Cool stargazing project

The Salt Lake Tribune reports an annual event to document magnitudes of light pollution across the planet.   This project  invites  public participation.  

Every year, Globe at Night asks teachers and students, parents and their  children, and stargazers located internationally  to observe the constellation Orion, specifically his belt.    The website linked above provides all the tools and information needed, although people will need to employ whatever means they have at their disposal to find their latitude and longitude (Globe provides instructions).

The project runs March 16-28.   Orion appears in the east about an hour after sunset and maintains stellar prominence for several hours until he  does a belly flop  into the western horizon  around midnight.    

When I lived in Payson, UT, Orion and the Big Dipper were the only constellations that had  the  umph to shine through the Utah Valley light pollution and  haze with any consistency.     Where I live now, the Milky Way runs in a flood of shimmer on moonless nights—a beautiful, mind-bending swath of other places, times, and events visible from our front and back yards.   Can’t wait to get out there with the kids and see how our drop-dead gorgeous night sky compares with Globe’s magnitude charts.

Ooo, yeah.    We’ve got dark skies here that go on forever.   Very aesthetically and spiritually exciting.     Anybody not having a similarly  clear  window onto the rest of the galaxy—I’m sorry, but  you’re losing the only view that goes on forever that you don’t have to pay for, the one everybody  got  for free up until the dawning of the last century’s light craze.   Now we’re paying for not having  that view.

My best advice:  Do what’s necessary to get  back what you can of the night sky as well as  reduce your electric bill and possibly even sleep better at night.   For good and workable  ideas about why and how, go here.

I’ve also written here  about light pollution and its effects.

Review: Coyote, by Wyman Meinzer

Wyman Meinzer.   Coyote.   Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1995.   128 pages.   Cloth: $19.95; ISBN 0-89672-353-4.

Coyote is classified as a €œpictorial work, € a coffee-table book.   Of its 128 pages, only the first 44 contain text; captioned,  gorgeous photos of coyotes that the author took himself during his many years of coyote research fill out the  book’s bulk.  

The  textual  material of Coyote contains just enough information about C. latrans to help me form more precise questions about the animal’s nature and habits.   On one hand, I felt  the book’s imparted insights rather  on the lightweight side.   I had hoped that it would reflect in greater depth and detail what Meinzer learned about this intriguing animal after over three decades of study.   Instead, he gives readers slightly more than the basics.    He remarks  for instance on how  coyotes have  about 11 categories of vocalizations, but he only lists  3 of them,  offering only slight elaboration on those.   The coyote’s vocal repetoire is one of the most fetching of this animal’s qualities.   Why not at least  touch upon  the other 8 categories?  

On the other hand, I learned enough from the book to gain a fair starting point for my investigation into this creature with whom I’ve begun crossing paths more frequently and intimately.   The book’s beautiful 70 plus pages of photos are instructional in a deeper way.   People able to read animal body language  will find them engaging and meaningful.

Some of Meinzer’s writing is bumpy, requiring the reader to  guess his  meaning.   For example, p. 34: €œIf excavation allows, I have observed dens with nursing quarters or enlarged rooms with side tunnels to accommodate the young whelps. €   Deciphering who or what excavation allows to do what takes a bit of work.   Does  Meinzer mean that  if conditions permit him to excavate a den (which he has done in his research), then he observes in the process these den structures?   Or does he mean that if excavation conditions  prove favorable  for the coyotes, then he’s seen them build dens having these characteristics?   Also, €œyoung € modifying €œwhelps € seems unnecessary.

Well,  like I said, Coyote is a coffee-table book, maybe a bit light on information but packed with eye-catching pictures, which in this case do more than simply  enchant the eye.   These pictures reveal  important information about coyote body postures and behavior.   However, if you want greater precision in expression or are looking to learn about the  possible range of coyote vocalizations and gain greater insight into marking practices (which I do), you have to look elsewhere.   Where?   I’m not sure yet.   If anybody has suggestions, please, do tell.

The fetish

One of the reasons I moved from Utah County to San Juan County was to provide my oldest son and youngest daughter greater exposure to nature.   Household circumstances have resulted in their being confined to the house more than is natural for children in general but is even more unnatural for children of an outdoors-type like myself.   I wanted them to have a better  chance at the kind of  engagement in the natural world I  enjoyed growing up, a level of  deep  involvement that has provided for me all my life.  

 But it’s been difficult business breaking up their bonds with interior spaces and tempering their fascination with electronic frontiers.   Until recently, many of my attempts at getting them “out there” into the yard and surrounding countryside were met with grim doubtfulness. Continue reading “The fetish”

Bird in the hand

First published at A Motley Vision,  this essay explores the  nature of  stewardship by wondering if  we understand what stewardship is or  if we’ve  merely assumed that we understand.   Are we fully conscious of the needs of other creatures, as good stewards ought to be? Are we imaginative enough to visualize the possibilities of faithful stewardship, which may include providing other species with opportunities for €¦ oh, I don’t know €¦ progression, maybe …  or  perhaps gaining  from them insight that  endows our own progression?

An abridged version of “Bird in the Hand”  was published in 2007  in  Glyphs III,  a regional  anthology containing  writings by local writers and visitors to  southeastern Utah’s  redrock  country  that Moab Poets and Writers publishes every two years.    I’ve written more  about MP &W  here.    

In July 2005 my brother Jim and I threw camping gear into his new Toyota 4Runner and headed for a canyon in the San Rafael Swell. The object of our trip: try out the 4Runner on real four-wheel-drive roads and see petroglylphs at the canyon’s mouth. We arrived at the canyon at dusk and as evening fell  helped each other wrestle up tents in a whipping canyon wind. Continue reading “Bird in the hand”

Field notes #1

Posts  in this series are semi-polished exerpts from  the pocket-sized hiking journal I carry when I go out walking in local canyons, etc.    If something interesting happens or a  bolt from the  blue  strikes, I  pull out the old journal and  get down the basics.   I’ve left Field Notes  elsewhere around the bloggernacle,  such as  here and here,  but I thought that for Wilderness Interface Zone and simplicity’s sake  we’d just start over again at #1.

As always, if you, dear reader,  have field notes or vivid memories  of trips taken, you’re invited to  make entries  you’d  like to share in the comments section.  

February 18, 2009, a.m.   Approaching the trailhead into Crossfire, I glance at the knoll northeast where reposes the horse skeleton.   My eye catches a flash of movement.   I stop.   Small deer maybe?   No. The  tail end  of  some other kind of  animal slips into a juniper’s scant cover.   Will the animal reveal itself?  

Wait for it. Continue reading “Field notes #1”

A primer: What is nature literature?

This brief, light treatment of possibilities for the LDS nature writer is excerpted from my unpublished paper “Why Joseph Went to the Woods: Rootstock for LDS Literary Nature Writers,” presented at the 2008 Association for Mormon Letters Annual Conference.   This paper arose out of blog posts at A Motley Vision and Times and Seasons.

Perhaps one reason LDS writers haven’t ventured far into the field of nature writing is because they’re not sure what it is or does and whether or not writing it fulfills covenants they’ve made to help build the kingdom of God.   Furthermore, in my experience, many in the LDS population don’t know how to interpret the anger, misanthropy, or sorrow that crops up in traditional nature writing, especially when the high rhetoric expressing such emotions threatens LDS lifestyles and beliefs.   Important, call-to-action terms like €œstewardship, € a word that many if not most LDS accept as an essential component of concepts like €œservice € and €œrighteous dominion, € prove uncomfortably mercurial when applied to environmental issues.   Writing nature literature might qualify as exercising €œgood stewardship, € and thus as an act of building the kingdom, but what kind of writing qualifies as nature writing and what aspects of building the kingdom might it accomplish? Continue reading “A primer: What is nature literature?”

The fly

Late summer of 2008, I was sitting in Crossfire Canyon (here are parts two and three) at one of my favorite sandstone perches when I became conscious of a persistent buzzing noise. Looking down, I spotted  an insect hovering just above the ground about a meter below me.  The insect  looked something like a yellow jacket, black and bright yellow in coloration, but in morphology it more closely resembled a fly than a  wasp. A yellow jacket’s buzz changes pitch constantly as it moves, and it’s always in motion  because it has no real talent for hovering. This look-alike hovered  like a champ, so it  droned at a fairly constant pitch  rather  higher than a wasp’s.   Continue reading “The fly”