Thursday, July 16, 2015

Please go to for new blog posts

New posts will be done on my new website. This site will remain for a while and will be reachable by navigating back from Thanks and sorry for any inconvenience.

Monday, July 6, 2015

How Old Are You Anyway?

Blog #34
How Old?
Terran and Russell 2013

On Wednesday I will spend my seventy seventh birthday at the Mariners vs Tigers game in Seattle. While working on the current project, a memoir of the eight years I served in the National Park Service, I've spent a lot of time looking back. There is a lot of nastiness going on in the world today and there certainly was during the year of my birth.

In 1938, Neville Chamberlain went to Munich and gave the Germans permission to invade Czechoslovakia. He came home to England declaring, "Peace in Our Time." German thugs and a willing population committed the, "Night of Broken Glass," during which they trashed the businesses and places of worship of Jews throughout their country. Ten thousand Jewish children were evacuated to England. The lead up to the second world war was in full swing in Europe, and in the Asian areas where Japan was invading and expanding its empire. All of this led to my father, his father and his brothers and sister participating in World War Two..

I decided to try something. What about someone who was seventy seven when I was born? What was going on in the year they were born? So I went back to look at 1861. Southern states seceded, Fort Sumter was taken, and hundreds of thousands of men signed up to go to battle over slavery. Some say the Civil War was fought over economic issues not slavery. O.K. but the cash value of slaves in the south was the biggest economic component of our national economy. The flesh of human beings was used as collateral, mortgaged, insured and brokered in markets throughout the south. The economics, for which we sacrificed somewhere around three quarters of a million of our citizens in the Civil War, was the economics of black flesh owned, broken, raped and ground down into a huge machine to produce cotton. 

This exercise got interesting. I did a leap backwards again to 1784. The United States Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris, ending the Revolutionary War. King Carlos of Spain authorized the issuance of land grants in what is now California and Russia established an outpost in Kodiak, Alaska. During that same year Kamehameha began his war of conquest which led to the founding of the Kingdom of Hawai'i. During my life I have lived in Washington D.C, California, Alaska and Hawai'i.

Three seventy seven year old people span the history of the United States. War today! War yesterday! War seems to be the common denominator in all three of these life-spans. . The question that comes from this sequence is natural. Terran Russell Cahill just turned two. If he lives to seventy seven what will he have lived through?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

I Rant - Again

Blog #33

The Cons That Waste our Time

Lets's say I live to be 100. I know, it probably isn't in the cards but let's just say. That means I'm more than 3/4 of the way there. And the time is starting to accelerate toward the finish line. So time is valuable. Now if I want to waste that time watching cat videos on Facebook, that's my choice. I've gotten pretty good at scrolling past Donald Trump's face lately.

But here's the deal: I don't want anyone else ,wasting my time. I own it. You don't get to use it unless I choose to let you. So when I get an official looking piece of mail that says in bold letters,


and it has my car information listed right on the cover, I think, "Oh no. Not another recall from Toyota." But then when I open it and read the fine print It's some yokel trying to sell me a long term maintenance plan. And I pitch it, along with an accompanying phrase that will go unmentioned here, into the trash with all the personal letters from President Obama asking for money for candidates and all the other junk mail.

Now that I'm started, there's Comcast. I pull up the site to check my e-mail, and there in front of me is a teaser to click and see what's happened to the unfortunate people burned out in the wildfire in Wenatchee. Click on it and someone spends a half minute trying to sell me golf clubs before I can see whether any of my friends have been burned out of their homes.    

Then there are all those things asking you to click on the article telling you which states have the highest taxes or are the worst places to live, or which players in the NFL will be good this year or which 19 year old starlet looks good in a bikini. (really I don't click on that one) If you click on any of that stuff you are barraged with ads and have to work your way through dozens of pages to get the answer to the questions they posed to get you to bite. And the worst thing is that I'm paying them a lot of money to waste my time.

 Every step you take to avoid these intrusions just causes some clever PhD Psychologist to try harder to get your attention. I can understand the motives of the machine smashing Luddites from the old days. Sometimes I get the desire to smash all the computers and tablets around here. OH wait! the phones ringing I wonder who's calling me from India now. You say you're from Microsoft and you know of a problem in my computer and you can fix it for me,  WAAAAAH!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The T-rex you can't see

Blog post #32


The latest Jurassic film shows people being chomped up by T-Rex hybrids, (No spoiler alert here. You have to be comatose to have missed the previews), carried off by flying lizards, and gulped down by some sea monster certain to inhabit the dreams of the kids who see the film. Unless you are a creationist you recognize the absurdity while enjoying the fun of seeing the visual reconstruction of these creatures. The real creature that haunts the dreams of Public Health workers today is invisible.

Tyrannosaurus rex never killed any humans. Yersinia pestis has killed tens of millions. The organism is somewhere around a hundred times smaller than one of the pixels you are looking at. The plague in its various forms killed 25 million people during a 200 year epidemic in the last millennium. The numbers may have been bigger but no one was counting large parts of the world outside of Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia. Some say the fall of Rome may have been caused by a pandemic brought back by troops returning from Persia. Seventeen days ago the septicemic version killed a sixteen year old boy near Ft. Collins Colorado.
My familiarity with this tiny killer comes from a part-time job I had in college. Several entomology students were hired by the Public Health Service to trap and collect rats along the Guadalupe River corridor in San Jose. We set snap traps along the river from the bay to the source in the Almaden Hills. The rats, mostly Rattus rattus, carried fleas, and the specific fleas we were looking for were the commonest carrier of plague bacteria. Many fleas can carry the bacterium but only two species have caused the pandemics. We taped our sleeves around gloves and shook flea powder on the arms and our pants cuffs and used long wooden tongs to pick up traps and dead rats and dropped them in a plastic bag which we sealed. In the lab we identified fleas and sent the likely ones to a USPHS lab in San Francisco for analysis. No plague was found but we know it was present in fleas on small mammals in the Coast Range of San Mateo County and in the San Bruno Hills.
North America was free of plague until ships brought the rats from Europe and Asia. Now it is endemic in populations of small mammals in the west. Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado are centers of activity but it occurs throughout the west. When people hunt squirrels and other small mammals or live in dwellings supporting flea populations they can be susceptible to the plague. During the middle ages, any priest or lay-healer could diagnose the bubonic version. Today many physicians have never seen the symptoms and may miss the diagnosis. Pneumonic plague occurs when the lungs get affected and can then be transmitted through coughing.
The good news is it’s treatable if diagnosed early. Unfortunately the boy in Colorado caught the fast-track version and evidently died within a week of contracting it. There are still a thousand or more cases reported around the world and probably many more unreported. Anyway, this is a darn good reason to stop feeding squirrels in the parks. Avoid dead or sick appearing mammals when hiking. The fleas will be looking for a convenient replacement for their meal ticket.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Reflections on Woodard Creek

Post #31
Reflections on Woodard Creek

We sleep with the window wide open during this June weather and the susurration of Woodard Creek lulls us to sleep. It's origin is from the artesian springs just a few miles from here and the flow is supplemented by the rains that keep this place so green. In late November we leave the window open a little and I awaken to the sound of splashing. The chum salmon are spawning and I know that before Christmas they will have sent their DNA forward to another generation and very slowly stayed with the current until either they weakened and were picked off by the Bald Eagles perched in the trees below our house or washed to the shore to be consumed by racoons and a host of other members of the recycling corps around here.

Narda and I keep track of our wild neighbors. The Human ones are pretty tame around here, but two days ago I saw a doe with a couple of frisky fawns prancing by the window in the photo above, and later, a coyote crossed the gravel driveway carrying a medium sized racoon or similar sized animal it had taken. The flowers in the photo are grown, with my vegetables in a garden surrounded by a fence equivalent to the one at Walla Walla State Prison. Keeps the deer from eating everything.

Garter snakes and northern alligator lizards keep down the slugs and bugs in my garden and red legged frogs join the tree frogs as part of my pest control-no chemicals strategy. Sometimes the slugs do well but we always eat well with the remainder. I won't use herbicides, so moles and other critters have made the "lawn" into a dandelion and buttercup forested ankle busting obstacle course. Mowing to keep the fire danger down is an adventure but it is great for the forty or fifty relatives of our two families who show up here every Easter for the feast and egg hunt.

The forest was cut about 120 years ago and I've had to take out a tree or two now and then. Western red cedar and hemlock along with a few Douglas firs are surrounded by big leafed and vine maples, alders and willows. The birds love our nine acres. Chestnut backed chickadees and red headed sapsuckers have nests drilled out of the same dead snag just outside our dining room window. Big pileated woodpeckers shout out their Woody Woodpecker imitations and Coopers hawks come winging their way through the woods. We've seen three kinds of owls here and often fall asleep to their calls. We keep a log of what we see and the notes let us predict what's coming next.

The monetary value we put on real estate is interesting. You couldn't buy half of one standard suburban house in San Jose with what this place is valued at. But then you'd have to drive to state and national parks to see the things that pass our windows every day. Half of the property is on the other side of the creek and is almost never visited; at least by humans.

I've seen sea-run cutthroat trout here and once, a dark torpedo shaped steelhead shot by me on the way up stream. The stream is reasonably healthy, considering the thoughtless development of some stream side properties but it has survived, And when all of us are gone it will still be here. I've worked in some of the most remote and beautiful places on earth but really, there is no place like home.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Last Yosemite Bear Tale

Blog Post #30

The Last Yosemite Bear Tale

Figure 1 Big Bend Black Bear NPS Photo by Reine Wonite

This is the last of the Yosemite Bear chapter. I had no treed Yosemite bear pics, so this Texas bear will have to do. Now I have to get on with writing the rest of the book. Expect it late this year. The Hawai’i novel Kolea should be out in electronic form sometime in July and in Print a couple of months later.Thanks for reading my blog.

(continued from #29) Not too long after that a yearling bear clawed a visitor in another campground. Often a young bear will “tree” if pursued. This one did so. In order to avoid shooting a firearm upward we would use a tranquilizer dart loaded with Sucostrin. The metal syringe cylinder is shaped like a short cigar and is delivered either with an air rifle or a bow and arrow. The thick bore needle on the device injects the chemical on impact and will tranquilize the bear. This bear had sent a woman to the hospital for cleaning and stitching so, unfortunately, it had earned the death penalty. We loaded the cylinder with a lethal dose, and I used the bow and arrow device and shot the dart into the bear’s buttocks.
As the poor beast crashed down through the tree branches a troop of Girl Scouts came out of the bushes behind us. Their leader was lecturing them. ‘The bear’s not dead, she said, “He’s just asleep. They’re going to take him to some remote place and drop him off in the wild.” The seasonal rangers looked at me for guidance. “Get the bear in the truck,” I said. They did so and the children gathered around as I started for the cab and a quick getaway. It was not to be. “Look!” one of the more observant girls said. “He’s not breathing.” The bear was dead but quivering from the effects of the drug on his nervous system. I ordered one of the rangers into the truck bed and said, “Pump on his chest.” As I drove away I saw in my side view mirror the skeptical look on the scout leader’s face. She knew. Around a couple of corners I stopped to get the ranger back in the truck cab. “That was quick thinking,” he said. “If it had lasted any longer you’d have been giving the bear mouth to mouth resuscitation,” I replied.
Some of the seasonal rangers were smarter than others. These were mostly college students working as rangers during their summer breaks. All were intelligent but some had very little common sense. One fellow was asked to take the bear trap out to a problem location and set it away from the camping area. He said he knew how to work the thing, so off he went with the pickup and trailer. After a couple of hours not hearing from him I sent another guy to find out if he was having problems. He found the first ranger trapped inside the bear trap baking in the summer heat. Ranger number one didn’t know what the little hatch in the front of the trap was for. Instead of baiting the trap through the little hatch and then cranking the big door up before returning to the hatch to set the trigger, he had entered the trap, hung the rotting bait on the hook and triggered the trap door shut on himself. We nearly had ourselves a baked ranger.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Blog # 29

A Bear Invades the Ahwahnee Hotel

Black Bear at Sequoia-Kings Canyon  NPS Photo

This is a continuation of the last blog post. It's from the book I'm writing about being a Park Ranger

One quiet winter morning at around three A.M. I got a call from the desk at the Ahwahnee Hotel. The excited night man was hollering into the phone that a bear had gotten into the hotel and was running frantically around trying to get out. The Ahwahnee is the “high end” of the Yosemite Hotels. I rolled in and grabbed a shovel out of the back of the patrol wagon and went in the front door.

It turned out that the night shift baker had propped the kitchen door open so he could empty several containers of garbage without having to open the door each time. On one trip to the “bear proof” dumpster a medium sized black bear had gone into the kitchen. When the baker went in for another load the bear panicked and was bellowing and running around the kitchen. The baker jumped up on the big grill and yelled for help. Hearing the commotion, the night man opened the door to the kitchen and was nearly bowled over by the bear as it barreled into the main lobby area.

When I showed up, the bear was in a large sun room that surrounds a big stone fireplace. The bear was jumping onto the expensive furniture trying to find a way out. He had already pooped on the Navaho rugs and was in total bear-panic. I banged the shovel on the floor and advanced on the bear. It ran around the big fireplace and into the lobby, so I opened all the doors in the sun room and went after the bear. Soon the bear was after me and I backed around near one of the doors, and when the bear advanced with his hackles raised, I banged the shovel on the stones at the fireplace and he darted out one of the open doors.

I had to kill three bears during my tenure as a National Park Ranger and I hated every experience. It is one thing to hunt and kill an animal for food. It’s quite another to have to take its life because people have gotten the animal used to handouts. Most of the bears had been fed by ignorant park visitors. Feeding a bear is like being on a homicide jury and voting for the death penalty for the bear. A black bear is a creature of habit. Once the bear learns to get food it will return over and over to repeat the experience. To save these magnificent creatures and to save the rangers from the terrible duty required of them, the animals should be left alone and campers should use secure storage for their groceries.