Sunday, May 31, 2009

Quiz Night at the Bar

We moseyed over to the bar on Friday night, still deep in the throes of jet lag and found "Quiz Night" taking place. The idea is to foster Leranian Anglo-French relations by holding a dinner at which a series of questions are posed. Teams of four sat at their tables and most of them seemed to have some sort of libation in hand. The questions are asked in French and English, alternately. The questions themselves were from the six categories that you can see here on the scoresheet that was tacked onto a tree at the bar a day later. And finally, the questions were on neutral subjects. For instance, there were no questions on cricket to stump the French, and no questions about guilliotines to stump the English, Australians or Canadians. You get the idea.

In my pictures you can see the Master of Ceremonies, Marek, patiently instructing a participant on the rules. You can see Roz, Ian, David and John thinking very hard. You can almost smell the smoke. The fourth place team, composed of the Aussies and Cannucks, are laughing riotously at a witticism

We were too beat to compete, but we did try to help on the Geography section by looking at the flags and trying to name the countries. As it turned out, Marek was feindishly clever and displayed the flags in alphabetical order. Austria was not among them but almost every team wrote it down. Afghanistan, Andorra, Albania and American Samoa were there, I think. The Ariege flag was there and almost no one got that one. It was a tough quiz, folks.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Tale of the Purloined Purse

We had a long flight, a long layover in Frankfurt, another flight, this one rather short and a 60 mile drive from Toulouse, but we were home in Leran. Fergus survived his ordeal and sailed thorugh customs. We'd picked up Old Smokey and Nancy had parked it outside the house, unlocked as is her custom. All that remained was to drink some wine to take the edge off the wierd, wired feeling you get from airplane travel, and some sleep.

We got up the next morning and Nancy couldn't find her purse as we were heading out to pay Monsieur Nelkin for the house and car insurance and to get some groceries. A complete search of the house turned up nothing. We searched all three floors again to no avail. We concluded that the purse had spent at least half the night in Old Smokey, and about half the night with some Leran teenager. The purse had about 132 American Dollars and a bunch of credit cards in it.

Nancy cancelled the credit cards, etc. Took all the precautions, no harm done. We went to the bar to use the internet and found no one had wiped us out yet. So far so good. $132 was not that insurmountabe of a loss.

This morning as I was unpacking our gear, I found the purse. It had been under a pile of baggage and and clothes on the floor of our bedroom. Voila. The mystery had been solved.

Our apologies to the teenagers of Leran who suffered a day of our silent curses.

Friday, May 22, 2009

This Week Moab, Next Week Leran

We heard from our friends Didi and Ursula in Livingston, Montana last night. Julian and Gwenda had arrived there after touring Yellowstone. We didn’t get a full blow-by-blow description of their adventures but we expect to see a bunch of pictures when we arrive in Leran next week. Julian and Gwenda arrive back in Leran a few days before we do.

By the way, Julian had to ask the t-shirt vendor to insert an apostrophe in the message. We're not too concerned with using the Queen's English here in Moab.

We really enjoyed their visit here in Moab. It was, as Gwenda said..."strange to see you here, a half a world away, instead of in Leran". Julian and I toured the Fiery Furnace. Nancy and Gwenda went to the little outdoor farmer’s market in Swanny Park, where a handful of vendors from all around the Four Corners area bring their items for sale. It’s probably very exciting, unless you’ve been to someplace like Pike Place Market in Seattle or the Mirepoix Monday morning market. I’m sure Gwenda was not impressed because she has been to the Mirepoix market, but she bought some delicious sweet cakes for Julian and I to eat after our hike. And they insisted on taking us to dinner a couple of times. We had Thai food one night and buffalo burgers a few nights later.

We did some driving the next day and I’m sure the distances and the emptiness of the Utah desert was shocking to our visitors. We went to the Needles Overlook which has a view like no place else in the world. I heard Julian say that the view was worth the price of the airline ticket all by itself. Because we were fairly close, we went to Newspaper Rock, a hunk of sandstone that has Indian petroglyphs all over it. As the sign says, we don’t really have a clue what they mean. But they are fascinating to contemplate. These petroglyphs are not so old but they do show horses, pelts, bowmen, animal tracks and other symbols that are incomprehensible. As is customary, some asshole had to go and put his mark on the place with a few bullet holes in inconvenient places. Such ignorance astounds me. And to think that idiots will now be able to carry loaded guns in the National Parks. Astounding.

My sister, brother-in-law and niece arrive today for a visit. It will be wonderful to see them, and we always enjoy their visits to Moab. And then we leave for France. Our next post may be from Leran.

Remember kids, click on 'em to enlarge 'em.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It Doesn't Get Any Crazier Than This

The United States Senate passed a bill about credit card reform. Senator Coburn from Oklahoma attached a rider that would allow people to carry loaded firearms in the National Parks. Here's a quote from the Daily Kos.

“Park wildlife, including some rare or endangered species, will face increased threats by visitors with firearms who engage in impulse or opportunistic shooting,” said Mr. McElveen.

“One of our members reported to me that in Yellowstone National Park, rangers found an 11-year-old kid on the side of the road illegally shooting at squirrels with his dad. When confronted, his dad said, 'I always carry a loaded pistol, and these are just squirrels.' If he had not been carrying a readily-accessible, loaded firearm, I don’t think this incident would have happened,” he added.

“The presence of a loaded weapon is one of the only clues available for rangers to discover and prosecute those who illegally kill wildlife,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “Allowing loaded weapons in national parks will put wildlife—and possibly park visitors—in the crosshairs, as well as create even more law enforcement challenges for already overtaxed park rangers.”

Americans, write your representatives.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Duex Lerandonneurs dans la "Fiery Furnace"

Julian and Gwenda made it safely to Moab yesterday, and today, Julian and I went though the Fiery Furnace. Julian and I weren't the oldest hikers, nor were we the youngest. But Julian easily came the farthest to do the hike. I probably came the shortest distance. In any case, we both made it out alive. There were some tight spots, as you can see in the last photo. Julian took a picture of me as I was negotiating a narrow spot. This was one of the more difficult spots on the walk. There were spots that required a little climbing, some jumping and scrambling. As Nancy said a few posts ago, it would have been much easier ten years ago and ten years from now I'm sure I won't be able to do it. I took the first two shots and Julian took the last three....and click on em' to enlarge em' kids.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

"Pitchers" from Julian

Dear Doug and Nancy

It is encouraging to think that Gwenda and I will see you and Fergus in your natural habitat in Moab in less than a week. Mexican swine 'flu will not keep us away, no Sir.

Meanwhile we have enjoyed some wonderful summer weather in Léran. The walking group, the Lérandonneurs, went to Chalabre for a delightful climb to the north of the town. The views from about 600 meters up were great but my pitchers will give you only the smallest idea of what we enjoyed. It is small stuff compared with Yellowstone but, for us, it is paradise.

We had a lunch back in the town at the Café du Sport. Afterwards on our way back to our transport I spotted the little shrine to Fergus's friend.

Woof woof until Friday 15th May 2009.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Bust a Biker, Save a Bear

A couple of times while I worked in Yellowstone I had encounters with people bicycling on the trails. The first time was my first season in the park. Another ranger and I stumbled across a group of four young guys riding in the Bechler area. He was a law enforcement ranger who had made the horseback journey from the South Entrance to Bechler more than a few times. I was along as an afterthought, a sidekick, insurance against some accident that might befall my leader, Dave.

I rode Jackpot, Dave rode Harvey and we led one pack horse with our gear. It was a two day journey over to the Bechler Ranger Station and two days back. We set out in the last part of October. Nights were cold but the days warmed up nicely and the scenery was spectacular with the turning leaves. Our purpose was boundary patrol. Elk poachers were known to operate on the south boundary; they would cross into the park, shoot unsuspecting trophy elk and transport them back into the National Forest. The Park Service actually knew who the poachers were and where they lived in Idaho Falls, but they had to catch them in action. Mere suspicions don’t play out too well in front of the magistrate.

So there we were, two rangers, one armed with his service pistol, riding the boundary looking for a bunch of renegade hunters. We also looked for clues to their presence, like some gut piles, or drag marks, or illegal salt licks or camps, or hearing gunshots or seeing a group of ravens feasting on remains. At times we followed the South boundary, and at times we bushwhacked through the forest or across beautiful meadows.

We camped out in a "backcountry cabin", that without exaggeration, was the size of a small tent. You could sit on the cot and cook dinner on the camp stove. At the end of the second day we forded the Bechler River and put our horses in the corral at the Bechler Ranger Station. Ann-Marie, the Bechler district ranger made a fabulous meal, and we drank some wine and beer and went to the bunkhouse to sleep.

We headed out in the morning, fording the Bechler River again, and headed back towards the South Entrance. We stopped for lunch beside the trail to Union Falls about two or three miles from the boundary. We were sitting on a downed tree near the trail, eating our sandwiches, drinking our Kool-Aid, when a mountain biker silently rode by. We were all equally surprised.

Why no mountain biking in Yellowstone? The answer is BEARS. It is highly possible while biking on the trails that you would surprise a bear just the way the biker surprised us having lunch. The difference is, a bear when surprised can be unpredictable. You can’t outrun a bear, even on a bike. Not on flat ground and not going uphill. Maybe riding downhill. Maybe. If a bear’s response to a fleeing biker is to give chase, and the bear catches the biker and kills or mauls him, what happens? The bear has to be removed from the ecosystem for fear that this bear has learned a really bad habit. How do you remove a bear from the ecosystem? You kill him or trap him and move him somewhere more remote than Yellowstone. But those habitats are already occupied by bears and it usually doesn’t work out. The net result is generally a dead bear. And the second reason is the damage to the frequently wet and muddy trails in Yellowstone. But in any case, mountain biking on Yellowstone trails is illegal.

Dave stopped the biker and began talking with him. Soon, three others rode up and Dave asked me to stay with them and keep them from exchanging information. He talked to each separately. I was Watson and he was Holmes. It turned out that they each gave conflicting and contradictory evidence. One said they didn’t know they were in the park. Another said they all knew they were in the park, but didn’t know bikes were illegal; they hadn’t seen anything stating it was illegal. Another said they knew they were in the park, knew it was illegal, had seen the signs, they just didn’t think they would encounter rangers. The last guy said kids from his college in Rexburg, Idaho, did it all the time. Dave gave the two biggest liars $30 citations and let the two more honest guys off the hook. Dave turned them around and asked them to walk their bikes to the boundary. I’m sure they walked their bikes no more than 50 yards.

We never saw any sign of poachers but we felt pretty good knowing we’d busted the ringleaders of this criminal bicycle activity and they would spread the word back at their school.

About eight years later I was walking into Heart Lake with my crew of weed killers and saw bicycle tracks on the trail. We got pretty excited about busting these wanton lawbreakers and radioed Grant Patrol to alert them of the possibility of citing these miscreants when they got back out to the trailhead. We followed the tracks right to the Heart Lake cabin and we were expecting to see them at any moment. We’d reported our progress on the radio and we were ready to make a bust. My crew was excited to be a part of this fabulous law enforcement roundup of illegal bikers. Just as we arrived at the cabin we got word that two other rangers had brought in a new kayak and canoe by pulling them on attached bicycle wheels. Needless to say, we were devastated.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Toys for Tots

I stopped at the Alco the other day, Moab’s version of a big-box store, to pick up cleaning supplies for our nightly guest rental. A couple was in line ahead of me, their young daughter sitting in the grocery cart, squirming with impatience. She was probably 3 or 4 years old. She grew increasing agitated when they pulled one item from her grip so that the checker could scan the price. I didn’t pay too much attention until the father asked the checker if she could cut the packaging open so he could let his daughter have the item back. The empty package lay on the counter, and the blazing letters lured me in:

“Realistic Sounds! Moving Hammer! Turning Cylinder!"
"Try Me! Try Me! Try Me!”
And in the teeniest of letters: “Not for children under 3 years old”.
The little girl cooed as she pulled the trigger and waved the pistol around. The mother giggled and commented about the sounds it made. I couldn’t help but notice how the flaming orange tip seemed to light up.

After I completed my purchase and headed out to the parking lot, I saw the family again. The parents were loading up their purchases into the minivan. The girl was still in the grocery cart, pointing the gun across the parking lot, directly at me. KER-POW!!! KA-BOOM!!!

French Speakers Here and There

When Nancy and I were on our bicycle journey in 1987 we rode north across Belgium. One day we crossed some invisible line. The landscape abruptly changed from the French l'aissez-faire to the incredible tidiness of the Netherlands. We weren't aware we were crossing a border, and we weren't, at least not a well defined international border. But we had crossed the border between the Flemish and the Walloons. There were no signs or customs stations, but we were aware we had crossed a cultural border of some significance. And here is a map that shows the regions as defined by heritage and language, which I had never seen before. We rode from the town of Mons on the French border, where we got off the train from Paris, south and east of Charleroi, and then almost due north to Holland. On this map you barely notice that the country of Luxembourg is included as if it were part of Belgium. And I didn't know Brussels is a "statutorily bilingual area". What a concept.

Here are maps showing French heritage and French speakers in les Etat Unis. No surprise that the heavy concentrations of both are in French Louisiana and near Quebec. I would not have suspected that French heritage is so evenly spread across the U.S. other than the aforementioned areas. What is puzzling to me is the small concentration of French speakers in Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota and Alaska. What the map below doesn't say is whether they are native French speakers from abroad, or it is their second, learned language? Any ideas?
These maps should enlarge if you click on them.