georgetown, sandhill cranes in Monte Vista, snow geese in Lamar.

Then there is Karval, in Lincoln County on the High Plains, linking its image to the mountain plover.  Most Coloradans could not find Karval on the map, and most could not recognize a mountain plover, I am sure.

But they are trying. Here is Colorado Parks & WIldlife's news release:
The town of Karval will host its Annual Mountain Plover Festival, April 26-28. Karval is a ranching hamlet, population "about 35," in southern Lincoln County.

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 authentic 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 Parks and Wildlife.

"Guided tours provide an opportunity to observe plover nesting behavior and Karval residents pour on a big helping of hospitality to make certain the bird-watchers enjoy themselves," he said.

Plovers are commonly thought of as shorebirds, but the mountain plover is unique. The mountain plover breeds in the shortgrass prairies along the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies from Montana to the Texas Panhandle. They winter from central California and southern Arizona southward into Mexico. Some of their more abundant nesting grounds lie in bare patches on the short grass prairie and farm fields surrounding Karval.

Mountain plovers are about 8 - 9 inches in height, have long legs, and are sandy-brown in coloration. Breeding adults have black forecrowns, white foreheads, and a thin, black eye line. In winter, adults and young birds appear with a plain face, making their dark eyes stand out. Mountain plovers have a white wing stripe and wing linings, and a black band near the tail tip.

A bus takes participants to sites on the prairie to points near the plovers' nesting sites where people are likely to see songbirds, burrowing owls, pronghorn, deer, eagles and other raptors.

Saturday and Sunday morning tours begin at 6 a.m. with breakfast served at 5:30 a.m., so birders can get out to the prairie just when the mountain plovers are becoming active.

Koshak said the birds make their nests in bare patches on the prairie, but they also like to nest around prairie dog towns, windmills, water tanks, and spots where ranchers feed their cattle on the range. The reason is simple: Those are the spots where they can find bugs to eat.

Mother Nature has endowed the birds with very protective instincts, though, so they will dance and squirt away from their nests trying to draw anything that comes near away from their eggs or hatchlings. Bird experts from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, all of which help to sponsor the festival, will be on hand to explain the more scientific details about the birds, Koshak said.

The area around Karval is a haven for bird watchers with several sites included on the Colorado Birding Trail. In addition to seeing mountain plovers, bird watchers could see many other species, including burrowing owls, golden eagles, Wilson's snipe, lark buntings and bluebirds.

At the same time, the birders will gain more understanding of how landowners and biologists work together to study and preserve the nesting grounds for the elusive birds. Some of the ranchers they will meet are third-generation residents of Karval, the sons and daughters of homesteaders who are excellent stewards of Colorado's high plains grasslands.
 Some day I have to get up there for it.

April 16, 2013

What Happened to Triceratops?

The author of My Beloved Brontosaurus talks about the changing view of dinosaurs, which leaves people wondering what they were really like.

One type re-evaluated is Triceratops, early specimens of which were found in Frémont County, Colorado.
Some journalists came to the mistaken conclusion that paleontologists were about to eliminate Triceratops, one of the most beloved dinosaurs of all time! Dinosaur fans were outraged at the news, voicing their discontent in Internet comment threads and on Facebook. (My favorite protest was a mock-up of a T-shirt featuring three Triceratops howling at Pluto, the recently demoted dwarf planet.) Eventually, word went out that Triceratops was safe, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the public reaction as I searched fruitlessly for more dinosaurs in Wyoming. The Triceratops debacle perfectly highlighted the tension between the pop culture dinosaurs we love and the science that is spurring the evolution of dinosaurian visions.

Willdfire Can Be Different in a University Town

It now comes out that the recent 1,348-acre Galena Fire outside Fort Collins was started by a retired nuclear physicist from the Los Alamos National Laboratory. 
The device was one of many do-it-yourself projects keeping George Rinker occupied in retirement. Some had led to unintended results or scared neighbors, but nothing compared to this mistake.

April 10, 2013

At First You Hate Your Hometown

I don't like my hometown. But I do love it, because it - in its own infuriating way - taught me the most important lesson in life: you haven't grown up until you care about someone else more than yourself.
David Frum reacts to The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher.

Read the whole thing.

April 08, 2013

Training Wild Animals to Plant Trees — Or at Least to Deposit Them

Sorry, that is the best clever headline I could come up with. But the idea here is potentially quite clever, a field biologist's way to put animals to work planting trees in northwestern Nebraska.

First, you mix the seeds with something tasty . . .

April 07, 2013

Back in Remedial Firefighter School

I spent parts of the last two afternoons on the computer, taking an online version of  S-190, one of the basic wildland firefighting courses that qualifies you for your federal "red card." (Which stopped being red in 2010, I think.)

This is like being sent back to middle school, but what happened when I and others from my department took these courses in Nearby Town several years ago was that the former (note qualifier) assistant chief never turned in the paperwork to the feds.

We passed our physical tests, went back each year for refreshers, etc., but apparently we had fallen through the cracks. So now we are starting all over again. Bother.

But now you can do the courses and multiple-choice tests online, although a qualified instructor still has to come in at the end. It's a hoot. Every so often there is a review quiz, and if you get 100 percent right, you get a cheery congratulatory message on the screen.

Such as this one: "You're on fire!"

Dude, I don't want to be on fire, that's the whole point here.

April 05, 2013

Bark Beetles Eavesdropping on Drought-Stressed Pine Trees

An article on how sound plays a part in plant-plant communication and plant-insect communication, not always beneficially from the plant's point of view.
And there is evidence that insects and plants "hear" each other's sounds. Bees buzz at just the right frequency to release pollen from tomatoes and other flowering plants. And bark beetles may pick up the air bubble pops inside a plant, a hint that trees are experiencing drought stress.
Implications for drought:
In the arid Southwest, [Duke University botantist Dan] Johnson was surprised to find that the plants considered the most drought-tolerant, such as junipers, did worst at repairing embolisms. Broad-leaf plants, including rhododendrons and beaked hazels, were better at fixing the damage caused by dry pipes.

Antero Reservoir to Close, Other Drought-Related News

Antero Reservoir (Photo: Denver Water)
UPDATE 4/22. Apparently this is not happening. Bag limits remain as before.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife will be draining Antero Reservoir in South Park (again), this time due to drought.

Full news release here—draining starts May 1st. The limit for fish has temporarily been raised to eight.

A little history on the reservoir, part of the Denver Water system.

April 02, 2013

'36 Views of Pike's Peak'

Credit: KRCC, Colorado College
This item is from January, but it appears that entries are still accepted.

An homage to the Japanese artist Hokusai, of course.

Yes, in homage to the late Ed Quillen, I keep the apostrophe in the name Pike's Peak.

April 01, 2013

Them vs. Us: Guns and the Culture War

I always thought that economic development is a major concern for the governors of states. But not in Colorado, evidently.

Despite warnings of the potential loss of hundreds of good manufacturing jobs, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed some misguided firearms legislation legislation recently, laws conceived in emotional hullabaloo and possibly unenforceable.

So why did he do it? Why is he forcing companies like Magpul, Lawrence Tool,  and HiViz out of the state by creating a hostile legal environment?

Because this is culture war, and the "enemy" must be destroyed.

And apparently I am among the enemy. Some politicians are quite clear about that. If I lived in Alabama in the district held by Democratic Rep. Joe Mitchell, he would be happy to tell me that I am a "murdering, adulterous, baby-raping, incestuous, snaggle-toothed, backward-a**ed, inbreed (sic)" because I support the Second Amendment.

Cinematic propagandist Michael Moore would be happy to inform me that I am a racist, naturally. If you can't think of any other insult, call somebody a racist.

I know that I did not fit the "snaggle-toothed" profile. For a period of years I was a Volkswagen-camper driving university professor, with a bulging Lands' End briefcase full of textbooks and student papers. I sent money to my local NPR radio station.

As a registered Democrat, I was an Obama delegate in 2008 to the county Democratic assembly. Granted, that was more because I did not want to see a Clinton dynasty (or any other dynasty) than out of deep support for BHO.

On the other hand, I grew up in a hunting family, owned firearms, and joined the National Rifle Association in my mid-twenties. Even in my anarcho-hippie days, I reasoned that if widespread ownership of firearms by citizens made the politicians nervous, then that was a good enough reason right there to own them. Politicians should  be nervous, or they become complacent and corrupt.

The "wish to ban" is an odd psychological phenomenon. Some people do think that if we removed a certain class of inanimate objects from the world, all would be fine, the lion would lie down with the lamb, and no one would hurt each other. (See also Prohibition, War on [Some] Drugs.)

Or we might have again the high murder rates of the Middle Ages and such gun-free zones as the Hundred Years War, the genocidal conquests of Genghiz Khan and Tamerlane, and the Crusades. Want to try the experiment?

Evidently, Gov. Hickenlooper is one of those banners-of-things, given his vague and weaselly language at the bill-signing. He is happy to turn law-abiding people into criminals with poorly written laws, and he is apparently happy to hand his 2014 electoral opponent a campaign message such as "Hickenlooper's Colorado: Hundreds of Jobs Destroyed."

I can only assume, therefore, that he did it for the culture war. He did it to show people like me (who voted for him, I admit) that we are ignorant, violent enemies of civilization, or some such thing. The job losses are just collateral damage, for the culture war must be won. Citizens must be defenseless and passive, waiting for the people-who-know-better to take care of them.

Well then, I am on the other side of that argument. So be it.