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.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Blog #28

Yosemite Bears

Cartoon by Bill Mason ceramic by Carol Janda

The people who read this blog have told me to stop messing around and go back to what I do best: telling stories that may or may not be factual. So here's an excerpt on Yosemite bears from a book I'm writing about my National Park years. Cartoon bears are a lot of fun. Real bears are wild animals whose behavior is modified by living in common with us.

The dump was closed. For many years, an area near Camp Curry was used as a dump. Later, responding to the growth in trash, the garbage was hauled out of the park. A transfer station had replaced the old dump but generations of bears had been using the dump for a long time and they had taught their offspring to visit it. So when the bears came sniffing around the dumpsters at night there would be dozens of flashes going off from cameras of visitors looking for wildlife shots to take home. I have no idea how many people watched slide shows which included pictures of bears trying to get into secured dumpsters. Rangers had to referee the nightly dumpster jamboree to keep the players apart. 

The bears became more adept at getting food every year and raided campsites and cars on a regular basis. The issue was exacerbated by fools who fed the bears in order to get a photo.
The bear population of Yosemite Valley was estimated at just under forty. Interactions with visitors became a serious problem. We were required to kill bears that attacked visitors. We knew the bears on a personal-name basis. They were named by seasonal employees. I was tasked with euthanizing the bear known as “El Cid”. He had clawed a pair of teenagers who had waded to a wooded island to get some privacy and the pair were suffering from a bad case of Ursus Interruptus.

Two seasonal Rangers and I began to follow the big male bear through the campgrounds. I carried a .375 caliber Weatherby magnum rifle designed for killing large animals. Killing a bear with a big gun without hitting someone in our filled up campgrounds and lodges was not an easy task. All afternoon and evening we followed him until about ten at night when we finally found a place to take the shot. The bear had decided to wade across the Merced River downstream from Stoneman Bridge. We had followed him through Camp Seven and from up on the bank I could shoot at a downward angle with the opposite bank as an effective backstop.

My father had taught me to shoot when I was a young teen and after my Army Reserve training I became an instructor in all of the hand-carried weapons. But this was a difficult shot. The bear was in the water moving away and the ranger’s flashlights were wavering as the two of them were breathing hard. I was also puffing a little from the jogging pursuit and needed a brace-rest to get the shot. The closest rest was the side of a small Airstream trailer in a campsite right above the river. I braced against the trailer, calmed my breathing and found the bear in the telescopic sight.

The Weatherby has a huge cartridge and it makes a hellacious loud noise when you fire it. When the rifle went off the poor fellow asleep inside the aluminum and wood structure had a terrible awakening. Boom! went the rifle. I cranked another round in as the bear rose up and spun around twice and then dropped into the shallows dead. The first shot had been true. During all of this, the camper popped his head out the door to see what was going on, and here was a ranger cloaked in gun-smoke with a rifle yelling, “Get back inside.” He did.

I waded out with the rifle ready, but the shot had been placed right and the big bear was dead. We rousted several seasonal rangers out of their tents and dragged the bear out of the river, up the bank and into the pickup. I weighed the truck, drove the bear to the site we used to dispose of the carcasses and went back and weighed the truck again. It’s a rough estimate, but the bear weighed about six hundred pounds and was the biggest Yosemite Black Bear I ever saw. In the morning I went back to apologize to the camper. He was O.K. with the whole deal, had gotten his hearing back to normal and was telling the story to other campers.

Next time I'll tell you about when I chased a bear around in the lobby of the Ahwahnee Hotel.Or was it the bear chasing me?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Bag Man

Blog #27

Bag Man

The Russ Solution

My last blog, a book review bombed. It had the lowest readership of any. So I decided to do something really exciting this week. GROCERY BAGS. Yes folks it's the new attack on plastic bags.
Here in Olympia and in Seattle and the rest of liberal land it's now not legal to get your groceries in those thin plastic bags. That's good. Maybe a few sea turtles will avoid strangling on them and they won't be blowing all over the freeway and the beaches.

But the alternative is largely more plastic. This time they are pushing the reusable ones with big pictures and colorful logos. Sorry, but what happens to those when they get worn out or lost? They will join the other plastic that lasts virtually forever and join the mega-tons circulating in the North Pacific Ocean and being ingested by other organisms in the food chain.

So here's the deal. I have CRS (can't remember stuff) and make grocery lists so I don't forget what I'm doing and then I forget the list and leave it on the counter in the kitchen. I'm not making this up.
So I kill two birds with one stone and write the list on a paper grocery bag and take it with me. These bags cost a nickel, will last several shopping trips and when they finally give up they can go in the paper recycling. They are made with 40% recycled content so you are really doing a good thing to use them.

I mark each use when I unload them and I'm shooting to beat ten uses per bag. What a superior feeling I get being a greeny.  See, wasn't that exciting.