28 May 2010

Skywatch Friday: From Snow to Rain, FINALLY!

For the first time this week, the passing storms brought rain (and exciting lightning) instead of snow:

In town, I love the way storms close in the sky and obscure the ridges of the Continental Divide (view east in Butte, Montana, showing some of the old mining "gallows frames"):

Compare that view with a similar one from last week as a snowstorm moved in:

Come next morning, snow was falling (view from front porch):

Though it did not seem to bother MollyTheDog:

By the next morning, it had snowed about 12 inches. But as usual, skies cleared quickly:

The warm sun melted the snow from my old Land Rover:

And from the little Douglas Fir trees behind the house:

Our poor Lilacs reached their budding fingers to the sky, crying "No More!:"

There will snowstorms throughout the summer in our the little mountain city of Butte America, but it looks like spring has sprung.

Pronghorn Antelope, Elk, Wildflowers

Perhaps spring has finally come to the Continental Divide, East & West Slopes, near Butte Montana. For the first time this week, the passing storm fronts did not bring snow. Rain, precious spring rain. And temperatures above freezing!

Nature responds. As the hills green up, Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocarpa americana) have returned to their summer range on the prairie of the upper Big Hole River valley:

We should be seeing elk calves over the next week or so. As Mike Mulligan, MollyTheDog, and I were fishing No Tellum Creek in the Pintler, the cow Elk (Cervus canadensis) spotted us from a sagebrush bench between the flood plain and the timber:

Instead of fading back into the trees, she came down the hill, crossed the creek, and cavorted back & forth nearby. Poor MTD quivered with excitement. I realized what was going on, and let her give a brief chase. Cow Elk ran across the meadow of the floodplain, leading MollyCoyote-Wolf away from the hill. Surely this was a Mother Cow with a newborn calf hidden up in the sagebrush or perhaps in the willows across the creek from us:

In the rich soil, moist soils along the creek, Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana):

And Blue Violet (Viola adunca) are blooming:

Up on the dry glacial till of the open prairie bench, there is a carpet of Pretty Shooting Stars (Dodecathon pulchellum -- both purple and white), Biscuitroot (Lomatium cous), and Leafy Bluebells (Mertensia oblongifolia):

Back in town, on the West Slope of the Divide, a century of mining & smelting took their toll on the soil. But life, and spring, will not be denied. Cutleaf Daisy (Erigeron compositus) has been ready to bloom for the past month, and has  been brought forth by the spring rains and warmer weather:

On its heels, Scorpionweed (Phacelia hastata) is ready to open:

Walking the mile-and-a-half from my home in Walkerville to my college office today, it felt SO good to have rain running off my old Stetson and across the shoulders of my elk-leather coat. Spring: Bring It On!

21 May 2010

Skywatch Friday: From Boston Mass to Butte America

We spent several days back East for our daughter's graduation from Boston University. We enjoyed the lovely skies of the Charles River and Boston city skyline:

And a gorgeous sunset from a dock-side table at the Barking Crab:

Still it was good to come home to the spring storms of our Rocky Mountain home:

And our rapidly-changing skies, such as this mid-day view of Highland Mountains south of Butte, Montana (from our front porch in Walkerville):

Evening view of Highlands:

And this view west to the setting sun and the peaks of the Pintler Wilderness:

Home again.

Spring Brook Trout Fishing, Big Hole River Valley

The day after we returned from Boston I went fishing on a small creek in the upper Big Hole River Valley. It was a grand afternoon with thunderstorms bursting over the peaks of the Pintler Wilderness, herds of elk feeding in the pastures of their calving range, the resident white-tailed kite (a rare bird for this area) soaring over the meadows, and sandhill cranes hooting it up in the creek bottom.

The ice and snow are largely gone from the creek bottom:

The brook trout are fat, sassy, lovely, and tasty:

And the rainbow trout (catch & release only) are "snaky" (emaciated) from their spawning activity:

It's good to be home again!

20 May 2010

Professor Thomas Francis Lester (1937-2010): A Eulogy

Dr. Thomas Francis Lester died last Sunday. Tommy served as Professor of Sociology, Department Chair of Society & Technology, Dean of the Humanities & Social Sciences Division ("HSS"), and coached several sports teams with Montana Tech. He was with Tech from 1966 until his retirement in 1997 (photo from the funeral program):

I've always thought of the little iconic football player on the entrance to the old gym (now Science & Engineering Hall) as having been modeled after Tommy; kind of looks like him:

I first met Tommy on March 17, 1990, when I flew into Butte, Montana, to interview for a position with the Society & Technology program. Yep: St Paddy's Day. Butte America's biggest holiday: no room at the inn and so I stayed with Tom & his wife Betty at their home on Quartz Street (Tech folks Chris Gammons & Colleen Elliott live there now). Tommy & I stayed up drinking & bullshitting through the better part of a case of beer until it ran out in the wee hours of the morning. Best interview I ever had (Tom as a young man at Marquette, from the funeral program:)

Next morning we ate breakfast at Tom & Betty's favorite joint where I won a few bucks in the poker machine next to our table. We then headed over to their place at "The Acres" on the Jefferson River where we fly-fished a few hours. I caught one nice rainbow and froze my ass off wading wet in a pair of blue jeans, which Betty generously ran through the dryer when we came off the river. We had a few beers and then ate at the Alder Steakhouse where I had the best piece of beef I had ever tasted.

The interview ran two more days with a presentation to the faculty, lots of meetings with administrators, and other crap long forgotten. When Tom called my Doktorvater L. Pearce Williams for a reference, Pearce asked "How's the elk hunting?" "Excellent," came Tom's reply, "and on what we pay he'll have to hunt for food." I accepted the job.

Tommy was part of an era at Montana Tech -- then called the Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology -- a period when the school struggled to transcend its narrow tradition as a mining school, develop new programs, and raise standards for faculty. Tom never fully made the shift, but he was a good transitional figure and an excellent coach if not a great leader. After the Board of Regents stripped Tech of degrees in English and History in 1975 (this was part of a larger attempt to close Tech altogether and merge the little college with Montana State University in Bozeman), Professors C. Thomas Rogers (philosophy) and Vern Griffiths (metallurgy) worked with Department Chair John F. "Black Jack" McGuire to implement a degree in "Society & Technology." This program was a good fit with the traditional mission of Tech and accepted by the Regents. When McGuire was driven out of the department by rebellious faculty who didn't like his style of leadership, Tommy took over as Department Chair and eventually as Dean.

Tom wanted everyone to get along and could not understand disagreement or dissension. When a fellow Dean used a scoring system to game HSS out of a sorely  needed -- and highly deserved -- replacement faculty position, Tommy was simply befuddled and totally incapable of anger. He was this way too with dissent within the department. When the faculty began to split into two new programs -- one in Liberal Studies and the other in Technical Communication -- Tom tried to ignore the looming divide. The two groups were contentious and so we seldom had department meetings because Tom wished to avoid the inevitable confrontations.

Still, Tommy was a good man--outstanding in one-on-one relationships and generous in his support of young faculty like me. He encouraged me to bring my young daughter Emily to school with me once my wife found work. He always managed to scrounge up travel money when I needed to present a paper at a conference. When department faculty voted a tie on my tenure he prevailed on one opposed member to switch their vote. I was granted tenure and Tom (as Chair) was not put in the position of breaking a tie.

Tom, thank you  for bringing me to Butte and helping to keep me here.

The Montana Tech of Tom's career was an intimate place where faculty were cohesive, decisions were made through the "good old boy" network, and conflict was generally not acknowledged even if it did exist. So long as your Department Chair liked you and you didn't make waves, faculty were tenured despite poor teaching, slack service, or weak scholarship. For better or worse, we have largely left those days behind. A few Department Heads and administrators still cling to the "get along, go along" model where acceptability = likability, but academic standards are generally higher now. Furthermore, the faculty union has helped increase transparency and hold administrators to a level playing field.

Tommy would barely recognize the institution today, but I think he would be proud of us nonetheless.

Boston University Graduation 2010

It's been a fast four years with daughter Emily Munday swimming for the Boston University Terriers and taking her degree in Marine Science. Mrs Rover & I journeyed east last week for graduation ceremonies, where our friends Andy & Sarah Wilson, and their daughter Emily, were able to join us for a few days. It was great fun with a whirlwind of academic ceremonies, meals out, and touristy activities. This is the third of three posts about our recent visit to Boston, Massachussetts.

Graduation festivities began with an award ceremony hosted by the College of Arts & Sciences. Dean Virginia Sapiro was the passionate & well-spoken MC:

Professor John R. Finnerty gave Emily the Francis Bacon Award for Writing Excellence in the Natural Sciences as part of the University's Alumni Association Awards for Writing Excellence:

The following morning came the big general commencement ceremony. Emily (third from left) and friends "robed up" in preparation:

A little pre-ceremony levity never hurts (second photo by L McNamee):

And here we are in a sea of humanity:

Watching the speaker, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, deliver the address via jumbotron:

As a highlight of the ceremony, the BU Class of 1970 finally received its long-overdue recognition. Ceremonies that year were cancelled because of the Kent State massacre and fierce anti-Vietnam War protests (NYT photo):

After the big ceremony, the Marine Science Program held its own Graduation Ceremony for its sixteen 2010 graduates. Emily was called to the podium while Professor Les Kaufman recognized her various accomplishments, including her taking the degree With Distinction, Cum Laude (photo by A Finnell; her friends kept saying "Smile!"):

Professor Finnerty then awarded the diplomas:

Following the intimate ceremony (which included a slide show of the graduates doing fieldwork at Belize, Woods Hole, etc), the department hosted a lovely reception with one last chance for photographs (Emily 2nd from left):

Our Emily & Emily Wilson strike one last pose:

Then it was time for the graduates to change while we took a long walk back to the hotel before saying good-bye to the Wilsons. Four years ago Mrs R & I could not have imagined that Boston University would be a good choice: more than 2,000 miles away, a big city, a huge school, and expensive to boot. But tremendous coaching, hard-earned swimming scholarships, great friends (both for us & for Emily), and a superb (and small) academic program all came together in near-perfection. We're going to miss our frequent trips to Boston & BU!

19 May 2010

Favorite Places to Eat in Boston, Massachussetts

It's been a fast four years with daughter Emily swimming for the Boston University Terriers and taking her degree in Marine Science. Mrs Rover & I journeyed to east last week for graduation ceremonies, where are friends Andy & Sarah Wilson, and their daughter Emily, were able to join us for a few days. It was great fun with a whirlwind of academic ceremonies, meals out, and touristy activities. This is the second of three posts about our recent visit to Boston, Massachussetts.

The Barking Crab: Emily & I discovered this oyster shack not far from South Station when I had a brief Boston layover on my way to Woods Hole. As seafood -- and especially raw oyster -- lovers, it immediately became our favorite eating place and a "must stop" when Mrs Rover or I visited.

"Where is it?" "Thar she blows!" as friends Sarah & Andy Wilson stroll ahead of us on the boardwalk from the Boston Children's Museum:

Andy and Mrs R begin with "oyster shooters:"

Emily Wilson tries her first steamed mussel (and decides she LIKES them!):

After many platters of oysters on the half-shell, crab cakes, cold seafood, plenty of draft beer, and other treats (and a bill not for the faint-hearted), we strolled north to the historic Boston establishment, Mike's Pastry (left to right: EcoRover, Mrs R, Emily Munday, Evan Morris, Emily Wilson, Sarah Wilson, Andy Wilson):

Small world, but we stood in line with some folks we met while in line for breakfast at Zaftig's, a superb Jewish deli in Brookline. It's not far from the modest home where President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born:

EcoRover Visits Boston

It's been a fast four years with daughter Emily swimming for the Boston University Terriers and taking her degree in Marine Science. Mrs Rover & I journeyed to east last week for graduation ceremonies, where are friends Andy & Sarah Wilson, and their daughter Emily, were able to join us for a few days. It was great fun with a whirlwind of academic ceremonies, meals out, and touristy activities. This is the first of three posts about our recent visit to Boston, Massachussetts.

Whale Watching
We spent a half-day sailing with Boston Harbor Cruises (highly recommended!). Here are Emily & Mrs R at the stern, ready to shove off:

We pass the Boston Light, the last glimpse of shore for the next few hours:

Soon, we spotted pods of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins feeding actively (the surface of the ocean sometimes shimmered  with small fish trying to escape these swift, acrobatic predators:

Sometimes they seemed to enjoy racing alongside the ship:

The dolpins often associated with Minke Whales, which we saw in abundance. Though small as whales go, at 20+ feet they are an impressive creature:

We also saw a dozen or more of the larger (40 to 50 feet) Humpback Whales. They kept their distance from the boat (I would too had my kin been hunted to near-extinction) and were not breaching, so I was photogrpahically challenged with my little point-and-shoot:

It's called whale watching for a reason: you snooze, you lose. Here's Emily studiously scanning the horizon--she pointed out many spouts a mile or more from the ship:

Sailing back into the harbor, we were glad to see the skies clear and the air warm a bit:

Back on the dock, we couldn't resist watching the clowning Harbor Seals at the New England Aquarium:

Boston City Sights
We strolled past now warm & familiar places such as Trinity Church:

King's Chapel Cemetery:

The "new" Massachusetts State House:

With its golden dome:

And of course the Giant Teapot (nevermind that it now marks a Starbucks!):

My favorite is perhaps the Lion & Unicorn of the "Old" State House. Both figures, as icons of the British Crown, were taken down and burned after Americans proclaimed the Declaration of Independence. As  Mother Goose put it:
"The lion and the unicorn

Were fighting for the crown —
The lion beat the unicorn
All about the town.
Some gave them white bread,
And some gave them brown,
Some gave them plum-cake,
And sent them out of town."

Or, according to Lewis Carroll:
"Alice could not help her lips curling up into a smile as she began: `Do you know, I always thought Unicorns were fabulous monsters, too? I never saw one alive before!'

`Well, now that we have seen each other,' said the Unicorn, `if you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you. Is that a bargain?' "

It's fun to walk a city. You never know quite what sort of event -- like this infamous race -- you might happen upon:

"It that a killer squirrel?" "Oh no, it's just a fuzzy little squirrel." "Ah, I dunno, could be a killer squirrel ya know." [Apologies to Monty Python.]:

Hmmm... Now only the Masons would hide something under a hollow sidewalk and let you know about it:

Duck Tour
Totally toursity, but a Boston Duck Tour is not to be missed. DUKWs were  developed as amphibious landing vehicles for WW II. They now serve as tour vehicles, but the military origins have been kept alive with "Kilroy was here"--the graffiti icon that marked US military presence throughout the European theatre:

Novelist Thomas Pynchon (in his novel V. ) of course had a different take on Kilroy--as derived from the electrical schematic for a band-pass filter:

As our Duck rolled over Boston's streets and plied the waters of the harbor, we gained a new appreciation of the city:

My favorite views included the elegant "Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge:"

As seen here from beneath an arch of the Longfellow Bridge:

A landmark from the dawn of the 20th century, its architect was inspired by the belief that Viking ships once plied the waters of Boston Harbor:

A quick trip to Chinatown for some gift tea completes our tour for today:

We hope to see you, Boston, in future visits:

[One post down, two to go: a few favorite Boston eateries and BU graduation ceremonies.]