Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pittoresque, No?

Pittoresque, No? Oui. Or should it be "Si" when responding in the affirmative to a question in the negative? Anyway, here are some classic French travel posters for you to look at.
Now, this is for my sisters to respond to. Does the 1950's "France" poster with the skiers look familiar to you? Does it give you a feeling of deja vu? Did we have this poster in the basement or something?

Thanksgiving at Black Dog Ranch

We went over to Denver again for Thanksgiving. Black Dog Ranch is an appropriate name for the 75 acre farm. Peggy and Tony have two black labs, and their daughter, Anna, is boarding her back lab Ajax for awhile. Fergus was in heaven for a couple of days, although he was the low dog in the pecking order and took a little punishment. Here, Peggy is doing her best, with only two hands, to gather them up for a group picture.
While the Euser girls await the feast, Anna grooms Ellie while Ellie skillfully plays some kind of game, or catches up on the important happenings back in Jackson Hole.

Tony's mom looks great and is still sharp as ever. She remembers everyone's name which is more than I can manage to do, and I am more than a quarter century younger. I am too much of a gentleman (uh-huh) to mention a lady's age, but I will say she deserves and commands our respect.
This is the beautiful Thanksgiving table which the Euser ladies put together so well. Oma said a lovely grace reminding us all what we have to thankful for this year. And, in our family, someone always remembers to offer a toast to some of our old favorites, those who can't be with us. This year it was Ellie who first said, "Here's to Uncle Darrell."

This is Madeline who was out on the grass working up an appetite. And pictured below, is her mother (and my sister) Amy. She says, "Watch out for the dog poop, Mimi."

This is my other sister, proprietor of Black Dog Ranch and quality turkey chef, Peggy. Dan Twiggs, Amy's husband, labored long and hard on all the side dishes. Nancy worked up a whole bunch of hors' d'ouvres.
Ellie and Anna pose for their Uncle Doug never imagining that the picture would end up on North of Andorra.
Anna is just completing her PhD/MD at the University of Vermont and has a right to be exhausted after eight years of matriculation. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Choir is Born

Julian sends us news that a choir is born in Leran.

Dear Doug and Nancy

Wednesday 19 November witnessed an important event here - Alan Simmons' new choir met for the first time, in the Catalpa room in the War Memorial square. (See the team photo.) Over twenty eager choristers, several confessing with undue modesty that they couldn't sing a note, met there for an informal introduction to the rigours and disciplines of creating a beautiful sound.

Alan was/is a masterly instructor and coach. If sheer enthusiasm could get anything right, then it was immediately obvious that there would be no barriers to progress with this motley crew. We, the choristers-to-be, were a compliant lot, and in only a few minutes and speaking in Anglo-French (there were several LĂ©ran locals in the team) Alan had organised us into a closely packed circle and then into three groups - Sopranos, Altos and Men! He handed out sheet music and we eagerly studied the words and musical symbols. Actual singing started with a simple little piece about Snowflakes - only one verse, only twelve words and only eight different notes with no tricky sharps or flats - and we soon mastered that in unison. Then he split us into two teams, the choristers on the left vs the choristers on the right, and we had to do it again but this time the two teams starting a few bars

apart, 'counterpoint' I think it is called. That was a bit of a struggle but we got it right second time. Then he further divided us into four and finally eight groups, all starting one bar apart in sequence round the room, so that the twelve words by team one were finished by the time team eight got started! This required serious conducting skills - as you can see in the picture, Alan practicaly danced round the room pointing at each small team so that its entry into the cycle was perfectly timed. We all repeated the little Snowflakes song, round and round the room, getting louder and more confident, until the counterpoint was almost perfect. HUGE achievement and applause.

Flushed with success, Alan then introduced us to Silent Night, in French. A brief lesson in pronounciation was needed, provided by one of our French colleagues in the Altos team. The Sopranos, Altos (they are in the third photo) and Men in turn had to learn their different 'tunes', using 'repeat after me' techniques from Alan. Then we launched straight into a three-part harmony. It was little short of miraculous. In half an hour we had mastered all three verses and, in the final rendition, without a break, we finished precisely together and mostly on the right notes. We were a choir already!

Finally we tackled a carol composed by Alan and Eileen called New Born Baby, only one page of music but packing a big challenge. The Men first learned their part, a simple song that we could belt out at full volume. Then it started to get complicated. It became evident that the Altos and Sopranos had to weave music over the Men's part using different words, different notes/tunes, and different timing. Bit by bit they added colour to this amazing musical experience. Imagine singing three different songs simultaneously but composed so that they harmonised beautifully with different bits of rhythm and wording mixing and merging as we went along. Another triumph was celebrated with applause for Alan and each other.

We ran out of time soon after starting a second French piece, marked to be performed 'Grazioso'. There wasn't time to achieve anything approaching Grazioso, but we had worked up a good thirst. Shirley and Marek, members of the choir, didn't make it to their Bar as fast as some of their fellow choristers.

The Choir is born. Our first 'performance' is scheduled to take place in the Bar about three weeks before Christmas. With two more practice nights before then we'll be word and tune perfect.

We eagerly look forward to you being able to join in some time.

Julian and Gwenda

What's Grazioso, Julian? Inquiring minds want to know. In other news, I see Leran has been busy. Over at Peter and Angela's blog, there was a voluntary trail clearing effort. Go check it out.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Trail Ridin’ with Don

At the end of my second season at Yellowstone, and Nancy’s first, we were rewarded with a trip on horseback to Fox Park Cabin. The trip was about five days and included some work days and days off, but we were excited to go. Imagine being paid to ride around Yellowstone with two of it’s most seasoned rangers. The purpose of the trip, along with boundary patrol, was to build a wooden porch floor onto the old cabin. A bunch of bridge planks had been helicoptered in that were left over from bridge building job nearby.

It took a long day to ride in to Fox Park, which is on Yellowstone’s south boundary with Bridger-Teton National Forest. We came in through the National Forest from the south and only the last few miles were in the Park. We worked on the porch floor for two days and it took us two days to ride out along the Snake River with an overnight stop at Harebell cabin. At that cabin, our last night out, Dave, our leader, told us stories about being in the cabin one night and having a grizzly tearing at the window shutters and tearing at the shingles on the roof, trying to get into the cabin. Now, to this day, I don’t know whether Dave was trying to scare us (I think he was) or the story was true (I don’t know), but it was a good yarn before we hit the sack.

The fourth person on the trip was a older gentleman who we’ll call Don. We didn’t know Don before the trip, but we of course knew him well at the end. Riding through bear country for eleven hours at a stretch with someone, you get to know them pretty well. The first few hours Don and Dave reminisced about the old days in Yellowstone when Don had been a seasonal ranger. He told some pretty amazing stories about the old times and how things had changed. They trapped bears and broke horses and shoed the mules. They did the job of law enforcement, bear management, resource management and interpretation. Every once in awhile, the park radio would squawk about some incident back in the developed world, and it would set Don and Dave off about some long ago fracas in the park. As is normal, Don made it sound like the rules and regulations had tightened up considerably and that rangers nowadays were more highly trained and educated. We appreciated that every one of these old-timers were tougher than even the toughest ranger these days.

A couple of hours into the first day, Don revealed he had played football at Nebraska in his youth. That was fairly impressive and I asked a few questions about playing football back in the days when they had leather helmets and no face guards and every player had a broken nose all season. They were tough then and they didn’t have full-ride scholarships. Later on that day, Don talked about his coaching days. He coached football at some high school in Wyoming after WWII, and then he was head coach at Wyoming. I tried to imagine what it was like coaching a bunch of tough young cowboys and scrappy farm hands back in Laramie. It couldn’t have been easy. By now I was pretty impressed with Don, old fart ranger.

We rode through parts of the forest that had burned extensively in 1988. Bare and blackened lodgepole stood where once a dark, shady green forest had been. Nancy and I were still adjusting to the stark landscape of the post-'88 fires. Don however, remarked that he had ridden this trail 25 times and this was the first time he could see the sky and the mountains in the distance.

As the hours wore on the first day, Don began talking about being in the Navy during the War. There were some good stories, but what I remembered was that he had been a "frogman" as they were called in those days. He had reconnoitered Omaha and Utah beaches sometime before D-day, looking for obstacles that would impede the landing craft. He mentioned surfacing at night and seeing lights coming from German pillboxes and the silhouettes of German soldiers patrolling the beach. By now, I knew I had met a legend, and that he couldn’t top this story.

Don said he worked for the government after the war in a capacity he still couldn’t divulge. He gave small hints. It involved clandestine activities in Asia and I shouldn’t ask any more questions because he couldn’t answer. The next day I talked to Dave because I was getting skeptical. Dave said every word was true as far as he knew. He could vouch for all the ranger stories and football history and that he had no reason to doubt the wartime exploits.

I remember working away on the porch floor of the cabin the next day when Don mentioned that his life the past few years had been pretty idyllic. He worked winters as a ski instructor at Vail for many seasons, but now he and his girlfriend (Girlfriend? The man must have been seventy) spent winters on their boat in Mexico. She was a River Ranger on the Snake River in Grand Teton N.P. (Dave said she was gorgeous) and they spent summers in a cabin overlooking the Tetons.

On the fourth day, as we were riding between Fox and Harebell cabins, Don’s stories began to repeat themselves. It was okay though, they were good stories. The ride was long and hard and we needed a diversion. And while we had heard them once, he was telling them the same way and, for me, that was authenticating them.

On the last day as we were approaching the Snake River Ranger Station, Dave asked Don to tell one more story. "I thought you would have told the one about Gerry Ford by now," he prompted.

So.......Don told us one more story. Years ago, Don was ski instructor to President Gerald Ford. Mr. Ford had fallen in love with Vail and spent as much time as he could there. He said it was pretty exciting work if you could deal with the Secret Service details. The president was a mediocre skier, but very enthusiastic. They got along quite well ( Ford was a former seasonal Yellowstone ranger, by the way) and I guess they were about the same age. One day during a lesson, it happened that the President took a spill and planted his face in the snow. Ford pulled his head up out of the snow just in time to see Don ski up. "You’re doing great, you’re getting the hang of it Mr. President," Don said as he wiped the snow from the president’s face. "You know," Don mused, "Skiing is like sex. If you don’t get your face right down into it every once in awhile, you’re not doing it right." Ford burst into a big grin and then chuckled for a long time, Don said.

Don tried to visit us once in the park but we were on our weekend. We stopped by his cabin once on our way to Jackson, but Don was not there. We never saw him again.Twenty-three year old Gerald Ford in 1936 during his one season as a Yellowstone Ranger.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Confiscated Bus

Since several of you faithful readers have requested old Yellowstone stories, I thought I'd pull a few out of my memory bank. They come from a slightly different perspective than Doug's.

My near 10-year stint in Yellowstone National Park as a seasonal employee was divided between the National Park Service and the Yellowstone Institute. While it was a difficult decision to part ways from the drably chic green and grey uniform and Smokey Bear hat of the NPS, the Yellowstone Institute (YI) offered me a degree of freedom and creativity better suited to my temperament. At least that’s what my NPS supervisor implied. As naturalist-guide for YI, I provided instruction for week-long seminars that combined education with recreation. In the summer we hiked, and in the winter we cross-country skied and snowshoed Yellowstone’s backcountry trails and frontcountry “must-sees”. The group size was capped at 12, usually couples, good friends, and a few families. No two groups were ever the same, some bonded more quickly than others, and a few just never clicked. After five days of close traveling, long conversations, wining and dining, there were few secrets.

I attempted to give them a healthy dose of Yellowstone history, geology, wildlife biology, birdwatching, and track and scat identification---not in a classroom but out in the field. I taught as we hiked and skiied, with group members constantly asking questions. At the end of the day, nothing could beat the combination of physical exhaustion from hiking or skiing 10 miles paired with first-hand sightings of backcountry geysers, fish-diving osprey, hunting coyotes, howling wolves, rutting elk, bears ravaging a carcass or marmots sunning themselves. I was always thrilled when someone asked a question I could intelligently answer (score one point on the Evaluation!!).

In the winter we traveled in a special “snowcoach” van adapted with tracks for oversnow traction. During the summer season, I drove a 12-passenger bus with the Yellowstone Association Institute logo. With a headset, I could still do running commentary as we cruised mile after mile through Yellowstone, from Mammoth to Old Faithful to Lake to Canyon. On the fourth day with one particularly great group, we had just completed an early morning hike to Shoshone Lake on the DeLacy Creek Trail. We skipped stones on Shoshone Lake and reflected on our solitude before heading to Old Faithful where we would meet the masses. Enroute to the granddaddy of all geysers, I was jabbering about the stage coach robberies that occurred here in the early 1900’s; and how tiny Isa Lake at the top of the Continental Divide flows ultimately into two oceans (Atlantic & Pacific) backwards----the Continental conundrum. We compared the still-evident effects of the 1988 fires that nearly wiped out Grant Village with untouched areas and discussed how fires grow and move.

Just before the turnoff to Old Faithful a sign was posted indicating a mandatory inspection for all commercial vehicles conducted by Wyoming Highway Patrol. Being the law-abiding citizen that I am, I pulled off, unaware of my impending fate. I was greeted by several familiar NPS law enforcement officers, folks I had known when I worked as an interpretive ranger at Grant. I asked if I could drop my group off at the Visitor Center to watch the eruption and return for the inspection in a few minutes. They agreed and off we went. I checked to see when the next prediction was, and requested my people to retire to the Bear’s Den watering hole after they wandered around a bit and I would rejoin them there as soon as I completed the inspection.

When I returned, I assumed they would be checking for seat belts, emergency flares, spare tires, contraband items, etc. Instead they asked to see the CDL documents for the bus, and I explained that the bus was not required to carry a CDL license because it only carries 12 passengers. This response fell on deaf ears, and they asked to see my CDL license. Whoops, not only did I not have a CDL license, I had also forgotten to bring my lowly regular driver’s license with me that day. One officer told that me I could be slapped a fine but because they know me they will perhaps let that slide. The larger matter, of course, is that the bus (and me) are not CDL.

I was beginning to feel as if I was being incarcerated and I asked if I could call (on my cell phone) my boss in Mammoth. He confirmed that we did not need CDL documentation, the seat belts had been switched over specifically to address this issue, the busses held a maximum of 12 people. It seemed black and white to me and I passed this along to the NPS rangers and patrol officers. No luck. I then tried explaining that I was responsible for these 12 people, we were staying in Grant that night and I needed to transport them there. Could I at least use the bus for that purpose and then turn it in? An emphatic NO! I asked how I was now supposed to get my people to Grant (nearly 20 miles away), and continue my program the next day. The response was a rather curt “I guess that’s your boss’ problem now.” My temper went off the charts. Their arrogance was astounding.

I was resigned to losing my vehicle, and had to figure out how to transport my group back to Grant Village for the evening. Then I could work on how we would travel the next day. I updated my boss and asked him if he could drum up a vehicle.

Several hours passed since I last saw my group when I stormed into the Bear’s Den. They were well-lubricated and not looking at all worried. “You better start catching up with us” one of them yelled and “fill us in on what’s going on”. I told them I couldn’t join yet, but was getting closer. I started phoning people I knew with CDL licenses who might be able to save my day. There was a major event going on in the Park and all extra bus drivers had been pulled in from days off. I had to get 12 people to Grant NOW before they succumbed to alcohol poisoning. We finally hooked up with the regularly scheduled Lower Loop bus tour an hour later and joined 30-some sleepy-eyed park visitors who had no idea what they were getting themselves into. My now wildly-crusading mob started relating the story of the confiscated bus to everyone else on the tour, with nice touches of embellishment, considering they didn’t witness most of the action. Two of my group were U.S. Postal employees, and one of them awarded me her U.S. Postal straw pith helmet. She said if anyone deserved to “go postal”, I did.

Once at Grant, I released my group until morning. I told them that I was not sure what to expect in the way of vehicles, but that we would do our darndest. Actually I think I used other words. I called my boss again, who made significant progress and had an action plan. It’s amazing what a call to the Assistant Superintendent’s office will do. I didn’t get my bus back, but we could borrow the “official” NPS van from the Asst. Super’s office. Super! We would rendezvous at 7:30 pm half way at Canyon for the hand-off.

The next morning, I picked up lunches at the restaurant as usual and pulled into the regular meeting place. I instructed people that we were now riding in the Assistant Superintendent’s vehicle and “milk the hell out of it”. I parked in all the best spots (backing in as required by the NPS) and nobody questioned a thing. I remembered to take my driver’s license. I drove right by the Inspection Station and waved. At the end of the week, I received some pretty rave evaluations.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Trouble with Carcasses

Due to a lack of anything to report about France, I am still mining my days in Resource Management for your amusement. Here’s the next installment.

In Yellowstone National Park a carcass of an animal presents a thorny problem. The goal is to let nature do it’s thing with no intervention, or as little intervention as possible. But that is sometimes at cross purposes with the goal of protecting the visitors and protecting the park and it’s natural features. A carcass in the backcounty is a good thing as it provides food for various species, from grizzlies on down the food chain to bugs and insects. But what if a carcass is in the wrong place?

If a death was natural, chances are Resource Management would have nothing to do with it and probably wouldn’t even know about it. Animals die all the time of natural causes. Nancy and I once came upon a herd of elk chased onto the ice of the Lamar River by a pack of wolves. The ice broke under their weight and they crashed into the water. They could not claw out of the ice and some climbed on the back of their mates trying unsuccessfully to get out of the river, and drowned them in the process. The remaining elk stood in the river, slowly freezing to death. It was too sad to watch so we turned away and drove on down the road. Park management would have done nothing even if there was something they could do. Let the natural order take place. I saw other natural deaths. I watched grizzlies take elk calves, wolves take antelope fawns and watched bison die of old age.

But when it came to deaths that were not natural, or human caused, we generally had to deal with it. Why is that? When an elk is hit by a car it often dies near the road. If we didn’t move the carcass, a bear would be on it in a matter of hours. What’s wrong with that, you say? A bear on a carcass near the road is a nuisance and a safety hazard. People will gather and there are problems associated with people getting too close to the bear (which is bad for the bear and humans), traffic disrupted during the day and there is the risk of the bear being hit on the road at night. But often, the bear found the carcass before we did and in that case we left it where it lay, and dealt with the aftermath until the carcass was consumed. However, any carcass we found near the road or in a developed area we moved it if we could. I moved deer by myself, elk with a winch and a few others and called in backhoes and dump trucks for moose and bison. Yellowstone had a number of "boneyards" where we would haul the carcasses for the bears to finish off. It was the most nerve-wracking place in the park because you knew there was always a grizz nearby.

Occasionally a animal would die naturally in some remote spot, but it would just happen to be in a very inconvenient place, say near a trail or near a campsite. Our options would be to move the carcass or, more likely, close the trail or campsite until the carcass is devoured by bears and/or wolves. A few years ago there was a deer carcass reported near two campsites on the Southeast Arm of Yellowstone Lake. Rather than close the two campsites for a week or more and disrupt people’s camping plans, we moved it. It was fairly easy. We took the RM boat to the campsites, found the dead deer and dragged it to the shore. Then we fastened a rope to the deer and dragged it out into the middle of the Southeast arm and cut it loose. Problem solved. The carcass no longer presented a conflict between bears and visitors. But sometimes its not always that easy.

My first summer in Yellowstone a group of rangers hiked into the Heart Lake cabin to do end of the season maintenance and clean the cabin for the winter. The Heart Lake area is very popular place to day hike and for overnight camping. The Lake is beautiful and it’s only eight miles from the trailhead. The patrol cabin was supplied once each summer by a pack train of mules hauling in propane gas, emergency rations, chainsaw gas and other essentials. On my first trip in over Paycheck pass, the ranger leading us said, "This is where we blew up the mule." Of course, we all looked at John and said, "What?" A couple of years earlier a mule train had been hauling in supplies when a large lodgepole blew down and hit an unlucky mule right across the back. The mule’s spine was broken and the packer had to slit the critter’s throat to put it out of it’s misery. He called the sub-district ranger on the radio, redistributed the load and continued on to Heart Lake cabin.

The trail was set to open in a few days and a rotting mule carcass was sitting in the middle of one of the most popular trails in Yellowstone attracting bears. It was "natural" but it could not be tolerated. Yet, how do you move 1200 pounds mule meat from the trail in a wilderness area? Well, it’s easy. You blow it up.

A charge of plastic explosive was brought in that same day, stuffed into the mules innards and set off. John said he saw a hind leg, spinning hoof over haunch, fly off into the trees. What remained of the mule could be cleaned up by ravens, magpies and coyotes.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Yellowstone Bear Fight

In May of 2003 I was lucky enough to witness a bear fight, something few people ever get to see. Here’s how it happened.

Late in May there can still be quite a little snow on the ground and Yellowstone Lake continues to be frozen over. The amount of snow can vary depending on how much falls in the winter and how warm the spring is. However, the net effect is that bears have just woken up from hibernation and their food source is mostly under ice or under the snow. At that time their two food sources are generally young grasses, roots and forbs that are present in the lower elevation valleys (where the roads are) and winter-kill carcasses. They can’t fish, for there is no cutthroat spawning run at that time under the frozen streams. And contrary to popular belief, bears don’t actually spend a lot of time hunting. They will take a sick elk or moose or bison, and in June when the ungulates (cloven hoofed grazers) drop their calves and fawns, the bears will take as many of those as they can. So in May, it is grazing and carcasses. And that tends to concentrate all the bears in a the relatively small areas of the park where there is no snow.

One morning Kim and I were called to a bear jam at Fishing Bridge Junction. Near the junction there is a meadow that a sow grizzly was grazing on, and her two cubs were right beside her following suit. Quite a crowd had gathered. The early season park visitors had found the bears in a perfect place. The bears were close to the road, easy to see in the meadow, and there was plenty of parking with shoulders on both sides of the road. We didn’t have to do too much work. Early season visitors are pretty savvy and knowledgeable for the most part. Had this happened in August, which it often does, there would have been hundreds of people watching. Some would have left their cars with doors open in the middle of the road, others would have parked partially blocking traffic, and it is likely people would have begun to get too close to the bears.In any case, at this bear jam all we had to do was stand by and talk with the visitors about bears.

After about an hour of this we still had a good crowd, but over the radio came an ominous message. There was another grizzly in the vicinity, a boar, and he was slowly working his way towards where we were. Two rangers were already monitoring his activity, so we waited. It began to appear that the big male grizz would eventually arrive where we were. Would the sow and cubs still be there when he arrived? The reason for our concern was that bears don’t play well together. Instead they try to dominate or kill each other. A bear generally defends his or her territory and will drive, younger, weaker bears out. Only during breeding season will bears tolerate each other. A boar will try to kill any sow’s cubs (even the genetic father of the cubs would try to kill them). The apparent reason is that without cubs the sow will breed earlier and the boar can pass along his genes. So we knew that, were their paths to cross, we would see some excitement. Beyond that we didn’t know what would happen.

The rangers on the other grizz informed us that he was still on schedule to be in our area....soon. We spoke with the crowd and told them another grizz was in the neighborhood. We asked all the visitors to stay close to their cars and to get into their cars the moment we asked them without any argument or questions. No one disagreed, which was rare. Fear occasionally trumps brash stupidity. Just then a large tour bus full of old-timers pulled up. We talked with them and warned them to stay close to the bus. Then came another tour bus full of Japanese tourists, and they began to file off the bus as we tried to get them back on. Only a few of the Japanese spoke any English so I just put my hands on their shoulders and turned them around.

At that moment the boar was reported to be in the trees near the meadow. We quickly got everyone in their cars and busses. The Japanese were very disappointed and had no clue why we had given them the bum’s rush back onto the bus. We remained by the side of the road. Our truck was just across the road but a bear can outrun any human with no trouble at all. We were armed with bear-spray on our belts at all times and now we had it ready, velcro strap loosened. (I might mention that we had ultimate faith in bear spray used properly. We had heard many stories of hunters armed with rifles and pistols getting mauled even after shooting a bear in Wyoming, Montana and Alaska. But no one, to our knowledge had ever been mauled when using bear spray.)

The boar walked out into the meadow a ways. Bears have fairly weak eyesight so he smelled them before he saw them. The boar worked his way ever closer with his nose in the air trying to identify what else was in the meadow. The sow somehow communicated with her cubs to get into the woods, or they saw or smelled the boar and instinctively did the right thing. But the sow stood in the meadow waiting for the boar. The boar, up on two legs sniffed and stared, and suddenly went down on all fours and charged. The fight was on. It wasn’t like two prize-fighters standing and punching each other. More like a joust at first and then a dog fight. They passed each other, turned around, and briefly swatted at each other with their two inch long claws. The boar was much bigger, but the sow had much more to loose and he had not much to gain. They took turns clawing at each other and wrestled on the ground for awhile. Then he chased her into the woods and back into the meadow biting and clawing at her rump the whole time. Then she turned on him and swatted and clawed at him. Only about a minute or two had passed and that seemed like an hour. Eventually she chased him off and a muffled cheer went up from the crowd. He must have decided it was not worth the risk of a mortal wound. After a while she wandered into the trees looking for her cubs.

The Japanese folks filed off the motorcoach and thanked us for the show. They bowed and smiled and took our pictures. I got the distinct impression that many of them thought we had organized the bear fight for their benefit. Like the hourly fake gunfights in Jackson. I halfway expected them to give a tip or offer to buy some tickets for the next show. After they expressed their appreciation, they filed back on the bus and went down the road. We stood around and talked to the other visitors for awhile and they wondered how often this happened. We said, "Probably fairly frequently, but none of us has ever seen anything like this before."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Congratulations, America!

"America...This is your victory!"
...Barack Obama, November 4, 2008

"It's been a long, long time coming,
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will"
(Sam Cooke, 1963)

Oh, yes it can...oh, yes we can...oh, yes we did.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Worst. President. Ever?

There is some disagreement among historians about who will go down in history as the Worst President Ever.
"Was the lousiest James Buchanan, (pictured) who, confronted with Southern secession in 1860, dithered to a degree that, as his most recent biographer has said, probably amounted to disloyalty -- and who handed to his successor, Abraham Lincoln, a nation already torn asunder? Was it Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson, who actively sided with former Confederates and undermined Reconstruction? What about the amiably incompetent Warren G. Harding, whose administration was fabulously corrupt? Or, though he has his defenders, Herbert Hoover, who tried some reforms but remained imprisoned in his own outmoded individualist ethic and collapsed under the weight of the stock-market crash of 1929 and the Depression's onset? The younger historians always put in a word for Richard M. Nixon, the only American president forced to resign from office." Rolling Stone Magazine
Or is it George W. Bush? I now give you an opportunity to vote. Pick your favorite. You don't have to be an American can be a citizen of the world. Vote for your favorite in the comments section. If you vote anonymously, chose a nom de plume to separate yourself from the others.

Mystery Atlas

Nancy brought home a used State Farm Road Atlas the other day from the second-hand store where she works. It’s the kind they give away free in the insurance office. This was an older atlas from 1995 and had that date marked on the front cover in green highlighter. When I opened it up I was intrigued.

It was extensively marked up with pink, green and orange highlighter. When I say extensive, what I mean is that every county in the U.S. was highlighted. That’s 3077 counties. The former owner also highlighted every state’s high point. Granite Peak in Montana, Kings Peak in Utah, Sassafras Mountain in South Carolina, and some unremarkable, un-named spots in places Indiana and Nebraska.
The former owner also marked the roads they had driven in 30 of the 50 states. The former owner, who perhaps had been a truck driver, drove the roads of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho Illinois, Indiana,, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming. Some states he (I’m assuming) had just driven across. But did he drive it both ways or one way? Others, he had driven nearly every road. Utah was well covered, and I guess that would be expected since we found the atlas here. But Oklahoma was the most traveled (see the photo). Why?
I was intrigued by several anomalies. If the guy was a truck driver, he must have gone to Hawaii on vacation and marked those roads as well. Why did he mark the names of the counties of the states he didn’t visit (like New Hampshire)? Why the high points in each state? It also shows a tour through Yellowstone. Was it done on a vacation, or while driving a big rig? There were numerous dead ends, which would be normal for a truck driver. Drop off a load and head back the way he came. But some of the dead ends were weird. Ft. Irwin Military Reservation in California. Wall, S.D. A place called California in Maryland. And 13 dead ends in Utah alone. The dead ends in Utah were in no place where you would expect to drop off a load. They were in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps he took a hike, or picked up a load of livestock at a cattle shipping point in some of those forlorn spots. Or maybe he was on vacation again? Maybe he wasn’t a truck driver at all. Perhaps he was a salesman who had to do lots of traveling. The last question is, did he do all this in 1995 or was this a lifetime of driving? If it was one year, he might have racked up 150,000 to 250,000 miles. Either way, it’s a lot of miles. And a lot of questions.