January 29, 2015

"The Big Burn" Coming to PBS

Based on Timothy Egan's excellent book The Big Burn, an upcoming episode of PBS' The American Experience,  "The Fire That Changed Everything," is devoted to the largest forest fire complex in the history of the United States, which rampaged through northern Idaho and western Montana in 1910.
In the summer of 1910, hundreds of wildfires raged across the Northern Rockies. By the time it was all over, more than three million acres had burned and at least 78 firefighters were dead. It was the largest fire in American history, and it assured the future of the still-new United States Forest Service. 
Rocky Mountain PBS has it scheduled at 8 p.m. on February 3.

I have already seen commenters on a wildfire-related site say, hey, that man is using a pulaski too, which postdates the fire and assistant ranger Ed Pulaski's heroic actions. Well, yes, I don't think there was any movie footage in 1910, so the filmmakers probably substituted footage from the 1920s–1940s (the pre-hard hat days).

Bill Gabbert here offers some "behind the scenes" images, including the firefighters trapped in the Pulaski Tunnel, a/k/a the War Eagle Mine.

January 24, 2015

Why You Don't Want a 'Water Feature' in Bear Country

The attribution for this photo was stripped off in the process that brought it to me, but I understand that it was taken in Beulah, Colorado (western Pueblo Country), located in the foothills of the Wet Mountains, which have a healthy population of black bears.

Bears will walk along a shallow stream flipping over rocks to see if anything edible is underneath — these two probably found nothing in the artificial pond and stream, but being bears, they had fun anyway.

January 17, 2015

Would You Have Eaten What George Melville Ate?

Jeannette's boats are separated in a gale. Illustration from "In the Lena Delta"
In July 1879, the USS Jeannette, a former Royal Navy gunboat with both sails and a steam engine, left San Francisco Bay for the Bering Strait and the Arctic Ocean beyond.

Its purchase and outfitting expenses were chiefly covered by newspaper tycoon James Gordon Bennett, Jr.,  sort of the Ted Turner of his day, with the ship being commissioned by the US Navy and given a Navy crew—plus two native Alaskan dog handlers and a veteran whaling captain to serve as "ice pilot."

For two winters Jeannette explored northeast of Siberia, looking for a hypothesized open water projected — by eminent geographers— to exist north of the band of pack ice. For most of the time, of course, the ship was stuck in the pack ice, carried along by the polar drift while the crew carried out scientific observations and visited some hither-to unknown islands.

In June 1881 Jeannette was released by the ice—but then re-caught by moving floes. Despite the hull reinforcements added in preparation for the voyage, this time the ship was crushed. The crew had warning and had evacuated many supplies, sleds, dogs, and three of the ship's boats.

And then the hard part started. The story of Jeannette, the sinking, the horrible sled journey south, south, south, and the open-boat voyage toward the Siberian cost are told in Hampton Sides' book In the Kingdom of Ice, and if you like stories of adventure and endurance, you will devour it like a starving sailor eats raw fish.

But there is more. When the story shifts to the struggles of the castaway sailors and the search for the missing, Sides relies quite a bit  on In the Lena Delta (1884), an account written by the senior surviving officer, George Melville, the ship's engineer. So I had to get it.

Only two months after being rescued by some native Siberian Yakuts and still suffering from frostbite and malnutrition, Melville organized a November dogsled expedition to look for more survivors beyond those already found. (He did receive significant assistance from Russian imperial officials, once they learned of the castaways' existence.)

At one point, in the middle of howling winter gales, Melville and his Yakut guides (who always lived on the ragged edge of starvation anyway) ran out of food and were reduced to eating bits of leftover frozen reindeer and bones that the Yakuts cached here and there on their trapping routes. He writes,
With an axe the rib pieces were soon severed from the back-bone, and then from the inside of these the natives cut strips with their sheath-knives and handed me a chunky moral from the loin, as breakfast. I bit into it without any ceremony, while the dogs clamored frantically for a share. So long as it remained frozen the meat did not exhibit the vile extent of its putridity; but directly I had taken it into my mouth it melted like butter, and at the same time gave off such a disgusting odor that I hastily relinquished my hold upon it, and the dogs captured it at a single gulp. The natives first stared in genuine astonishment to see me cast away such good food to the dogs, and then burst forth into hearty laughter at my squeamishness. But I was not to be outdone, much less ridiculed, by a Yakut, and so ordered some more, perhaps a pound of the stuff, cut up into little bits. These I swallowed like so many pills, and then gazed on my Yakut friends in triumph; but not long, for in a little while my stomach heated the decomposed mess, an intolerable gas arose and retched me, and again I abandoned my breakfast — my loss, however, becoming the dogs' gain.

At this the natives were nearly overcome with mirth; but I astonished them by my persistence, requesting a third dose, albeit the second one had teemed with maggots; and swallowing the sickening bits as before, my stomach retained them out of pure exhaustion.
Remember this the next time you notice that the package of meat in your refrigerator is past its expiration date.

And In the Kingdom of Ice is a great cold-weather read. Unless you are in Yakutsk (a locale that figures in the story), it will make your winter seem like balmy spring.

January 14, 2015

The Benevolent Order of Middle-Aged Adrenaline Junkies

1. You see a neighbor at a cafe during lunch in Nearby Town, 15 miles away. Eight hours later, you meet her at the site of a one-pickup truck rollover accident on a snowy highway near home. She was wearing her EMT gear at lunch—must have been her shift on Nearby Town's ambulance.

2. Responding to the call in your POV (personally owned vehicle), yours are the only tire tracks on the snowy county road. In the headlights' beams, the track of a fox weaves back and forth across the road. Red flashes bounce off the pine trees — now they are echoed by other flashed on the highway.

3. On the scene: the sheriff's deputy, a state snowplow driver, and the volunteer firefighter who just walked over because it happened in front of his little ranch. The ambulance goes to the home where the truck's occupants, not seriously injured, had gone, following the lights. "Someone was pounding on my door," the firefighter says, "but by the time I got there, they were gone." They went up the canyon and across the road — probably highly agitated.


4. Another volunteer arrives. You and he climb down the slope to where the red Chevy lies pillowed on crushed willows — maybe they cushioned it, preventing serious body damage. Passenger-side window broken out (crash or evacuation?), windshield badly cracked, but no leaking gasoline, no smoke, no crackling or hissing sounds. No blood either, that's good.

5. Your engine arrives with three on board. The deputy is relaxed. The Colorado State Patrol is  not coming, he says. No wrecker coming tonight either. So there is no need to direct traffic. You say hello to the chief of the Nearby Town VFD, who followed the ambulance out to the scene (adrenaline junkie that he is). Say hello to the neighbor. Tell the deputy we're clearing the scene. Tell "Central" we're clearing the scene.

6. You all go your separate ways. The chief will do the incident report. You drive back down the quiet road to your house, cutting the fox tracks once again.

January 13, 2015

Yes, It's Pretty, But We're Sick of It


Four days of freezing fog in the last week. M.  is complaining loudly that it's too icy for her daily walks. Sometimes, even gravel and bare dirt are slick. This is completely un-Southern Colorado, and we do not like it.

January 07, 2015

Six Views on Getting in Firewood

What my friends think I do.
What my family thinks I do.
What Society thinks I do.
What my wife thinks I do.
What I think I do.
What I really do.

January 05, 2015

Blog Stew Stored Underground

• Mysterious Kansas: Who built the stone caves and why? "Parish was wowed by the workmanship and created a panoramic image of it. Then he began to wonder: How many more of these are out there?"

New Mexico rock art panel (Western Digs).
• Datura — still legal in New Mexico (and everywhere else). Maybe there is a connection with ancient rock art: "Hallucinogenic plants were found growing beneath the triangle designs, including a particularly potent species of wild tobacco and the potentially deadly psychedelic known as datura."

• Maybe you have read that forest fires are bigger and hotter than in the past. Not if you take the long view, says a University of Colorado study.  "Wildfires along Colorado's Front Range, long assumed to be intensifying, may not be when understood in historical context before 20th-century firefighting, a new study finds."

December 26, 2014

How Deer See Blue Jeans

Depth of concealment . . . not.
At his Hits and Misses blog, Gerard Cox discusses another study of deer vision and human camouflage:

"Within this blurry focus, however, some colors are better perceived than others.lue, violet, and near ultraviolet light are seen more clearly by [whitetail] deer than other colors. Near sunrise and sunset, blue and UV makes up much of the light available, and that's what deer see better than other colors. So keep those jeans at home, boy."

And if you say that you have shot plenty of deer and elk while wearing blue jeans, well, I have done that too — from a distance.

At left, a photo from an old experiment of shooting pictures of hunting clothes in B&W to try to simulate deer vision. The model's camo sweater is black/blaze orange, and shortly after this time, Colorado changed its regs to forbid blaze orange camouflage — you had to have a solid color. He is wearing blue jeans.

As I understand, this is all about color-blindness in men, not about deer or elk. If a man is color blind, he can still see the blaze orange as a light color, even better than he could see "safety green," which is right in the center of the human visual spectrum.

For a time in my early twenties I sold menswear in a department store, and I was surprised how often a customer would select a shirt, for instance, and then say, "I'm color-blind, so could you pick out a tie to go with this shirt for me?"

Edges of reflective hat band catch your eye.

Yet some say that color-blindness has evolutionary value, giving those men affected a sort of predator-type vision, an ability to spot movement against jumbled backgrounds.

More information:

• "Behavioral measure of the light-adapted visual sensitivity of white-tailed deer" (abstract only).

• Camopedia: The Camouflage Encyclopedia.

• Kamouflage.net, another compendium of military camouflage from around the world.

• "Portraits, Cubists, and Camouflage" — how pre-World War One artists influenced military camouflage design.

• The U.S. Army's ongoing camouflage controversy.

• A history of digital camouflage development, focused on the United States and Canada.

December 12, 2014

Fortuna Runs Free

video
Colorado Parks & Wildlife officers releasing a bear into the wild at an undisclosed location.

When you hear the woman's voice say that this bear has not run that far in six months, that is because she (the bear) had been in a large cage all summer and fall. And if she looks a little chunky, that is a Good Thing, since she is on her own to find a den site for the winter.

I will let the wildlife rehabilitator tell the story.
Members of the Bear Aware program were with the game warden that came to her rescue. Bear Aware volunteers educate the public on how to live with bears without conflict. 
They gave her the name Fortuna because she was fortunate enough to get the attention she needed. Close inspection could not find any breaks or serious injuries to the leg. She weighed only 40 pounds [18 kg].
Within a week Fortuna was no longer limping and eating everything put in front of her. As time went by her thin body began to blossom into a gorgeous healthy bear.
Her diet consisted of dry dog chow drenched in yogurt and honey with sides of grapes, apples, plums, avocados, watermelon and a variety of other fruits and vegetables and peanuts, lots of peanuts. Natural foods, such as wild plums, juniper berries and chokecherry, were offered when available.
Fortuna did not like when I went into her enclosure. She would run to the opposite side, climb up her log and turn her back on me. Occasionally she would turn her head to see if I was still there. As soon as I closed the gate to leave she would race over to the feast that I left for her. Her aversion to me was just exactly what it should be. I avoided her and she avoided me.
With the hot summer temperatures Fortuna, like all bears that I have had, spent a lot of time in her water tub. She made a large nest in one corner lined with pine needles and oak leaves. 
As the days began to shorten and the temperatures dropped, Fortuna became restless. Her instincts were telling her that she needed more than a pine needle nest for the coming winter.
Fortuna was given her freedom in late November in a remote mountain area. Her weight at release time was 170 pounds [77 kg]. Her coat was shiny black and thick. She would have plenty of fat and a warm coat to survive the long winter ahead.
I know this is the time of year when you are overwhelmed with requests for charitable contributions, but let me put in a good word for Wet Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitators.

December 11, 2014

Things that Humans Do and Dogs Don't Like

M. sent me this link with a comment, "So why does Fisher seem to like it when you bonk him on the head?"

Simple. Fisher Is Not Like Other Dogs. Or as the neighbor says, "He was made on a Monday."

Your doggage may vary.

December 09, 2014

Non-standard Southern Colorado Christmas Trees

What do you do with bound academic journals? Turn them into a tree  — at the Colorado State University-Pueblo library.

Tumbleweeds blanketed southeastern Colorado the last couple of years, and the La Junta Tribune-Democrat featured local merchants' tumbleweed Christmas tree. Next year's will be bigger!