June 30, 2011

Fire, Bears, and a Dry Hole

That reddish dust in the air is ground-up Fountain Formation sandstone.
FIRE: I was all packed to go fishing two days ago—a friend and I planned to hit a small, warmwater lake at the end of the day. The Porta-Bote was strapped to the roof of the car, rod and tackle box inside. Then the telephone rang.

A new fire was burning inside the perimeter of the Sand Gulch Fire, the one that chased us from our home at the end of April. There had been some lightning that afternoon, but opinion now leans to the possibility that a tree root smoldered underground for almost two months before starting a new surface fire.

The new fire was at the bottom of a north-facing slope, a mix of burned, live, and scorched ponderosa pine and Douglas fir.  We arrived in force—12 or 14 volunteers plus the brush truck and water tender. I know that I myself went through two backpack loads of water on what was only a quarter-acre fire, but with the wind and the heat and the fuel dryness, we had a few anxious minutes at the beginning.

We have two classes of volunteers: some are really motivated to learn more on every fire. Others—and do they all come from the old ranching families?—work hard at the beginning, then step back and start telling stories: ". . . so-and-so's dad built a cabin up that crick. That's why that fence runs over . . . "

Eventually a half dozen Forest Service guys arrived, and we turned the final mop-up and observation over to them and headed down the hill. Bad news: the little country store, the only place to buy beer within 15 miles, had closed for the night twenty minutes earlier. (Calling ahead would not have worked, since we were in a cell phone dead zone.)

DRY HOLE:  Our guest cabin shares an old, hand-dug well with three other houses—all this relic of the 1960s when the county had no zoning. It has its problems, especially from the perspective of the full-time residents, including one whose house is for sale. So they all wanted to dig a new well.

The driller came, dowsed, and drilled next to the existing well. Down 200 feet. Nothing. Down 400 feet (the depth of a nearby well). Nothing. By that time he was well into the Fountain Formation, the same reddish sandstone that forms the Boulder Flatirons, Red Rocks Park, and parts of the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, only here it is not tilted up but lies not far underground.

The Fountain Formation is quite thick: as much as 4,000 feet. So we stopped throwing money down the hole at that point. Apparently the old well just taps gravel on top of it, and as for the neighbor with the 400-foot well, maybe he got lucky and hit some sort of seam.

Now the plan is to once more attack the old well with high-pressure water jets and suction, try to clean the mud out, and re-case it. Meanwhile, I owe $1,600 for my share of the dry hole.

BEARS: Garbage pickup is on Tuesdays, so one neighbor, who has lived here at least thirty years and ought to know better, put her garbage can out by the road on Monday evening. I set out with the dogs on their Tuesday morning walk, when suddenly they went tearing off through the trees and oak brush. They had found a prize! Garbage was everywhere! Shelby found something stinky to roll in, while Fisher looked hard for overlooked tidbits that the bear might have missed.

This bear was hanging around near the house that evening, probably hoping to find a new garbage can.

Summer is such a lazy, relaxing season.

June 27, 2011

Now It's Los Alamos' Turn

Visitor center at Bandelier National Monument, near Los Alamos, New Mexico
I just read that the town of Los Alamos, New Mexico (pop. about 12,000, mostly with PhDs) has been ordered evacuated as the Las Conchas fire moves toward it.

This fire took off on Sunday and now covers more than 43,000 acres (17,401 hectares).

Bandelier National Monument was evacuated yesterday. We were there just a month ago, checking out M.'s brother's new diorama, for which we furnished a few items. It is central in the remodeled vistor center.

The Atomic Nerds are right on the edge of this one.

June 26, 2011

We're Number Ten! We're Number Ten!

Colorado shows up as tenth in alcohol consumption per state, per some new gubbermint survey.

Here at Owl House, we are way behind on the average on beer, although we do our best to support in-state microbreweries, but we are doing much better on wine. That shiraz we had for supper was an Australian critter wine, nothing local.

Here is informed comment on Number One status.

June 24, 2011

Fawns' Journey

Some time on the morning of Thursday, June 24, a mule deer doe was struck by a car in the western San Luis Valley. Mule deer give birth in the early summer, and this one was pregnant with triplets.

A wildlife officer rescued the two surviving fawns—a roadside Caesarean section may have been necessary—I don't have the details.  Then they faced a nearly 200-mile trip to a wildlife rehabilitator, which is where M. and I got involved. We got the call early in the afternoon to see if we could bring them the last 35 miles, and I took a few snaps.

LEFT: When we were transferring the fawns in Pueblo, this guy spots us, pulls up, and wants his daughter to see them, so district wildlife manager Brent Woodward had to shift into educational mode.

A vet in Monte Vista had given them colostrum and lactated Ringer's solution, but the smaller fawn was clearly weaker.

The larger fawn, having taken some goat's milk from a bottle, is exploring her new situation. The smaller one would not suckle right away, so he is getting some milk from a syringe.
The rehabilitators' home is in perfect foothills mule deer habitat, and a lot of deer hang around—some are offspring of former "patients." Two bucks in velvet were watching as we brought in the fawns.

These fawns joined nine others at the rehabilitators'. If they survive, they will be released out the gate onto the adjacent national forest. It seems to be a pattern that many of the females like to come back and give birth in the oak brush near the house, however.

Past and Present Superimposed in Colorado Springs

The photo site English Russia has offered a number of photos that blend past (often World War II) and present views of a place in one manipulated photograph.

This video does something similar for the North End neighborhood of Colorado Springs, using contemporary video and photos from the album of the Finn family a century ago. Oliver Finn, the father, was a mining engineer employed in the Cripple Creek mining district and elsewhere.

June 23, 2011

Whitewater Dogs in Action

Canine contestant retrieves stick while the safety boat waits downstream above the "play hole."

Our favorite part of the FIBArk whitewater festival, the Crazy River Dog contest, was held as scheduled in downtown Salida on Sunday, June 19, even with the Arkansas River running high and fast. The white in the upper left of the photo is white water on the kayak course. Dogs had to retrieve in the relatively slacker water along the bank, but they still had to paddle hard downstream after their sticks. A typical retrieve lasts about 20 seconds—but it sometimes seems longer.

June 22, 2011

Plastic Owls Don't Work

Tell me about it. This post on the Cornell ornithology lab blog discusses methods of discouraging woodpeckers from attacking house siding, with a link to a longer article on the subject.

June 18, 2011

Poem for the Dry Spring Wind

 No rain since mid-May, and most days are windy. Only the names of the fires change: Sand Gulch, Purgatoire, and Bear replaced by Track and Duckett.

Looking through a new anthology of writing from the San Luis Valley, Messages from the Hidden Lake, I found this poem by Julie Waechter, who works on the staff of Adams State College in Alamosa. (If you are going to write "after" or in the style of someone, you could do a lot worse than Richard Hugo.)

It's a good poem for the spring of 2011 in southern Colorado.


the enemy’s not poverty it’s the wind
after Richard Hugo


you stitch patches onto patches
layer the kids in castoffs
water down the milk
spice up another pot of beans

but wind defies even the sun
smothers its heat in gritty haze
blows you to the earth’s edge
where yesterday mountains stood

spring wind devours her own child
sucks watery marrow from grass
pursues the plow to clothe
her nakedness in good earth
stretches almost solid across the sky

you almost prefer winter

it’s cold, yes
so cold pine logs freeze hard as piñon
so cold water crusts over in the bucket
before you can haul it to the barn
so cold the redtail hawk cowers on a bare cottonwood

but cold is clean
honest

wind you can’t trust

June 17, 2011

Image versus Reality in the Way We Eat

A British musing on the twin trends of faster, quicker food and from-scratch foodie-ism, from Marina O'Loughlin in The Independent.
"The way we eat is increasingly becoming a status symbol for the affluent and a deadly poison for those who allow food no cultural significance or value" [Trish Deseine, food writer and goddess of chocolate].
Image versus reality.

June 15, 2011

Reduced Solar Activity Forecast

Solar activity and its effect on climate is sort of above my blogging pay grade, but the American Astronomical Society is predicting a long period (decades?) of reduced solar activity.

The post that I am linking to is fairly technical, but the "big maybe" is here:
Currently, the sun is in the midst of the period designated as Cycle 24 and is ramping up toward the cycle’s period of maximum activity. However, the recent findings indicate that the activity in the next 11-year solar cycle, Cycle 25, could be greatly reduced. In fact, some scientists are questioning whether this drop in activity could lead to a second Maunder Minimum, which was a 70-year period from 1645 to 1715 when the sun showed virtually no sunspots.
Such a prediction has some people talking about another Little Ice Age. But to me the sad thing is that climate-change issues have become so politicized and trivialized that the science will soon be swamped by people yammering over whether or not incandescent light bulbs are "killing the planet." We are a jealous bunch of apes sometimes.

June 09, 2011

Nature, Knowledge, and the Heart

That a literary (not genre) novelist whose writing is praised as "so finely pitched that even the smallest details are sharp-edged and vivid" would place armadillos and Joshua trees in Phoenix, Arizona, has Adelheid Fischer thinking about names, knowledge, and place.
I later read the chapter with the armadillos and the Joshua trees. And sure enough, I stumbled across more eco-confabulations. At one point in the book, Jonathan and his father take a nighttime walk into the desert for a heart-to-heart conversation. Jonathan describes looking up at the sky "as the sickle shape of a hawk skated over the stars." A hawk, huh? Hawks are sight-feeders, flying during the day in search of desert rabbits and birds. Could the writer have meant nighthawks, a bird that trolls the sky for insects, primarily after dark? They are unrelated species, as different as, say, a Wall Street broker and a kindergarten teacher. But I can see how the two birds might easily have been confused. After all, they both have wings and fly.

I've been mulling over these eco-bloopers for some time now. Like a dog with a bone, I dig them up every now and again, gnaw on them for a while, and then rebury them in the back forty of my study. Mind you, I'm not one of those readers who goes snuffling through the pages of a book hoping to catch the author with his pants down and then trumpets the fact that I know a butt from a hole in the ground. So why then can't I just let them go?
It all comes down to something that I have noticed before: if you do not know the names of things, you cannot really love them.

Does it matter? Or is this just like the advertisement for Canon cameras that I once saw which Photoshopped a saguaro cactus and an armadillo into the same landscape. (The reaction from Canon USA when I pointed out the ecological impossibility was, essentially, "Big f****** deal.")
Certainly it does matter in a material sense. Take armadillos. If they toddled along the streets of Phoenix, Arizona, then Arizona wouldn't be Arizona but rather some other place, say Texas or Louisiana or Florida. It would have different rainfall patterns, temperature regimes, plant communities, geology and soils. And its human economies would be different as well. But there is a deeper issue here, which is that words reveal — often betray — what we attend to, what we value, what we need to carry out a full life.

Ethnographic studies of the American Southwest in the 1930s and '40s showed that the average Apache teenager could name and describe the edible and medicinal benefits of more than 200 different species of plants. In the 1990s, the late nature writer Paul Gruchow conducted an informal survey on a similar topic. With 60 of what he described as the brightest seniors from the high school in his Minnesota prairie town, Gruchow explored the shores of a nearby lake. He'd asked the students to identify as many of the plants as they could along the way. "A few of the students could name a handful; they were mostly farm kids who knew the weeds," he reported. "But the majority of the students could name no more than two or three. The dandelion was the only plant they all knew. They didn’t recognize cattails. Most of them couldn't tell the difference between a willow tree and a cottonwood tree. They have wandered and played along that lakeshore for a lifetime, utterly blind to it."
Or to paraphrase Luke 12:14 , "For where your vocabulary is, there your heart will be also."

June 08, 2011

The Woman, the Goshawk, and Death in its Varieties

Falconer and writer Rebecca O'Connor interviews falconer, writer, and scholar Helen Macdonald about the latter's life in falconry, which began at age eleven. Here is a taste:
But as for the writing – yes, I’m hammering out a kind of modern-day version of TH White’s The Goshawk — oh the presumption. My story’s simple. In 2007 my dad’s sudden, unexpected death sent me off the rails. And I decided to eschew bereavement counselling in favour of training a goshawk. Yes, Helen; like that would solve everything. Um.
Looking back on it, I was trying to escape being human, because humans grieve and hurt, and hawks don’t. It was an … intense experience. I went feral. Became more than half-hawk myself. As the season went on I cut myself off from friends, family, everything. All that was left was Mabel and me, out on hillsides slaying rabbits and pheasants. Slowly, unknowingly, I sank into a very deep depression. I was so hawkish then I didn’t recognise it for what it was. Couldn’t work out why I struggled to get out of bed in the mornings, or why, in the evenings, Mabel fast asleep with a full crop on her bow on the living room floor, I sat in floods of tears. How dumb was I?
It wasn’t until November, when I attended my father’s memorial service in St Bride's in Fleet Street, standing there at the lectern giving an address to family and all dad’s friends and colleagues in the congregation, that it dawned on me what a fool I’d been. I’d bought into that old nature-writer’s chestnut that after a great hurt you should flee to the wild to heal yourself. I’m thinking now this is a dangerous lie. Human hands are also for other human hands to hold; they should not be reserved exclusively as perches for hawks.
Read it all here.

June 06, 2011

Running (Yes, Running) after Pronghorn Antelope

We are told that American pronghorn antelope evolved their speed--60 mph in a sprint--in order evade a species of cheetah no longer found on this continent.

What happens when a group of marathoners training in New Mexico decide to see if they can run them down in the old, old, old hominid style?
Among other services, the tireless Romero showed the runners where to find antelope-hunting permits—they paid $985 for a tag on Craigslist [???]—and explained a few laws the men would have to obey. They'd be required to stay within the roughly five square miles of ranchland we'd received permission to use, and they could pursue only a male antelope with horns taller than its ears. Assuming they actually succeeded in chasing a buck to the point of exhaustion and still felt the resolve to kill it, a licensed hunter would dispatch the animal with a pistol shot. The use of a gun or bow is required, since New Mexico doesn't allow human-hurled projectiles, sticks, or bare hands to be used as hunting weapon.
Andrew Musuva would have preferred a fist-size rock. That's what the 40-year-old Kenyan—who starred in a Subway commercial that aired ahead of last year's New York City Marathon—used to coldcock a kudu after a long chase 20 years ago in his home country. Because he's the only runner with experience in this enterprise, which is known as persistence hunting, he's become the group's unofficial leader. With him is his friend and co-conspirator Marc Esposito, a 33-year-old physical-therapy technician who's carrying his hunting license and Romero's handgun in his backpack. . . .
The men are testing a much-debated scientific notion about when and how ­humans became hunters. Between two and three million years ago, when our australo­pithecine ancestors ventured out of the forests and onto the protein-rich African savanna, they were prey more often than hunter. They gathered plant-based foods, just as their primate brethren did. Then something changed. They began running after game with long, steady strides. Evolutionary biologists like Harvard's Dan Lieberman think the uniquely human capacity for endurance running is a distant remnant of prehistoric persistence hunting.
Read it all.

June 05, 2011

Did Fisher Smell the Bear?

Some scout camera photos—thanks to the phenomenon of "digital lag," they were cropped in the camera.









Here is the little bear from May 22nd again, same location on "the hidden trail," on the afternoon of Monday, May 30th.







And when I decided to bring down the camera yesterday, June 4th, Fisher ran ahead and got himself photographed in the same spot. After five days of dry weather, would he have smelled the bear? It almost looks like he is is pondering something.

June 04, 2011

"Grow Up, Be a Mammal"

A blogger writes,
I first noticed the bird motif on the pro-ana [anorexic] sites. Girls described wanting to have bird bones, to be feather thin, ‘become frail’, to be light as air, be delicate, small, like a shimmering, (starving) sparrow. 
Read the whole thing.

June 03, 2011

Being a 'Good Environmentalist' in Kenya

American goes to work in Kenya and discovers that things are different there:
On the micro-level, environmentalism as an intentional set of individual choices is largely absent from Kenyan life; that is, choices made specifically because they are more ecologically sustainable. There is, of course, a class dynamic at play: as Maathai has pointed out, poorer people who must focus on their immediate needs are far less likely to consider choices where the environmental benefit is long-term. At the same time, many day-to-day Kenyan habits, like sharing clothing and buying seasonal food directly from the local market, are prevalent not because they are fashionable or because of any particular ecological concern, but because it is simply the most affordable and reasonable thing to do.

Still, from one who comes from an American sensibility of trying to integrate my eco-beliefs into my daily habits, adapting to life in Kenya means adapting to an environment where it is harder—for me, at least—to be "good.” There are, simply, different choices that are available.
It's an interesting read about what happens when one's assumptions bump into different realities.

June 02, 2011