October 07, 2014

October Weather Report

"That October, the weather couldn't decide what to do with itself. Some days it arrived gray and bleak and pensive. Ponderous leaden clouds leaned overhead, their bellies slumped against the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains; polar blasts of wind and stiff black leaves blindly scrambling down the streets. . . . . Other days, the weather arrived sleek and sassy. The air  was warm and it had a glitter to it, and a fizz. Only one of two clouds trailed across the taut blue sky, each fluttering brilliant white from the shoulders of the mountains like an aviator's scarf. Sun-besotted, people stood around wearing summer slacks and summer skirts and grins that were grateful and a little bit guilty, the grins of children who had pulled a fast one on their parents. They licked ice cream cones and they sipped sodas and they were very vocal about the wonderfulness of the climate, and in their voices you could sometimes hear a hint of self-congratulation at the wisdom they had shown in choosing to live [in Santa Fe]."

The opening of Flower in the Desert, a mystery by Walter Satterthwait

October 06, 2014

"Someone" Was Living in that Hole

Nine years after the big fire.
Monday we hiked one of our favorite old trails, severely burned over in 2005. That fire was followed by a flash flood the same summer, wiping out parts of the trail, and then came an influx of invasive weeds. The weeds are not so bad now — there is more grass — but you still have to pick your way over trunks of dead trees that have toppled in the intervening years.

More linkage

M. is enough of an animist that of course she would say, "Someone is living in that hole," as opposed to "an animal of some sort." Isn't an animal "someone"? (It's the second item under "Sept. 15.")

Recent severe forest fires in Colorado are not a "departure from the norm," say University of Colorado researchers. " Modern fires in these Front Range forests are not radically different from the fire severity of the region prior to any effects of fire suppression." In other words, we are still feeling the effects of the 1910–present regime of fire suppression.

Bicycle commuting supposedly skyrockets — but in Colorado Springs, it's all about fun, not about going to work. "The Springs is probably the best city along the Front Range for mountain biking," said Tim Halfpop, manager of Old Town Bike Shop on South Tejon Street. "But we're the worst for road riding and getting around town."

The founder of Wiggy's, the low-profile but respected outdoor gear maker in Grand Junction, is promoting lamilite, a continuous-fiber synthelic insulation. I am just re-reading Ernest Hemingway's novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, set in the mid-1930s during the Spanish Civil War, in which the American protagonist, Robert Jordon, extolls the virtues of his eiderdown-insulated "robe," for which he paid $65 — more than $1,000 today, according to one calculator. Makes Wiggy's bags look like a deal.

Rich French diners are still chowing down on endangered birds. It's tradition, you see. "Captured Ortolans are kept and fed heavily for at least three weeks until they resemble a small fat ball. Once they reach a specific weight, the unfortunate birds are drowned in a French liqueur called Armagnac, before being prepared or sold. In France, the price for such a peculiar 'delicacy' easily reaches 150 Euros ($189 US)."

Did I mention that ze artiste Christo has admitted that his plan to hang plastic panels over the Arkansas River is "at a standstill"? No doubt some art auction house will sell copies of his legal filings. It's all conceptual, you see.

October 02, 2014

In the Southeastern San Luis Valley

The evocatively named Flat Top mesa in eastern Conejos County, just north of the New Mexico state line. Taken from a spot looking west, near San Luis-the-town.

October 01, 2014

No, You Won't Be Charged to Take Photos of Your Wilderness Hike

Lots of hysteria recently around an admittedly poorly present U. S. Forest Service announcement on fees for commercial photographers in wilderness areas. Typical was this from the Outdoor Wire's Jim Shepherd:
It may sound far-fetched, but a program like this could mean a wilderness visitor who snapped a photo using a smartphone and later posted it on a personal blog could be considered a "media outlet" and face a $1000 fine.
It not only may sound far-fetched, it is far-fetched. As this headline reads, "No, the Forest Service is Not Planning to Charge You $1500 to Photograph the Wilderness."
Put away the pitchforks, folks. After reading some of the recent horribly misleading media coverage of a proposal by the US Forest Service, you might think that members of the media (down to – and yes, including! – us lowly bloggers) are about to be banned from all National Forest lands. You might even be forgiven for thinking wildlife, landscape, or casual photographers selling their prints online or at a local art show or gallery are about to be hit with an onerous fine.
I checked with semi-pro photographer Jackson Frishman, who does lots of photography in designated wilderness areas. His response, via email
I'm guessing the FS is mainly viewing it as a way to keep productions out of wilderness that don't really need to be there (e.g., the Lone Ranger 2 doesn't need scenes filmed inside the wilderness boundary, find a non-wilderness location instead), but I'd question whether that's actually a common enough problem to merit a solution, given the existing rules of wilderness and the logistical needs of major productions. I could see those guidelines being used to harass investigative journalism critical of FS policy (though to be fair, such a situation might also be pretty much non-existent in practice).
Read the Forest Service's "we didn't mean it like that" news release here.

What we have here is just fed-bashing from the usual suspects. Given that it is an election year — and we have a Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate who wants to see public lands handed over to the state or privatized (Colorado, that can barely fund its state parks, is going to take over, e.g., Rocky Mountain National Park??) — I can't help but see a connection.

September 28, 2014

Colorado Has More Bears, NJ Bear Goes Rogue

"Colorado bear population much bigger than expected, new study finds." The headline
Colorado black bear — and there are maybe 20,000 more?
actually describes a study in Summit County, but it is not the only one.
Researchers found that in every study across the state, in habitats that ranged from good to poor quality for bears, the bear population was double the numbers wildlife managers had been using before.
Meanwhile, an incident in New Jersey reminds you of the old joke that you don't have to run faster than the bear, you just have to run faster than the next guy.

But  Rutgers University student Darsh Patel might still be alive if he and his friends had acted sensibly.

"The hikers broke off in different directions . . . " Not a good idea. If champion sprinter Usain Bolt was matched against a black bear over fifty yards, I would bet on the bear.

Our ancient ancestors no doubt realized that they could not outrun big bears, big canids, or big cats.  I suspect that five people standing solidly together, yelling, and throwing stuff would stand a better chance of continuing life.

Three Coloradans have been killed by black bears since the 1970s, which is a low percentage considering the number of bear encounters. (I have lost count of my own.) Most black bears are shy, but a few are not, either because they have become used to a human-provided food source—or, in some cases, because they may just be extra-aggressive individuals.

Wikipedia's North American Fatal Bear Attacks database is worth reading. It is not always possible to see what caused the incident or whether it was food-related.

September 20, 2014

Thoughts Post-Pioneers Day Parade

The band kids practice their "hurry up and wait."
The Pioneer Days king and queen, in a buggy drawn by a matched pair of white horses, clatter up alongside the fire engine.

“We’re supposed to follow you,” says the queen, who has the reins. “You’re not going to be siren-ing, are you?”

“No siren,” I say, “Just lights.”

She is relieved. The horses have been nervously watching the high school marching band, practicing nearby. Ford 550 brush trucks don’t bother them — they know trucks — but forty kids in shakos banging drums and playing horns are definitely Strange and Possibly Threatening. Their ears tilt forward and their eyes seem to bulge.

For the first time since 2009, we have sent an engine down to participate in Florence’s parade. Are not all small-town parades about the same? I always flash back to my boyhood in Rapid City, although by comparison, this parade is short on Indians and U. S. Air Force units.

There is, however, Fort Carson’s mounted color guard in their quasi-19th-century uniforms, and when the fire house siren sounds, they lead off.

In a small fumble of parade-marshaling, someone has placed the second color guard with their piper right behind the high school band, so after a quick run-through of “Scotland the Brave” (hey, the vote was two days ago), the piper decides not to compete with the band kids’ music.

Up front, the local fire department is siren-ing, but looking in my mirror, it appears that the queen has her team under control

Rounding the curve onto Main Street, we are briefly halted, while a Forest Service engine and the Fremont County sheriff’s wildland fire team pull in ahead of us — three more brush trucks. I let a short gap open up — we’re not them, we’re us.

Up ahead, the band kids’ gold shakos waver in the heat waves rising from the fire trucks. “It’s the 'Your Tax Dollars at Work' parade,” I say to J., who is waving from the right-hand seat.

Really, aside from two high school bands, Shriners on big motorcycles and tiny cars, and a some entries by local stores, there are few home-grown entries.  The majority appear to be governmental (if you count schools too). That is troubling. Not even a classic-car club.

It is over so fast, and we break formation on a side street, turning toward the highway back into the mountains, going home.

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.