September 30, 2007

Im on ur porch, studying ur wayz

Tiny plantigrade strikes adorable pose, sizes up puny humans

He wasn't on my porch, thank god. This clip was taped in Running Springs last Thursday [September 27]. The drought is making wildlife bolder -- more desperate -- than usual. (The pointy toe at 2:00 is classic.)

September 20, 2007

Fire on the mountain

So we're driving up to the cabin at dusk on Friday and my cousin says, "Is that smoke?"

Me: "Nah --- it's just a cloud."

[Snow Valley, 10 minutes later] Cousin: "Hey, look! Firefighters!"

[Artic Circle, a few minutes after that] Me: "Oh. my. god."
[fire is burning down the ridge above us] Me: !#$&*! Eep!
Cousin: "I'll look -- you drive."
So we race to the dam with flames red-orange on top of the ridge, and the wind is blowing NE and NW and the fire is roaring towards Fawnskin on the north shore, and on the south side of the lake you can't even smell smoke. (Yet.) Our cabin is south of the lake.
Years of drought, forests dry as tinder, and I'll be damned if some chucklehead didn't [allegedly] set the whole thing off with an illegal campfire. Good work, Einstein! Most of the north shore was placed under mandatory evacuation. 2,500 firefighters were on the lines, and at one point helitankers were filling up by the dam every thirty seconds. You could see the smoke as far away as Utah. Tonight an unusual storm system is expected to drop snow to 5,500 feet, which is great for reducing fire danger but very bad for cabin pipes. It hasn't been what you'd call a restful week.
I took the first three photos from the south shore of Big Bear Lake, near the Stanfield Cutoff. (A tanker crash-landed there Monday.) The fourth photo was taken from the base of Snow Summit, and the last photo was taken looking north from Meadow Park. Click on the photos for larger views.

Fire links, I got 'em:
The super-fantastic folks at --- tons of coverage, frequent updates, and locals providing photos and running commentary.
National Weather Service.
The Big Bear Grizzly.

From the scanner:
12:11 PMWed 9/19
air to Groveland 4C - they sent us out here to drop water for you; {response} if you can see where that helicopter is dropping that sling load; we're on the east side of Division A; keep coming and I'll give you a mirror flash
12:13 PMWed 9/19
{Groveland to air} drop in the interior there along that string of manzanitas, over by the rocks; {air to Groveland} you're clear if I drop; {Groveland to air} all clear
12:17 PMWed 9/19
Groveland to air - don't know how you feel about getting a little lower; air to Groveland - "aw I can get in there and spank it for ya"
You firefighting guys and gals are the best, you know that? We love you tons. Thank you!

Big thanks to: the U.S. Forest Service, CalFire/California Department of Forestry, Bureau of Land Management, National Parks Service, Nevada Department of Forestry, the Texas Forest Service, and the local fire departments of Alameda, Alhambra, Anaheim, Aptos La Selva, Atascadero, Atwater, Arroyo Grande, Bakersfield, Ben Lomond, Bennett Valley, Big Bear City, Big Bear Lake, Branciforte, Burbank, Butte County, Carpinteria-Summerland, CDF Santa Clara Ranger Unit, Channel Islands, Chico, Chino Valley, Cloverdale, Clovis, Colton, Colorado Springs, Compton, Consumnes, Corona, Diamond Springs-El Dorado, Dinuba, Downey, East Bay Regional Park District, El Cerrito, El Dorado Consolidated, El Dorado Hills, Fairfield, Felton, Folsom, Fort Hunter Liggett, Fresno City, Fresno Consolidated, Fresno County, Garden Grove, Georgetown, Gilroy, Glendale, Grass Valley, Graton, Hollister, Huntington Beach, Kentfield, Kern County, Kings County, Laguna Beach, Lake Valley, Larkspur, Lawrence Livermore, Laverne, Linda, Livermore-Pleasanton, Loma Linda, Lompoc, Los Angeles City, Los Angeles County, Madera County, Manteca, March Air Reserve Base, Marin Wood, Merced City, Merced County, Mill Valley, Montclair, Montebello, Montecito, Monterey Park, Monte Rio, Montezuma-Solano County, Moraga-Orinda, Morro Bay, Murrieta, Newport Beach, North County-Monterey, Novato, Oakland, Ontario, Orange City, Orange County, Orcutt, Pacific Grove, Parks RFTA, Pasadena, Paso Robles, Pechanga, Pioneer, Pismo Beach, Porterville, Quincy, Rancho Cucamonga, Red Bluff, Redding, Redlands, Rescue, Riverside City, Rohnert Park, Ross Valley, Sacramento City, Sacramento Metropolitan, Salinas, San Bernardino City, San Bernardino County, San Gabriel, Sanger, San Francisco, San Jose, San Luis Obispo City, San Luis Obispo County, San Mateo, San Miguel, Santa Ana, Santa Barbara City, Santa Barbara County, Santa Clara, Santa Fe Springs, Santa Maria, Santa Paula, Scotts Valley, Shasta County, South Pasadena, South Placer, Stanislaus City, Suisun City, Susanville, Tehama County, Templeton, Tiburon, Tracy, Tulare, Tulare Consolidated, Two Rock Coast Guard, UC Davis, Union City, Upland, Vacaville, Ventura City, Ventura County, Vernon, West Covina, Winters, Yuba City and Zayante, in addition to invaluable help from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, the California Highway Patrol, CalTrans, the Big Bear Lake Municipal Water District, the Big Bear Area Regional Wastewater Agency, the American Red Cross and the California Department of Fish and Game.

100% containment tonight. Un-frikkin'-believable work. Thanks, all!

September 11, 2007

Vicki Hearne, Esmerelda, mountain lions and the "female Michael Vick"

Vicki Hearne's work riles me up. She was naive about dogfighters and a wee bit sadistic when it came to training --- but she was a dog person to her marrow and she could write like nobody's business. She died of cancer in 2001 at the age of 54, and I'm sorry as hell she's gone.

The University of Chicago Press has just produced a collection of thirty-six posthumous poems by Hearne, edited by her old friend John Hollander:
When I asked her what it was she worked at, she replied that she trained dogs and horses, to which I may have responded in a less than fascinated way. But within a very few minutes she had elicited my complete absorption. She spoke right away of her interest in the relation between psychologists' behavioristic accounts of what an animal was doing when it was learning to respond to a command or signal, and the very different kinds of stories that trainers would tell each other—and themselves—about what was going on.
Louisa Thomas has a review of Hearne's Tricks of the Light in the New York Sun:
[Vicki Hearne] was a prolific essayist, an assistant professor at Yale, a poet, a respected horse and dog trainer, and a passionate defender of the pit bull. She was taken seriously in both the academy and in the kennels where she spent much of her time. But she was not wholly at home in either. As she wrote in her book "Adam's Task: Calling Animals by Name," "Dog trainers and philosophers can't make much sense of each other." The trainers talk about animals in anthropomorphized language, whereas philosophers tend to assume that only humans are truly moral creatures. Ms. Hearne spent much of her time trying to bridge the gap — to build off of what the philosophers say about consciousness and the trickeries of language, while vigorously defending the idea that animals are in on the game.
Read the entire review here. Vicki Hearne's work can raise hackles, but in the Jon Katz/"Marley and Me" era, it's more important than ever to recognize an intelligent author who knew a great deal about dog behavior and dog training and who never pandered to the bandana collie crowd.


Pibble in Newsweek! Literate white guy [take that, haters] writes about his sweet Esmerelda. [Don't imagine for a second that a 70 lb German shepherd with a thunder phobia couldn't wreak just as much havoc. This just in: big dogs are strong.]


Mountain lion stories, I've got a million of 'em: a mountain lion wandered into our neighborhood a while back and jumped up onto a wooden fence --- the fence broke under its weight, and the lion toppled through a window into someone's home. The mountain lion ran around the house for a few minutes, jumped out the broken window, and disappeared. This happened a few blocks from where I live. There are regular mountain lion sightings in the park up the street. We have deer and coyotes in the neighborhood sometimes, too, but they generally don't carry your 60 lb dog away.


Here's a news report on that video everyone was so angry about.

I could rant about mean children, inept parents, the fact that poverty is no excuse not to clean up your yard and teach your ten year old child how to care for puppies, but that's knee-jerk, self-righteous stuff. I don't know this family. I don't know whether the mom just lost her job, whether the child has suffered some unspoken trauma --- I don't know why the girl isn't inside watching television or down the street playing with friends. What I do know is that it sucks to be poor, and that children learn by example. It's hard to do what you've never been taught.

If I could, I'd invite this kid to join me at the local shelter and help with pups and kittens. I don't think she's evil or cruel --- I suspect she's just following the sad examples she's seen since she was old enough to walk. More than punishment and humiliation, maybe she needs a chance to spend time with adults that don't scream and hit. She needs an opportunity to do the right thing --- and she needs to be shown what the right thing is in the first place. Given the chance, she could learn to be good with pups. "Female Michael Vick"? You're kidding me. If you want cruel, I can think of a few upper middle class white guys I know who beat the crap out of the family dog for one stupid reason or another ["He chewed on my tool bench when I locked him in the garage overnight"], and who will never, ever be taped by a neighbor or have their dogs taken away.

Here's a link to the follow-up video: the dogs are rescued! The [former] dog owners, not so much. From the commentary:
The district attorneys office, in particular Laura Janssen was instrumental in saving these dogs. In the videos you can see the mother dog licking the faces of a detective and Laura. I want to stress what a great animal advocate Laura is. She was wearing a very nice suit and was covered in fecal matter, from having cradled these pups in her arms.
And on camera, too! What a saint! Let's take up a collection to cover her dry-cleaning bill. [/sarcasm]

Apologies for the jaundiced attitude. The family is left as ignorant as ever and more miserable than before, but the dogs were saved, and that's the important thing --- right?

September 10, 2007

An outrun of sheepdogs, a flanking of trials

A flock (down, drift, drove, fold, herd, meinie, mob, parcel, trip) of sheep.

(What would the best collective nouns be? A gather of sheepdogs? A fetch of trials? A sunburn of set-out workers? A whistle of handlers?)

For the second year in a row, Tommy Wilson and his Sly are the Meeker champions. Not that I called it or anything [sprains arm patting self on back]. My fave Rye made the double lift finals and placed seventh. Only three dogs finished the course..! (Eleven year old Pippa is a marvel.) The Meeker sheep are famously tough --- handler Alberto Stern from Switzerland was "very impressed" with the western range ewes.

Re Soldier Hollow: more terrific photos from the trial are scattered throughout this Border Collie Boards thread, and Jan's excellent photo collection can be viewed here.


Glyn Jones of Lanarmon, Denbighshire and his Ben are the 2007 Welsh National Champions. The Welsh team is listed here, and full coverage of the Irish, English, Scottish and Welsh Nationals can be found on the ISDS site here. The International begins this Friday, September 14 in Burnchurch, Kilkenny, Ireland, and for your viewing pleasure, here is a video of English team member Kim Gibson and Rob.


The 2007 Western States Regional Championship Sheepdog Trial was held the same weekend as Soldier Hollow this year -- strong competition at both trials. Ellen Skillings and Midge from Tulelake, California are the 2007 Western States Regional Champions. Complete results on the WSRC web site.

And last but not least, best wishes to everyone in our own National Finals. If you happen to be anywhere near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania next week, take the opportunity to see some of the finest working dogs in the country in a beautiful and historic setting. Good luck to all dogs and handlers!

"Alex the Grey Parrot, Colleague of Irene Pepperberg, Dead at 31"

Alex, the world renowned African Grey parrot made famous by the ground-breaking cognition and communication research conducted by Irene Pepperberg, Ph.D., died at the age of 31 on September 6, 2007. Dr. Pepperberg’s pioneering research resulted in Alex learning elements of English speech to identify 50 different objects, 7 colors, 5 shapes, quantities up to and including 6 and a zero-like concept. He used phrases such as “I want X” and “Wanna go Y”, where X and Y were appropriate object and location labels. He acquired concepts of categories, bigger and smaller, same-different, and absence. Alex combined his labels to identify, request, refuse, and categorize more than 100 different items demonstrating a level and scope of cognitive abilities never expected in an avian species. Pepperberg says that Alex showed the emotional equivalent of a 2 year-old child and intellectual equivalent of a 5 year-old. Her research with Alex shattered the generally held notion that parrots are only capable of mindless vocal mimicry.
Read more on the passing of this splendid individual at GrrlScientist's excellent blog, and from Christine Kenneally at the Huffington Post. From the NY Times:
Even up through last week, Alex was working with Dr. Pepperberg on compound words and hard-to-pronounce words. As she put him into his cage for the night last Thursday, Dr. Pepperberg said, Alex looked at her and said: “You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you.”
Safe journey, Alex, and thanks.

September 5, 2007

News Roundup: Bill Berhow and Pete win at Soldier Hollow

First: Bill Berhow and Pete (Yay!)
Second: Bev Lambert and Bill
Third: Amanda Milliken and Ethel

Screen caps are from the Salt Lake Tribune's coverage --- be sure to watch the slide show featuring Pete's winning run. And look at Bill standing at the pen! Moves like this and this are common, but Bill looks about as desperate as a man waiting for a bus.

For a selection of excellent photos from Soldier Hollow, visit the gallery at the Border Collie Boards.


Trials City! Wednesday, September 5 is the third and final day of the Welsh National: for full coverage, see the ISDS site. Beginning on Wednesday in Colorado is the Meeker Classic, with 120 dogs competing for a $20,000 purse. The UK's International Sheepdog Trials 2007 will run from September 16 - 18 in Burnchurch, Kilkenny, Ireland, and North America's National Sheepdog Finals will be held in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania from September 18 - 26.


The Olympian Online has a good article about Lawdogs founder Diane Jessup and the eight pit bulls working with the Washington State Patrol as bomb- and drug-detection dogs:
Jessup said she picks certain pit bulls that might have the right stuff for law enforcement training by measuring how good they are with people and whether they enjoy playing with a toy. It's important for a pit bull to love toys because they're used as rewards during training, she said.

Jessup said suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick's recent guilty plea to a federal dogfighting conspiracy charge has drawn attention to the fact that pit bulls often are mistreated. "They're finally seeing pit bulls as victims" instead of villains, she said.

Jessup is checking whether she can get custody of any of the dogs that were seized from Vick's kennel. One of the members of a team assembled by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to evaluate the surviving dogs from Vick's kennel has worked closely with Jessup, and she is going to determine whether any of the dogs would be appropriate for LawDogsUSA, Jessup said.
Another video to check out, too.


Finally, a dog -- and a worried owner -- in Baghdad.

An Iraqi staffer in the L.A. Times' Baghdad Bureau writes:

I hated to send Lucky away.

Lucky is my dog. He's black and reddish-brown, with white on his paws and black spots on his face -- probably a German shepherd mix. He looks a lot like the dogs that search our cars when we go into the Green Zone.

We got him six years ago when he was a puppy. But my house is on a highway where there is a lot of shooting, and I told my brother the gunfire was so intense that even the dog was terrified. He said Lucky should live with him in his district, Mansour, which is quieter...
Read the rest here.

September 4, 2007

Weekend at the cabin

View through a front porch window: my sister heads for the kitchen.

Waiting for a thunderstorm.

My best girl reads BARK.

Our cabin is an inholding in the San Bernardino National Forest. My great-grandmother got the lot lease in 1919. There are flickers and nuthatches in the trees, bear and deer in the shadows, blue-tailed lizards under fallen logs, splashes of lichen in secret places, and coyotes that jabber and shriek under the windows in the dead of night like a witches' sabbath. The cabin has a big stone fireplace in the main room that doesn't warm the place up much, and a big wood stove in the kitchen that does. We heated water on the wood stove and used kerosene lamps until I was twelve. The cabin got an extra bedroom that year, and electricity and an indoor bathroom. A few years ago we finally got a phone. The cabin is bright and peaceful in the morning and a refuge from mountain thunderstorms in the afternoon. At night the surrounding forest is shadowy and quiet, and when there's no moonlight it's pitch dark and the stars are the size of dinner plates. I've gone to the cabin every summer since the year I was born, and my ashes will be scattered there when I die.