Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Monday, July 30, 2007

Glacial Recession -- Part II

Now that I’ve offered an ominous opener, let me throw out this confusing fact: The glaciers in northwest Montana began to recede in the 1850’s. I know that all of you – astute observers of human history that you are -- will recognize that decade as preceding significant human-generated carbon emissions.

So what gives? This was the question the instructor, Jeff, posed during his introductory slide show. Is the recession of the park’s glaciers caused by humans or is it merely the result of a naturally occurring warming period?

It’s both, of course; the question poses a false dichotomy. Geologic history is peppered with alternating periods of glacial advance and retreat, and the earth had already entered a period of glacial retreat when we started energetically pumping carbon into the atmosphere. So while human activities may not have caused the glaciers to begin melting initially, it’s a safe bet that those activities have dramatically increased the rate, in recent times, at which the glaciers are melting.

Take a look at the picture below.

Where Jeff is standing marks the point to which the glacier extended just last year, and it will recede even further yet this year. And this is on the side of the glacier and not the “toe” – in laymen’s terms, the tip – of the glacier, where melting occurs most rapidly.

It’s also worth noting that this is the kind of thing you hear the wishful thinkers say all the time: “But the glaciers started melting long before the petroleum era, so it can’t be global warming! We’re just in a naturally occurring warming period!” The foundational facts are correct, to be sure -- the glaciers did begin to recede awhile ago, and we are in a natural warming period (or, as I understand it, the end of a much cooler period, which may not be exactly the same thing.) It’s the conclusion they reach that’s faulty. The era of human-generated carbon is coinciding with that period and elevating the planet’s temperature to the point of grim consequences.

Part III: Wherein I attempt to avoid becoming a permanent part of the glacier, as glacial recession, though occurring rapidly, will not happen quickly enough to free me from a crevasse should I be so unlucky as to fall into one.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Glacial Recession, Part I

This is Upper Grinnell Lake in Glacier National Park.

As late as 1969, there was no Upper Grinnell Lake. That's because what is now the lake used to be part of the Grinnell Glacier.

The lake gets bigger every year.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Five days

I've been home five days this month. Tomorrow will be six, and that's all for July.

We're leaving tomorrow for Montana; the boys will drop me off at Glacier for my three-day climate change/glacial recession workshop and then head to the house.

I'm tired. I'm still trying to figure out where this month went.


Friday, July 20, 2007


My bidness trip has been extended until Tuesday, my client having decided they want me here longer for a critical meeting. I've been getting only the briefest interludes of bloggable time, and I'm eager to catch up with everyone.

The extension of my trip will mean I have only 24 hours at home before I leave for this seminar in Glacier National Park next week. I can't wait for this one.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Out of Africa

I awoke the other morning with this scene from Out of Africa on my mind. I searched for it on youtube, and voila. I grabbed the book on the way out the door to re-read on the plane.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Question

Who should I be reading?

I enjoy surfing around, looking for new blogs here and there. That's a lot of fun.

But knowing what you know about me, is there anyone you currently read that I might also enjoy?

Leave links in the comments.

There's no other way to show you how to survive a fall through the ice into a freezing lake, so I'll have to jump in here myself

Friend and occasional commenter Wasteland Fan dropped me a link to a youtube of Man vs. Wild yesterday, and my productivity immediately plummeted and has not yet recovered. I'm not really a TV watcher, so I've completely missed this until now.

Better go. It's on in nine minutes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hear ye, hear ye

Let it be known that I have purged my bank account of that troublesome substance called money, and in exchange have received two things: 1) a set of plane tickets to Indianapolis for next week, which trip I must make for work, and 2) a newly minted Nikon D2oo camera body.

It's a whole new world. Goodbye Fujichrome Velvia, hello 10.2 megapixels.

Fun with garden furniture

I absolutely love this.

A lawn chair, for crying out loud. Outstanding.

Monday, July 09, 2007


One of the things that distresses me in Montana is the sense you get, starting about July, that the whole damn place is about to go up in flames. Drought conditions have afflicted the American West for more than a decade, and it's spreading. Now up to a third of the entire U.S. is suffering from drought.

I've been spending time in Montana for seven or eight years now, and I have no recollection of summer conditions that weren't incredibly dry. It's remarkable if you're not used to it. It's as if you can feel the dryness sapping the moisture from your body. There's almost a friction to the air.

In these conditions, the slightest spark can destroy thousands of acres.

I'm eyeing the weather report tonight, because scattered thunderstorms are forecast for Thursday. It seems this is how so many fires are sparked in that area -- by thunderstorms that don't offer enough wetness to discourage fire, but just enough lightning to start one.

Fires are already burning all over the West, including Oregon, Washington and Montana.

I spent some time in Glacier in 2003 when the park was besieged by fire, and it made an stark impression on me. Last week I walked through some of the forest that had burned during that summer, and observed the succession -- beautiful wildflowers against black, charred tree trunks.

Time. As I strolled through the burn I marveled: it's only time that's the difference between a leisurely walk and standing in the middle of an inferno.

The view from my kayak

Snowshoe Peak over Bull Lake, northwestern Montana

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Hoofing it

There is nothing quite like spotting a freshly severed deer leg on the trail to quicken the pulse and heighten the senses. This effect is magnified when that trail branches off your driveway.

The leg was mostly stripped clean of meat, but undeniably fresh. There are a number of possibilities as to the transporter of said deer leg, ranging from the mundane to the dire. A coyote could have dropped the leg after stripping it from a scavenged carcass. Or it could have been the mama bear who's been loping around this mountain for the last couple of years. Or it could have been -- and I watched the treetops as we headed back home -- the elusive mountain lion.

It's probably the coyotes, though. Wolves have reestablished themselves a few mountains over, and it's put pressure on the coyote population. There's a sister pack that's been hanging around for awhile, and they have regular conversations with the Newfoundland down the road.

That said, none of us will be venturing down that path alone for the remainder of the trip.

Overheard at Trailheadquarters

Tony: "Twelve-year old boy, come upstairs and clear the table!"

Twelve-year-old Boy: "I can't! I'm stuck in a bucket!"

Long days, inundated kayaks

The length of a July day in Montana provides no natural corrective to the urge to stay up late and sleep in. With daylight lasting till 10 p.m., you can get up at noon and still have time to get in a full day of playing. But you miss the cool mornings when the moon is still high and the birds aren't yet too hot to sing.

Still, we've had some fun so far. We've had the kayak out to Lake Koocanusa twice (yesterday we flipped it while towing it with Tony's 16-foot boat, and the less said about that, the better. Let's just say it's not easy to drain a kayak while standing on a six-inch rock ledge. ) I let both of the older kids try the kayak, and they learned it quickly. Ahh, the easy adaptability of youth.

Today we're going to let them try the canoe.

Tomorrow is Glacier.

I'm hot. Fortunately, the water is a cool 67.4 degrees. Time to go.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Hot soup

104 degrees tomorrow.

No air conditioning.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Wherein Trailhead meets her political hero, issues queries about habeas corpus and plays groupie

So we arrived in Montana at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning after -- get this -- ten stops on the road from Portland. The first was to fix a wire running from our vehicle to our trailer. The second was a dramatic and unexpected halt in order to secure my kayak, which was about to skitter off the top of Tony's van and into oncoming traffic. The rest were an assortment of pee breaks, meal breaks, and a brief interlude in Spokane to buy a toilet and some zero-VOC paint.

At length, we drove the half-mile up the gravel road to the house. That we arrived in the middle of the night was of no importance to the children, who thought it was an excellent time to play an entire game of pool until the road-weary adults herded them downstairs to bed. I rose at about ten, stuck my hair into a clip and drove into town to get some breakfast food. At the checkout counter, my fatigue-narrowed eyes lit upon a small entry in the upper left hand corner of the local newspaper:

"Senator Jon Tester will be in Libby Saturday, where he will host an afternoon 'meet and greet' for residents. The gathering, at the pavillion at River Front Park pavillion, is free and open to the public...."

Oh my.

Even though this isn't really a political blog, I'm a total political junkie. I don't write much about politics because, let's face it, that's kind of gilding the lily in light of the vibrant political blogosphere that's churned along for some time without the slightest contribution from me. I assume readers will be unsurprised to learn that I'm somewhat of a leftist, and those who know me understand the effect that little blurb would have had on me.

I've been a huge fan of Jon Tester since the Montana Senate primary last year. He's an organic farmer and environmentalist. In spite of meeting a fook of a lot of politicians in my life, Tester was the first one who impressed me enough to induce me to make a campaign contribution. (Jim Webb was the second.) I followed his campaign religiously. There was simply no way I was going to pass up this opportunity.

He didn't disappoint me in the slightest.

I've met three senators, three or four governors, a former United States attorney general, mayors of cities large and small, a bunch of federal and state judges and politicos of all stripes, and until I met Tester, I'd never met one without a certain veneer of artificiality. Despite being a fervent consumer of all things political, I generally dislike the practitioners of it. The fledgling, baby politicians at my old law firm were an interpersonal irritant. I found them insufferable, with their canned smiles and the pablum that passed for conversation because, oh my God, we can't possibly say anything that would piss off someone, somewhere, at some time.

These are not really my kind of folk. I have no use for them, and they had little use for me. Compared to them, see, I'm a loose cannon.

So on some level I was prepared for disillusionment. But it never arrived. Tester and his trademark flattop swept briskly out of his car and into the pavilion and immediately began talking about renewable energy. Then he took all manner of questions from the group, including some obviously repetitive queries that he simply answered again. He issued blunt, straightforward opinions and rattled off obscure statistics about this or that. There was no equivocation. He fielded questions about trade, immigration, veterans' benefits and eminent domain.

I raised my hand. He smiled and nodded at me.

"Habeas corpus," I said. It wasn't a question so much as a statement.

"I can tell you right now I support the restoration of habeas corpus and I'll vote for that."

This was right after being grilled by a Vietnam vet with whom I'd just engaged in some light disagreements about the wisdom of the Geneva Convention, of all things. No equivocation, no preface about winning the War on Terra, just "I support that."

So afterward I waited to shake his hand with a few other people. Tester lost a few fingers as a kid in a confrontation with a meat grinder, and I noticed up close that's on his left hand, not his right. When my turn arrived, I told him I was a supporter, and that while a lot of Democrats seemed to have replaced their spines with silly string in recent times, he hadn't disappointed me once since November and I hoped he continued on his current trajectory.

He gave me a huge smile and we exchanged a few further pleasantries. You can tell it's early enough in the game that he still genuinely enjoys hearing from an ardent supporter. The overall impression I got was that the same guy I was talking to would be pretty much the same guy who chatted with his family later that week. He was refreshingly real. And his intelligence and the depth of his knowledge was obvious.

In short, I felt I'd just met a guy who will shape up to be one of the great public servants of my time. It was a pleasure.

And no, I didn't get a picture. This is because Mr. T was headed back to the truck to get my camera battery, which we'd inadvertently left in the car. He was supposed to run to the car, grab my camera, put the battery back in and discreetly take a picture while I was meeting the good Senator.

But nooooooo. He had to stop and gab with some folks on the way back, and completely missed the window of opportunity. Ordinarily he would have spent some time in the doghouse for such a thing, but I was pretty stoked from meeting the latest in a long line of great public figures to hail from the American West.