Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Changing permissions again

I'm going to allow anyone to view my blog again. No one has visited it--well, I shouldn't say no one, Cathie has--since I made it a by invitation only. Most of you who used to visit have missed a couple of posts, so you might want to scroll down.

Haiku for the day:

     Tiny chickadee
       sings good morning from a tree.
     Simple symphony.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Where the deer and the antelope play--and the buffalo too

We took a a dozen or so 11 to 13 year olds and their teachers out to West Bijou this past week and we had a great time. We started down the hill for into the West Bijou site, and the kids spotted a mule deer buck running down the valley we were about to climb up to visit the K/T Boundary. They were still excited about seeing that deer when two does popped up across the road. More excitement for the kids. We were off to a good start.

It's always tough to be good enough describing things like the K/T Boundary. The event that caused it happened 65 and a half million years ago, and anything that happened last year is ancient history to most kids. But when I told them that the asteroid that hit the Yucatan was a large as the city of Denver and traveling about 30,000 mph, they were impressed.

We also walked up the ravine to a spot 20,000 years after the K/T Boundary where they could pry open very soft sedimentary rocks to find leaf fossils. Lots of "wows!" "Hey, look at this," and "this is cool." Lots of pics of the leaf fossils on cell phones. We also talked about scientists finding dinosaur fossils below the K/T Boundary and none above. I think that kind of went over their heads. Luckily the mosquitoes had them ready to hike down the hill to the trailer and lunch.

After lunch, we drove over to the bison herd. The herd these days is in a pasture close to the main gate, so we didn't have to drive too far to get to them. I was disappointed not to see antelope on the way in. When we got to the herd, the critters immediately came to the wagon as the kids tossed alfalfa cookies to them.

One thing I noticed about the calves right away was that their hair is getting darker and longer and they are starting to look more like bison calves than cattle caves. Here's a pic of a calf I took about a month ago. Note how light brown its coat is. And it doesn't look much like mom in the background.

Now here's a picture I took last week of three of the same calves. Note the darker color and what looks like the start of a goatee and dark hair running down their necks. Or would that be a bisontee?

The cow with them has shed most of the winter coat that you can see on the cows in the first picture. They sure look scruffy with that winter hair. Week before last, we were out there watching some of the cows wallow in ant hills to scrub off some of the fur and get rid of the flies that seemed to love hanging onto it.

I told the students that we are looking at about 60 bison. Then I asked them to imaging a thousand times more bison as there might have been 250 years ago. I asked them to imagine hearing all of them running across the prairie and feeling the ground shaking beneath them. They seemed to respond well that that image, seeing how huge the cows were that surrounded our wagon.

After coming back from a visit to our buffalo herd, I wrote a haiku that seeing those magnificent animals inspired. I often think of the plains Indians and their relationship to the buffalo, or Tatanka.

     Bison ruled the plains,
        creatures of natural grace.
     Powerful totem.

When I'm out at West Bijou and look at the small herd of buffalo we have, I imagine what I asked the kids to imagine, a thousand times that many. And I look to one of the hills on which we've found pottery shards, flint chips, arrow heads, and other Indian artifacts from centuries ago and wonder how blessed they must have felt when they heard, felt, and saw the herd coming across the plains. Time for prayers to the buffalo spirits, hunting parties, celebrations, and food and robes for the tribe.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A wonderful day of wildlife

Yesterday I witnessed a face-off between two bison bulls, and man was that a tense couple of minutes. Can't imagine what it was like for the animals involved. I was out with several staff members from the Plains Center helping with a TV program about our beautiful 9600 acre site on West Bijou Creek. Bijou, for those not fluent in French, means jewel. And a jewel it is.

Before we got to the bison herd, we had seen an antelope fawn and doe running from an area in which we soon spotted two coyotes, we think a mom and pup. What a sight as the fawn pulled ahead of the doe as they ran across an open area. It was as if the fawn was showing its mother that it was old enough and fast enough to hang out with the gang. What graceful creatures. And their running is so effortless and fast.

We also saw a lazuli bunting, in all it's lazuli blaze of blue, sitting in the sun at the top of a cottonwood, singing equally as beautifully. Some desert cottontails, a black-tailed jackrabbit, a thermalling red-tailed hawk, and many meadowlarks, horned larks, and mourning doves. We looked for the golden eagles and great-horned owls that live out there, but didn't see them.

So, to get back to the bison. We pulled up to the herd and found that one of the men who helps manage the herd for the rancher was there. We asked about a bull, the largest in the herd, that seemed to be apart from the herd. He thought the other bulls had kicked him out of the herd. The bull is only 9 years old—they live to be around 20—so age didn't seem to be a problem. 

We watched the herd of 60 some animals as they gathered around our truck. The youngsters are starting to lose their copper-brown color and starting to turn dark brown like the adults. They are even growing goatees and have long brown hair down the front of their necks. Because the herd was already at the truck, we didn't thrown them any bison cookies, so they wandered over the ridge out of sight. The two bulls separated slightly from the herd and went on grazing and wallowing.

Soon, as we talked, I noticed the third bull wandering up from his solitary position down the ridge. He walked by about 20 yards away, eyeing us with what I'd call a baleful look. Reminded me of Moby Dick. He went over the hill, apparently in search of the other bulls. As he came up to the smaller of the two bulls, he assumed a pose I can only describe a one of challenge. He faced the smaller bull head on with his tail in a question mark shape rather than just hanging down or swishing. The other bull assumed a similar position.

I thought, oh oh, here's a fight brewing. The smaller bull, visibly much smaller, seemed to hesitate a bit, and then when the huge bull—the man who helps monitor the herd says that big bull weighs about 2200 pounds—took a few leisurely steps toward the smaller one, the smaller one backed down and started wagging his tail like a puppy. A sure sign of "I was really only kidding when I made believe I was challenging you." The third bull wandered over with his tail wagging also. Guess we all know who the boss is in that herd. The smallest bull probably weighs about 1500 pounds and the middle one about 1800. Not small but not huge like the grand poohbah. 

Then last night, I had an experience to top off a wonderful day in the wild, but this one was within a block of my house in Denver. I headed over to the market and as I pulled out of the alley and headed south on Locust Street, a pair of eyes glittered at me in the dark. I could just make out the white tip of a tail, and then as I got closer, could make out the pointy ears, shiny eyes, and bushy tail of a red fox. We have them in the neighborhood, but I only see them once a year or so. It was very exciting for me. I love to see red foxes. They are so feline in their behavior and temperament. 

Here's a haiku I wrote last night as I lay in bed trying to go to sleep but kept thinking of the fox.

     Eyes blaze in the night
     Sharp ears, bushy tail, white tip.
     The fox! The red fox!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Bureaucracy gets snakebit

Last year, the City of Aurora proposed building a dog park on Jewell Avenue across the street from the Plains Center. We have a very large prairie dog colony on our side of Jewell which extended across the street onto the area of the proposed dog park. The city asked PCC's opinion of the location, probably as a courtesy as we're across the street with a natural area. We don't allow dogs because even on a leash, dogs frighten wildlife, often with drastic results.

The director of PCC, Tudi, and a snake expert from the Denver Zoo--Bryan had done extensive research on the rattlesnake population at PCC--and I walked the proposed dog park and noted lots of PD burrows and evidence of rattlers. We suggested that they consider another spot, primarily because of the snakes, although it would also likely mean an end to the PDs. City dogs who have never been around rattlers don't mix well with them.

Guess what? The city built the dog park and now has had to close it until they can figure out how to keep dogs from mixing it up with rattlers and coming out second best. Several dogs have been bitten and owners upset. Why do bureaucrats ask for expert opinion and then proceed on their predetermined course in spite of that opinion? I guess that's why they're bureaucrats?

And why do urban and suburban folks think wildlife will just get out of their way so they can let their dogs run free? Rattlers bite when threatened. Coyotes eat meals on four legs when they are snack sized.

Several years earlier, the City of Aurora also authorized the building of an RV storage area right up against the northeastern boundary of PCC. Even though these isn't a lot of activity at the storage area, the lights and parked vehicles have disturbed the wildlife there. The burrowing owl population, which was significant across from the dog park and the RV storage area, has dropped almost to zero.

We have been worried about that for two nesting seasons now. Even the traffic on Jewell Ave didn't seem to bother them. But permanent RV parking and barking canines seemed to have caused them to leave their traditional nesting areas.

Today, on our monthly bird survey, we discovered that the owls have apparently moved to a more remote hillside on the eastern border of our 1100 acres, in a spot where nothing intrudes on their quiet. Unfortunately for wildlife watching at PCC, the birds can only be seen well with a spotting scope.

Here's a haiku I wrote after getting back home from the bird survey.

Cute burrowing owls --
you did not nest here this year.
Did we lose your trust?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I'm restricting access to my blog

I'm would like to share my poetry now and then on this blog. That's one of the main reasons I set it up. But, if I post my poetry to an open blog, one that's not private, then the poetry is considered published and I can't submit it to contests and magazines. So, I'm making the blog private, but all of you who have been following me should be able to read it and comment on it. Right now, I have the comments set so I have to approve them. That's only to keep some of the commercial responders out.

If you can't comment on my blog, send me an email at artelser@me.com and I'll see what I can do to fix it.

Of course, if my son Al tries to post something inappropriate or abusive to his dad, I'll cut him off at the knees and send his post out into the ether. But he'd never do anything like that. 

So, here's a poem I wrote almost in one sitting, something unusual for me. It normally takes me weeks to get the entire poem down and more weeks of revising. I spent a bit of time for about three days revising it, so it's kind of a record, other than haiku which usually only takes me a day--for three lines, seventeen syllables.

I thought about this poem for a while before setting down to the keyboard. I saw someone playing Rock, Paper, Scissors on TV and thought about it as I walked my dog. I've always been fascinated with how powerful water can be, wearing away the strongest rock and always making its way to sea level by one means or another.

Rock, paper, scissors
A game to settle disputes or 
decide who gets that only 
slice of pie or last beer.

A game kids play 
just for fun or to decide
who goes first.

Rock breaks scissors –
scissors cut paper –
paper covers rock – 

but water beats them all. 
It washes away paper 
and dissolves it over time.

Water soon rusts scissors, 
turning blades into dust,
and as for rock …

Water slowly wears  
rock away to create 
the Grand Canyon, 

the Rhine valley, 
the Teton mountains, 
isolated sea stacks … 

Water nourishes and sustains  
abundant life that takes joy 
in its artful handiwork. 
© 2010 Art Elser

We had a few nights of thunder boomies here in Denver, and I lay awake listening to the rolling thunder. The next morning the rain had settled the dust and I could smell the linden in the front yard and the roses in the back. I sat down at the computer and wrote this haiku.

Thunder and lightning 
played around our house last night. 
The morning smells sweet. 

© 2010 Art Elser

Friday, July 2, 2010

A week of fun and sadness

This has been a busy week full of both fun and sadness. Our grandson, Louis, had been at a music camp up in Estes Park for two weeks, and he's relaxed with us here since Sunday. I say relaxed. He's 15 and will get his learner's permit to drive when he goes home. I took him out into farm and ranch land east of Denver and taught him to drive, stick shift and all, on dirt county roads. He did really well, and has the rough edges rubbed off now so his moms can get him familiar with driving where there are other cars.

The death of the husband of a poet friend of mine is the sadness for the week. He had been ill for a while and passed away quietly in his sleep. But that doesn't take away any of the pain and grief that Chris is going through now. I'm hoping her poetry will help her deal with Peter's death. Writing has always been a catharsis for me, and I hope it proves so for her.

I should have my Casper friend, Cathy, write about our adventures out on the dirt roads learning to drive a stick shift. Her sense of humor would do justice to it. First, there's me trying to be calm and quiet so that Louis doesn't get too freaked out. But there's a limit to that. It was fine while we were just starting and stopping, getting down the coordination between clutch and gas. But when we had to turn around on a side road where there was a turn around, but Lou wound up in  the middle of it rather than following it around, it got a bit tricky.

There were, as there always are on country roads, ditches on both sides. Louis put it in reverse to back up and rather than ease in the gas, he was revving it. Finally got him to slow down the engine before he let out the clutch. Speaking of clutch, I was clutching the emergency brake ready to pull it up—no, I lie—I yanked it up abruptly several times when he was moving much too fast. He'd look at me like I was an alien just beamed down from another planet. I felt like one!

Then we'd start again, after he started the engine because my yanking on the brake stalled the engine. After six or so attempts, we finally got the car backed up enough to make the turn back to the road. I explained that he would have to pull the wheel through quickly to keep from going into the ditch—yank on the emergency brake and stall the engine again. "No, Louis, turn the wheel AS you're starting to move forward. Let's try it again and this time with turning the wheel."

"Yikes!! Not so much gas Lou. Ease it in and ease out the clutch." Finally, after a bit of moping, frustration, pouting, angry glances, Lou finally got the car around the turn, and we headed back down the road we'd just come up. When we got to the other end, we had a large paved entrance to a county maintenance building to turn around in.

This time, with more room, Lou did a great job backing up onto the road from the entrance. Then it was time to move forward. But, the aliens beamed down a very, very large dump truck from the maintenance yard. Of course I could see Lou's anxiety level start to peak.

He was blocking the truck, so he hurried to get out of the way. In the process, he put the transmission into 3rd rather than 1st, so he stalled the car again and again, each time getting more and more frustrated. The truck driver knew exactly what was going on—I had waved to him as good country folk do, so he was patient with us.

I thought the truck driver was going to fall out of his truck he was laughing so hard. I'm sure he'd been down the same road teaching his kids to drive. Lou, after half a dozen attempts to get moving managed to roll the car forward enough that the truck could get past us. The driver waved and laughed as he went by. Probably made his day.

I took Lou out to PCC to drop off some stuff this morning, and he practiced starting and stopping to get the coordination of clutch and gas down. Remarkably, starting in 1st rather than 3rd seemed to have solved most of his problems. We even started on a hill in one spot, and after a while, he got the hang of that too.

Last night we had planned to go to the Botanic Gardens to see an exhibition of Henry Moore sculptures but got there and found that there was a live performance there, so no way we could get in. We opted to stop at Kings to buy vanilla ice cream and root beer and have root beer floats. Yum. A good second choice.

Unfortunately, tomorrow I have to have Lou at the airport at 4:30 AM for his flight back to Denton. He and Barb and Lisa will leave for a vacation at Disneyland in California. But he'll be back in about a month for another two weeks at music camp and some time with us. And another visit from the aliens?