April 30, 2013

The 4 a.m. Egg Run

Crashed Jaguary Mark 2
Sometimes jaguars eat deer, sometimes deer eat Jaguars.
Last night was warm, and we slept with the bedroom windows slightly open. So M., light sleeper that she is, hears the emergency siren wailing down the valley and shakes me awake at 2:22 a.m.

Outside on the porch, I can hear it too. There is no glow in the sky. What is happening?

I call the sheriff's dispatcher — "Vehicle fire. Mile marker 26." I pull on some pants and long-sleeved shirt, stumble down to the garage, don my turnout gear (kept here rather than at the fire house), fumble the magnetic red light crookedly onto the Jeep roof, and drive way.

Reaching the state highway, I can see down toward MM 26, and there is nothing but blackness. A set of flashing lights is coming toward me though — a state trooper, who says the wreck is up the other way. More lights behind me — our engine.

Over a rise, and there is the scene — a sheriff's deputy, an ambulance, Nearby Town's engine, and —  crunched against a ponderosa pine tree — a once-lovely vintage Jaguar Mark 2 saloon car, as the Brits would call it, still smoking from the engine compartment. Right-hand drive, even.

RECONSTRUCTION: The driver (not injured) coming down the canyon, had swerved to avoid a deer. Perhaps over-correcting, he went off the road and hit the tree. Thinking he could reverse onto the highway, he re-started the engine, even though he could smell gasoline. Poof!!

He could not get a cell phone signal (welcome to the neighborhood), so he started walking down until he could. He was connected to a tower in the next county north, so his 911 call went to their dispatcher, who alerted their nearest fire department. Hence the incorrect location too, I think.

Then, after 15 minutes or so, they called our sheriff's dispatcher, who sent a deputy and "toned out" our department.

Nearby Town's engine leaves. We set up traffic control and wait for the wrecker. When the wrecker driver starts to move the car, the battery throws some sparks, so I grab the bolt cutters and cut a cable. (Should have done that earlier — I don't work enough car wrecks).

After the car is moved, we check to be sure that it had not left any smoldering embers in the pine duff underneath. Luckily, it had crashed on the side of the highway burned in the October 23, 2012 fire. Fuel is scarce. But if it had gone off the other side, it would have been surrounded by unburned trees and brush, and I might still be out there.

One of our firefighters has a little home egg business, so since we are all awake, I ask if I could pick up a dozen afterwards. Of course, she says. (Ruth's Egg Barn: Open 24 Hours to Serve You.)

At 4:05 a.m., I am climbing our front steps, still in turnout gear, with a carton of eggs. There ought to be funny caption for that picture, but I am too fuzzy to think of one.

April 29, 2013

Signs of Spring (4)

Pasque flower (Wikipedia).
Pasque flowers and spring beauty (Claytonia) finally in bloom.

• Flocks of high country-bound motorcyclists on the state highway over the last weekend.

• Mourning doves are back, while the huge flock of pine siskins at the bird feeders has dispersed.

• The weather forecast alternates "high fire danger" and "rain turning to snow."

April 28, 2013

Solving a Cryptozoological Puzzle

The "Edwardian lynx" in the Bristol Museum
This is not a southern Rockies post, just so you will know. We have lynx (re-introduced), and we like them.

Science writer Darren Naish shows how the puzzle of a lynx(?) shot in southwestern England in about 1903 can be solved using modern technology.

I have been in that museum, but I do not remember the stuffed lynx. What I do remember from the wildlife collection is staring for a while at this.

Naish's piece, however, is an elegant summary of what can be done with older taxidermy specimens.

April 27, 2013

Advances in Colorado Agriculture

Image from infohemp.org.
In far southeastern Colorado, a farmer plans the first legal hemp crop since the World War II era.
"I believe this is really going to revitalize and strengthen farm communities," said [Ryan] Loflin, 40, who grew up on a farm in Springfield but left after high school for a career in construction.

Now he returns, leasing 60 acres of his father's alfalfa farm to plant the crop and install a press to squeeze the oil from hemp seeds. He'll have a jump on other farmers, with 400 starter plants already growing at an indoor facility prior to transplanting them in the field.
M. and I were just discussing planting potatoes during breakfast. Grand Junction is lower and warmer than where we live, so people are already planting there.

One Grand Junction woman made an interesting discovery in her potato patch. All I ever found were old tin cans, etc. Some people have all the luck.

April 26, 2013

Low Water on the Arkansas

River running about 200 cfs
The guide scrambles back into his seat after dragging the raft through a riffle. Sport #1 is fishing. Sport #2 (stern) seems drowsy. Maybe he drank his lunch. Photo taken near Howard, Colorado.

April 25, 2013

Forest Therapy — You Don't Need to Be Japanese

In Japan, "forest therapy" is a formal process, complete with leaders. "To help us along, Kunio—a volunteer ranger—had us standing still on a hillside, facing the creek, with our arms at our sides."
In an effort to benefit the Japanese and find nonextractive ways to use forests, which cover 67 percent of the country’s landmass, the government has funded about $4 million in forest-bathing research since 2004. It intends to designate a total of 100 Forest Therapy sites within 10 years. Visitors here are routinely hauled off to a cabin where rangers measure their blood pressure, part of an effort to provide ever more data to support the project.
But just do it yourself. You don't need to write haiku, unless you want to.

The "nature as a gym" crowd is doing it wrong.
And don’t think you’re off the hook if you exercise outdoors. You are quite likely still tethered to civilization. Perhaps you’re strapped to a heart monitor or headset. Admit it: Have you brought your phone? Are you clocking wind sprints? Sure, you are deriving some mental and physical benefits, but evidence is mounting that to get the most out of nature, you really need to be present in it, not distracted by your own great story of self.

April 24, 2013

Online Colorado Fishing Atlas

It's a searchable online fishing atlas for Colorado. Pretty cool.

Think It Has Been Cold This Spring?

Here's a map of record lows during April 2013. M. keeps telling me that more trees should be leafed out by now at low altitudes, such as in Pueblo.

I say, no problem. If it's cold and damp, it's not burning. But yes, I do look forward to planting some things.

April 23, 2013

Mental Illness and Gun Rights: Some Hidden Traps?

Recent debates over gun-ownership have seen the pro-gun rights side reacting to calls for restriction with the counter-argument that what we really need is more attention paid to the mentally ill.

On its website, the National Rifle Association states, "The NRA has supported legislation to ensure that appropriate records of those who have been judged mentally incompetent or involuntarily committed to mental institutions be made available for use in firearms transfer background checks."

This seems like a good response to those politicians who want to turn law-abiding citizens into criminals with the stroke of a pen. We all agree that "crazy people shouldn't have guns."

But is there a hidden danger here? Who defines "mental illness"? The mental-health industry (drug makers, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and other therapists) keeps enlarging the definition.

The new fifth edition of the DIagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders will have even more categories than the fourth edition had. And the DSM-4 already offered catch-all categories such as "adjustment disorder," which let a therapist medicalize any mild depression, etc., assign it a code number, and let patients submit claims to their insurance carries.

Now half the population will be conceivably coded as "mentally ill":
If we think of having a diagnosable mental illness as being under a tent, the tent seems pretty big. Huge, in fact. How did it happen that half of us will develop a mental illness? Has this always been true and we just didn’t realize how sick we were—we didn’t realize we were under the tent? Or are we mentally less healthy than we were a generation ago? What about a third explanation—that we are labeling as mental illness psychological states that were previously considered normal, albeit unusual, making the tent bigger. The answer appears to be all three.
A book review in the Chronicle of Higher Education also notes the multiplication of categories of mental disturbance:
Where [psychiatrist Jeffrey[ Kahn's book is a genial guide to American angst, [Edward] Shorter's How Everyone Became Depressed is a polemical, alarmist complaint about the psychiatric profession, the big pharmaceutical companies, and the changes within medicine about diagnosis and terminology. Shorter, a professor of history at the University of Toronto, who went down this road in Before Prozac (Oxford, 2008), argues that the overelaboration of symptoms in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the updated fifth edition of which will appear in May, has led to the multiplication of nervous syndromes. "Most clinicians, in their heart of hearts, thought anxiety and depression were really the same illness: It was only the DSM drafters who wanted to keep them apart," he says.
If you are not taking psychotropic medication yourself, you know people who are. And since not everyone metabolizes these medications the same way, perhaps you have heard stories of how a switch in medication caused the patient to become crazier, until they begged their psychiatrist to prescribe something else.

Furthermore, boys more than girls tend to receive psychoactive drugs. Making the connection, one writer notes, "It is simply indisputable that most perpetrators of school shootings and similar mass murders in our modern era were either on – or just recently coming off of – psychiatric medications."*

This is one aspect of school shootings that has not been examined enough. Could "Why did they do it?" have some connection with psychotropic medication?

So, gun owners, think about these questions:

• if you like the NRA's language about "involuntarily committed," do you think that if someone is placed on a 72-hour hold, the SWAT team should kick down the door and seize all firearms in the household? Even if that person is released subsequently with a pat on the hand?

• Do you think that a therapist who thinks guns are icky might get a patient to admit to owning one and then report that patient as a danger to society?

• Do you think that the gun-banners might seek to leverage the DSM-5 to make gun ownership more difficult in the name of protecting society from the "mentally ill"?

It's a culture war that we are in, not a disagreement over crime-fighting.

* I realize that WND tends toward the "paranoid style," but this issue of drugs and school shooters is worth looking at. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

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.