25 October 2007

EcoRover Goes To Washington (D.C.)

Thanks to some "spark plugs" such as Sara Pritchard (http://www.sts.cornell.edu/viewprofile.php?ProfileID=273) and Tim LeCain (http://www.montana.edu/history/faculty/lecain-tim), there is a lively "EnviroTech" group active within organizations such as the Society for the History of Technology (http://www.historyoftechnology.org/) and the American Society for Environmental History (http://www.aseh.net/). After many years of not attending SHOT meetings, Sara's leadership in putting together a roundtable discussion titled "Common Ground? Perspectives on Integration of STS [Science & Technology Studies] and Environmental History Thus Far" drew me back to the organization. Thank you, Sara!

At the three EnviroTech sessions, there were insightful papers and lively discussion on topics such as: the entangled relationship between the idealized pristine landscapes of our imagination and the real managed landscapes of our experience; the role of political and economic power in environmental justice; and practical distinctions between natural and unnatural landscapes. This was all great fun and serious stuff, and discussions were especially interesting because of the wide range of scholars involved--ranging from pragmatic environmental historians such as Fred Quivik that provide testimony on Superfund cases to the venerable MIT scholar Leo Marx (b. 1919) who wrote the landmark text, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (1964).

That was Friday. Saturday found me with the SHOT tour of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (http://www.nps.gov/hafe/), learning about the manufacture of US military rifles before 1865, John Brown's raid (and its huge symbolic importance to African-American history), and the manner in which people dealt with floods in this narrow, steep-walled river valley. Thanks to Merrit Roe Smith, author of Harpers Ferry Armory and New Technology (1980) for allowing us to press the "tour guide" lable upon him. Park employees are required to read Roe's book, and we heard that at least one ranger refers to Roe as "The God of Harpers Ferry." Wow, it's not everyday that God guides you up to "Jefferson's Rock" to look out over what TJ described as "one of the most stupendous scenes in nature" and "worth a voyage across the Atlantic." Let freedom and nature ring, Tom!

Sunday on the mall: a quick trip through the WWII Memorial (which confirmed my prejudice against it--somehow it does not capture for me either the war's historical importance or the enormous sacrifice it required of Americans, Russians, and others; a jaunt through a group of Native Americans drumming for peace; and a study of the tired faces, happy friends, and others participating in a "Race for the Cure" breast cancer event.

I then stopped in the National Gallery of Art for a visit with the work of American painter Edward Hopper. Surprise: Hopper wasn't just the landscape painter I knew through his study of Maine lighthouses. My intended one-hour tour turned into an extended (and exhausting) three-hour tour.

This self-portrait helps set up what I found to be a fascinating theme running through many of his paintings: the interplay of rounded forms (here represented by hat, face, shoulders) with sharp angles and blocky forms (floor, door casing, door):

In Automat (1927) -- named for the automated diners of the period -- a contemplative (perhaps not lonely, as most critics have described it) woman holds a cup of coffee. This is Art Deco in all its glory: hat, face, shoulders, cup, saucer, table, chairs, lights reflecting in the window... It's the curvy world of post-Euclidean geometry. As I like to tell my students, "THERE ARE NO STRAIGHT LINES IN NATURE."

I learned about the fascinating connection between Hopper's view of the world and Hollywood, and I look forward to watching Steve Martin's homage to Hopper, Pennies from Heaven. Somehow, this painting, Office at Night (1940), seems like a scene from radio entertainer Garrison Keillor's "Guy Noire" skit. Nice curves, Hopper, and they ain't all about hats and tables:

And, finally, Western Motel (1957). Nice headlights:

Wow. Hopper's lighthouse and urban rooftop scenes are great, too. Exhausted from art immersion 101, I headed over to the Capitol City Brewery, had three quick pints, picked up my luggage from the hotel, and road the Metro out to Reagan Airport for my flight. I need to visit D.C. more often.

12 October 2007

Pickled Heart

Grandma Beryl Nell Munday, good Scot Irish Presbyter that she was, wasted not. Though I now wish I had recorded her recipes for things such as stewed deer kidneys, I did not like such dishes and so paid as little attention to them as I could. For some reason, however, I liked her pickled deer heart as one of my earliest memories of food. Call it comfort food, perhaps, but the memory of those thick slices of pickled deer heart with butter-laden hunks of fresh "Colella bread" (from our neighborhood Italian bakery) still makes my mouth water.

Gram's recipe was pretty simple, and it's tasty in all its forms: pickled deer heart, pickled elk heart, or pickled antelope heart. First, you need one dead critter with a heart.Her are the steps:
  1. While field dressing the animal, cut the heart away from its connecting arteries and veins.
  2. Set the heart aside in a clean place to drain and cool while you are finishing the field dressing job.
  3. Carry a clean ziplock bag to transport the heart in your pack.
  4. Once home or back at camp, rinse the heart in fresh cool water, poking your finger into the ventricles to help remove any blood clots.
  5. Soak overnight in a cool place with enough water to cover plus a handful of salt.
  6. Rinse again, and place whole in a pan of cool, salted water, over medium heat and boil until done: this takes about a half hour (once the water begins to boil) with a small antelope or deer heart, and about one & one-half hours with a large elk heart. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  7. After cooling, cut the heart into three or four pieces by inserting the knife lenghtwise into the chambers. Carefully trim away all fat and surface blood vessels, cut and peel away the outer layer (epicardium) and the inner layers of the chambers ("heart strings" or tendineae).
  8. Slice the trimmed pieces into strips approximately 1/4 inch thick.
  9. Place in a clean jar, add about a tablespoon of pickling spice, cover with vinegar, fit the lid and store in the 'fridge.
  10. The pickled heart slices are ready to eat in about five days.

I have tried different vinegars, and like red wine vinegar the best. Vary the recipe with other spices: dill, hot peppers, garlic cloves, and onion are all good additions to the pickling spice. Some people add sugar, but I care for sweet pickled heart about as much as I care for sweet pickles.

Serving suggestions: Bring the slices to potluck parties as an appetizer, arranged on a small platter with crackers and perhaps some pickles and/or peppers such as jalapenos. People -- many of whom do not especially like "game" or venison -- seem to enjoy this treat. You might want to explain that "the heart is just another muscle" (and not an organ per se such as liver). The best serving suggestion of all? Eat the slices with fresh, buttered slices of Italian bread and wash down with a cold beer on a hot afternoon.

Pickled heart will keep at least one year. Enjoy!

11 October 2007

Is THAT all there is... (to an antelope hunt), my friend?

An old friend from Pennsylvania (thanks, Bob!) emailed me about the previous "Pronghorn Antelope Hunt" entry. I'll exagerrate for effect, but the message went something like "What's this bullshit about a hunting story where it's all about what you bring home in the back of the truck. Have you lost your ethics?"

Well, no, I haven't. Now don't get me wrong: my hunter role models are the San "Bushmen" hunters of the Kalahari. They'll shoot a giraffe with a little poison-tipped arrow and then track the beast for five days if that's what it takes to bring home the meat. Even with unwounded game, they get on a track and will not say quit (see the marvelous documentary films by John Marshall).

Still -- whether for the San or me -- there is a lot more to it. Hunting is life. Hunting is a deep relationship and bond with nature. Hunting is learning to see and feel the rhythm of life. On the recent antelope hunt, hunting was:

  • Meeting the curious jackrabbit that hopped over to within six feet of me in the dawn twilight.
  • Seeing the coyote hunt its way up the coulee, and then jump out of its hide as its nose scented my backtrail.
  • Wondering how those large slabs of volcanic rock along the ridges became so waterworn and smooth.
  • Pausing occasionally to sit down (watch out for the cactus), feel the warm sun, keep my nose into the cool breeze, and take in a vast landscape without another human in sight.
  • Wondering how sorry I might be for leaving my knapsack with water, food, and rain gear in the truck on a warm afternoon as I made the stalk.
  • Watching a mule deer doe and her two fawns nonchalantly feed as they wondered what those high-strung, flighty antelope were so excited about.
  • Knowing that the ravens, whose excited croaking and flying back and forth between me and the butte, were telling me that antelope were there.
  • Carefully gutting the antelope doe to keep the meat clean and sweet.
  • Feeling the weight of the doe slung across my shoulders, smelling her strong antelope scent, and picking a good route to the nearest road.
  • Being VERY sorry that I had not brought the water bottle as I draped the doe over a sagebrush and began the hike back to the truck.

Yes, there is a lot more to hunting than what comes home in the back of the truck.

10 October 2007

Pronghorn Antelope Hunt: Big Hole River Valley, Montana

As I put the rifle case in the pickup bed, I looked up through the frosty predawn darkness at Orion, the hunter's constellation. Pausing a moment to gaze, I hoped to see an Orionid meteor or two, but did not. A minute later, ice scraped off the windshield and coffee in hand, I was ready to roll.

Driving from Butte to the Big Hole, I reflected on why I don't like to hunt opening day of antelope season. Pronghorn antelope are odd creatures compared with newcomers to the North American continent such as elk or white tailed deer. As a creature that evolved at a time when cheetahs, short faced bears, sabre tooth lions, and other large, fast predators roamed the North American plains, antelope use their amazingly large eyes and incredibly fleet feet to keep them safe. But the pre-Pleistocene predators did not have rifles capable of shooting accurately at 200 yards. The antelope's 8-power vision and 60 mph speed can make them far too complacent about human hunters within rifle range--as the pre-hunting season photo attests:

Opening day hunters take advantage of this by road hunting. They blast away at every pronghorn within range--and often far out of range of their shooting ability, which results in many wounded antelope. I get so aggravated by the lousy ethics of these hunters that I avoid hunting opening day, rather than be tempted to put a bullet through some moron's engine block. After opening day, antelope fear, flee, and hide from the mere sound of motor vehicles.

I parked down the valley from Old Charlie's place. Although I heard Old Charlie had been sent to a nursing home, it's hard to shake a feeling that the 90-year old codger still, somehow, inhabits the place. But as I climb the steep glacial till of the hillside, I get high enough to look up the valley at the old homesteader's log shack. No smoke curling from the chimney. No lights. He really is gone.

The rancher who was kind enough to give Old Charlie a place for the old boy, his dogs, and his one good horse to live has replaced that distinguished lot with about two hundred head of stinking cattle. It's been a hot, dry summer, and it looks as if they've spent the entire last few months along the spring in the old hay field below the shack. The meadow ground is churned into cowshit-laden mud, the uplands are hammered into dust, and there's not a sign of antelope anywhere in the mile-wide ridgeline radius I swing around Old Charlie's place.

So much for the first hunt of the morning. For the past five years or so I shot my antelope in this area, spent some time talking (well, listening really--the old boy was deaf as a post) with Charlie, and made it home by 10 a.m. This year would require a little more hunting.

The sun is well up on these antelope hills, and it's a vast landscape from which to choose a place to hunt:

For the second hunt of the day I drove up the valley and to the east, and park near a prominent butte where Dave Carter, Rick Douglass, and I occasionally hunted. The butte's outer rim forms a more or less circular steep wall of rock, and in the center lies a hidden depression where antelope often hide after opening day madness. Here I find three buck antelope, none of which I am interested in shooting. I hunt primarily for meat, and have found that buck antelope are too gamy tasting even for me. Furthermore, I'll need to carry this antelope a quarter mile or more to the nearest road, and does will weigh 60 to 80 pounds field dressed, whereas bucks are 20 pounds or so heavier.

Discouraged, I hike back to the truck and drive several miles of low range, rocky, ass-pounding Bureau of Land Management road. My plan is to stop at another spot where Dave and I used to hunt, in some hills and hidy-holes above a rancher's alfalfa field. Though adjacent to a blacktop highway, oddly enough other hunters don't seem aware that there are antelope there--perhaps because you must walk to get to them. Upon reaching the main access road, I drive a mile or so and -- on a whim -- decide to turn back up onto the BLM land.

I drive two miles up the valley, park the truck, and step out to glass the ridgeline to the east. Sure enough, a mile away, I see a herd of eighteen or so antelope feeding along the side ridge. And amazingly enough, several of them are looking right at me. The whole herd becomes nervous and follows the lead doe on a line up and over the ridge, but angling back toward the butte I hunted earlier.

I park as closely as I can--perhaps a half mile from the ridge and a mile from the butte. Hiking up and over, I watch the last few antelope, barely within rifle range, as they top the next ridge leading to the butte. One more hike, I tell my feet that have been pounding all day over this rocky, cactus-strewn desert. And sure enough, they are here in the bowl, some already beginning to bed down. I watch them several minutes, though one young doe notices my silhouette peaking through a sage brush and is coughing nervously. The others gather round, trying to see or smell or hear this reported threat.

The range is only about two hundred yards, but there is no handy rock for a rest and I hate to sprawl prone among all this cactus. I'm thankful for my shooting sticks -- two arrows tied together to form a "V" -- a simple innovation taught me by now-retired professor Jack McGuire. I choose a young doe (I do not want to shoot either the lead doe or a fawn), hold the crosshairs low behind the shoulder, take a deep breath, exhale a bit, and squeeze the trigger on the little 25 Roberts:

Now the work begins. It is 3 p.m. By the time I field dress the doe, hike down to the truck, drive around and up nearer to the butte, hike back to the kill, and carry her 65 pound carcass to the truck, it is 6 p.m. Thank you, Orion.

08 October 2007

The Chokecherry Rhythm

Here at 6,000 feet in the Northern Rockies, we are perhaps more sensitive to the ebb and flow of seasons. You can thrive on the cyclic rhythm of change. When spring sweeps up the flanks of the Great Divide, it can take your breath away as snow drifted ridges green up, seemingly overnight. And each change of season is a chance to reflect on our tilting journey around the sun.

Woke up this morning to a half-foot of fresh snow, heavy and wet like concrete, a welcome respite after a hot dry summer:

Slippin and sliding my way down the hill and past a patch of chokecherry shrubs (Prunus virginiana), I looked closely but could find not a single fruit left by hungry birds:

My year rolls along buoyed up in part by the rhythm of the chokecherry, from the buds and tender leaves of late April:

To the lovely, thick-scented flowers of late May and the heavy, ripe fruit of late-August:

Chokecherry was an important plant to native peoples, and well known to white culture as well. While we today look at chokecherry primarily as a source of fruit for jelly, Lewis & Clark -- like the aboriginal American peoples -- knew it as medicine. When Meriwether Lewis fell ill with intestinal cramps and fever, his men gathered chokecherry twigs from which he made a "strong black decoction of an astringent bitter tast." This brew had Lewis feeling better and able to travel the following day. Sacagawea may have had her own thoughts about this shrub, having been captured while gathering the fruits.

Thanks to the good hands of Brent and Karina Patch, I can enjoy my medicine each morning: chokecherry syurp on waffles. Despite the early snowstorm, I feel better already!

02 October 2007

WANTED: Graduate Candidate in Environmental Communication

Seeking a student interested in pursuing the MS in Technical Communication in the research area of Environmental Communication.

NSF funding for tuition and a $1500/month stipend, beginning January 2008 and ending May 2009, including summer 2008.

The research is centered on the role of citizen participation in shaping Superfund remedies at various sites in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin of Montana (“America’s Largest Superfund Site”). Tasks may include oral interviews of participants; reading and summarizing relevant literature; rhetorical analysis of risk communication; and reading, classification, and coding of documents based on Actor Network Theory.

The Department of Professional & Technical Communication offers the MS degree in Technical Communication. For more information on admissions requirements, the curriculum, and the faculty, please see the department website at http://www.mtech.edu/hss/ptc/grad_program.html .

If interested, please email me directly with a letter of interest and a resume to pmunday@mtech.edu.

Thank you,

Professor Pat Munday, PhD
Technical Communication Department
Montana Tech
Butte MT 59701

01 October 2007

Yellowstone National Park: Wolf Watching, Elk Whistling

The morning we were to leave for a weekend in Yellowstone National Park, the local newspaper headline read, "Area wolf pack exterminated."
Mount Fleecer, visible from Butte and a popular local elk hunting spot, will be "wolfless" for the time being. It won't take long for another pack to move in, given that the area serves as winter range for hundreds and sometimes thousands of elk and that it's heavily grazed by cattle. And it won't take long for the new wolves to kill their first cow calf, after which they will again be exterminated like the mice that inhabit a kitchen.

How strange, then, to cross the magical boundary into Yellowstone. Just a line on a map and meaningless to wolves, but to humans it is more like prison walls. Escaping prisoners -- especially when they are buffalo or wolves -- will be shot on sight.*

We joined a big group of friends to camp in the park and listen to the bull elk whistle as they form and defend their harems in competition with other bulls. Our first night in the park, we were not disappointed. From dusk to dawn, elk music filled the air. The dominant campground bull -- we quickly learned to recognize his distinctive, full bellied 5-note whistle followed by deep grunts -- kept his cows in the woods during the day, allowing them to graze in the open only at night:

A lessor bull hung around closer to camp. Though we heard his whiny, croaking, whistle throughout the night, we never saw him approach or challenge the big bull. No wonder it is the big dominant bulls that often die in late winter, starved to death while floundering in deep snow or eaten alive by wolves. While the dominant bull spends all his time (and energy, and fat reserves) chasing and breeding cows, the lessor bull spends the time filling his belly with grass and putting on more weight for winter:

Of course, the really big bull herds his harem around the green grass at the park offices in Mammoth:

Our second night in the park, something happened that brought a long silence to the early morning. Up until 3 a.m., the bull elk whistled, the cows and calves barked, and the song-dogs (coyotes) trilled and yipped and howled. Then, a single booming howl reverberated across the hillsides. After that, all was silent as the coyotes and elk feared letting the wolf (or, more likely, wolves) know just where they were. This didn't prevent the coyotes from making pests of themselves during the day, however, as they scrounged from campsite to campsite for human food:

Brent and his kids, Kenia and Adler, and I spent our first morning on a firewood-gathering expedition outside the park. On Forest Service land, we stumbled upon a former cabin site that entertained the kids with curious items such as a curtain rod and baseball bat, and provided Brent & I with a fine pile of fence posts for use as firewood. Meanwhile, Jan and some of the other folks hiked to Steamboat and some of the other sites in the Geyser Basin:

Back at camp with the firewood cut, split, and stacked, we headed down the hill for a soak:

Nothing like "taking the waters" to soothe sore muscles, melt away worries, and prepare our apetites for Karina's pozole:

Next morning, a group of us left in the predawn chill (low 30s deg F) to spend a few hours wolf watching. On the way to the Lamar Valley, this black bear was along the road eating rose hips:

After a false start with a group of folks at Slough Creek with their spotting scopes all set up expecting to see the pack they watched the previous day, we joined another group just west of Druid Peak. They had spotted a pack with their pups nearby. Alas, we just missed them as the pack had split and the pups went into hiding after some over-zealous photographers got between the pack and the cub. But not to worry: "Alpha Dog" directed everyone to move down the road one mile. Most did so, with just one or two persons per super-sized SUV or RV rig.

I', m not sure how far it was, but we pulled over the next place where a big gang of folks were set up with spotting scopes. Sure enough, the wolves were just across the Lamar River, maybe a quarter-mile away. They were howling and generally putting on a good show for the tourists. Again, some knuckle-head photographers moved too close to them, and the wolves trotted off. Once a half-mile or so away, they relaxed and re-grouped. We could count at least 4 blacks and 5 grays, thanks to Dave's good spotting scope. Even with compact binoculars, they were great fun to watch, especially as they began stalking and surrounding a buffalo cow with two calves. The buffalo wisely moved away and toward a bigger herd, and the wolves moved downriver until they came to a high, sunny bench above the river.

Watching wolf watchers is nearly as much fun as watching wolves.** Just at there was an Alpha Dog in the group that others took their cues from, so was there an Alpha Bitch. Never mind that she didn't seem to know her ass from a hole in the ground, she liked to exert dominance, especally if others were talking. "Shhh... they're howling and we don't want to disturb them." (Never mind that the wolves were easily a mile away.) "Shhh... they're howling." (Never mind that it turned out to be a flock of geese she was hearing.) "Shhh... they're howling." (Never mind that there was a diesel RV backing out of the parking area and all you could hear was the clatter of its engine valves.) "Shhh... they're howling." (Never mind that the guy she was "shushing" was a Vietnam Vet with a hearing disability who (A) could not hear her, and (B) didn't care if she was shushing him or not. At that point, I could no longer contain myself and burst out laughing. After a few shushes directed at me (which triggered yet another round of laughing), I quieted down, fearing that she might clobber me with her spotting scope that's worth more than my old pickup truck:

On the way back to camp we watched some bighorn sheep on a cliff:

And had to pause for the usual buffalo roadblock or two:

All of this is good fun, but also raises a serious point. To what extent does the ease of viewing wildlife in Yellowstone National Park undermine our appreciation for wildlife? Normally, wild animals fear humans as predators and as competitors. Normally, even in wilderness areas (where hunting is allowed), you must work very hard and have good stalking technique to see big bull elk or wolves. In Yellowstone, all these critters are right there along the road--you merely need to drive up to them. Occasionally, as with the wolves, you might need to walk through the sagebrush for a hundred yards or so in order to set up at a good location. Park "wildlife security guards" are there (sometimes) in their fluorescent green and orange vests to keep tourists from getting to close to the critters. But, other than a few gallons of gasoline and the willingness to rise early, it doesn't take much effort.

Given the abundance of and ease of viewing wolves in Yellowstone, most people simply will not care whether or not the Fleecer pack -- or any other wolf pack outside of Yellowstone -- is exterminated. But perhaps I am wrong, and Park wildlife help people appreciate nature more. Perhaps the abundance of and ease of viewing wildlife in Yellowstone National Park will help them demand better management, less wildland development, and more diversity everywhere--including their own back yard.


* I owe this metaphor of national parks as prisons to Thomas Birch, "The Incarceration of Wilderness," Environmental Ethics 12 (1990).

** Cf. Montag et al, "The wolf viewing experience in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park," Human Dimensions of Wildlife 10 (2005).