Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Monday, January 29, 2007

Link Herd

Many climate scientists say upcoming global warming report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change understates risks and consequences of global warming, in part because it does not account for recent ice breakup in Antarctica and Greenland. (Yikes.)

This news came out last week and instantly captured my attention. Tesco, the largest supermarket chain in Britain, will begin to label its products with each item's carbon footprint, or the "energy required for its manufacture, packaging and transport to the supermarket shelves." How will they gather and determine this information? How will this spur competition among their suppliers? Geek that I am, I sit riveted, popcorn in hand, watching the show. Via The Green Filter.

Hair of the dog that bit ya: Think Progress reports, via Greenwire, another consequence of that newly melted Arctic ice:
For energy companies, this catastrophe means a “new era of oil and natural gas exploration in the region.
As soon as I recover from utter speechlessness, perhaps I'll have more to say on this topic.

For the "Ewww, nature" photo files: Python eats pregnant sheep.

Anyone have anything interesting I've missed?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

I'm not happy

One of my favorite writers -- and heck, speakers -- of all time is in the hospital with breast cancer. Sixty-two is far too young an age to be doing anything but raising hell, and I'm taking it personally that fate is peeing all over my hopes in that regard for Molly Ivins. Right now, at least. On the other hand, Ivins has raised enough hell in her sixty-two years for thousands of us, so maybe she's entitled to a bit of a rest for now.

Get better, Molly. Please.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Paddling the mangroves

Jade over at Arboreality and I share a passion for mangroves, trees and shrubs that dwell in and around coastal waters. Mangroves are a testament to tenacity, having adapted extensively to the challenges of growing and reproducing in several feet of seawater.

If I recall, Jade got her introduction to mangroves in Belize; I've been fascinated with the Florida mangroves off the Keys since I was a child. Forty and fifty years ago, my grandparents navigated the mangroves in their boat to fish for snapper. In the last ten years, I've taken to exploring them by kayak. This is my favorite way to see them. It's impossible to overstate how much life is supported by these unique plants, and kayaking offers an opportunity to see it all up close. The wikipedia entry for Florida mangroves lists the following:

"The branches of mangroves serve as roosts and rookeries for coastal and wading birds, such as the brown pelican (Oelicanus occidentalis), roseate spoonbill (Ajajia ajaia), Frigatebird (Fregata magnificans), Double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus), Great White Heron and Wurdemann's Heron, color phases of the Great Blue Heron (Adrea herodias), Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Snowy Egret (Egretta thula), Green Heron (Butorides striatus), Reddish Egret (Dichromanassa rufescens) and Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca). Other animals that shelter in the mangroves are the American Coot (Fulica americana), American Crocodile, Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus), Mangrove Snake (Nerodia clarkii compressicauda) and the Atlantic Saltmarsh Snake (Nerodia clarkii taeniata ).

Above the water mangroves also shelter and support snails, crabs, spiders, bromeliads of the genus Tillandsia, including Spanish Moss, and Reindeer lichen. Below the water's surface, often encrusted on the mangrove roots, are sponges, anemones, corals, oysters, tunicates, mussels, sea stars, crabs, Florida Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus) and seagrasses."

Here is an image of a cormorant rookery I took a few years ago:

Two years ago, I took along my Nikonos V and attempted some underwater shots after donning my mask and snorkel and lashing my kayak to Mr. T's boat. That roll of film got ruined in a tragic film spool accident. I haven't yet recovered.

This trip, Mr. T and I took our son along in a double kayak, so there was no underwater photography. Anyway, I promised Jade mangrove pictures, and the best I could do was this video. I'm used to my own boat, and the hatch on this one -- where I kept the cameras in dry bags -- was too far forward for comfort. Also, my seat kept slipping, making the video a little jittery. (These are all obviously excuses for my sorry-ass video recording, I know.) We went deep into the mangroves on this paddling trip, and the passage was often extremely narrow.

As always, there's a bit of four-year old narration on this one. I like to think of him as a budding Sir David Attenborough.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Snakebird, I love you

Spindly yet striking, the anhinga is perhaps my favorite bird. Lesser souls may find the anhinga to be an ugly, awkward and vulgar creature, but these people have no taste and should not be listened to. No doubt these are the same folks who endowed the anhinga with its other, less glamorous names: Snakebird, or alternatively, Water Turkey.

How anyone can spend any time watching an anhinga live its life and not become an admirer is beyond me.

An anhinga has initiative. These enterprising birds dive right into the water to chase down their supper. Unlike the buoyant duck, the feathers of an anhinga are not coated with oils, so they can quickly get waterlogged. This allows them to swim for quite some time in search of fish.

And what a spectacle that is. Sometimes you can follow the progress of the submerged anhinga just by watching the water that's stirred up by fish trying to get away from it. Once they've emerged from the water, they have to spread out their wings to dry. While they're airing their feathers, they chatter noisily among themselves.

Recently, I was lucky enough to watch one of these characters catch and consume a meal. Between myself and spouse, we captured video and still images of the event. Here's the video. Forgive the running commentary from the four-year old, and the clicks of my shutter in the background.

I watched this same bird for another hour afterward. She'd spear a catfish (an exotic species in the Fakahatchee Strand), and she'd beat it against a branch for several minutes. Apparently, she has to make sure it's really, really dead before she swallows it, lest it thrash around and cut up her throat with its spines. I got no footage of this process; unfortunately, the above video took the last of my video camera's battery.

But the next day in Everglades National Park, I had the good fortune to run across a nest of anhinga chicks, and I'd had the foresight to charge my battery. Here's a (too) short clip of the two-day old chicks. I didn't want to spend too much time around the nest.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Bald Cypress

The cool thing about these conifers, apart from their wonderful knees and the fact that they harbor an unbelievably rich degree of wildlife, is that they lose their leaves in winter. (Larches are also conifers that shed their needlelike leaves.) Here's a brief clip of a tree from the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve in southwestern Florida.

P.S. This may not be even remotely interesting to anyone but me. Mr. T just viewed the clip and said, "I don't get it. What's the big deal?" There is none. I just a) really like trees and b) have been getting way too happy lately with the digital video recorder.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve

I can hear the alligator, but I cannot see her. I'm standing on a wood platform elevated a foot or two above the water, but the sound still startles me. She may no longer carry her babies on her back, but she remains close to and protective of them. She sees me on the platform, a large beast with three extra metal legs and a clicking black device on top of them.

I look around and realize I'm standing between the large reptile and one of her leathery tots. Off to my left side, the tiny gator is sunbathing on a log, its head down and legs splayed out to the side.

Mother emits a deep, rumbling growl of considerable volume. I suspect she's lying in the mud across the pond, about twenty feet away.

But she sounds ever so much closer.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The smell of fear

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this makes me want to puke up blood. I'm not some rosy-hued idealist suggesting that predators don't need to be managed. But I do think that formidable animals like wolves, bears, and cougars tend to throw into sharp relief the fear that underlies so much of blood-soaked macho culture.

Predators are necessary. Period.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Out to lunch, back soon

Tomorrow, I'm escaping from the sodden, cold Pacific Northwest to -- the sodden warmth of Florida. Maddeningly, the forecast for central and south Florida, where I'll be spending time, involves rain for the first 9 of the 13 days I'll be there. But unless the rains are desperately torrential, I will not be swayed from my two primary goals: great images of an alligator and an anhinga.

I'm considering a visit to Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge, but if time is too pressed, I'll settle for the avian pleasures of Eco Pond or the Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park. These are trails that, while relatively close to civilization and populated with many humans, are fairly bursting with life. At both places you can sit, very still, in front of a tripod-mounted camera and just wait for something to come along. It always does. I could while away whole days in either place.

Yes, I'd rather do a paddling trip up the river and camp on the chickies*, but an opportunity to do that is scarce these days. Until that can be arranged, I'll happily visit Eco Pond.

*Chickies are small, raised platforms on which to camp, designed to elevate the camper above the high-tide water and all that slithers within. However, Hurricane Wilma apparently destroyed many chickies, and I don't know whether they're to be replaced or not. Perhaps I'll put the question to a ranger.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Link Herd

Ursine trouble: An orphaned Alaskan bear cub isn't hibernating, but instead is running amok trying to scrounge food. Good folks are working on catching him and introducing him to food and a nice comfy den. Click over for a picture. The little guy is adorable, but his situation isn't.

Christmas tree recycling, elephant style: "Elephant calf Thabo-Umasai at Germany's Zoo Dresden joined camels, deer, and sheep in a traditional new-year feast of Christmas trees yesterday." Another great photograph.

A fascinating article on the brisk growth of solar power in California, fueled by the new California Solar Initiative:
If [the initiative] works as planned, said J. P. Ross, the policy director for Vote Solar, an organization that advocates for large state-level solar projects, the initiative will stimulate the installation of 3,000 megawatts of solar electrical generating capacity in the state over the next decade. That would be an increase by a factor of more than 20, Mr. Ross said, equivalent to 30 small natural-gas-fired power plants.

Given the enthusiasm homeowners have shown for the initiative, filing nearly twice as many plans for solar systems with the California State Energy Commission in 2006 than in previous years, this goal may not be far-fetched.

(Note: Vote Solar's website may be accessed through the sidebar to the right.)

I came across this story earlier in the week. I can't put it any better than Laura Erickson at BirderBlog did:
Oh, dear--yet another assault on the natural world to fuel people's insatiable appetite for automobiles.
Yep. Pretty much.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The dawning realization that I'm a complete pansy

I've written before of my disdain for the notion that flatlanders don't belong in the mountain west, but I'll say one thing: this place has a learning curve. Dress yourself and your dogs in orange during hunting season, or risk getting mistaken for a deer; be careful which roads you travel in the wintertime, because some are snowbound and isolated; be careful with fire in the summer, or you'll start one that destroys hundreds of acres.

Sometimes you learn through advice, other times you attend the school of hard knocks. On the Monday night before Thanksgiving, we were returning from Kalispell where we'd gone to purchase paint for the dining room. I was working on the laptop when we hit a patch of black ice, lost control of the vehicle, and went off the road into a ravine. The truck flipped and we landed, upright, straddling a creek.


Naturally, every time we have to drive in iffy conditions these days, we're a little rattled. And it seems like every time we drive anywhere, we're in iffy conditions.

"I feel like Wile E Coyote every time we get in the car," I remarked to Mr. T as we headed back to Oregon Monday in a snowstorm. But native Montanans and Idahoans seemed oblivious to the snow accumulating rapidly on the roadway. Trucks doing 75 or 80 miles per hour regularly zipped past us in the left lane. Weary and annoyed, we finally stopped at a gas station in Bonners Ferry, Idaho to check the forecast and see how long the snow was expected to last, and how much area the storm covered. Mr. T went in to chat with the attendant.

"Excuse me, do know what the forecast is?" he asked politely. The attendant looked up, peered out the window, and addressed Mr. T. "It's snowing," she observed astutely.

Mr. T blinked. "I understand that," he replied. "What I'd like to know is what it'll be doing later on."

"I expect it'll be cold for the rest of the day," she offered without a hint of levity and looked back down again.

"I'm not asking anymore," protested Mr. T as he flopped down in the driver's seat and started the car.

Back on the road, after the jillionth car zinged past us at an impossibly high speed in the near whiteout conditions, I finally discerned the cultural disconnect: To these folks, snowstorms were the norm, the usual, nothing out of the main. To me, it [used to be, anyway] an event preceded and succeeded by decent weather. But in Montana in January, it's the decent weather that's the event.

Pieces of Montana

While it may be said -- and has been -- that the entire blogging endeavor is an exercise in rank narcissism, I hereby institute a new series that reaches previously unachieved degrees of self-indulgence. Ever since a friend from South China gave me a digital video camera, I've been recording bits of pieces of the my world. Thus, the inauguration of the "Pieces of" series.

Our corral was a veritable Deer Thoroughfare this Christmas. This was particularly nice given that we saw none over Thanksgiving. It was hunting season then, and they made themselves scarce. But last week, they held several deer meetups in my corral at various times of day. In summer, I can get pretty close to them, but they were brooking no human foolishness this close to the end of hunting season. So I captured the footage through the glass. And, alas, you can tell.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Green is the new black

Via Redneck Mother, I find a fascinating little nugget: Wal-Mart, not an entity ordinarily associated with environmental or social progress, has instituted a push to get compact flourescent bulbs to 100 million homes (by selling them, of course, at Wal-Mart.)

“The environment,” [Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee] Scott said, “is begging for the Wal-Mart business model.”

Ahem. Not exactly. The truth is closer to my long-held suspicion about the new business paradigm of the 21st century: That the Wal-Mart business model (and others) is begging for the environment.

My dirty little secret is that I know more than a little about Wal-Mart's business and marketing tactics, as someone very close to me has endured the horrors of working for a Wal-Mart vendor. Survival in the hostile environment of marketing generally requires that one constantly be tiptoeing along one cutting edge or another. One of those edges is green, and is only going to get greener with every passing day. It may not be greening as quickly as we like, or, arguably, as quickly as we need, but it's greening all the same.

I was reading a blog the other day, and happened upon one of those concise knots of truth you sometimes find in an otherwise unremarkable comment section. (I'm sorry to say I can't remember at which blog I found it.) The commenter was addressing the recent discovery that the ginormous, 41-square mile Ayles ice-shelf had unceremoniously plopped into the ocean on the morning of August 13, 2005 (my eleventh wedding anniversary, incidentally.) Said ice shelf, come the spring thaw, will likely be menacing the shipping lanes in the Arctic Ocean, which involves, for fans of irony, significant petroleum traffic.

The really serious push against global warming, observed the astute commenter, would not arrive until Big Money starts to feel the heat. Wal-Mart's new love affair with the compact flourescent light bulb illustrates the related principle that significant progress will also not be achieved until our corporatocracy realizes there is Big Money to made from an environmental business paradigm.* Wal-Mart has ingeniously discovered a niche that matches its business model.

I'm deeply alarmed by our increasingly plutocratic form of governance in this country and the concomitant influence of corporations over every aspect of our lives. But I'm not unsympathetic to Paul Hawken's view that business is uniquely positioned to effect the societal transformation required to address the climate and other environmental crises. I suspect this would be even more true in a world in which corporations were not mollycoddled with government handouts of every stripe, and protected from the true cost of their practices.

But it's hard not to perk up at this latest development, especially because it's happened in such an inhospitable environment, and is fueled by increasing awareness among the general public. After all, if Wal-Mart didn't think it could sell those bulbs, it wouldn't be expending the resources to try.

*Caveat: I'm not foolish enough to think that Big Money won't continue degrading the environment with one hand while it pursues this new niche with another.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Warning: Here there be spoilers

I'm upset with Jon Katz.

I should have seen it coming, really. That I didn't is a testament to my natural stupidity, gullibility, or ability to place myself firmly within the safe borders of denial. Maybe it's because I read two other of his books before I read A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life. These two books gave no sign that Orson was anything but present and accounted for. After I finished A Good Dog, I checked the copyright dates on the other two. They'd been written before that one, of course.

So it was that my husband found me one morning last week in the bathtub (where I often repair with books), bearing a stricken expression. "What happened to Orson?" he asked frantically. I had been reading him some of the more hilarious bits and pieces of the book about Katz's unhinged border collie, and he'd become invested in the story.

"He's started to bite people," I said quietly.

How had I been caught off guard? Looking back, there was an undercurrent of sadness to Katz's writing style that didn't seem present in his other book I'd just finished. And then there was the blip from the critic on the jacket which called A Good Dog a "heartbreaking memoir."

Yet I remained resolutely clueless. So the ending hit me like the T-bone collision in those horrible Volkswagen commercials that occurs while the car's occupants are blissfully blathering on about nothing.

I'm not upset with Katz for making the agonizing choice to euthanize his beloved dog that had become dangerous to people and, by extension, every other dog. I wanted to be enraged at him for it, but I couldn't. Having read as much as I did about Orson and Katz, and their relationship, I couldn't see a way out of the decision he made.*

But he'd made me love that dog. As he brought me along on his journey from an unfulfilled life in a northern New Jersey suburb to his 40-acre farm in upstate New York, I became drawn to the troubled yet undeniably charismatic Orson. And so for the last twenty pages of the book, when I finally saw the end coming, I sat in the bathtub, weeping. On the rare occasion when a book or film cracks through my emotional exoskeleton, the most that ever slips out is a few quiet, nearly indiscernible tears. But reading about the end of Orson's life, I was set upon by great, gulping, noisy sobs that I couldn't seem to stop. Writing about it days afterward, I can feel my eyes burning again.

Perhaps unresolved grief from the death of my own ten-year old dog last summer has seeped in and blended with the sorrow for Katz and Orson, I don't know. More likely, it's simply that their story really is just that wrenching.

At it's core, A Good Dog is a story about human transformation. In all his other writings, Katz steadfastly maintains a hard rationality, a relentlessly logical worldview. But by the end of the book, the skeptic is consulting shamans (while ridiculing himself for it), animal communicators, and holistic veterinarians with acupuncture needles -- all for the love of this "rescue" dog that actually rescued him. By the end, Katz seems to have accepted the existence of a realm that isn't amenable to hardheaded reason. He seems to understand there are things we cannot see and do not know, and that the worship of reason can be just another form of fundamentalism.

I love Katz's work, but I've wondered a number of times whether we'd get along if we knew each other in person. My initial suspicion is that we're too much alike. He speaks of rage and intolerance always simmering just below the surface, a troubled family of origin, and lingering pain. I know all these things well. I can see in Katz's own personal evolution work that I deeply need to undertake as well -- have started already to undertake -- for the sake of children, spouse, dogs and ultimately, myself.

But I don't think it's merely this that draws me to his work. Hardy and grizzled roosters named Winston, affectionate steers called Elvis, and fascinating border collies like his Rose are also an irresistible draw. Perhaps I couldn't have one without the other. But I always enjoy visiting Katz's Bedlam Farm, if only through his words.

*A brief skimming of the Amazon reader reviews uncovers a group of folks who vehemently disagree with me on that point. That's a discussion for a post all its own, but for now let it suffice to say I tend to agree with Katz's views on biting dogs. I'd also note that for all their protests and aspersions on Katz as a human being and dog owner, few offer realistic solutions for the problem other than to state that what Katz did was horrible, wrong, and generally evil. I do wonder if many of these people aren't feeling the same thing I did -- a sense of betrayal and deep unease about being led to fall in love with this dog and then lose him in a terrible way -- and are really reacting to that. I don't know. Time and perspective may change my view of Katz, his work, and his decisions.

Festival of the Trees 7

Is up at The Voltage Gate. I'll be heading over yonder as soon as I can steal some peace and quiet and huddle up in my office.

Invasive species

I’ve been reading a lot about the latter day migration from the eastern parts of this country to the western. The reporting of this migration seems to have overtones of an urban-to-rural shift as well. Apparently, swarms of effete, city-dwelling liberals have descended upon the likes of Missoula and Bozeman with the nefarious design of turning those fine towns into mini-Manhattans. These barbarian hordes have leaped over the Mississippi River and invaded the American West like the proverbial plague of locusts, destroying the character that supposedly drew us here in the first place.

Eh, whatever.

I suspect this migration is not so much a cause of the deterioration of the old western way of life, but an effect of it. Lifestyles and cultures are changing all over the U.S., not just in the west. Lifelong employment with a single organization – or even within a single profession – has become exceedingly rare. Farming, like seemingly every other form of traditional business in this country, has been slurped up by giant conglomerates, rendering the family farmer an endangered species indeed.

It’s not merely that easterners have gotten bored of the Appalachians and the Midwestern prairies and are just now hearing the siren song of the Rockies and the Cascades --though there may indeed be some of that. Things are a bit more complicated.

But in any event, most of the folks complaining are here because, 150 years or so ago, their ancestors did the same thing they’re complaining about easterners doing – only worse. Most of those people came out here and plunked themselves down without a by-your-leave to the area’s original inhabitants, whom they then forced onto reservations.

So forgive me if I am unashamed that I offered valuable and adequate consideration for the home I bought near Portland, Oregon, after moving from Indianapolis, Indiana, two years ago. (Want to bitch about Seattle and Portland’s outrageous housing prices? Look south for a large cause of that problem, not east.)

For my part, I was just born too late. My ancestors have been in this country since the 1600’s, and in Indiana since the early 1800’s. They moved to the Midwest from Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina. They just stopped too soon. They became enamored of the fertile black soil prairies, and stuck around.

I’m just picking up where they left off.