February 10, 2014

In the Dust Bowl of 2014

There is nothing to see in eastern Colorado. It's all flat and treeless.
 Almost a month ago — January 18th — I took County Road 11 south from Manzanola, Colo., toward part of the Comanche National Grassland. I had driven nine or ten miles when something struck me — I had seen only one small herd of cattle, maybe six head, no more. The rest had all gone to the sale barn, apparently.

I was right about where the red arrow is pointing in the graphic from the United States Drought Monitor, and what was in theory a quail-hunting trip was, admit it or not, turning more into disaster tourism.

Outdoor writer Chad Love blogs from a location downwind of that location, and he has posted some photos that, once converted from color into black-and-white, evoke the Dirty Thirties.

I didn't photograph those six cows, nor the herd I saw somewhere on Colorado  Hwy. 10 grazing in the slanting sunset light in a pasture that was about half dirt, even though it would have been nice and National Geographic-y. Like something from East Africa.

Windmill on the national grasslands. Not pumping.
Fisher the dog and I took a walk around this windmill. There was no water in the tank, no bird tracks of any sort in the dust.

We drove on to another spot closer to the Purgatory River where there was a little water, but all we saw was a single mule deer slipping away. Very quiet. Very dry. Just a general sense of absence.

Chasing scaled quail involves a lot of a windshield time—and to be honest, I have done better in more agricultural areas, but this trip was degenerating into disaster tourism.

So I admitted that I was doing that, ate a late lunch of crackers and coffee, and drove around.

We drove past the Huerfano River Wind Farm outside Walsenburg—as usual for wind farms, not all the blades were turning—and Fisher got a piss break at Huerfano Butte.

And there is the mystery of those deserted commercial buildings on the gravel road in totally misnamed Apache City.

It was good to be back into the mountains and seeing snow.

February 06, 2014

They Walk Among Us

Over in Frémont County, a/k/a "Prison Valley" (photo essay), people must be extra-worried about other people walking down the road. Reading the sheriff's blotter in the Cañon City Daily Record, I keep seeing entries like these, from late January:
CR 123/Brush Hollow/Penrose, reporting party reported a male party going down the road waving his arms and talking to himself. Subject was contacted, and he was walking home from Walmart and was OK.

Colo. 115/Telck/Florence, report of a party dressed in black walking on the edge of the road. Deputy checked the area with no contact.
Maybe it is because every year there are a few actual escaped inmates wandering around, most of them caught fairly easily.

On the other hand,
Fremont Street, Penrose, deputy dispatched to check on a party acting strangely in his driveway. Party's behavior was part of his religious practice.
If he had a colander on his head, he would be a Pastafarian. Otherwise, we need more information!

February 05, 2014

Ancestral Air Produced Ancestral Maize

A wild grass from Mesoamerica called teosinte is accepted as the ancestor of maize/corn, but it does not look much like varieties of corn we know:
How teosinte looks today. (Wiki Commons)
The vegetative and flowering structures of modern teosinte are very different from those of corn. These and other differences led to a century-long dispute as to whether teosinte could really be the ancestor of corn.
But some greenhouse studies that replicated different atmospheric conditions resulted in teosinte growing more modern corn-like stalks and ears! According to one of the researchers,
“When humans first began to cultivate teosinte about 10,000 years ago, it was probably more maize-like—naturally exhibiting some characteristics previously thought to result from human selection and domestication. The environment may have played a significant, if serendipitous, role in the transition through inducing phenotypic plasticity that gave early farmers a head start.”

January 29, 2014

Pity the Sage Grouse, Victim of Politics

Sage Grouse (Wiki Commons)
Sally Jewell, shiny new Secretary of the Interior, comes to northwest Colorado to discuss the threats to sage grouse — then shuts local news reporters out of a "public meeting," is rebuked by the Colorado Press Association.

She has not been in office long, but evidently she has picked up this "most transparent administration's ever" operating style.

Later she issues a typical bureaucrat's non-apology in which it's no one's fault.

Forgotten in all of this: what, if anything, can be done to help the sage grouse. Secretary Jewell has managed to make the story all about her blunders instead.

Her trip was supposed to be about a local, ground-up plan to preserve sage grouse without listing them as endangered or threatened, with the associated federal regulations. But the controversy over Jewell's disrespecting of the local news media drowns that out. One might wonder why. With her way, people who did not personally attend the "public" meeting will never hear about how the local plan works and how the feds reacted to it.

January 24, 2014

Bears on the Fire Scar

Bears at Camera Trap Spring

Since the October 2012 forest fire behind our house, I have been tracking changes in the land, particularly the public land (the highest ridge) that was re-seeded by the federal Bureau of Land Management in April 2013.

In late September, I decided to put a scout camera there at Camera Trap Spring, my favorite spot, and leave it for a few months.

The spring is on BLM land, although not easily accessible without trespassing, if you're not local. Nevertheless, I have seen boot tracks up there — rarely.

Also, Camera Trap Spring has attracted camera-hating bears in the past.

Thinking I was clever, I took my worst camera, spray-painted it flat black for camouflage, and hung it on a burnt ponderosa pine with a black strap.

And it was there when M. and I hiked to the spring in early December. Based on weather recorded (this camera is too cheap to record date and time), I think its batteries had died in mid-November, but not before recording more than two hundred images.

I wished that I had left a better camera up there!

There were groups of deer, flocks of turkeys — and to my surprise, flocks of crows landing at the spring.

Something did knock or bump the camera at one point about 45° from horizontal.

And bears — this cinnamon-phase black bear and her cub made several visits, and the low-light photo almost makes up for the low-quality image.

Given the really poor crop of acorns, apples, and other favorite bear foods in 2013, I was surprised to see them, and I hope they went into hibernation in good shape.

So many questions. We live among them — or they live among us — and yet it feels like they are in separate worlds. Maybe if I was the kind of person who could just leave everything and watch the bears day after day, I might feel as though I had entered their world, to some degree.

January 19, 2014

Blog Stew Followed by Pie

¶ That there is, in fact, an actual place called Pie Town, New Mexico, continues to fascinate food writers. Going to Pie Town is compared to eating beignets at the Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans — a culinary "rite of passage."

¶ We are still thinking about what Colorado forests will look like after the big beetle kills.
During a year of extreme drought, in 2002, the first signs of this latest North American mountain pine beetle outbreak started appearing. From 2006 to 2009, three million acres of red-needled lodgepole pines blossomed into nine million acres of dead trees spanning from New Mexico to Montana, west to Washington, and all the way up into Canada. West of Fort Collins, the picturesque landscape of Rocky Mountain National Park was transfigured when the majority of the park’s large pole [sic. Should be "lodgepole"] pine died.
(That is what happens when editors never leave the asphalt.)

¶ "Why Americans are the Weirdest People in the World." A funny read on perception.

"Rye whiskey, rye whiskey, rye whiskey I cry. "

News you can use: A history of bourbon and rye whiskeys.

The reviewer writes,

I must admit that I too once looked down from the highlands of Scotland on what I viewed as the low ground of American whiskey. Like Risen’s friend, I was undoubtedly influenced by my own introduction to bourbon during American whiskey’s low point in terms of both sales and quality during the 1970s and 1980s. Like my grandfather before me, I lived in Louisville at the time. However, most of the bourbon available then (at least to me) was a choice rightly relegated to the bottom shelves, fit for those with either undiscriminating palates or light wallets. . . .  Spurning bourbon, not to mention moonshine, as an upwardly mobile professional I began to sample single malts from Scotland and thereby missed the astonishing revival of bourbon and its kin that is the subject of Risen’s book.

January 16, 2014

Mountain Snowpack, January 1, 2013

And now the news that matters: water. Some graphics whiz at the Natural Resources Conservation Service has changed the style of the map. Instead of shading in drainages and sub-drainages, now it looks as though they are color-keying the individual measurement stations.* Click image for a larger view.

You can view previous winters' maps here. For Colorado, links to individual SNOTEL stations are here.

* Official explanation: "Due to data system changes and resource constraints, basin-filled maps for SNOTEL & Snow Course Snow Water Equivalent are no longer being produced and are replaced by point maps."

January 15, 2014

Tea Time in the Foothills

You have to break up a day at the desk. There is firewood-gathering, dog-walking, and come late afternoon, time for a mug of tea.

I like playing with fire, hence the Kelly Kettle.

You don't like playing with fire? And you call yourself a hominin? Get back up in a tree, you poser.

The little tube is the Dragon Breath by Off Route Gear. It helps get the fire going quickly with carefully directed air.

January 09, 2014

Aliens, Sex, and Incorrect Firearms Usage

The blogosphere this week noticed a claim by Paul Hellyer, former Canadian defense minister, that people from other planets do indeed exist:

“[I’ve] been getting from various sources [that] there are about 80 different species and some of them look just like us and they could walk down the street and you wouldn’t know if you walked past one.”

Canada . . . it is no accident that the X-Files television series was filmed in Vancouver. (That is why it was always cloudy — and you don't see so many Douglas firs in northern Virginia.)

In hot-blooded Santa Fe, N.M., however, they don't just write blog comments about the existence or non-existence of aliens.

They interrupt  "a sex act" involving a gun to threaten their partner over the "Do aliens exist?" question — or so says the Albuquerque Journal. I don't think that Smith & Wesson will be using Jennifer McCarthy in their advertising.

"“Who is crazy, you or me?" is still begging the question, however. Is it crazy to believe or not to believe?

UPDATE: Ms. McCarthy is novelist Cormac McCarthy's third ex-wife.

January 08, 2014

Women Hunters' Numbers "Surge"

The number of women hunting in America "surged by 25 percent between 2006 and 2011," according to National Geographic.
 "There is definitely a high demand. We have over 3,000 women on our mailing list, and workshops fill up quickly," says Patricia Handy, Information & Education Program Manager at the Department of Natural Resources in Maryland.
There is also a commercial angle—more products for women—and you will see both angles represented in Women's Outdoor News in the sidebar under "Elsewhere."

(H/t Mary Zeiss Stange, who knows something about this topic.)

January 06, 2014

Your Campsite is your "Castle" . . .

 . . . at least in Oregon
The Oregon Court of Appeals has reversed the conviction of a man found guilty of illegally carrying a concealed weapon after he argued the campsite where he pitched his tent for the week was his home and provided an exception to the state's concealed weapon law.
(h/t Alphecca)

January 05, 2014

Blog Stew Chopped with Cheap Knives

¶ Peter Grant at Bayou Renaissance Man comes down firmly in the price-versus-quality debate in regard to knives, axes, and machetes. He and I agree on Mora knives— mine are so old they have wooden handles.

¶ In all the news-media fuss over legalized recreational marijuana use in Colorado, not much is being said about the new rules on farming for hemp for industrial uses. I wonder which will be a bigger story in the long run.

¶ "Man Mistaken for Coyote Killed in Southwest Colo. Hunting Accident," said the headline. How, you wonder? Apparently a case of technology being "smarter" than people. Oh brave new world

January 01, 2014

Ecopsychology — The Scary Psychology

If M. and I are short on dinner-table conversation, we can always turn to perennial topics such as "What ever happened to ecopsychology?"

According to Wikipedia (not sure how reliable this is) the term was coined in 1992 to mean studying "the relationship between human beings and the natural world through ecological and psychological principles."*

I tend to think of it as a psychology built on the idea that the health of the natural environment and human mental health are connected.

It is an idea that has seemed on the verge of breakthrough for twenty years. Back in  September 1994, for instance, McCall's magazine ran an article called "The Totally Natural Way to Lift Your Spirits," all about biophilia and the benefits of being in a natural environment.

(As usual, I define "nature" and "natural" as places and processes not under control of the human ego, something I lifted from Gary Snyder.)

"Wow," I thought on reading the McCall's piece, "this is the coming thing."

It has not really happened. Oh, there is a book here and there, a college course here and there. You can get a master's degree in ecopsychology at Naropa University in Boulder in a "low-residency" program. (But Blogger's spell-checker does not recognize the word.)

There is a peer-reviewed journal called Ecopsychology too, partly online.

A 2010 New York Times article, "Is There an Ecological Unconscious?" defined ecopsychology as a "revolutionary paradigm":
Just as Freud believed that neuroses were the consequences of dismissing our deep-rooted sexual and aggressive instincts, ecopsychologists believe that grief, despair and anxiety are the consequences of dismissing equally deep-rooted ecological instincts.
The writer contrasts ecopsychology with the biologist E. O. Wilson's related idea of "biophilia":
But unlike Wilson and his followers, ecopsychologists tend to focus on the pathological aspect of the mind-nature relationship: its brokenness. In this respect, their project finds echoes in the culture at large. Recently, a number of psychiatrically inflected coinages have sprung up to represent people’s growing unease over the state of the planet — “nature-deficit disorder,” “ecoanxiety,” “ecoparalysis.” The terms have multiplied so quickly that Albrecht has proposed instituting an entire class of “psycho­terratic syndromes”: mental-health issues attributable to the degraded state of one’s physical surroundings."
We are somewhat able to accept a "mind-nature relationship" when it comes to children. Richard Louv got some traction with his "last child in the woods" and "nature-deficit disorder" approach, and the idea that kids need to develop outdoors ties in at one corner with the Free Range Kids movement.

Yet the notion of "reshaping modern psychology" (to borrow from the journal's mission statement) is threatening.

Ecopsychology says that adults are deeply messed up by environmental issues, and no one's insurance — nor Obamacare — will cover treatment for that. If a problem can't be fixed with a few sessions with the therapist, some cognitive exercises, or a prescription for a psychotropic drug, who wants to hear about it? Too scary! Too many implications!

It's OK for kids, sure— that is like saying that bicycles are OK for kids, but for adults they are just a hobby or fitness gadgets, not viable transportation. Only this would be bigger.

* Theodore Roszak is supposed to have invented the term "ecopsychology." He is also supposed to have invented the term "counterculture" in the 1960s. I am not sure if he did either, or if he was just real good at self-publicity.