In the Rocky Mountains, wedged between Summer Tourist Season and Fall Big-Game Hunting Season, is a relatively brief interval of crowded highways known as Aspen Season. It has nothing to do with the Colorado resort town, and everything to do with the tree, whose leaves change color.
Technically, the leaves don't exactly change color. The yellow (or red, in some stands) was there all along, but was masked by the green chlorophyll during the summer. As summer fades, so does the chlorophyll, and the submerged colors emerge for a few days before the leaves fall.
But even without leaves, aspen continue to practice photosynthesis. You might have noticed a greenish tinge in aspen bark -- that's cholorphyll, and it allows the aspen to continue to respire, and absorb atmospheric carbon, through the winter.
Aspen are odd trees in other respects, too. They generally grow from root suckers, rather than seeds, so all the trees in a grove are genetically identical, and could be considered one giant organism.
Their leaves move in the slightest breeze because their stems are almost flat, and the stem surface is perpendicular to the leaf surface, so there's something to catch the breeze, no matter which way the wind blows.
That's why they're often called "quaking aspen," frequently shortened to "quakers" or "quakies."
Botanists tell us that the color change is not a response to colder weather, but instead to reduced sunlight from shorter days.
Now, this is just a personal impression, but it seems to me that the peak color comes later now than it did a few decades ago. Back in the 1970s, the peak seemed to come about Sept. 10, and now it's more like Sept. 20. (Bear in mind that some years, there's no peak at all because an early storm brought most of the leaves down.)
If it's "hours of sunlight" rather than "atmospheric temperature" that produces golden leaves, then global warming doesn't explain this later peak aspen display. Is there some other factor? Or is my impression of a later peak just plain wrong?
"Burn him, burn him, BURN HIM!"
Little kids, drunken adolescents and other spellbound adults screeched these words in unison while watching fire dancers encircle the Zozobra, Santa Fe's 49-foot effigy that undergoes a ritual burning every year at the start of the fiesta season.
My colleague Cally and I were on a reporting trip in New Mexico when we decided to watch the burning of the Zozobra, also known as "Old Man Gloom." Cally had vague memories of attending Zozobra as a child when she spent her summers in New Mexico, and I figured we couldn't miss the event while we were there.
I had no idea how popular (or creepy) it would be. The Zozobra, as it turns out, is a figure in Santa Fe more revered than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny (he even has a Twitter account). His supposed ability to erase all of your gloomy thoughts and help you start anew draws a crowd of more than 40,000 each year.Read More ...
Former Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne donated about $3.5 million to the University of Wyoming, and in return UW named a 20,000-square-foot center in Cheney's honor. The Cheney International Center will house the university's international programs, which include the study of global economic systems, international culture and social issues, international development and global environment.
The Cheney money is also being used an as endowment for scholarships to allow UW students to study abroad.
Cheney is a graduate of the University of Wyoming. The Casper Star Tribune quotes him at the dedication of building, which took place September 10 in Laramie.
Cheney said "Our time in Laramie and at University of Wyoming, most of it right there in A&S, the examples I learned, the practices I learned here at UW, laid the foundation" for his 40-plus years of public service. He said the center "will add a significant dimension to education at UW, and we have great pride today in being here and being able to take part in this process and to be able to advance the common cause that we all share in terms of what we want to achieve with the center we are dedicating here today."
Now there's a vague statement. What is that common cause?
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Students and teachers at the Teton Valley Community School in Victor, Idaho, are heading back to school with a new spring in their step.
That's because their design won the 2009 Open Architecture Challenge: Classroom--a competition hosted by Architecture for Humanity, selected from more than 400 qualified entries from over 65 countries, which I blogged about recently.
Congratulations are in order, since the school will receive $50,000 to carry out its design by month's end. Another $5,000 will go to the design team, Section Eight Design, whose community-collaborative efforts, cost-effective and sustainable building plan created a "classroom of the future."
The school plans to break ground this spring, allowing time for more fund-raising from the community and private donors, since the $50,000 will only cover the cost of one classroom out of five planned.
"What’s great about this design is that you can add on to it, so they can build one classroom at a time as they raise more funds," said AFH press contact Diana Bianchini.
You can see all the classroom design entries and awards here.
Picture yourself on the front lines of a massive wildfire -- soot smeared into the creases of your face, your clothes stiff and itchy with days-old sweat, your palms blistered from grubbing a fire line through duff and brush with a Pulaski. What dangers might you face? Falling snags? A fire sweeping uphill faster than you can run? Asphyxiation in smoke-thick air? Maybe.
But as the recent deaths of two firefighters in Los Angeles' Station wildfire show, the most likely dangers are often the same ones that haunt our everyday lives -- a car accident in that case, or heart attacks, or illnesses, or just plain lack of access to good medical care.
In Alaska, the trail to a fire line in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge may pass memorials to folks who died at the claws of grizzly bears. Fire camps in Interior Alaska have shotguns on hand to keep angry moose and hungry bruins away (Bear canisters nothing. We've got guns!). There are also the elements to think of, and rough terrain, and heavy equipment, and aircraft, and sharp tools, and, of course, the fire itself. Dramatic stuff, all of it.
So what was Michael "Kale" Casey (pictured above) -- a Paonia, Colo.-based wildfire paramedic -- most worried about as he kept tabs on crews battling the 660,000-acre Railbelt fire complex west of Fairbanks this July and August?
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Last weekend, as the Station wildfire on the northern edge of urban Los Angeles doubled, and doubled, and then doubled again – it has now grown to 250 square miles in the Angeles National Forest – I sat down to re-read “Fire Management of California Shrubland Landscapes” by Jon E. Keeley of the U.S. Geological Survey. The academic paper was given to me by Richard Halsey, the founder of the California Chaparral Institute, whom I profiled for this magazine two winters ago. And it lays out, in plain, clear language, why just about everything you hear about wildfire in Southern California – from politicians, newscasters and most of all homeowners on the edge of that urban-wildland interface – is wrong.
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Whipped up by right-wing talk shows, conservatives are criticizing President Obama's back-to-school speech -- which will "challenge students to work hard, set educational goals and take responsibility for their learning," according to the U.S. Department of Education -- as "indoctrination." The Associated Press reports that:
Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna requested additional information from the U.S. Department of Education earlier this week before offering guidance to schools and notifying parents.
And here's an excerpt from a report from the Denver Post:
"I don't want that man talking to my children," said Crista Huff in Douglas County, who has three daughters in school. "Look at other leaders who had socialistic policies and chose to talk to children; this would include Hitler, Stalin, Lenin and Castro. I will keep my kids home from school that day and we will re-read the Declaration of Independence."
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Last week, attorneys for the state of Utah joined the fray against nuclear-waste disposal company EnergySolutions by filing an appeal against a ruling that would allow the company to import foreign nuclear waste to the state.
EnergySolutions, a Salt Lake City-based company that disposes of low-level radioactive waste from other states, has been in talks to import up to 20,000 tons of nuclear waste from Italy, a proposal that alarmed both citizens and the state government.
“No country in the world imports another country’s nuclear waste," says Vanessa Pierce, executive director of HEAL Utah, a nonprofit grassroots organization that has gotten into the habit of watchdogging EnergySolutions. "If you have the technical capability to generate the waste, you have the technical capability and the moral obligation to dispose it.”Read More ...
Yesterday, on the opening day of Idaho’s first wolf season in decades, at least two hunters made quick use of their recently purchased wolf tags. The hunt began amidst whirling debate, after Montana Federal Judge Donald W. Molloy delayed ruling on a lawsuit brought by 13 environmental groups to halt the hunt. Concerned that the hunt will damage recovering wolf populations recently removed from the endangered species list (“Still Howling Wolf”), the groups hoped Molloy would stop the hunt like he did last year. Now, the Idaho wolf season will continue until Molloy makes his decision, which will also affect Montana’s hunt, slated to begin on Sep. 15.
Hunters and ranchers eager to have their first legal shot at the controversial canine have already bought roughly 10,000 wolf tags in Idaho and at least 2,500 in Montana. But both states have set limits on the total number of wolves hunters can kill: Idaho’s quota is 220 out of about 850 and Montana will allow 75 out of roughly 500.
The Road-Warrior anarchy that may await some state parks in the West (see "Lawless Future" in this week's issue) if funding cutbacks close park gates may not have much of an impact on overall state revenues. Despite what many good-hearted park defenders argue, state parks don't rake in piles of cash. Only 13 of California's sexiest state parks -- the surfer-riddled state beaches and the near-mythic Hearst Castle -- generate enough revenue from camping and visitors’ fees to pay for themselves. The rest limp along on state subsidies, straining the public coffers with repair bills and rangers' salaries.
The same holds true in other Western states; almost nobody in any state can argue that historic buildings preserved with state funds help balance budgets. There is, however, more to life than generating revenue. There is also merit in spreading revenue, which may be what state parks in the Western states do best. “There is a dramatic impact [from state parks] on the local, rural economies,” says Oregon State Parks spokesperson Chris Havel. “It’s difficult to put numbers on it because the psyche of the traveler is strange. But we know it’s enough to help keep some towns alive.”Read More ...