Science and Sarcasm
30 March 2006
I and the Bird #20

I and the BirdNuthatch at Bootstrap Analysis has not only posted the 20th edition of the I and the Bird blog carnival, she's created a whole new web app styled after the popular bookmark organization site. This one's called's waaaay cooler.

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28 March 2006
From the eye of the potato, #2

Agriculture News

  • The Alexandre Family EcoDairy Farm, Crescent City, CaliforniaA study by the nonprofit group, Cornucopia Institute, ranks 'organic-ness' of milk and other dairy products sold as organic. The group applied federal organic standards as well as additional ecological and humane considerations. Of the 65 brands ranked, 18 received the highest rating. 10 companies refused to participate, and those organizations represent 60-70% of the organic milk market - not a good sign. Check the Cornucopia scorecard for your brand (best ratings are at the top of the list).

    I guess the 'buy local' concept may still be the best option.

  • The Union of Concerned Scientists says grass-fed beef and milk are healthier than their conventionally produced counterparts. The UCS study compiled the results of 25 English-language studies comparing the amounts of total fats, saturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, and conjugated linoleic acid in both pasture-raised and conventionally raised beef and dairy cattle. Specifically, they found sufficient evidence for some claims about the health benefits of grass-fed beef including:

    1. Steak and ground beef from grass-fed cattle can be labeled “lean” or “extra lean.”
    2. Some steak from grass-fed cattle can be labeled “lower in total fat” than steak from conventionally raised cattle.
    3. Steak from grass-fed cattle can carry the health claim that foods low in total fat may reduce the risk of cancer.
    4. Steak and ground beef from grass-fed cattle can carry the “qualified” health claim that foods containing the omega-3 fatty acids EPA or DHA may reduce the risk of heart disease.

    The authors go on to expand their comments to other areas not addressed directly in their literature review - environmental impacts, use of antibiotics, etc. See UCS's executive summary (.pdf) for more details.

  • US soybean growing areas and soybean rust spore sitesSoybean rust, for cash crop farmers, is a similar to Bird Flu for poultry farmers - a cause for insomnia. Soybean rust is a fungal plant disease that has caused serious crop losses (10-80%) in other world regions - Australia, Asia, Africa, and South America. Spores of the soybean rust fungus [Phakopsora pachyrhizi] first appeared in the southeast US in 2004, possibly transported by winds of Hurricane Ivan.

    Complicating the detection of and response to the disease, are the large number of potential hosts of the fungus. In addition to soybean, there are 30 species of legumes reported to be hosts for P. pachyrhizi in nature. One widespread host in the southeastern United States is kudzu [Pueraria montana var. lobata]. Kudzu is a prolific invasive weed in the southeastern US, and is often referred to as "the plant that ate the South." The USDA has launched a huge program to assist soybean growers and other agricultural industries deal with this fungal pathogen. Winter temperatures in northern states will probably be sufficiently cold to prevent overwintering of the fungus. Southern agricultural ecosystems are most at risk. Simple prevention and containment are out of the question given these challenges, so growers are presently directed to employ the use of fungicides to control the disease. Development of rust-resistant soybean cultivars is also underway.

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27 March 2006
'Secret Creek' fishing report [March 26 2006]

Winter/spring skyI'll admit, we've got a slight case of spring steelhead anxiety... we snuck out again for a half-day attempt to find one or two on Saturday this past weekend. Not wishing to spend more time driving than fishing, we headed for our closest good alternative, 'Secret Creek'. The skies were a very pretty mixture of heavy, dark, precipitation-filled clouds, bright blue sky and rainbows. Occasionally, we were struck with one of the little mist/snow/hail showers in the area, but it never amounted to more than a little entertainment. Afternoon temperatures maxed out around 41 oF (5 oC) and the water levels were down and a bit clearer than during our last outing a week ago.

We first stopped to fish a short stretch we haven't visited in well over a year. Right away we spotted a fresh steelie cruising into the darker, deeper water away from us. (That's one more than we saw last weekend.) We drifted eggs and nymphs through all the likely-looking seams and runs but caught nothing - no steelies, no trout, no chubs, no body. We waded and fished upstream a short way then headed out to the road and back to the car to try our luck somewhere else.

There were a couple cars parked at each access, but not as many as last week. We drove upstream to our favorite but difficult-to-hike-in spot where no one was parked. The sun had disappeared by this point and the breeze had picked up, so we layered raincoats over our fleece and headed into the brushy snaggy hike. We drifted eggs and nymphs through all the runs, deep bends and holes we could reach without hiking too far into the swamp. We spotted another big steelhead and saw evidence of a bit of spawning activity during the past week. B briefly hooked a heavy steelie at one of the nicer bends, but couldn't keep him on long enough to get a good look. I got a little tired of the slow action, so I switched to a sink tip and a streamer. Eventually, I even began casting into the slower water where I stood a much greater chance of hooking a chub than a steelie or a trout. Sure enough, I caught 3 big chubs before calling it a day. Certainly not the goal, but a little better than a skunk.

Fleece quotient: 1 mid + 1 heavy
Lost flies: 2
Wildlife sightings: red-tailed hawks, cedar waxwings, red-winged blackbirds, a few black stoneflies (little and medium-sized)
Steelhead: 2 seen, 1 hooked, 0 caught
Streamside landowners unfamiliar with angler/wader right-of-way laws: 1
Air temperature: about 42 oF
Water temperature: 40 oF
Did I get to use a spey rod?: Nope.
Enjoyment grade for the day: A-

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Trout Bum Diaries: Volume I, Patagonia -- a movie review

Brookie from EsquelI received my copy of the "Trout Bum Diaries: Volume I, Patagonia" DVD on Friday a couple weeks ago. After a way-too-long and hyper-aggravating work week, it was a very pleasant surprise inside my mailbox when I got home. I knew how I'd be spending my Friday night.

B and I whipped up some dinner and parked ourselves in front of the TV to enjoy the DVD - and we were not disappointed. The movie trailer I linked to previously is a very accurate taste of the DVD in its entirety. If the movie trailer makes you smile or causes you to get your flyfishing gear out for a quick recreational inventory, you'll definitely like the full version. The DVD is arranged in 2 general sections - the main ' feature' part is about 1.5 hours in length and there's another hour of 'bonus footage.' The movie is slickly filmed and well edited and essentially brings us along with 4 'trout bums' on a 5-month-long fishing trip across eastern Argentina and Chile. The movie is organized as an informal travelogue as the guys make their way south from Buenos Aires along the Atlantic coast.

These guys are pretty darn good at their chosen professions of fly fishing and movie-making. They've obviously been influenced by the current genre of 'extreme' outdoor sports cinematography and by Warren Miller ski movies, and they've made this approach work very well for a fishing movie. The soundtrack that serves as a backdrop for the stunning visual presentation is a mixture of elegant classical music, locally appropriate Andean pipe music, hardcore rock tunes and several categories in between. Instead of focusing on the technical side of fly fishing, the way that many fishing TV shows are currently presented, these guys never mention fly choices or tippet size or from what angle they're going to approach a cast. They simply immerse themselves in the experience, in the landscape, in the stream, and they take us along for the ride.

Big rainbowThe video focuses on the great stuff that makes up the great stories they'll tell their friends and family later - huge beautiful fish, broken-down vehicles, blisters, mud, snagged rod tips, friends, wader-topping 'puddles', mountains, sky, rain, wild flamingoes, horses, guanacos, falcons, emus, and more gorgeous colorful fish - and not on the cold, technical aspects of the trip where most fishing videos focus.

The landscapes and locations where these guys stop to fish are highly variable. The footage begins with a trek back into a swampy, boggy spring creek for some huge, colorful brook trout. They also fish some high desert spring creeks that are small and narrow, but undercut and deep enough to house big brown trout. They even stop and fish an area of bamboo-lined glacier runoff. Really. They catch some enormous sea-run browns and some fat mountain lake rainbows. They catch lots and lots of huge beautiful fish - deeply colored, 3-pound brook trout; fat, football shaped, 6-pound rainbows; fresh, silvery 10-pound brown trout. I'll just say it - there is no shortage of blatant fish porn on this DVD. It's all very good.

I've watched the video a couple times since that Friday night when it transformed a horrible work week. I'm glad this movie is in my small collection of DVDs as I know I'll watch it many more times. I'd wholeheartedly recommend it to any obsessive-compulsive trout angler. I may never get to fish this area of the world so I'm glad to have had this glimpse into the experience. It'll fill the void during the winter months or anytime a little fly fishing fantasy is in order - while we await the release of Trout Bum Diaries Volume II, New Zealand...

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24 March 2006
It seems like 'all fishing, all the time' here this week...

Here's a fish video that's a little bit unusual. I wish I understood Spanish or had the slightest clue what's going on here. It is definitely worth watching this video all the way to the end. (Consider not clicking the link if you already have nightmares about fish.)

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22 March 2006
For the Pisciphiles in the audience...

In case you've missed them, I thought I'd bring to your attention a couple of fly-fishing oriented radio show/podcasts that are available for your downloadable, mobile enjoyment. I'm aware of 3 separate offerings.

Fly Fish Radio [RSS] is the eldest of the group. Hosts Mike Overton and Wylie Thomas have just published their 14th podcast. (The 15th is up now -3/24/06) The subjects of their attention are largely western mountain streams of Utah, Colorado, Montana, etc. Each show features a guest. Guests may be famous fly tiers, guides, anglers or writers. Past guests include Norm Albiston, Mike Lawson, Scott Sanchez and Lance Egan. Episode #11, featuring Scottish guide Ian Colin from Ontario is my favorite so far. Ian is an extremely funny guy. The newest episode, #14, is the only one to discuss eastern US fishing. It features Dirk Fishbach from southeast Michigan and his approach to fly fishing for smallmouth bass on the Huron River. Each episode is 30-40 minutes in length.

Zach and Lauren Matthews are the creators of The Itinerant Angler [RSS] podcast and website. Zach is a photojournalist and law student and his geographical area of fly fishing expertise is the southeastern US - Tennessee and Arkansas. The Itinerant Angler website is a very attractive presentation of photos, extensive writing and a bulletin board in addition to the audio podcasts. You'll find 3 published podcasts to date, ranging from 30 to 50 minutes and covering subjects from streamside photography to tactics for big White River brown trout. Zach even includes some tunes by Old Crow Medicine Show. This is good stuff all around. Be sure to check out the photoblog too.

The newest entry into the field of fly fishing podcasting is Ask About Fly Fishing Internet Radio [RSS]. Hosts D. Roger Maves and Don Bishop have published only one episode so far, but it's definitely worth a listen. They've taken a slightly different approach to their podcasting efforts. The format is a call-in show and questions for the guest may also be emailed to Roger and Don in advance. The inaugural 80-minute podcast features Mike Lawson and his thoughts about fishing spring creeks. The next show, scheduled to air live on April 5th, will cover fly fishing for pike with guest Barry Reynolds.

The audio quality of some of these podcasts leaves some room for improvement. For some podcasts, I found it difficult to adjust the volume of the car radio such that I could hear both the studio hosts and a guest on the phone line; that was a tad frustrating. But all the podcasts are easily enjoyed on the computer or with my iPod plugged into my home stereo.

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20 March 2006
'Secret Creek' fishing report [19 Mar 2006]

B with a monster 14-inch 'Secret Creek' brown troutB and I enjoyed a full weekend of fly fishing and fly fishing people. On Saturday, we drove across the state to the Midwest Fly Fishing Expo in Warren, MI. We had volunteered to spend a couple of hours at the Flygirls booth distributing information and selling raffle tickets and Flygirls merchandise. We saw lots of friends and made a few new ones while occupied there. Colleen, Nancy and Bill, Dorothy and Jim, Anne and Sandy were in and out taking turns at the booth. We chatted briefly with Bob Linsenman and the UP guys and a few other fly shop folks from around the state. If you can't go fishing, the next best thing is hanging around with these folks. Lefty Kreh and Bob Clouser were on hand giving a bunch of seminars and demonstrations, but I missed them all. We spent our 2 hours at the Flygirls booth and then spent another 2 hours taking in the rest of the booths, displays and people. One of B's flyshop friends is now a Sage rod representative and he invited us to try out Sage's new electronic casting analysis system. It works better than I thought it might - it actually made sense. My results were fairly symmetrical, but there's a small hitch in my backcast that explains my strong propensity for wind-knots even on calm days. (I think 'wind knots' must've been named by a very kind, unassuming fisherperson.)

On Sunday, we hit the road for 'Secret Creek' again. During the past week, we'd been hearing reports of incoming steelhead passing wiers and dams and fishermen around the state as a result of waning river levels following our recent rains. We figured there'd be a heavy crowd on most all rivers, so we headed for our favorite small stream hoping that the crowd might be on the light side. Overnight temperatures got down to a crisp 20 oF (6.6 oC), so we didn't head for the river too bright and early. We figured the cold night would cause the fish to be a bit inactive until the bright sun warmed up the water a bit, plus we weren't looking forward to chipping ice off our rod guides any more than absolutely necessary. We arrived at the stream at about noon and began to see vehicles parked at every access from the creek mouth upstream. Our favorite access has apparently become everyone else's favorite too; there were 11 cars parked there when we arrived. We kept on driving upstream a couple more accesses until we reached one without any traffic. Shoulder-to-shoulder combat fishing is not our preference. We parked, shimmied into our waders and, while we strung up our rods, another truck with a couple of friendly gentlemen pulled in. Friendly angler karma was in effect - we planned to head downstream and they were hoping to go up.

A beautiful 12-inch 'Secret Creek' brown troutIn this section, the small river winds through a narrow wetland at the foot of a series of gravelly hills. Hiking through the swampy flat along the river bank is fairly difficult. This is a stretch where we rarely encounter other anglers because few are willing to press on very far through the snaggy, snarly, brambly underbrush and squishy, muddy areas. It's not easy to thread a 9-foot fly rod through the tangle of branches and vines. The reward for all our trouble though, is bend after bend of fishy, sand and gravel-bottom water with lots of deep, tree-root covered holes and one big deep splashy hole at a man-made concrete overflow dam. We fished our way downstream, hopping from one good-looking spot to the next. The water was coming down from our previous outing and beginning to clear. Just past the first bend, we caught 3 nice brown trout, all on yarn eggs. B's was the fish of the day - a pretty 14" brown trout - a very nice fish for this little stream. We saw very little, if any, excavated gravel throughout this stretch. The steelhead do not appear to have actively begun any spawning preparations.

The day was much warmer than I'd expected. I'd dressed for a crisp, chilly day, but the bright sun made 40 oF quite comfortable. The afternoon was warm enough, in fact, that we enjoyed a pretty heavy stonefly hatch. At times, the number of 1" black stoneflies cascading down from the trees to the water surface approached a light snowfall. We were constantly wiping them off our face and neck. A few trout were actively smashing the surface, making a good meal of them. It was tempting to clip off the bobber, split-shot and egg/nymph setup and tie a Griffith gnat on a floating line and target the rising trout. But, I enjoyed just watching them. It was impossible to take 2 steps without stepping on the purple-spotted spathe of an emerging skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). It's apparently a bit early for marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) though; I didn't find any.

The 3/4 mile hike/wade back upstream was quite tiring. Struggling through the brush and mud eventually took its toll. We were tired and hungry by the time we got back to the road. The friendly fishermen were gone, but there were 2 new pickup truckloads of other anglers to take their place.

Fleece quotient: 1 heavy
Lost flies: 3 or 4
Ghosts-of-deer-past: 2
Wildlife sightings: various and sundry woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, red-tailed hawks, broad-winged hawks, wood ducks, grackles, black stoneflies (little and medium)
Steelhead: no action whatsoever
Air temperature: almost 40 oF
Water temperature: 40 oF
Did I get to use a spey rod?: Nein.
Enjoyment grade for the day: A-

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18 March 2006
S&S is one year old today!

S&S is one year old today

Woohooooo!! 337 posts, 385 thoughtful comments and almost 18,000 wonderful visits since day 1. Like George W. Tush, I had no plan at the outset. Unlike Tush's efforts however, I really like how this endeavor has turned out. I get to flex my one slightly creative brain cell once in a while, write about my favorite ways to spend my free time, rant about parts of American life that are nearly insufferable and blather on about some marginally, interesting, sometimes overlooked scientific subjects occasionally.

I've developed a bunch of really important relationships through this place, with many of writers of the blogs listed under the Science & Nature Blogs list in the sidebar to the right. And also with many of the participants of the I and the Bird, Tangled Bank, and Circus of the Spineless blog carnivals, whether they realize it or not. I look forward to reading their words as often as possible and I'd recommend them to any and all visitors here. They are a witty, smart, insightful, funny and extremely knowledgable and creative lot. Their writing, blog work and expressive creations are what the internet is supposed to be all about. Mission accomplished. I've never actually met any of these folks mind you, but I'd like to think I will have a chance to go birding or fishing or on some sort of field trip with a couple. I also get to stay in touch with a few of my friends and siblings around the world via this space. Bottom line: I think this helps my sanity slightly, and that's a good thing.

BTW, my slightly older blog-sister, Nuthatch, turned one this week as well.

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17 March 2006
'Secret Creek' fishing report [11 Mar 2006]

B drifts a nymph through a promising runB and I snuck out again for a quick steelhead fishing trip last Saturday afternoon. The skies were seriously overcast but calm, and the afternoon air temperature maxed out near 60 oF (15 oC). I chose to don my summer-weight breathable waders rather than neoprene. We last fished this small stream on March 6 when the flow was definitely on the low side of normal - I guessed it to be maybe 100 ft3/s then. This little creek is too small to warrant an official USGS streamflow gauge, so I'm just guessing at the volume. On Saturday, however, the rain and melting snow had increased the flow to probably 8 to 10 times the volume at our previous outing. The stream was still crossable, however, if you know where to attempt it. But it was flowing high, dark and fast, and well out of its banks.

We were surprised to find 3 other trucks parked at our access point - a sure sign that the spring steelhead season is underway. We could access most of our favorite spots and so headed straight for them since we were getting a late start. The creek looked well-suited to a spring steelhead run, but I quickly felt my fishing confidence dissolving in the high, murky water. I drifted eggs and nymphs under a bobber for a short time before switching to a heavy sinktip line and a dark streamer. With the water so high, the fish could be hanging out almost anywhere and I had little confidence in my approach. I chose the alternative of slowly sweeping a buggy-looking streamer through as much of the 43 oF (6 oC) water as I could, hopefully avoiding most of the underwater snags. I gently swung both dark and bright wooly buggers deeply and made my way downstream, addressing the stream more like pocket water than the long, wood-strewn riffle that it really is. The high, fast water and submerged, hidden TroutGrrrl-trippers helped me make this decision. I had to circumnavigate a stinky deer carcass on the bank at one point. Later, I'd have to hike over or around 2 older, less aromatic ones. Stumbling onto one of those little carnage scenes in the brush, while you're otherwise focussed on not snagging your precious waders and flyrod on twigs and barbed wire, is a rather startling experience. I fished downstream a few hundred yards, as far as I could go, catching nothing but sticks, leaves and grass, then hiked back upstream to find B. I did quicken my pace past the smelly ghost-of-deer-past.

I caught up to B. She was fishing in the hole where I'd started and reported that she'd caught nothing either. We hiked back up to the road for a quick snack and a drink of water. All but one of the trucks was gone - a sign that the fishing results were probably not particularly positive for anyone. We then headed across the bridge and upstream to find a few more good spots.

Picking our way through the prickly, brambly brush, we shortly came upon a wading gentleman that we first met on Secret Creek over a year ago and have subsequently bumped into a number of times. He's a really warm, friendly guy with lots of fishing experience and lots of interesting stories to share. Last year, he and I quickly figured out that we both work within the small world of Michigan agriculture and have had occasion to contact each other for work purposes too. Meeting him on the stream on Saturday turned out to be the high point of the outing. We chatted briefly and, not wishing to distract his fishing time or ours, continued on our way.

B and I made our way up to the upper reaches of stream access, slowly swung streamers through all the likely water way too many times, and then made our way back downstream toward the road. At my regular crossing point, I ran into our friend again and, after a short chat, learned that he'd just returned from a business trip to northwestern Montana. What a lucky guy. I mentioned that B was also lucky enough to have a professional reason to visit Flathead County late this spring, and he quickly promised an email with a list of 'must-fish' spots. We chatted a while longer about Michigan, Montana and trout fishing and several points in between. The 3 of us waded and hiked downstream together and called it a day. No fish, but it was a few hours well-spent.

Fleece quotient: 1 heavy
Lost flies: 3 or 4
Spills, mishaps, slip-and-fall accidents: 0!
Wildlife sightings: noisy red-winged blackbirds, a couple red-tailed hawks, LBBs
Air temperature: almost 60 oF
Water temperature: 43 oF
Did I get to use a spey rod?: Sorta, my little one.
Enjoyment grade for the day: A

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Inspirational 'Boston Legal' video clip

Here's a very nice clip of a speech defending our constitutional rights. Too bad it's made-for-TV-drama fiction. I hope Harry Reid and the rest of the Democrats are watching...

via AmericaBlog.

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16 March 2006
I and the Bird #19

I and the BirdBora at Science and Politics has assembled a collection of 40 avi-centric posts in the 19th edition of I and the Bird blog carnival. Most of the usual suspects are listed, along with lots of new ones. Enjoy...

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15 March 2006
Irrefutable evidence, "slam dunk," ...

11. Turkey vultures

12. Killdeer

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Tangled Bank #49...

The Tangled BankIt's been posted by GrrrlScientist over at Science Blogs' Living the Scientific Life.

There are 32 posts on a variety of scientific and medical subjects including submissions from Mike at 10,000 Birds, Bev at Burning Silo and Coturnix of Circadiana among other regulars and newbies.

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13 March 2006
How cool is this?

An entire blog devoted to soil science - Transect Points by Philip Small. He's only been blogging for a few months, but I can tell I'll be visiting regularly. Where else can you find good soil-blogging? Well, he does link to a couple other 'dirty' blogs, but it's not a large field.

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12 March 2006
I believe it now

The evidence is accumulating:

  1. Afternoon temperatures in the 50's for 5 days
  2. Rain
  3. Thunderstorms
  4. Muddy, muddy road
  5. High, blown out rivers and streams
  6. Sandhill cranes
  7. Red-winged blackbirds
  8. Spring bulbs emerging bravely
  9. Steelhead fishermen are suddenly out again, dang it
  10. Bugs on the windshield

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11 March 2006
From the eye of the potato, #1

Agriculture News

  • Soils:Worlds Underfoot

    The Smithsonian Institution, the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA), and others are planning a 5,000 square foot soil exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The projected opening for the “Soils:Worlds Underfoot,” exhibit, is 2008. The exhibit will occupy one entire hall of the museum and will be displayed for 1.5 years. It will feature state soil monoliths and interactive soil displays. Each of the 50 states and three U.S. territories will donate a monolith of their state soil for the display. A separate mobile exhibit will travel to hundreds of museums, schools, and libraries with soil education kits, web-based activities, curriculum, and career information.

    The exhibit is expected to require 2+ years for the Smithsonian to design, build and install. Sponsored by the SSSA, the final decision about exhibit building, design, and content rests with the host: Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. The total cost is projected to be $4 million.

    The exhibit will emphasize the living, biological nature of soils, the variation in soils from one region or locality to another, the dynamic nature of soil, the role soil plays in linking the earth's air, land and water resources, and the importance of taking care of our non-renewable soil resources.

  • A Stanford University study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science confirms the ecological benefits of organically produced apples. In the study, orchards fertilized with composted chicken manure or alfalfa meal leached less nitrate into groundwater than the conventionally fertilized plots. Plots supplied with a 50/50 blend or organic and synthetic fertilizers leached an intermediate level of nitrates.

    The organic and integrated plots produced more non-harmful N2 gas than conventionally fertilized trees, but all 3 treatments produced a similar amount of N2O, a greenhouse gas.

  • Agriculture commissioners from North Dakota, Massachusetts, West Virginia and Wisconsin met with Drug Enforcement Administration officials in late February to explore acceptable policy changes on industrial hemp farming. Farmers wish to grow non-psychoactive, low-THC industrial hemp for use as foods, animal bedding, biofuel and paper. Pro-hemp farming laws have already been passed in Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana and West Virginia. California and Vermont currently have legislation pending on the issue.

    I did not unearth this nugget here.

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10 March 2006
Cramped for space?

May I suggest a petri dish garden?

Petri dish garden #2

Petri dish garden #1

There's more where these came from.

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09 March 2006

We've been enjoying yet another spell of warm weather around these parts. Afternoon temperatures have been in the 50's for the past 2 days (57 today). The snow is nearly gone and our dirt road is quite exciting to navigate. Our house is no place for 2-wheel drive right now. Some people pay extra or travel to far-flung locations for this kind of extreme mud-bogging entertainment. Around our house, it's a twice a day experience.

Bird life is in flux too. B said she heard her first red-winged blackbird yesterday in a tiny marshy spot hear our house. I've watched small flocks of sandhill cranes circle over head a few times in the last week. I love hearing their 'outer space' voices. I continue to be amazed that this sound is made by earthly creatures. Though I've seen robins around the greenhouses for most of the winter, now their yackety laughter is hard to miss around home in the early evening. And speaking of evening, I'm really enjoying taking Dylan for his morning and evening walks in the daylight. We've been terrified all winter that we'll startle one of our local skunks on our early or late dog-walks-in-the-dark. We can handle the possums and rabbits and deer, but I'd prefer not to meet a skunk. Morning twilight is beginning at about 6:30 AM and it's not dark until after 7:00.

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07 March 2006
Brokeback Mountain

Rock Creek, Montana, 2004I finally got around to seeing "Brokeback Mountain" at the movies several weeks ago, and I have to say, it deserves every bit of praise it has received from critics and the film festival circuit. I was disappointed that it didn't win a couple more Oscars, but it appears that there were quite a few well-crafted films to consider this year. I'll also state, right from the start, that I'm a big fan of Annie Proulx and so walked into the movie hoping and expecting to enjoy it. I'm also extremely unlikely to be offended by gay overtones and I'm generally mesmerized by western landscapes, so my default position was definitely positive on this movie even before purchasing tickets. After viewing it, my opinion is even further in the positive direction. I am already looking forward to watching it again.

I think I've read most of all of anything Proulx has ever published. I thoroughly enjoy her spare-but-rich writing style; a simple sentence paints a thousand vivid images:

"The first snow came early, on August thirteenth, piling up a foot, but was followed by a quick melt. The next week Joe Aguirre sent word to bring them down -- another, bigger storm was moving in from the Pacific — and they packed in the game and moved off the mountain with the sheep, stones rolling at their heels, purple cloud crowding in from the west and the metal smell of coming snow pressing them on. The mountain boiled with demonic energy, glazed with flickering broken-cloud light, the wind combed the grass and drew from the damaged krummholz and slit rock a bestial drone. As they descended the slope Ennis felt he was in a slow-motion, but headlong, irreversible fall."

I initially read Proulx's short story, "Brokeback Mountain" several years ago soon after it was published in 1997 or 1998 as a short novella. When I picked it up, I had no idea what I was about to read. I assumed this story was a lot like most of her others - powerful, featuring a small cast of strong but quirky, well-developed characters eeking out a difficult life within a sparse, harsh, unforgiving landscape. However, my jaw nearly hit the floor when the story took the unexpected and now-famous turn toward romantically engaging the two cowboys spending the summer high in the mountains. The story's incredible power comes from Proulx's apolitical, anti-stereotypical portrayal of a very simple, very tragic and extremely believable love story. It's no wonder some folks are offended or scared; it's hard to marginalize this one.

The second step in creating this gorgeous and powerful film was performed superbly by the folks who translated the story to screenplay. Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana did an amazingly accruate, sincere and faithful job of breathing life into Proulx's story without redirecting or lightening it. Ang Lee took over from there designing and directing this beautiful film. Lee contrasted the huge, permanent, endless western landscape with the small, insignificance and transcience of humans and their squalid, grubby little towns. Lee uses this contrast of the greatness of nature against unfortunate civilization to argue that the love between Ennis and Jack is an obvious and natural force corrupted by the arbitrary rules and unfair expectations of human society. Lee’s technique is beautiful, simple, direct and unpretentious. A wonderful combination with Proulx's similarly written story.

The actors did a wonderful job of carrying the story to its fullest. I've never thought of Heath Ledger as a serious actor before, but this movie changed my tune. He was stellar. Lastly, the musical soundtrack for this movie was sublimely artful and appropriate to the size and scale of the mood created by Lee's cinametography. It's a collection of simple, somber and elegant guitar and violin pieces that manage to suggest a country-western theme without forcing us to hear it as such.

Overall, this is a movie that I easily award a 'thumbs-up.' I wholeheartedly enjoyed the story, the screenplay, the filming, the music and the message. It's one that will grace my small and select DVD collection when that option becomes available. The only minor problem that the film caused for me, and it's a small thing, is that, for a movie set in those landscapes, on beautiful mountain rivers, with the pretext of 'fishing trips', there could have been more fishing.

Here are additional reviews by Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and the Advocate.

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06 March 2006
'Secret Creek' fishing report [6 Mar 2006]

'Secret' Creek 3.5.06Six weeks have ticked by since our last fishing outing. Six weeks. Sunday's afternoon trip to Secret Creek was way overdue. The day was beautiful - mostly sunny, calm and the afternoon air temperature was a comfortable 42 oF ( 5 oC). We last fished on January 22 - that trip was also to Secret Creek. At that time, the water was running quite high from recent rain and melting snow. On Sunday, even with a little snowmelt, the flow was back down to the low side of normal - maybe 100 ft3/s.

We arrived at our first-choice access spot at about 2:00 PM. We layered on fleece and waders, rigged up 6-7 weight rods with indicators and nymphs and hiked and waded upstream toward some likely steelhead holes. We split up and each fished a familiar and favorite stretch. I quickly got the feeling that the day might not yield as many fish as our last trip. The water levels seemed a bit lower than optimal and, after 30 or 40 drifts through a hole where I should've caught at least a little brown trout or two, I hadn't even felt a nibble. Hmmm. Well, it was nice to be outside enjoying the sun, the air, and the relatively intense bird action along the stream.

Tree ornamentation - this is how you know it's a good fishing spotI changed flies a couple times, then hiked and waded further upstream to fish a couple more stretches. I made my way well upstream of the furthest point we normally reach. During my hike, I gave up on the steelhead possibilities and switched to a streamer and a small sink tip for my return trip downstream. I tried to slowly swing my black egg-sucking leech over all the deeper spots and likely fish stations. Before long, I hooked a little 9" chub - not exactly the target of my efforts, but a little tug on the line is mostly a good thing. My anti-chub sentiment illustrates that trout fishing is not without classism. Chubs, a member of the carp/minnow (Cyprinidae) family, are generally considered to be the 'trash' fish of a trout stream. They're slimier than trout, they've got a less discriminating appetite than a trout and so are easier to fool with a fly, and they're often found in the slower moving, schluckier parts of a trout stream. They're just not as pretty as trout either - if I may be granted temporary permission to judge nature based solely on arbitrary physical features. OK, I'm done.

The sun was disappearing over the western horizon. I continued swinging my streamer and wading downstream toward where I had left B earlier, and I shortly found her. She reported catching 3 trout - browns and rainbows. The biggest was about 12", which is pretty nice for this little stream. We headed downstream together and swung streamers all the way back to the road and beyond, toward a nice bend with a deep hole. I reeled up and watched as B casted her wooly bugger up against the overhanging branches on the far side and swung it slowly across and down through the entire deep bend. No takers. I noticed, in the tree above my head, evidence that a lot of fellow anglers considered this particular spot to be extra fishy.

Fleece quotient: 1 mid + 1 heavy
Lost flies: 0!
Spills, mishaps, slip-and-fall accidents: 0!
Wildlife sightings: cedar waxwings; downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers; Canada geese; sandhill cranes, sparrows
Air temperature: 42 oF
Water temperature: 38 oF
Did I get to use a spey rod?: Yep, my little one.
Enjoyment grade for the day: A

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Not so many international footprints

create your own visited countries map

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05 March 2006

John's post compelled me to go ahead and map out the states I've visited. I usually think of myself as having travelled only lightly, but this map of my domestic travels says otherwise. Maybe it simply refects my 40+ years of life in the US. You can't help but trample on a few states as you make your way through that much life I s'pose.

create your own visited states map

A few colored-in states represent bonafide visits and a couple only represent an airport layover or a pass-through on a drive to a neighboring state. FTR, I think the folks creating these sorts of mapping diversions shouldn't always exclude Canadian provinces and Mexican states.

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03 March 2006
Trout Bum Diaries movie - available

Filming in PatagoniaThere've been rumblings and gossip among the more compulsive portion of the fly fishing community for some time about a trout fishing movie that's supposedly been in the works since 2004. The movie is now available. It's called 'Trout Bum Diaries: Volume I, Patagonia." The movie has been filmed and produced by 'The Angling Exploration Group' (the folks behind the FishSpawn blog). They describe their fly fishing movie as follows:

This video is the result of five months of sleeping in the dirt, driving from 11,998 kilometers from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, river after river and lake after lake along the Andes, the spine of South America.

What's revolutionary about this video? The world of fly fishing is filled with videos and television shows on everything from casting skills to what outfitter to fish with in Montana. There is very little in the industry that is "pure entertainment", and our aim is to fill this void.

Our films are laid out in a modified surf/snowboard video style, fast action with commentary between music sequences. They are shot "trout bum style", and are filled with shots of real life trout bums sleeping in the dirt, exploring new waters, hiking streams, floating rivers, and of course, catching fish! You won't find any instructional commentary here, and we guard all of our film locations by using imaginary names. This is pure fly fishing entertainment.

Their movie trailer worked like a charm on my compulsive fly fishing psyche; it's essentially fly fishing porn. I ordered a copy immediately.

It looks to be a slickly built movie that may be focused more on the experience of fly fishing and the culture of fly anglers who submerge themselves (figuratively!) in the experience and in the nature of the landscape - as opposed to, say, the type of outdoor enthusiasts who drive around in a leather-appointed SUV scanning the roadside for coveys of quail or lawyers to shoot at. Less tweed and elitism, more mud, water and trout. We'll see. I'll let you know my thoughts once the DVD has arrived and has received a proper viewing.

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02 March 2006
I and the Bird #18

I and the BirdThat Rob! He's the birder-proprietor of The Birdchaser blog and, apparently, quite a forward-thinking kind of guy. Today, he's posted the 18th edition of I and the Bird blog carnival from 30 years in the future. He writes to let us know that, in 2036, no one questions global climate change anymore and that people still care about birds - enough to tag them all with RFID chips to facilitate birding. The posts he has assembled cover a very wide range of birdy subjects and include a few bloggers new to IATB.

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Here's a couple more

Joan and Tom, 1954

Aunt Joan and Uncle Tom in the yard at the farm, playing a game that requires a few handy props and a little resourcefulness. No Playstation necessary. They look like good kids, don't they? There's a nice car in the garage and that same old chest freezer up against the far garage wall that remained until the 80's.

Ethel Whitman with Old Kate and her colt

Here's my Gramma as a young woman, in the late 1910's or early 1920's probably. She poses with the horse, Kate, and her colt. Kate was a critical part of the farm, as was every horse on every farm at that point in time - before pickup trucks were the standard. She pulled carriages and wagons, transported people and things, hauled the one or two cans of milk into the creamery every day.

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