Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Back on the bandwagon again

Well, I wandered over to NaBloPoMo at Kristy's urging, and holy moly, on the first click I found an anti-plastic group! I'm there, dude. I signed up. So I will attempt to be NaBloPoMoing for November.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Instead of the cross/the albatross/around my neck was hung*

Other than the many Sancho seekers, the most common query onto this blog is some variant of Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Most of the searchers end up on this post or this one.

So what's the practical effect of our love affair with plastic, and perhaps tangentially, the Texas-sized patch of the indestructible crap that's floating around in the Pacific?

Watch this and you'll know.

*Name that poem you haven't read since high school.

A traveler makes his way back home

From last week.

For the love of gourd

Yes, I know you're all tired of pumpkins, especially the elaborately carved pumpkins you can't swing a cat without hitting this time of year, but who couldn't love a pumpkin (or several, as it looks) carved into a giant squid?

Or an angry tiki god?

Or the Death Star?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Endangered Species Thursday: Mustela nigripes

(If you're looking for Sancho, go to the post directly below this one.)

Over at her blog, Kristy is recruiting folks to participate in NaBloPoMo, a dealie where bloggers agree to post every day for the month of November. Like I said over at Kristy's -- you want me to commit to doing something every single day? Heck, I quit my last job because they expected the same thing. But it looks enticing over there, and I just might do it. We'll see.

Even if I can't commit to doing something every day, maybe I can do it one day per week. And so I'm ushering in Endangered Species Thursday. I like animals, and I'm interested in the environment, and the recent giant otter fixations on this blog have reminded me that this is a problem. It won't be all charismatic fauna all the time, though. Plants, algae, and all sorts ecologically critical critters are becoming endangered. So I'll be writing about them.

Which means I need all you commenters and lurkers (and I know you're here these days) to send me tips. Click on the e-mail link on the right and send me interesting stuff I should be reading or writing about. It doesn't have to be just endangered species, either. But please, no penis embiggening schemes. I get enough of those from other sources.

For today, I want to draw from Mustelidae, the family of creatures that has graced this blog since September. Otherwise known as the weasel family, it includes such luminaries as otters, wolverines, martens, minks, badgers, and today's subject, which is the rarest mammal in North America. No, not a Democrat with a spine, though arguably those are the second rarest.

It's the Black-Footed Ferret.

These guys have been listed for more than 25 years, and yet they remain grievously endangered. A big part of the problem is the continued poisoning of its principal prey by ranchers, which is this creature:

Photo by Trailhead. No, really!

The prairie dog. Yes, I know it's cute, but everyone's gotta eat. And ferrets are cute too:

Photo by and courtesy of Trisha M Shears

Black-footed ferrets were once completely extinct in the wild, and the only populations existed in captivity. They have since been re-released, and as late as August of this year, were deemed to be making a comeback, with 223 ferrets existing in Wyoming. All of those animals were descended from seven ferrets bred in captivity. Supportive ranchers were instrumental to the success of the ferret in Wyoming.

But this past June, prospects for the ferrets -- and the prairie dogs -- elsewhere darkened:

The U.S. Forest Service today released its draft plan that may drastically increase the poisoning of prairie dog colonies this fall throughout the Buffalo Gap and Fort Pierre National Grasslands in South Dakota and the Oglala National Grassland in Nebraska. Widespread poisoning could kill tens of thousands of prairie dogs, which would jeopardize the continued recovery of the critically imperiled black-footed ferret, the most endangered mammal in North America. The plan would also harm other wildlife that depend on prairie dogs for food or prairie dog burrows for shelter, including rare species such as swift foxes, burrowing owls and ferruginous hawks.

Great. There's always something.

You can "adopt" a black-footed ferret here. Read about and support the National Zoo's ferret research here.

And finally, this is an entertaining, informative video, and contains some of that mustelid playfulness a few of us have come to enjoy:

I'll be keeping an eye on these guys.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

More Sancho -- Updated

Updated: Merry Christmas! I see there are a number of you checking in this evening. Did Raising Sancho air tonight? Please feel free to drop a comment or an e-mail, and be sure to go to the first post in this series and read Carolina's comments about what's happened since the show taped.

Hello, Sancho fans!

I viewed Raising Sancho for the first time in September, and I wrote a series of posts prompted in part by the scads of folks who found their way here looking for updates on Sancho. Carolina Vargas found those posts as well, and left a number of comments. Google directs folks to various parts of the blog depending on the query, so I've updated one of the other Sancho posts with the same information as here. I definitely want everyone to have their hopes for information satisfied.

To read the whole group of posts, go here and begin at the bottom, moving up as you go. Please feel free to leave comments of your own on any of the posts.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dispatches from Stinkbug Ranch

You know how, on television and in popular culture generally, fathers are portrayed as benevolent doofuses when it comes to childcare and their wives are portrayed as sensible types who always have it together with respect to the kids? It's sort of an Everybody Loves Raymond model. That crap has always irritated me, and not just because it offends my feminist worldview. Even more fundamentally, I just don't recognize anyone I know in that model, least of all my own family.

Which would explain why I realized on Thursday night that my son had not bathed since Sunday. You see, my husband always does that, and he's been overseas since Monday. It just didn't occur to me until The Kid announced that afternoon that "hey-- my feet stink!" (He quickly backpedaled on this assertion when he realized he would have to take a bath without Daddy. Fortunately, his grandmother bribed him into the tub with some pumpkin soap.)

Patricia Heaton's character totally would have remembered to give her kid a bath. It seems I have become the benevolent doofus. I guess this means I have to grow a penis or get kicked out of the club.

The weather has been moody this week, as you can see from some of the photographs I've gotten. But I've stolen little bits of light here and there.

As for pictures, I offer you the main road:

Blogger won't let me upload the other two pictures of the gravel road up to the house, so to hell with it. I'll do that later.


Well here I am. Back in middle of nowhere, and it's grand. The aspen in front of my house is completely, richly gold. The tamaracks are turning. We ate freshly caught trout for dinner Sunday night. And again I marvel that I feel less isolated in a place where traffic congestion is a moose blocking 5th street.

My in-laws are here with me this week. This is the first time my father-in-law has returned here since he sold us the place a little over a year ago. It can't be easy for him -- I saw him standing, that first evening, staring out at the corral whose fence he built by hand, one split rail at a time. But he's got a permanent companion in the grandson who shadows him constantly, hanging on his every word. And his mood improved markedly Sunday night, after he, Mr. T and the Kid fished a part of the river he'd never gotten around to while he still spent time here regularly.

For my part, life is easy this week. I just had to stop my mother-in-law from bringing the coffee carafe over to my cup and refilling it while I sat on my ass. Mr. T filled the 80's era PornoHotTub before he left, and I might get in once or twice. I've got some photographs scoped out, should the weather decide to cooperate, and I spent ten minutes this morning watching a woodpecker work on a tree down the hill. I do have to work, but somehow it's not as grinding here.

It's all good.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sailing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch!

Holy polyethylene, Batman! A blog from folks actually navigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch!

Here is the entry from September 9, 2007:

The Voyage has begun!!
This evening, just before sunset, ORV Alguita departed from Long Beach, CA for a three week research voyage ending in Hilo, Hawaii. This voyage will take us across over 3,000 miles of the Pacific Ocean to the "Eastern Garbage Patch". During the voyage the ships research team will be hard at work collecting samples to study the growing amount of plastic debris in the Pacific Gyre. The crew will keep us updated, answer our questions, and share their experiences with us as they go! This should be an exciting voyage for both us and the crew!

The link is to the September archive of the blog. Scroll down and read from the bottom up as usual.

Also, via the same blog, check out the International Pellet Watch. If you're near a beach, you can go and collect pellets and send them to Dr. Hideshige Takada in Japan, who is doing research on persistent organic pollutants. That sounds like the perfect project for a rainy November on the Oregon coast.

Updated: Go here for an appalling video on the effects of plastic on wildlife.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Earthblogging: Enjoy it while it lasts

So, today is Blog Action Day, where everyone writes about the environment.

Originally, I thought it might be a bad time for me to do this, to the extent that I'm supposed to write something uplifting. After all, I recently had a hissy fit about tigers in India, and I just spent this weekend photographing these:


So I was wondering, as I am wont to do when I get all maudlin, what good it would do to write another post about the environment.

And then I remembered that isn't the point. I didn't have the power to kill the earth all by myself, and there's no reason to expect myself to save it singlehandedly. You talk about it and write about it because you can't do otherwise -- not because you actually expect it to help anything. At least not in a world where the company that brought us a wildly popular hybrid is lobbying against tougher CAFE standards, anyway.

So, my suggestions? Enjoy it while it lasts. Here I am, back where I'm closer to the bears and the wolves, having climbed halfway up the mountain yesterday to look upon the valley below, and I suggest you all take some time to revel in something not created by a human hand. Whether it's a tamarack painted gold by the fall, a wilderness landscape, your cat or your kid, enjoy it now, unburdened by worry, guilt or urgency.

And then tomorrow, sign up for green power.*

*Believe it or not, my power company will not let me have green power because I made two late payments a couple of years ago. So I have to wait until they deem me worthy of the privilege of not befouling the earth to run my coffee maker. Bastards.

The World Without Us

I've never had much patience for misanthropy. Once you boil it down, it always seems to be just a self-indulgent hatred of life in general with a healthy dollop of self-righteous superiority. That doesn't mean I'm not susceptible to it, of course. I am, and I think a lot of folks with environmentalist tendencies are too. Humans really are screwing the environmental pooch, if you know what I mean. But I've always thought it was uselessly whiny to spend valuable time pining for human extinction. (Hey dipshit! You won't be here to know how great it is once that happens!)

But once you start reading -- or in my case, listening to -- The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman, it's hard not to be smacked upside the head with how much nicer the earth would be for pretty much everything else if we were all zapped up to the planet Zorcon. (Planet Zorcon, on the other hand, would doubtless undergo a precipitous decline shortly thereafter.) This book takes as its premise the extinction, whether sudden or otherwise, of humanity, and tracks what happens on earth from there. The immediate impression you get from this is that the earth would be like a dog relieved of a horrendous infestation of fleas.

The elephant population would quickly resurge once the poachers were gone. New York City, inside of a few hundred years, would revert to rivers and forests. The atmosphere would begin the long process of adjusting its carbon levels back to normal.

Oh, don't get me wrong. We wouldn't be entirely unmourned. Head lice would be very upset if we were to leave, as they are almost entirely dependent on us. Cockroaches up north would die without heat in the winter.

In my doggedly non-misanthropic worldview, The World Without Us is useful -- beyond idle curiosity -- only as a guide to how to keep humans (and others) from becoming extinct in the first damn place. By raising the alarm to the indelible changes we're causing in such a creative way, the book forces the reader to question her assumptions, not the least of which is the sense of her own harmlessness.

And I'm only halfway through.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Garbage Patch Kids

Photo: Melbourne Zoo

Ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It's an ocean of crap, folks. Literally:

The North Pacific Gyre (also known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre) is a swirling vortex of ocean currents comprising most of the northern Pacific Ocean.


The centre of the North Pacific Gyre is relatively stationary...and the circular rotation around it draws waste material in. This has led to the accumulation of flotsam and other debris in huge floating 'clouds' of waste which have taken on informal names, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the Eastern Garbage Patch or the Pacific Trash Vortex. While historically this debris has biodegraded, the gyre is now accumulating vast quantities of plastic and marine debris. Rather than biodegrading, plastic photodegrades, disintegrating in the ocean into smaller and smaller pieces. These pieces, still polymers, eventually become individual molecules, which are still not easily digested.[1] The photodegraded plastic can attract pollutants such as PCBs. The floating particles also resemble zooplankton, which can lead to them being consumed by jellyfish, thus entering the ocean food chain.

No, seriously. And you know what else? It's huge. It's as big as Texas. Yeah, that Texas. And the animals are eating it. (Updated: Want to know how much of it they're eating? This video isn't pretty, but everyone should watch it.)

Plastic has bugged me for awhile. It's hard to realize the ubiquity of plastic until you've had your attention drawn to it. And it lasts hundreds of years. Ever bought stamps or movie tickets at Costco? They come encased in ginormous book-sized plastic clams (which I believe are non-recyclable.) I ate a piece of string cheese yesterday individually wrapped in plastic. Hell, my free-range turkey breast slices are wrapped in plastic and then packaged in a plastic tub. (I don't buy those anymore.)

And then there's the deceptively humble plastic bag. The link above notes that between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are used every year. I think there are issues surrounding the ethos of individual action -- too often, the effectiveness of individual action is promoted and exaggerated by entrenched interests as a diversion from the institutional change that might impact those interests -- but it seems to me that this is an area that's ripe for it.

There is a certain evangelistic opportunity here as well. If you live in a less environmentally aware area, there is fun to be had by presenting the grocery store cashier with a bunch of reusable canvas bags. I think I'm going to start carrying around cards made from the sea turtle picture above and simply handing them out whenever I'm questioned about reusable bags.

There are several ways to make fun reusable bags. See this post by Redneck Mother for links. (I'm thinking about making a quilted bag out of some of my scraps.) I dropped this link in RM's comment section, which is a set of instructions for making an (aesthetically pleasing) reusable produce bag. My sister and I gave these as Christmas gifts one year. (Plunk in a compact fluorescent light bulb and a copy of An Inconvenient Truth and you have a good gift for environmentally clueless parents and grandparents.) Don't have the time or desire to make your own? Go here.

See also Rose's post on her personal bag journey.

But whatever you do, please don't feed the sea turtles.

Saturday, October 06, 2007


Reader RS sends me this amazing photographic sequence. Interspecies interactions like these -- the ones that don't involve predatory behavior -- demonstrate that life is more than the sum of its parts. There is more than eating, hunting, sleeping, and reproducing in the animal world. There is play, and in some cases, relationship. This is where spirit lies in the nonhuman world. Maybe that's the intangible something that touched so many of us with Sancho and Carolina, and what makes this sequence of images so breathtaking.

Friday, October 05, 2007

An' the Gobble-uns'll git ya

Given my Hoosier roots, Kristy has dedicated one of her excellent Every-Day-in-October-is- Halloween posts to yours truly. She posts Little Orphant Annie, by James Whitcomb Riley, our Hoosier National Poet.

Riley has a prominent place in my family lore. My grandmother read these poems to my father when he was very small, and if I were to dial his number right now and ask him, he would be able to recite all of Little Orphant Annie from memory. I've heard him do it many times, but the most memorable was before my grandmother died four years ago. They sat at the table together and each would recite a line, one after the other. It was a lovely moment of comity between two people so thoroughly alike they spent most of their time at odds.

Last spring, my dad sent the Kid The Complete Poetical Works of James Whitcomb Riley. I think he's ready to appreciate it now, but I think I'll start with Wortermelon Time, given his fondness for them.

Kristy's post, surprisingly enough, sent a zing of homesickness through me. I confess I'm not a huge fan of autumn in the northwest, I think simply because it's not what I'm used to. It's very wet, and while the colors last forever, it feels more like going straight from summer to winter to me.

Back in Indiana, that place caught in the nexus of south and midwest, autumn is a cool, gentle interlude before the gray settles in. The colors are many and brilliant. Pumpkins are everywhere, along with the pungence of deciduous deadfall. During autumn, a landscape that has not aged well -- where prairie flowers have been buried beneath monocultures of genetically engineered commodity corn and strip malls -- has a moment of glory returned. Pockets of the old and graceful Indiana are nestled here and there. The glacial lakes in the north and the endless hills of the south are all awakened and lovely in the fall.

I miss it just now.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Who's been purgin' the sturgeon?*

I really don't know what to make of this. East of Portland about 45 minutes lies the Bonneville dam, which hosts on its grounds a trout hatchery and a pond which held seven endangered white sturgeon. Till Monday morning anyway, when an employee found the pond empty.

Sturgeon aren't little. I've been to Bonneville a few times, and those fish were big -- the news article says about five feet long, and that's about right. Here's a great image of them.

I guess I'd like to know how you can remove seven ginormous fish from a pond on a federal site without being noticed. This is a dam, people -- security once searched my trunk when I was taking my son to feed the trout at the hatchery. (Though I'm pretty sure that was because of the profusion of anti-W bumper stickers on my car.)

People suck.

*The single positive aspect of this event is that it allowed me to use this phrase in a socially acceptable manner.

Otter cam

After the mid-September Otter Fest that went down here, I felt the need to visit some of our mustelid friends. About the same time, I noticed that last week was Sea Otter Awareness Week at the Oregon Aquarium. There are no giant otters at the Oregon Aquarium. As far as I know, the only zoo in the U.S. that has giant otters is in Philadelphia.

But I wanted to see some otters, so we packed up and headed to the Oregon coast, where we proceeded to have any number of camera-related battery malfunctions. (Later it was determined that these problems were mostly due to attempting to charge the batteries in the car.) Before the video and still cameras gave us the Big Battery Finger, Mr. T got a couple of otter videos and I got a decent image of a shrimp. That's it. It was still fun, of course. The Kid got to hang out at the touch pool and walk through the aquarium hallway, so he was pleased.

None of the voices on here belong to us, but I think a few of the kids bumped into him and caused some camera shake in the middle.

Monday, October 01, 2007

And your hairy butt....YEAH

I can't stop watching this. I'm blown away by Samberg's sheer talent, and how perfectly he treats that silly statement last week by Ahmadinejad. And instead of resorting to tired homophobic crap, Samberg perfectly nails the satire. This is the America that makes me smile. And how quickly did they put this together?

On tap for the next two weeks: bathroom remodeling and game cams

Because nothing says Montana like a pink crapper.

Last time I was at our place in Montana, I was pacing up and down the driveway on my cell phone talking to my brother, when our conversation was interrupted by this sound on the trail that branches off the drive. It sounded like a very-large-something blowing or huffing in an agitated manner.

"What was that?" my brother asked. I started walking back to the house, unwilling to find out. I never did learn what it was. Mr. T insisted it was nothing but a deer, but The Professor (whose 130 acres surround our relatively tiny six on all sides) concluded that it was one of the bears that hang out on the mountain. I searched on the internet for both sounds, and none of them fit the bill.

This trail has seen some action over the years. When my father-in-law owned the place, he stumbled across a lavishly dismembered deer carcass fifty or so yards beyond the drive. This summer we found a single, unmistakably fresh deer leg. Then there's the bear poo.

This is enough to convince me that this is a thriving game trail. We clearly needed a game cam. Fortunately, the thoughtful Mr. T got me this one for my birthday, and my wait is almost over. Mr. T is going back to China in the middle of October, and I'll be spending my time out there instead of here. As a bonus, my in-laws are coming to spend the week taking care of the Kid. So the week is mine, friends. I considered going to China with Mr. T, but I've been there already. Frankly, I'd rather spend an autumn week in northwest Montana than South China, and save the money I'd spend on plane tickets and carbon credits.

And this way I can finish the green bathroom remodel. This summer we applied zero-VOC paint, installed cork flooring with low-VOC adhesive, and got the Paperstone countertop cut and in place. (Paperstone is spendy, but beautiful. We were lucky enough to find a small scrap of it at our local Environmental Building Supply.) A light and some fixtures are all that remain. This interesting place is in Idaho, on our way to the house, and I've been eyeing a few things there. But really, I've had a bad case of decision paralysis on the issue, and I'm going to try to get it wrapped up on this trip.

I'm just glad the pink is gone.