Monday, June 24, 2019

Scatter My Ashes Where The Power Poles Lean

Long days following bird dogs across the prairie are a delight, a privilege, a claim rarely allowed other places in the world. I make it a point to remember that fact when I can.  Days afield, steadily walking the hills and coulees of Montana, North and South Dakota, Kansas, and Wyoming with no interference, except the occasional four-strand barbed-wire fence.  There is plenty of time to think.

It seems, over the years, and close to a million miles driven, that I usually end up in a part of the world devoid of trees.  Although one of my favorite places is the Great Northwoods, I seem to gravitate to the plains.  The Beast and I will tote the dogs west until the pines are supplanted by deciduous forests, then tall and short grass prairies, finally, the sage and mesquite take over. Along the way, we cross the Big Muddy and the Old Man River, and numerous smaller watercourses.  They were incredible barriers to expansion.  We blast over them now at over a mile a minute, without so much as a passing thought to the men and women with brains and money enough to span a mile of river with a bridge for trains, then cars.

Hunting native prairie grouse (Sharptails, Prairie Chickens, Sage Grouse), and non-native game-birds (Hungarian Partridge, Pheasant, Chukar) in the blue sky, open country of the west is worth the drive.  The Dakotas are a gentleman's compromise for a bird hunter.  They are a little less tame than Kansas and Oklahoma, and much more refined than wild Montana or Wyoming.  When asked about traveling to hunt, and destinations, I will normally suggest Kansas.  To my mind, it is the safe start to life-long adventure following bird dogs.  There is not too much in the way of danger to the dog, lots of public land, and lots of birds (in a good year).  But, one may outgrow the training wheels after a few years, and look towards some greater adventure with their hard-working dogs.  The Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho beckon. It's time to expand that comfort zone.  With greater risk is much greater reward.

Hunting the prairie, sometimes, boils down to the basics.  Coffee, driving, putting out, and picking up. When the day is done, and the thoughts turn to feeding, cleaning, fueling, warming, and, finally, sleeping, it usually involves a long, tiring drive back to the motel or camper.  Back down the two-track, then the widened gravel road (past isolated ranch houses and old shut down missile silos), as we look for the pavement and, finally, a smooth ride. The next day will be the same with the biggest decision where to put out, and which dog to run.

Through the years, I've noticed the ubiquitous power poles.  Perhaps due to a friend who recently took a job running a rural electrical company on the plains, I seem to look a little more at the poles and the towers.  I've discovered an interesting fact. My best days on the prairie have been where the power poles lean. Not the big, steel towers that carry a gazillion volts straight line across terrain that would give a Mountain Goat pause.  No, the short, little poles planted back in the day, with the cross bar located near the top, and glass insulators, usually 6 or so, spaced across the bar.  I suppose they brought electrical power to the remote parts of the country around the middle of the last century.  At the time, I imagine they were a technological advancement on a par with the airplane.  Yep, those poles.  30, 40, or 60 years of constant wind will push those poles out of the vertical.  Sometimes, all the way to the ground.

That constant wind, to me, is synonymous with  the outstanding bird hunting for the prairie birds. More and more, I see the remnants of long runs of old poles, leaning with the wind.  Fighting hard and winning a few battles, but losing the war. They, like the Old Roads, are reminders of a bygone era.  But, they mark the land I love to hunt.  Rarely, do I not see them, now that I look.  It's not that all leaning poles mark good hunting. it's that all good hunting is marked by leaning poles.  When the time comes, I think I'd like my ashes to be spread where I was one with the wind, dogs, birds, sun, snow, and rain- in the country where the power poles lean.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Arizona Rains = Arizona Quail

I received this email from an organization in Arizona called Rain Loggers.  There is hope for this year!

"May was another surprisingly cool and wet month for much of Arizona with an active weather pattern dominating the western U.S. Northern Arizona was under the gun much of the month as cool and wet storms moved in off the Pacific in a circulation pattern that looked much more like winter than late spring. Some of these storm systems did touch off thunderstorm activity across southern Arizona, bringing locally heavy rainfall to some locations.

The month started off relatively quiet as a weak and shallow ridge of high pressure tried to build in, but was quickly pushed back south as a broad trough of low pressure set up across the entire western U.S. starting on the 6th and persisting through the 11th. This brought a period of unusually cool and wet weather to Arizona for mid-May. Northern Arizona again saw most of the action during this period, with one RainLogger near the south rim of the Grand Canyon reporting precipitation every day with a total near 2”. RainLoggers from Sierra Vista up through Phoenix reported precipitation during this period, but in much lighter amounts with most observations in the 0.1-0.3” range.

Some lucky RainLoggers received very heavy precipitation amounts on the 11th as the upper level was moving through to the south of Arizona, helping to spark off thunderstorms that day. Southern parts of the Tucson metro area and down into Sahuarita were in the direct path of a slow-moving heavy thunderstorm that dumped almost two inches of rain. One RainLogger near the Tucson International Airport observed 1.8” on May 11th. The Airport received 1.10” of rainfall which was a daily record for May 11th.

Overall May was much below average temperature-wise and average to above-average for precipitation. Far northwest Arizona observed its record wettest and coolest May though, according to the Westwide Drought Tracker. Arizona is almost drought-free with only a small part of northeast Arizona under abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions.

We now turn our attention to the impending monsoon season. The official seasonal outlook issued by the NOAA Climate Prediction Center is concerned that the monsoon might have a late start, but confidence is low in this outlook. A lot of moving parts are at play including the expectation of a busier than normal east Pacific tropical storm season.

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