Monday, June 29, 2009

Bernie Made-off makes off once again

What is ironically painful about this is that Bernie Madoff's retirement will be all-expenses paid - housing, food, clothing, medical care - while many if not most of those whom he robbed of a financially carefree, secure post-working life will suffer immeasurably.
The settlement allows his wife to retain $2.5 million for her dotage. I think I could manage a long, comfortable retirement on that, speaking for myself. Of course, she will be deprived of her husband's company. Since I still don't believe she could possibly have been unaware of what her husband was doing for a living, I'm not sending her condolences any time soon.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Nature Mother

I’ve been thinking for a while now - ever since I learned the conclusion of this story – about how to write about it. Now I’m just going to write. On my first full day in Yellowstone this year (May 28), happily watching a grizzly sow bear and her large cub in the distance in Hayden Valley, I ran into a friend who had been in the park for a while. He said, “There’s an injured moose cow and her new calf over by Trout Lake [at a far end of the park from where we were standing], be sure to look for them when you’re over that way.”

A week later my itinerary finally took me past Trout Lake. There, across from the parking pullout for the trail to the lake, lying in the shade, were a resting cow moose and her tiny, intermittently napping calf. It was clear that no one among the onlookers knew exactly how she had been injured, or when, or even if it was before or after she bore the calf. Those who had seen her wounds said it seemed likely she had been attacked by any one of several possible predators in the area: wolves, a grizzly, possibly even a mountain lion. But from my vantage that day, they looked fine. Mom moose was scruffy, but her kind are in late spring as their winter coats are slowly replaced with sleekness. It wasn’t apparent that she had anything wrong with her. I was delighted that it looked like all might be well, and after taking a few photos from too far away, I continued with my itinerary for the day. I saw them again the next day. Still alive, still looking normal, still attracting a small fleet of photographers and well-wishers.

Then, on my last day in the park (June 5), very early in the morning, I came across two stopped cars, occupants looking to the opposite side of the road from where the mother and baby had been for several days. They had moved uphill and were standing in the beautiful morning light above me about 50 yards. I was thrilled to see them standing for the first time, moving around normally. The cow kept an eye on me as I set up my tripod. The active little calf sniffed and looked and listened and raised its nose to its mother’s face, turned around and explored the brush behind it, then nuzzled again. Then the cow extended her head, revealing deep gashes in her neck and jowl. Through my binoculars they appeared to be granulating, that is, healing from the inside. This was great news, as it meant the chance of infection from an encapsulated wound, unable to drain, was much lower. It crossed my mind that there would not yet be maggots to clean the wound, though, as frost was still a nightly occurrence. I watched a while, until the mother led her infant into the trees. I left them, and Yellowstone, thinking there was every chance the mother would heal and the calf would grow and mature and go on to make calves of its own in a couple of years.

On June 9, the cow’s body was found in the Lamar River. The calf died, doubtless of starvation, a day or two later.

A million thoughts have crossed my mind, competing for space with sadness. When I witness, or learn of, the death of an infant creature in Yellowstone (not just a regular, but a frequent, occurrence) I think of the of all of the wasted biological energy that went into bringing the new being to daylight. I hope at least the carcasses were left where they lay so they could go on to nurture babies of other species: coyotes, eagles, ravens, magpies, bears…

Another side of me thinks, over and over, of that moose infant slowly dying after its mother suddenly morphed from a nurturing, feeding, animated protector to a crumpled lump of dead flesh, bone, and fur.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I couldn't have put it better myself

"Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life."
-Immanuel Kant

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Charismatic Megafauna

Pronghorn antelope (two bucks, one doe, Little America, Yellowstone)
Five mule deer along the Chief Joseph Highway

A cow moose at Cattleman's Bridge, Grand Tetons
A bull moose, Cooke City, MT (just outside of Yellowstone)
A restful elk (a young bull, I believe), Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone
A radiocollared and tagged coyote, Elk Creek, Yellowstone
A bison mother and calf, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone
Like the old days, a herd of bison cows and calves, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone

A bighorn sheep ram, Yellowstone River Picnic pullout, Yellowstone

A bighorn ewe and new lamb, near Calcite Springs Overlook, Yellowstone

All taken between May 27 and June 6, 2009

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bathing Beast

Step 1. Head for the pond
Step 2. Dive in
Step 3. Play!
Step 4. Practice water ballet
Step 5. Head for the far shore
Step 6. Make tracks
Step 7. Shake it offStep 8. Shake shake shake off some more
Voilà! A Clean Bear!

(All this took place June 5, 2009, in a seasonal pond across the road from the Yellowstone River Picnic grounds, Yellowstone National Park; this is a black bear, extremely common in that area.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

As if I didn't already have enough projects

This is completely brilliant. I could easily while away lots more time getting into it, since I like little stuff, photography, digital archives, precise descriptions,E.O Wilson, and everything else about it:
Try it, you might like it! (And if you do, your to-do list is probably doomed.)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Trees and Shrubs of the Rocky Mountain Region

In our neighborhood, for as long as I can remember (which is a while, I’ve lived here more than 40 years), we have had two first-class used book stores. My favorite is Powell’s (of their three Chicago stores, ours is pictured on their Web site). Over the years I’ve sold them plenty of books. May whoever bought them enjoy them in good health!

One of KLK’s and my favorite routines is to have dinner at the Caff√® Florian, across the street, and then to visit Powell’s before they close. He disappears into the rabbit hole of the basement where the science fiction paperbacks live. I head straight for the back corner where the nature volumes and “westernalia” can be found. They always have an oddly wide-ranging offering of bird guides: Birds of Western Africa, Costa Rican Waterfowl, Backyard Birds of Britain, A History of Falconry, Sibley’s Guide to Birds…an ever-changing selection of newer and older books of greater or lesser interest. I’ve also picked up some good resources on Yellowstone and western history there. But just like shopping at Filene’s Basement, it’s always hit-or-miss, making good finds all the sweeter.

Frustrated with the terrible (awful) photos in my Shaw’s Plants of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, last Friday I extended my search to flora to see if someone had given up for sale something more useful to me. I pulled off the shelf a little green volume, “Trees and Shrubs of the Rocky Mountain Region” by Burton O. Longyear. I could see from the spine that it was a hardback but as a little book (just 6¾ x 4 x 1 inch thick) I thought it might make a handy field guide nonetheless. But as soon as I pulled it off the shelf and opened it I could see that it was special. Indeed, though it is in very-nearly perfect condition, it is a 1927 original. How it survived all these years in pristine shape I can’t imagine.

In fact the “One Hundred and Twenty-eight Pen Drawings by the Author” are very nice, maybe even good enough for definitive identification out there in the woods. Also among Trees and Shrubs’ charms are the nine colored plates. There’s no comment in the book about how the colored images were created, that is, by tinting traditional grayscale photographs, or from color film originals (or other options I know little of). They look a little odd, with plenty of green leaves and brown trunks, and very pale, low contrast skies and clouds. Nonetheless, they’re pleasingly vibrant after 82 years (unlike some people I know).

And inside the back cover are the final sweet treats: hand-written is the original price, 1.00. Next to it, Powell’s price, 10.00. According to, one 1927 dollar is worth 12.30 2008 dollars, so it was a bargain then and now. And at the bottom of the page is a modest, pretty little green sticker (in original condition, I might add) that says, in tiny print:

Ruth Silliman ● Carol Truax
Their Book Shop
5 Pikes Peak Avenue
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Nice, too, to know there were women shop owners, and proud of it, back in 1927. Their shop, indeed.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

For Troutbirder

Look familiar? Look inviting? Any wonder I love the Tetons?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Where I've been

Yes, this is really where I was not too many days ago. It is the iconic Mount Moran reflected in the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park. Back in those willows there are moose, doubtless, and that pristine mirror of a river (the exact location is Oxbow Bend) will be rippled every so often by beavers or river otters. And keep an eye overhead as well, so as not to miss the bald eagles, osprey, blue herons and sandhill cranes. If we're lucky, a coyote will trot by, sticking to its busy agenda. In the distance, cow elk are grazing, their young calves completely still, bedded down invisible, hard for a grizzly to find. And right in front of us are the sunny little yellow warblers, too close to focus my lens on.