September 17, 2014

A Quick Journey to Fungal Paradise

The Anchorage-Seward train running past Kenai Lake
Semi-free range mycophiles
Just back from Anchorage, a trip that was part work and part pleasure. Alaska is outside the remit of this blog, but I wanted to record a few images none the less.

The train photo is from the Coastal Classic train, almost purely a tourist train, where the engineer slows way down when the onboard guide announces a moose or bear sighting. The water is Kenai Lake.

My hosts are extraordinary urban foragers, and their 8-year-old son celebrated his birthday by inviting some of his friends to go mushroom hunting, which is to say that some hunted mushrooms (none knew as much as he already does) while others just ran around waving sticks, but it was all good. Afterwards, ice cream.

Some of the moms and dads were there too, to keep an eye on the kids and watch out for free-range moose. But actually, when the boy and I went geocaching in another of Anchorage's large and mostly wild city parks, it was he who spotted the moose while I was busy looking at the GPS receiver!

I was seeing mushrooms that I knew only from books, and there were countless other colorful fungi to photograph and marvel at.

Coming home, the 737's overhead bins were full of fishing rod cases, and yes, I was a little envious, but at least I had a bag of Alaska gold (Phaeolepiota aurea) in my suitcase.
Delicate, lovely, don't know what it is.
Young Alaska gold mushroom, Phaeolepiota aurea. See also the red box that the boy is holding.

September 14, 2014

Forest Divination

Kincaid Park, Anchorage (Photo taken today.)
The Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department is so good that they know what the bears will be doing next year.

September 09, 2014

Transhumance Today


From northwestern Wyoming, Cat Urbigkit posts a brief video of her family's sheep coming down from summer range. The dogs, of course, are at the end.

She writes,
This video demonstrates transhumance — the season movement of livestock and people, something that occurs throughout the American West. Most range flocks include about 1,000 ewes, accompanied by their lambs.
This Wyoming flock is owned by a family ranch, one of 600 range outfits in the West. Last week was the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and this was my family's way of celebrating what wilderness means to us — cheers to man and beast!
All the dogs with black coloration are herding dogs (5 or 6 with this herd). There were 7-9 livestock guardian dogs with this bunch as well - both white and some red-coloration (representing Akbash and Central Asian Ovcharka lineages).

September 08, 2014

It Felt like Something Stepped on the House


Lightning struck near the house yesterday afternoon, and the shock wave felt like a big foot coming down, while the windows rattled and buzzed.

The incident reminded me of this cell phone snapshot from last month, taken up on the 2012 burn — one of two recently lightning-struck tree trunks close together. Both were already dead, of course.

Keeping me eye out for anther blasted tree like this one, closer to home.

August 27, 2014

Dodging Anatoly and Other Mushroom Thoughts

Emerging king bolete.

"Anatoly"

Baskets were stacked in the pickup's bed — big, flat-bottomed baskets with integral handles — serious mushroom-collecting baskets.

I had just parked M's Jeep at the edge of a little clear-cut, a spot close to but not too close to the place we call "the mushroom store." We were standing behind it, her looking sort of woods-ninja, all in black with binocular slung, me in the red shirt I wore so that she could keep track of me. No packs, no baskets, no bags.

That pickup came up the narrow rocky Forest Service road and stopped, "Finding any mushrooms?" asked the driver. He was  a big guy with a pronounced Eastern European or Russian accent.

"We're looking for elk,*" I answered. Sorry, Anatoly, you think I am going to tell you? Archery season was two weeks away at that point, so scouting is a reasonable thing to be doing in the boreal forest.

He and his passenger drove off and turned onto another little logging road that went right to "the store." But then we heard doors slamming, and we saw the truck coming out again as we slung our packs (each holding several string or cloth shopping bags) and walked into the woods

Hunting mushrooms is like hunting elk in this respect: You do better away from roads. The farther we walked, the more we saw. When we saw big boletes next to one of the old logging roads, I knew that "Anatoly" had not ventured that far.

Snobbery

The local Search & Rescue (SAR) group drops hints about some kind of Chicago (Polish immigrant) — Wet Mountains pipeline: unprepared flatlanders getting dropped off to hunt mushrooms and becoming lost. ("Anatoly" did not strike me as one of those.) Apparently they are out there somewhere.

I have always felt there was a sort of snobbery with SAR: the mountain climbers they pluck (dead or alive) off peaks like Crestone Needle are idiots, but heroic idiots. The lost mushroom hunters are laughable idiots, "old ladies," etc., in their re-telling. But you won't get easily lost mushroom-hunting if you know to walk uphill — the roads are on the ridges. And blown-down trees usually point northeast. (I have relied on both of those bits of knowledge at one time or another.)

Is This All There Is?

We cut and cleaned mushrooms part of two days, filling the electric dehydrator and the screens in the greenhouse. Now that they are in jars, will the season allow us another hunt? But once the storage shelf in the basement is full, I find my desire changing

It is like the old fly-fishing dictum: First you want to catch fish, then you want to catch the most fish, then you want to catch the most difficult fish.

First I want to find "good" mushrooms, then I want to find lots of mushrooms and then . . . maybe I want to learn more about all those mushrooms that I walk past, whether they are "good" or not.
________
* OK, if the Huichol Indians, while on their sacred peyote hunt, can refer to the cactus buttons as "deer," I can refer to Boletus edulis as "elk"—especially as the elk do eat them. I saw some with cervid tooth marks and only the stems remaining.

August 23, 2014

Would You Eat Amanita if David Arora Cooked It?

David Arora's book All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms  is one of our favorites, right after Vera Evenson's Mushrooms of Colorado and the Southern Rocky Mountains. (His magnum opus is Mushrooms Demystified.)

So with that expertise, would you sit down to a steaming plate of Amanita muscaria (fly agaric) if he cooked them?

Wild-food blogger Langdon Cook did and got an education.

More than any other species, though, Arora is known for serving his guests Amanita muscaria. This practice is not uncontroversial. Amanita muscaria, also known as the fly agaric for its ancient use as a pesticide, is generally considered by English-language field guides to be a dangerous toxic mushroom. It’s been documented as a hallucinogen and used as a drug by social groups as varied as middle-class American hippies and Siberian reindeer herders, and occasionally it’s implicated in deaths, though not directly. In one recent case a victim ate the mushroom for its psychotropic effects and died of hypothermia.
But, as Arora points out in his workshops, Amanita muscaria is also used as food. It turns out the mushroom can be easily detoxified and consumed.

But you still get the feeling that Cook is torn between his desire to write honestly and worries about telling people to go eat any kind of Amanita.

August 19, 2014

Lassie Makes a Comeback

Pal, the proto-Lassie, in 1942
(Wikipedia).
Entertainment-industry dog news is outside the remit of this blog, except that I recently mentioned Lassie's 1960s stint with some fictive version of the U.S. Forest Service

"She," played by another descendent of the legendary collie dog Pal, retains an 83 percent “'brand awareness' among Americans; words like 'loyal,' 'hero' and 'heartwarming' were most often associated with the character," reports the New York Times.

With brand loyalty like that, Lassie can sell stuff.
“Our ambitions are global,” said Michael R. Francis, DreamWorks Animation’s chief brand officer, “dog food, dog accessories, dog grooming, dog beds, dog training,” targeted mainly at adults. None of these planned Lassie products are available right now, but the studio says deals for all of them are in the works.
Appearing on store shelves soon, presumably.

August 17, 2014

Blog Stew, Listed with Sotheby's

¶ Want to buy a southern Colorado ghost town? It has been mostly restored, and it is a National Historic District too. Listed with Sotheby's real estate division, so not cheap.

¶ Wolverines will not get federal protection in Colorado as a "threatened" species. The pro-protection argument was based on projected climate change.

¶ This sounds like something from the Daily Mail — but can the Lone Star Tick force you to become a vegetarian (or at least a piscavore)?

August 11, 2014

Sheep Mountain Wearing a Hat

Sheep Mountain in western Huerfano County under an uncommon cap of cloud, post-thunderstorm. It and its neighbor, Little Sheep Mountain, are known for their carbon dioxide field. There is a jokey title in there somewhere.

August 08, 2014

Smokey is 70, How Old is Lassie?


A week ago we stopped in at "the lodge," the first time in years.

Despite the merely average food (heavy on burgers and burritos) and watery coffee, it hits an emotional place for both M. and me.

Creaky, uneven wooden floors, knotty-pine paneling — for her it echoes similar establishments in the Vermont of her childhood, for me it is the same, only with memories of the Black Hills or little Colorado mountain resorts like Platoro or some place up in the Poudre River canyon.

Near our booth in the dining room was this shrine to Smokey Bear, demigod of the forest. He — as a hand-drawn bear — turns 70 this weekend.

Some facts from the AP story:

WHAT'S IN A NAME: Most people know the finger-pointing fire-safety fanatic as Smokey THE Bear, but in fact there is no "the" in the original name. In 1952, Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins wrote a song [link to video] in his honor and added a "the" between "Smokey" and "Bear" to keep the rhythm flowing.

THE "REAL" SMOKEY: Smokey Bear's nascent ad campaign got a boost in 1950 when a real bear cub that had been rescued from a New Mexico wildfire was nursed back to health and sent to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., as the living Smokey [1950–1976].

THE VOICE: Actor Sam Elliott, known for playing the bowling alley-narrator in The Big Lebowski and supporting roles in movies like Up in the Air and Mask, has served as the latest voice for Smokey. Both share the same "birthday." Elliott, the son of a Fish and Wildlife official, also turns 70 on Saturday.

But what about Lassie?
The same photo as at the lodge.


There next to Smokey's left paw was a photo of Lassie the television collie dog. I wondered about that.

It turns out that after the 1940s movies and the 1950s television series where Lassie (played by various related male dogs) lived on a farm and helped Timmie out of difficulties,
she was handed over for the 1964–1970 seasons to U.S. Forest Service employee "Corey Stuart," a plot change that resulted in "a steady decline in ratings."

I looked on YouTube and found some of those episodes — dubbed in German. In the one I sampled, Lassie and Stuart (who is wearing a hard hat although there is not a tree in sight) are riding in a pickup in what looks to be the Mojave Desert.

Maybe he should have been Corey Stuart of the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM never had a proper mascot.

August 06, 2014

"Where the Arkansas Begins"


Our watershed has a song! Performance by Devin James Fry for the bees in Austin, Texas.

Tip of the big-brimmed hat to Kenny Paul at Pour House Coffee Roasters in Florence.

August 02, 2014

Walking in the Wets


I apologize to everyone whose email I did not answer or whose editing job I am behind schedule on, but yesterday despite (because of?) the rainy week, I just had to get out of this house. So M., the dog, and I took a walk in the rainy forest and found some mushrooms, some to admire and some to eat.

The Wet Mountains were living up to their name. All the pores of the forest were open. That is Lake Isabel down below.


July 31, 2014

Memories of Floods Past

1933 flood waters at Union Station, Denver (Colorado Historical Society).
At the end of a rainy week, let's remember some famous Colorado floods —not the only ones, and not just last year's.

Today is the anniversary of the 1976 Big Thompson Canyon flood, which killed 143 people, including a state trooper who was racing ahead of it, trying to warn people. (That canyon flooded again, less destructively, last September.)

Sunday will be the anniversary of a flood that I was unaware of: the 1933 Castlewood Dam disaster, August 3, 1933, when a dam on Cherry Creek burst in what is now Castlewood Canyon State Park, sending flood waters clear into downtown Denver. 

It is being commemorated at the park on Saturday with "Dam Day" educational and fun activities:  
Kids can build candy dams mortared with frosting (a word to the wise — do not follow the design of Castlewood Dam, it lasted only 43 years). There will be a model of the canyon and dam. They can also fill the Castlewood Reservoir with water and see the effects rushing water can have on the canyon.
Cherry Creek and nearby Plum Creek struck again in June 1965a month of flooding both in the South Platte and Arkansas river drainages.

On June 16, 1965, fourteen inches of rain fell near Castle Rock, sending flood waters north into Littleton and Denver.

Many homes were lost, but there were only 21 deaths.

My mother had taken me to Pueblo to visit my grandmother, and now we were trapped — there was no way to travel north from Colorado Springs toward Fort Collins, where we then lived. Interstate 25 was washed out at Castle Rock and (I assume in retrospect) state highways 105 and 83 were closed or washed out too.

One of the 1921 Pueblo operators drew this sketch.
She was told that the only to go north was to go a mountain route (Woodland Park-Deckers-US 285) or the plains route (Colorado Springs-Limon-Denver). She chose the latter.

I remember rain lashing down and water running across US 24 between Colorado Springs and Limon up to the hubcaps of her 1963 Chevrolet Corvair. The prairie seemed like a succession of little rivers. But we made it.

Cherry Creek Reservoir was built to prevent another episode: see an aerial photo.

Southern Colorado, however, remembers also June 3, 1921, when Pueblo flooded. There was this new technology called the telephone, and the operators in their downtown building stayed at their switchboards even as the waters rolled in. (They survived.)

Sketch from the site of the Virtual Telecommunications Museum.

Blog Stew: Who Lit the Fire?

¶ After a year, is El Paso County about ready to prosecute someone for starting the Black Forest Fire? It seems obvious that it started at someone's home.

Women & Guns celebrates a 25-year anniversary with a retrospective article about the magazine, concealed-carry purses, bra holsters, and the evolution of the firearms market.

¶ The Denver Post looks at the decline in Colorado's mule deer population, which I think the robust elk numbers tend to mask.

Energy development on the Western Slope — what we used to call "the deer factory" — gets some of the blame.

July 30, 2014

The Bachelors

The re-seeding of one of the recent forest fire burns near home, combined with two wet-enough springs in a row, produced wonderful grass. Despite the lack of thermal cover, this one area is holding a little bachelor herd of as many as five (just four here) bull elk, captured in June on one of my scout cameras.