Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pay Your Share and Be Glad of What You Get


Listen, and HEAR, everything she says. Then, if you doubt the value you get in return for paying your taxes, count what would/will disappear if the government doesn't get the revenue it needs, in addition to the examples Ms. Warren cites: new and maintained interstate and other federal highways and bridges; national parks, national monuments, forests, and historic sites; navigable waterways; promotion of clean air and water; assurance safe and effective therapeutic drugs and devices; monitoring and controlling of infectious disease outbreaks; natural disaster relief; enriched preschool education and provision of school lunches; arbitration of domestic disputes at the highest level, just to name a few things we all enjoy and/or recognize the significance of, and what that will mean to you if tax revenues diminish.
In my direct experience working with the feds, fraud and abuse are rare and taken extremely seriously when documented. While it's true that big government isn't overall as efficient as private enterprise, what private enterprise could conceivably take over all government functions at scale? Even if large chunks of government service are outsourced (some of which have turned out to be disastrous, just refresh your knowledge of the Veterans Choice program!) those contracts will require a large infrastructure to manage.
All things considered, just pay your damn taxes and continue to enjoy the best quality of life to be had anywhere on earth.
Thanks, Ms. Warren!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Close to Home

When last Sunday dawned clear, very tired of rainy day after rainy day confined in front of my work computer, I threw my cameras in the car, nudged the snoring KLK and Teddy the Cat to tell them I'd be back in a few hours (I'm an early riser, KLK is not, and Teddy gets back into bed to snooze away the rest of the morning with KLK after breakfast), and headed up Springhill Road, very close to home on the other side of the interstate and more and more rurally beautiful as it stretches for miles northward along the base of the Bridger Mountains. There's almost no traffic and certainly no competition for roadside photography space. Not far from the bridge over the interstate I spotted a pond full of white pelicans, managed to find a way around to the backside, parked/walked in mud, and got unceasingly screamed at by a red tail. The nest was so far up in an enormous cottonwood, and pretty far back from the road, I never found it, but the red tail's cry is unmistakable (and, alas, routinely dubbed in ad and movie soundtracks depicting eagles), and at one point the bird did take briefly to the air (in case I needed any further convincing not to magically rise up and steal its kids) and wheeled to give me a look at its beautiful tail. I also witnessed the back ends, flags up, of a herd of white-tail deer, surprised a little muskrat in the stream, got a fleeting glimpse at a male ring-necked pheasant (introduced from China, but still spectacular and photogenic, if I can ever find one not running for cover), red winged blackbirds galore, and those annoyingly squeaky killdeer distracting me from (accidentally, of course) trampling their nestlings.  And, no question, my life-time best pelican photo op!
 
The muskrat in his stream, wide from snow melt in the distant mountains
Farther out is a group of fantastic falling-down ranch buildings, silent, just waiting for me to photograph them. From this angle you can just make out in the distance how vast the hay fields are:
 
And other signs of Montana ranch life as it once was: 
Just beyond the dead ranch is the old but living (as it were) Morgan Cemetery, what a beautiful spot to rest in eternity; the light had faded at this point, so what you can't see is the snow-covered line of mountains beyond the horizon:
The next unexpected sighting in the sage was these two female pronghorns (aka antelope, though there is no genetic relationship to the old world antelope family). The one on the left, with a peculiar growth on her side, could be seen from other angles to be heavily gravid:
This is public land, which in Montana means there's hunting in season, so the two wary ladies promptly moved over the rise and out of sight of the threatening camera "eye" making it an extra treat to have seen them even for a few moments.
This female red-winged black bird (which you'd never guess even if very familiar with their mates!) posed for me. I love the way her wiry little toes mimic the barbs yet that she is oblivious to the dangerously sharp wire points.
My last hour on Springhill was spent watching mom and pop workin' this roadside mountain bluebird nest box. By then it had turned windy and chilly, so I was thrilled to be in the "blind" of my car, entirely ignored by the very hardworking and not-so-colorful mom, with a beakful of yummy grubs, and colorful pop, removing a "fecal sac," (in effect, changing diapers):
Nature is unendingly wonderful and restorative.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Take Note, Take Action


All the details of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed rulemaking to delist Yellowstone region grizzly bears are here:  https://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FWS-R6-ES-2016-0042-0001

Look for the blue COMMENT NOW button in the upper right corner, and USE IT before May 10, which I take to mean NO LATER THAN MAY 9. Last count, pro and con comments were about equal in number. If you oppose grizzly delisting in the Yellowstone region, don't miss this chance to make your rationale known. I strongly recommend this means, instead of, or at least in addition to, signing on-line petitions and sending form letters, which carry far less impact.
Delisting grizzly bears is extremely contentious issue, as there is a strong, vocal contingent, mostly those who live in the area who are directly impacted by the outcome of the proposal, that favors delisting. While many are eager to shoot down grizzly bears, for any number of motives, the lives and livelihoods of others are disturbed by the bears that, for example, raid their sheds for the food stored in them, or, occasionally, or worse, habitually, take down a calf or a lamb for an easy meal. Those opposed to delisting include thousands in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and other impacted geographies but also around the world. It is also highly politically charged. And while there were Public Comment forums hosted in Bozeman (north of Yellowstone) and Cody (west of Yellowstone) there was no hearing in Jackson, Wyoming, where Grand Teton National Park, with its spectacular grizzly families (including 399 about whom I’ve often written here) are so prominent.  Additionally, since the fate of grizzly bears either way has enormous impact on these national parks and the vast acres of national forest surrounding them, together comprising the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, it’s stunning to contemplate that Fish and Wildlife has consulted or coordinated the delisting plan with either agency. Nor were the numerous Indian tribes for whom the grizzly is of great spiritual importance involved in the plan.
Those who read this blog regularly already know where I stand.
Below is the essay-comment I submitted (using the blue button) to the US Fish and Wildlife Service on April 26. Out of a lot of possible arguments I chose a tack that's a little different from most others (but that's the way I am, you knew that). In retrospect I wish I'd put the punch line – that the high cost of undoing the deleterious effects of delisting, which I contend will be necessary, needs to be taken into account –at the top as well as at the bottom, since it's the only part that is germane to public policy. 
I strongly oppose removal of grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region from the protections of the Endangered Species Act.  From Europeans’ earliest accounts, grizzlies have been touted as preternaturally robust, nearly indestructible creatures; even retiring US Fish and Wildlife Service bear coordinator Chris Servheen describes them as “…a tough, resilient animal” but, importantly, adds, “that can thrive if given a fair chance.” (mtpr.org/post/usfws-grizzly-bear-recovery-coordinator-retires#stream/0)  As a long-time observer of bears and their circumstances in the Yellowstone region (where I live), I can vouch that the operative phrase is “if given a fair chance,” and that delisting will certainly deny them this key survival factor.  While numbers may have arrived at the point where statistical analysis predicts self-sustaining population levels, in reality, without protection, they will not have that chance.  As their habitat is squeezed and fragmented by human activity and increasingly degraded by climate change at the same time their reproductive success is further compromised by hunting, they will reveal how utterly fragile, vulnerable, and short-lived they in fact are. Climate change is not in our short-term control; protecting  grizzly bears by maintaining their endangered status (and other means such as public education in bear safety and the use of bear dogs to guard livestock) is.
A good grizzly population in the Yellowstone region improves the human condition. Watching bears as they go about their lives is precious opportunity for people of every ilk to be taught lessons of exceptional value. Unlike on TV, personally witnessing a  bear (or wolf, or peregrine falcon, or bob cat) hunting and consuming prey ingrains an understanding and acceptance of the circle of life, which in turn informs the *meaning  of life* for thoughtful people; in fact I would venture that such experiences are among those that make  people thoughtful. From the drama of a grizzly sow taking a newborn elk to feed her cubs comes deeper intellectual and emotional appreciation of the principle that life requires death, but death begets life. Is this a no-brainer?  A friend who taught middle school in inner city Baltimore tells me that her students were genuinely surprised to learn that their favorite hamburger lunch necessitated the death of a cow.  Would that all of these kids could spend a week or two in Yellowstone!
One might respond that hunting, which will be allowed if the bear is delisted, teaches the same things. And I would agree, except when hunting is not motivated by, and does not culminate in, the acquisition of food. Grizzly bears are not hunted for their meat; that of elk and deer is more palatable to most people and considerably less difficult to acquire. Instead the big bears are taken as trophies to be taxidermied into a reminder of the “lesson“ that if a living thing is extraordinary,  beautiful, rare, dangerous and powerful, the way to enjoy it is to take its life away, incidentally also preventing everyone else from appreciating that thing in constructive ways. This ethic is not nearly as good for regional  economies as is the presence of (in this area) millions of tourists, photographers, scientists, teachers and students, merchants, and the many others who relish being in the presence of these extraordinary, living beings and the other awe-inspiring and instructive features of Yellowstone and the Tetons of which bears are an integral part.
Given the environmental and human-related factors working against them, delisting grizzly bears will likely result in rapid  declines of this highly humanistically and economically valuable resource. Additionally, as has been amply documented, ecosystems change when populations of predators such as grizzlies are reduced or removed, generating cascades of unintended, unwanted, consequences. When the polity ultimately recognizes this, how many public and private dollars will be required to undo the damage, if it is still even possible to do so, in the future?
Grizzly bear 399, Grand Teton National Park


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Disappointed


Robert Redford is an admirable man and in many cases we share a love for the same really good stories, among the most notable, Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It. After being approached by several film makers Norman finally signed rights to cinematize ARRTI to Redford. The result, for me, was a mixed, certainly not a total, success. Norman did not live to see it on screen, so we will never know what he would have thought.

In the movie ARRTI Redford was the author's voice, unseen. Even though I knew Norman, and his voice (in the literal as well as literary senses) very well, it wasn't the voiceover that bothered me but rather the over-simplification of character (all of them) throughout the movie. Since it was directed and produced by Redford I have to assume that was because of the decisions he made, based on his understanding of the people Norman wrote about. Redford and I did not share that understanding.

Bill Bryson is another favorite author, albeit of a very different ilk, and his 1998 A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail is among his outstanding books I can best relate to. Last night we watched the movie, with Redford playing Bryson. Note that while Redford didn't direct the movie (Ken Kwapis did), he was the producer. Which resulted in woefully miscasting himself, most glaringly because Bryson was in his  mid-40s when he walked the Appalachian Trail; at least Redford doesn't pretend (except for the hair dye) to be anything other than the nearly 80 year old that he is. This out-of-time re-imagining of  people in Bryson's story substantially alters it, and the movie should have at least acknowledged what it would have meant to do a harrowing, 2,000 mile hike as an out-of-shape octogenarian, as Bryson did so entertainingly as an out-of-shape middle-ager.  And once again actor Redford goes so far overboard to avoid any hint of emotion (fear, longing, joy, fulfillment, love, frustration, to name a few apt possibilities), when the film adventure was over I was left wondering what, if anything, the Bryson character got out of the experience. Nary a blister, apparently.
Not so with Bill Bryson's original telling of it.

Mr. Redford, it's true what they say, discretion is the better part of valor. To get the best result from your investments, next time step aside and let a better actor play the part, and relinquish control to a better director.
One final note: Hollywood has again availed itself of the opportunity to mis-characterize wildlife, the only representatives of which in the entire film (except for one unremarked hawk flying past a hotel lobby window behind the hikers) were two black bears that stood and "growled," like only trained bears with dubbed soundtracks do, when Bryson and his hiking companion emerge from their tents to witness the animals making off with a bag of food. This is an almost dangerous understatement of the true hazards of cavalier human behavior in the wild.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Life, Death, Yellowstone


Very much on my mind is the still-unfolding August 7 incident in Yellowstone National Park  in which a park contractor, Lance Crosby, moving through bear country apparently observing none of the standard precautions, was caught, killed, partly consumed, and his remains cached by a well-known, well-loved female grizzly bear known affectionately as “Blaze.” The moniker refers to a distinctive streak of light-colored of fur from spine to belly just behind her front legs. 

After Crosby’s mutilated body was found, Blaze and her two cubs, still in the vicinity,  were quickly culvert-trapped, and through DNA and other tests, confirmed unequivocally as having been the only bears at the scene of his demise.  With this incontrovertible evidence, Blaze was promptly "humanely removed," i.e., euthanized, per park policy. She will be necropsied, which will include meticulous analysis of the contents of her digestive system, and a detailed forensic report will be made public, when all that can be learned from her body has been.

Her still-young cubs are spending the rest of their lives at the Toledo Zoo. Deprived of a normal life at large in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, with all its attendant hazards and risks to long life and reproductive success, they will instead learn that humans are beneficent sources of a plentiful year-round diet (and they won’t undergo the annual metabolic stress of wintering), and they will be sheltered from predators, medicated as needed, mentally and physically stimulated, and contribute, however unknowingly, to the evolving science of captive wildlife husbandry. And above all, if the zoo does it right, they will serve to educate the public about Ursus arctos horribilis, which recent events amply demonstrate should be a very high priority. Many people have expressed disgust for this solution, but while rehabilitation to the wild – that in this case would mean raising them in captivity and guiding them the best humans can in the art of “being bear” until they are sufficiently mature to be released in early summer 2017 -- was considered, apparently no capable facility has room for them.   

There has been enormous angry outcry about the park’s actions, as Blaze was one of those wild animals that had, over her 20 years, become habituated to the presence of human beings. She was observed and photographed by many, including people I know personally, and was an exceptionally beautiful and charming bear, no question. Every few years she bore a litter of adorable cubs, and demonstrated her prowess as a mother by the high survival rate of her fragile babies. People formed very strong emotional attachments to her as she allowed them insights into her wild life. Whether those insights were always correctly interpreted by those who loved and admired her is something worth questioning, but regardless, a large and vocal contingent believe that she should have been allowed to live.

I do not, but not because I haven’t formed my own attachments to similar bears, like 399 in Grand Teton National Park, but because in reality, other options for a preventing a 20 year old wild bear from repeating this behavior were non-existent. Relocating her with her cubs to an environment far from human habitation – say, the North Woods of Canada – would have been the second best ideal to leaving them free in Yellowstone, but bears are notorious for making their way back to their home territory even from a thousand miles distant. What’s more, inadvertent release in territory already claimed by other grizzlies would have resulted in their deaths. Confining her in a zoo or sanctuary would have been a cruel prison sentence indeed, and possibly extraordinarily risky for those charged with her care. 

The rationale (among some if not many) for destroying a bear that has fed on a person because it develops a “taste” for human flesh, can never be documented.  But what IS undoubtedly the case is that by attacking this person – whether it was a predatory attack or defensive response to a perceived threat to her cubs – Blaze learned something that she could not have known previously: hunting humans is safe and easy. Humans can’t flee and so don’t require fat-depleting bursts of energy, and they are weak fighters that can be subdued almost instantly without negative consequence (at least in a national park, where people don’t pack anything more deadly that bear spray, and Crosby wasn’t even carrying that). And humans, including the plenitude of vulnerable ones unprepared and off-trail as Crosby was, are everywhere in her territory. While probably not as full of protein and fat compared, say, to the carcass of a bulk elk or bison, an adult human could provide enough food for Blaze and two cubs to sustain more than one nutritionally valuable feeding. In other words, the payoff for a very low-risk, very small investment of energy, is large. This is the only calculation a wild bear makes.  This is the most important insight Blaze could ever offer.  

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Montana Spring: Wildflowers

Suddenly around the whole neighborhood - in fact, all over town - are the indubitable signs of spring: the ground is no longer frozen (though most mornings there are signs on surfaces, like lawns and roofs, that the temperature dipped below 32° Fahrenheit before dawn), the days are definitely longer, the sun more intense. Trees have buds, and most lawns (except ours, see photo below, but that's another story) are greening up nicely! And best of all, wildflowers are popping up everywhere!

So how about these wildflowers? Here's a shot of our side yard, sprouting yellow, red, and orange:
In the front of the house we found this single big blue bloom:
Here's a nice natural bouquet arrangement of Stay greenia I found in a park while on my post-workday constitutional last week:
They're so colorful, and almost ubiquitous, at least in our development in which there is a great deal of construction and public land improvement underway (these early bloomers tend to thrive in disturbed soil), and everywhere else around town where there is excavation for, say, the burial of utilities:
I liked them so much that I was willing to deprive my neighbors the sight of these lovely signs of spring, and plucked those in our own yard (once the cable company had finished burying our fiber optic cable, which they could not do last fall when we signed up for service because the ground was already hard-frozen; the cable spent the winter successfully on top of the ground, but grass-mowing season is almost upon us), and put them in a vase where we can enjoy them night and day. Aren't they charming and cheerful!
The the red, yellow and orange ones especially nicely set off the sole blue one (scientific name Bozemania  water departmentia).

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Teddy's brush with...

Last fall we launched a long-anticipated move from a safe, small but well-appointed high-rise condo in Chicago to a new two-story house in Bozeman, Montana. It's taking us a while to settle in (i.e., to get it "well appointed"), like the book cases that should be delivered very soon so my tomes can finally be unboxed, displayed and accessed...in other words, we're getting there...
Relocation has been the experience of a lifetime for our cat Teddy too. While he thoroughly enjoyed the play opportunities the packing materials provided back in Chicago, like most house cats, he's at heart a homebody, content in his element, with no particular urge for adventure beyond the front door. The cross-country drive required long days and three overnight stays along I-90 (a remarkably straight shot from the suburbs of Chicago to the exit to our Bozeman house). All of those days Teddy was confined to his carrier next to me in the car (with KLK following in the U-Haul truck). After about 15 initial minutes of registering his unhappiness each morning, Teddy would lapse into a cat snooze, with only occasional pleading looks and sad little cat comments through bars before repositioning himself for the next long nap.

At last we opened that carrier door one final time, and Teddy began the adjustment to his comparatively vast new home, with its big windows and cat-width sills from which to watch the magpies and robins, and more rooms than he'd ever seen before to be thoroughly evaluated for cat suitability. Of course, it took him no time to remember where his litter box was and where to expect his meals to be served, and every night we were there for him to join us in warm, safe sleep as we had always had been.
But what was most interesting was watching him figure out exactly how the two-story design, which he'd never encountered before, worked. The living room is double-high with a balcony overlook from the second floor. We would call to Teddy from the balcony and he would gaze up, puzzled as to what we were doing 15 feet above him -- likewise, when we were on the first floor he would poke his head between the rails, considering how this new geographic arrangement actually worked. Suddenly, after a couple of days, the light went on: he figured out that if he ran up or down the stairs he could be on the level with us again. 
He enjoyed the balcony in other ways as well. Domestic cats have never really lost their arboreal habits, and Teddy found the railing to be a more fun route to transit the landing than the floor. This concerned us, but we knew there was no way short of stringing barbed wire along the top to prevent him from his tightrope fun.

Then, two days before Christmas, with me busy in my second floor study and KLK likewise in his, it happened. All I knew was the sudden loud thud could have been caused by nothing other than Teddy pitching over the railing to the floor below. KLK's peripheral vision caught the fleeting motion of the cat's abrupt disappearance and he shouted "Teddy fell!!" We ran down the stairs that Teddy had so recently mastered and found him to be in one piece at the bottom, but very distressed. He ran behind the couch but allowed us to approach. Thank God, and miraculously, there seemed to be no damage. He was not limping, nothing swelled, no blood oozed, and he admitted no sign of pain, other than to his ego. He eventually made his way to our bed where he tried to recover his dignity, interrupted though he was by one or the other of us asking him, at no greater intervals than 15 minutes throughout that first day, if he was okay. Very concerned, but even more reluctant to add to his psychological trauma by sticking him back into the carrier, we called the vet and she agreed that if his pupils weren't dilating and he was eating (which he was, as always) and doing his thing in the litter box, there was no need to add to his stress by bringing him in. By Christmas the three of us were more or less back to normal. And to our great relief, Teddy has stayed off the railing ever since.

Flash forward about three months when I happened to get a rare look into his mouth mid-yawn.
Although a cat's mouth is private territory (at least according to Teddy), I clearly saw that the left front fang was about half the length it used to be (2010 photo). We think this must have happened when he fell, but he never let on that he was suffering. We squeezed him back into the carrier and took  him to the lovely Dr. Rosenthal at Foothills Veterinary Clinic. The doc informed us that the canine tooth was broken to the point where the sensitive inner pulp was exposed. The only cure for the doubtless tender fang was extraction.

This was accomplished yesterday. Teddy was a growling, hissing, dribbling, angry mass of misery when we picked him up post oral surgery. He was still reeling from the effects of anesthesia, including local novocaine that made him drool enormously,  and also had on board a long-acting pain medication (how great that we don't have grab his sore upper jaw to shove pain pills down him!) and a long-acting antibiotic (ditto!) with sparkling clean teeth and a stitch or two where the offending tooth used to be.

Like the garage that gives you the nail that caused your tire to go flat, Foothills presented me with the offending tooth. It's quite remarkable how enormous the root is compared to the pointy part (which albeit should be a longer than the remains of Teddy's). Of course a predator has to have well-anchored canines, which are used for capturing, securing, and tearing apart prey. But given the corresponding hole left behind, it's a wonder Teddy isn't in more distress today, even after a night's sleep and a couple of meals of soft canned food.
Last night and this morning Teddy's behavior was odd. His pupils were dilated from the drugs still in his blood stream, but he was exceptionally affectionate and interested in being held tight while he purred loudly. Purring sometimes indicates distress but he certainly seemed to want to be warm in our arms. He's always been one to flop over flirtatiously when we coo to him, but was doing it nearly constantly as if trying to rub off the smells of the hospital, until just a few hours ago. Now his energy is back, his eyes are normal, dinner went down the hatch in just a few minutes, and if he's in pain, he's not admitting it. He's young and will heal fast. Life will be better without that tender tooth, even if he never admits it was a problem in the first place.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy St. Valetine's Day 2015

Please accept this red rose from Jake, citizen of Montana Grizzly Encounter, Bozeman, Montana, as a token of his happiness and love of life in celebration of St. Valentine's Day.

MGE is a wonderful sanctuary for grizzlies that cannot be released to the wild. If you're ever in the mood to be entertained by happy bears out of their behind-the-scenes "dens" for fresh air and exercise, MGE is THE place.
Jake loves his sister Maggi especially.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Bozeman recycles

My faith in the value (to the environment, to the economy) of recycling  goes back a long, long way. My faith that the material that goes into the recycling bin ends up being recycled has never been strong, and less strong than that, that enough people recycle properly to make much of a difference. In the late 1980s I pushed for the availability of little blue waste-baskets at every desk at the huge academic medical center where I worked. Eventually, everyone did get a blue receptacle for the massive volume of papers we produced, back in the early days when desktop computers were touted as the solution to the over-use of paper, which were also the days when so much went awry with printed materials - such as the times miles of wide, continuous paper jammed on its roll through the dot-matrix printer, requiring a re-run, or two, to produce usable output. However, the blue bins with the universal "recycle" icon were (and still invariably are) distributed in the absence of any education or guidance, so even a sincere user has little idea what materials should be deposited within. The most casual observations will show that half the paper ends up in the regular basket and half the non-recyclable materials used in everyday business (including the user's lunch leavings) end up in the recycling basket. And that's before the housekeeping service picks up the baskets and dumps the contents of both into the same large plastic bag for disposal.

Years ago in Chicago I also instigated my 75-unit condominium's participation in recycling, but only by proving that the cost of  newspaper, glass, steel, and aluminum pick-up would off-set the cost of having it collected as garbage. For many years now I, and most of my neighbors, have dutifully deposited newspapers, cans, and bottles into the large signal-blue bins in the condo's garage. Those bins were picked up by the Hyde Park Resource Center, the original, and at the beginning, the only option in our 'hood; HPRC was run by devotees and there was no doubt the materials ended up where they were supposed to: in new newspapers, airplane bodies, and pickle jars. Eventually, one of the local grocery stores started accepting milk jugs and other plastic. So I do have a small, short history of hauling recycling. I like to think some of those milk jugs I dropped off are now incorporated into the newer boardwalks around Yellowstone's geyser basins. I can only hope it is so.

When we moved to our house in Montana this fall we deliberated on lots of things including whether to pay the trash pick-up service to take our recycling along with the food debris (not set up yet for mulching) and litter box leavings and materials that cannot be recycled (aka, garbage). We decided instead to start by taking our recycling to one of many locations in Bozeman, most located in out-of-the-way corners of the massive parking lots of retailers such as Home Depot and Target (extra kudos for Target, the only place in town that takes glass) and coincidentally, very close to where we live thus necessitating only the tiniest of diversions from routes we follow anyway. In particular we have been producing truckloads of cardboard between the gradually emptying moving cartons and the containers our many new purchases (oh, how much stuff a new house needs!) arrive in.

Given this opportunity the two of us have been very vigilant about our "post-consumer waste" as it's termed, much more so than we were in Chicago. KLK in particular is a huge consumer of canned soda, and I like my beer in bottles, but we also go through so many other items and have inspected even berry and tomato cartons for the distinctive icons of recyclable plastic, which, it turns out, are usually there.

Two big surprises have come from this new lifestyle of ours: 1. We don't live as light as we thought. Every day we are between the two of us capable of generating a mountain of material that would contribute a larger share than we imagined were it going to garbage, and 2. Bozemanians are very dedicated to recycling. Although I've known about and followed life in Bozeman for as many years as I've been hoping to move here, given that this is a politically conservative region, where the cause of climate change is not universally believed to be attributable to man's profligate behaviors and people drive pick-ups, not Priuses, I have been extremely pleased to witness how many residents are responsibly splitting the recyclables from their waste and exerting the mental, physical, and fossil-fuel energy to get it to a place where it will be correctly destined. The many large receptacles at each location - these photos show only a few of the bins behind Home Depot - and that they are often filled to capacity when we stop by in spite of being regularly emptied - make me doubly glad we live here among so many kindred spirits.
 
Here's a sampling of our daily interior leavings; the bigger cardboard, and plenty of it, is out in the garage waiting to be flattened for Home Depot's waiting bins.
 
(All photos taken with my Samsung S5 phone, for convenience and incredible sharpness and ability  to excellently expose photos in less-than-optimal lighting conditions.)

Friday, November 28, 2014

It's been a while...

This latest hiatus in Amusing Musings is explained by our total relocation from Chicago to Bozeman, Montana last month. But the title of this post, "it's been a while," also refers to one of my earliest Musings, Winter in Yellowstone, at last, in February of 2007, in which I explained my impatient goal to live close to Yellowstone National Park (Bozeman chosen from a number of options for mostly practical reasons, to be shared in a later post). Only seven long years later, picking up one's life and loves and things of more than 45 years and reinstalling them all in a newly built house is disorienting, exhausting, and frighteningly expensive. I'm not big on chaos (and folding one's tent and erecting it again 1,450 miles away is nothing less), but slowly everything is fitting into its new place, and in the last couple of weeks there have been occasional moments to relax and enjoy. Because I am still working for my Chicago employer (from my computer and phone) while the unpacking and organizing and acquisition of new-house-things like a washer and dryer and window covers are going on, the long Thanksgiving weekend is exactly what I needed to regroup mentally. Here are a few images of our new life to share:
Typical of Montana, we got a big November snow a few days ago. Also typical of Montana, the Polar Vortex that brought us 6 or 7 inches warmed up precipitously, creating this physics-law-breaking cantilevered iceberg glacially sliding off the roof of KLK's "man cave" that I can watch from my computer desk. The pendulous thing was longer than a foot before it started to curve downwards, still gripping the remaining snowpack on the roof through some very strong hydrostatic process. We watched it enlarge and elongate all day Wednesday. At 5 A.M. on Thanksgiving morning it gave way, thunderously thudding on the first floor roof below. 
The warm temperatures and sunlight and peaked rooflines caused many more avalanches and created a thigh-high berm of snow around the sides of the house. KLK took advantage of the relative warmth to remove a little slippery stuff by the front porch. Shoveling snow is his new workout. 
Teddy the tabby took a while to figure out his big new house, but now he's bravely giving me regular heart attacks by tight-roping along the second floor railing...the drop to the living room floor on the far side is about 20 feet. Note beyond our window a Tyvek-wrapped structure. This was green space when we bought it in June, though we understood it would soon be developed. More about the phenomenal number of mushrooms housing starts in what was until very recently open agricultural land in a later post.
Thanksgiving day was so peaceful in our neighborhood (in spite of being a couple of blocks from a middle school, the 'hood is almost always quiet) and the day so unexpectedly mild, we went out to explore on foot. In spite of the huge number of older, and newer, and being-constructed homes, green space has been spared here and there throughout. This park with its still pond and backdrop of the Bridger Mountains, is particularly appealing. Nothing quite like mountain light. Just what I wanted!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Heard today

On the car radio while running errands this afternoon:

WBBM news radio, an ad for an orthopedic practice, rated highly by "U.S. Snooze and World Report."

WBEZ, Chicago's (usually flawless) public radio station:  a reference to Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner's "indiscrepancies" - uttered, alas, by the reporter.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Objects 3. Cerámica San Isidro Moorish plates


In 1963-64 (8th grade for me) my mother spent the year teaching teachers of English in Madrid, with me in tow. As I've remarked before, one of the things I most enjoyed about that year abroad was the exoticism of the shopping opportunities. In those days, foreign wares were not so readily available in the United States, and, at the age of 13, I found the European traditional and contemporary objects to be wonderfully new and appealing.
In Spain the specialties were strongly regional; a well-known example is Toledo steel, made into jewelry and knives for the consumption of tourists and serious collectors alike. Spain is also known for its regional ceramics and pottery styles, sometimes realized as decorative objects, famously lovely tiles, or colorful usable objects such as table ware.
Another of my most valued memories from that year is our visits to the many historic meccas around the country, among the most enjoyable to the town of Granada, site of The Alhambra. Spain was once a colony of the Muslim world; the North African Arabs and Berbers who occupied much of the Iberian peninsula are referred to as Moors. Moorish culture dominated the Andalusian region from 711 until 1492, and left its aesthetic and cultural marks in many ways. Granada's Alhambra, the massive and stunningly beautiful fortress-palace left by the Moors, is an overwhelming do-not miss should you find yourself in Spain. Although this photo of my mother taken there (doubtless by me, already in those days a camera-toter) is badly faded it is possible still to make out the incredible lively and romantic architecture and decorative style. Many of the fine details are in fact the written word from the Koran. It's truly extraordinary
Modern takes on this decorative and symbolic tradition are used in the locally produced ceramic wares, known as the "Andalusian" style. On that visit we bought a set of eight plates of varying designs made by Granada's Cerámica San Isidro that take great advantage of the local symbology. Granada means pomegranate, and the fruit's image is everywhere, as in the middle of this San Isidro plate.What is most interesting about this design (and the starred plate above) is that the star is six-sided, like the Jewish Star of David. The Muslim star is five-sided. Intentional or not, I'll never know.  
It's hard to photograph pleasingly embossed texture of these 8.5-inch plates, but the designs come through well.
And here are the plates in a celebratory bon voyage slumber party for my classmates heading out for a school-sponsored trek to England, June, 1967.
I don't use them to serve food anymore -- who knows how much lead is in the glaze? But they're quite nice arrayed in a small group on my living room wall, and allow me to reminisce about that wonderful long-ago year in Spain.