Evolution has endowed the big-footed snowshoe hare with a particularly nifty skill. Over a period of about 10 weeks, as autumn days shorten in the high peaks and boreal forests, the nimble nocturnal hare transforms itself. Where it was once a tawny brown to match the pine needles and twigs amid which it forages, the hare turns silvery white, just in time for the falling of winter snow. This transformation is no inconsequential feat. Lepus americanus, as it is formally known, is able to jump 10 feet and run at a speed of 27 miles per hour, propelled by powerful hind legs and a fierce instinct to live. But it nonetheless ends up, 86 per cent of the time by one study, as a meal for a lynx, red fox, coyote, or even a goshawk or great horned owl. The change of coat is a way to remain invisible, to hide in the brush or fly over the snow unseen, long enough at least to keep the species going.
Snowshoe hares are widely spread throughout the colder, higher reaches of North America – in the wilderness of western Montana, on the coniferous slopes of Alaska, and in the forbidding reaches of the Canadian Yukon. The Yukon is part of the Beringia, an ancient swathe of territory that linked Siberia and North America by a land bridge that, with the passing of the last Ice Age 11,000 years ago, gave way to the Bering Strait. All manner of mammals, plants and insects ferried east and west across that bridge, creating, over thousands of years, the rich boreal forest. But in this place, north of the 60-degree latitude, the axiom of life coloured by stinging cold, early snow and concrete ribbons of ice has been upended in the cosmic blink of an eye. The average temperature has increased by 2 degrees Celsius in the past half century, and by 4 degrees Celsius in the winter. Glaciers are rapidly receding, releasing ancient torrents of water into Kluane Lake, a 150-square-mile reflecting pool that has been called a crown jewel of the Yukon. Lightning storms, ice jams, forest fires, rain – these things are suddenly more common. Permafrost is disappearing.
Such rapid-fire changes across a broad swathe of northern latitudes are testing the adaptive abilities of the snowshoe hare, however swift and nimble it might be. Snow arrives later. Snow melts earlier. But the hare changes its coat according to a long-set schedule, which is to say that the snowshoe is sometimes snowy white when its element is still robustly brown. And that makes it an easier target for prey. In 2016, wildlife biologists who tracked the hares in a rugged wilderness in Montana gave this phenomenon a name: ‘climate change-induced camouflage mismatch’. The hares moulted as they always had. It’s just that the snow didn’t come. Survival rates dropped by 7 per cent as predation increased.
In order to outwit its newest enemy – warmer winters – snowshoe hares would need something in the order of a natural miracle, what the biologists, writing in the journal Ecology Letters, called an ‘evolutionary rescue’. Like the Yukon, this pristine corner of Montana was projected to lose yet more snow cover; there would be perhaps an additional month of bare forest floor by the middle of this century, on which snowshoe hares would stand out like bright white balloons.
philosophizing with the trail boss (Speed)
Speed, Lisa & rōbert
the trail boss, Aaron Rodriguez, rōbert & Django
A just completed four-night backpack with Denny Hogan, Ben Dobbin & Mike Friedman around Navajo Mountain with a novel start by boat (Mike Friedman’s Adventure Partners love boat) from Lake Powell.
Seldom Seen Denny
A menace lurks beneath the snow high up in the southern Rocky Mountains: Dust. Lots and lots of dust.
This dust speeds up spring water runoff, causing intense melting and streams to peak weeks earlier than usual — which wrecks havoc throughout the alpine ecosystem. Water managers and fire forecasters alike are sounding the alarm about the consequences of less water flowing in streams and reservoirs.
At first glance the dust seems innocuous. How could something so simple undermine water infrastructure, stress wildlife and lengthen the wildfire season all at once?
For most of the winter, dust stays buried under blankets of snow. Then, as the days grow longer and the sun’s rays begin to melt the top layers, it begins to show. To see the dust before this happens, you need to dig a snow pit.
In the spring, Jeff Derry can often be found waist-deep in one of these pits, somewhere in the southern Rocky Mountains. Derry, the director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton, Colo., pays close attention to the amount of dust that winds up embedded in snow.
“I’ll be curious if you’re going to be able to see the dust event we had Feb. 18 and 19,” Derry said one day in April, shoveling snow over the edge of a half-formed pit. “It is very subtle.”
Derry uses a range of instruments to pull details from the pits, each fine-tuned to measure snow qualities such as temperature, density and reflectivity. But the best way to gauge the magnitude of a dust layer is with the human eye, Derry said.
“It’s very qualitative in a sense,” he said. “You go out, you look for it, you dig, you see what you see.”
In Derry’s current cross-sectioned snowpack, about 7 inches down, is a beige-colored band of dust.
This tiny little strip of dust has the potential to upend how water is managed in the West. Eventually, Derry says, this snow will melt and empty into the Colorado River. Its watershed provides water for some 40 million people in the southwest.
When there’s no dust on the snow, it’s brilliantly white: On a sunny day, this kind of snow can be reflective enough to cause eye damage. Without dirt or dust, the snow melts off slow and steady — like the drumbeat of a drip from a faucet. Dust cases the snow gets darker and absorb more sunlight.
“It melts the snow faster than it would have otherwise,” Derry says. “And then it melts down to the next dust layer, and so on and so forth until all the dust layers have combined at the surface of the snowpack greatly reducing the [reflectivity].”
When these dust layers combine, the sun’s radiation quickens the pace of runoff, making it all that more difficult to capture and divvy up the precious water.
This quickened runoff makes managing water harder and upsets mountain ecosystems, causing earlier green up of vegetation. And when snow melts earlier, wildfires have more opportunity to spark and take hold.
Most of the dust that’s settling in places like the San Juan mountains comes from the desert southwest, from land disturbances like farming, oil and gas drilling, cattle grazing, recreation and residential development on the southern end of the Colorado Plateau.
“It’s kind of a slow crisis, a slow disaster,” said Rich Reynolds, an emeritus researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver. “It’s not like a hurricane. It’s not like an earthquake or a volcano.”
In the past 50 years, as the Sun Belt boomed, scientists recorded a dramatic rise in the amount of dust being deposited on snow — which forces fundamental changes in how spring runoff occurs. Reynolds says reversing this trend won’t be an easy task.
“There’s no one size fits all in terms of mitigation for these kinds of source areas,” he said. “Plus, these are large, large areas.”
In a 2010 study researcher, scientists found that in heavy dust years, the Colorado River’s flow on average peaked three weeks earlier than in years without heavy dust deposition.
The same study also found that earlier melting snow reduces the amount of water that runs to the Colorado River by about 5 percent. That’s more water lost than the entire state of Nevada uses from the river in a year.
And then there’s climate change.
“What we found looking at those two in this region, is that it was actually dust that controlled snowmelt timing and magnitude and sort of how fast snow ran out of the mountains, as opposed to temperature,” Skiles said. “We didn’t see any relationship to temperature at all.”
Warming temperatures are more likely to affect and diminish total snow accumulation, causing some snow to come down as rain. But when it comes to runoff, dust is the controlling factor. It’s the sun’s rays that force snow to melt, not outside air temperature.
While science is beginning to paint a clearer picture of how this phenomenon plays out, Skiles says that there’s plenty the field doesn’t know about dust.
“We still have some questions on what controls the actual dynamics of the dust events themselves,” she said. “We see dust in every year, but there’s a high variability between the amount of dust that’s deposited each year.”
Back in the San Juan mountains, Derry says he’s bracing for more dust events this spring. The mountain range has registered five dust events since October. Derry says the San Juans are ground zero for this problem. And because they’re a key part of an already overtaxed Colorado River system, he says everyone in the seven U.S. states and in Mexico that depend on the river should be concerned.
“We’re located at the headwaters of four major watersheds,” Derry says. “And our mountain systems are undergoing change at a fundamental level.”
Change that could make the West an increasingly dry — and dusty — place.
This story is part of a project covering the Colorado River, produced by KUNC and supported through a Walton Family Foundation grant.
PICASSO AND THE PAINTING THAT SHOCKED THE WORLD
By Miles J. Unger
Illustrated. 470 pp. Simon & Schuster. $32.50
In biography, struggle is invariably more interesting than success. The most irresistible memoirs prefigure celebrity entirely, from Moss Hart’s “Act One” and Emlyn Williams’s “George” to David Niven’s “The Moon’s a Balloon” and Dirk Bogarde’s “A Postillion Struck by Lightning.” These are tales of lightness, possibility and wonder. It was in this spirit that I welcomed Miles J. Unger’s “Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World,” which traces the artist’s childhood in Spain through the creation of “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” in 1907, to the otherwise heaving shelves of Picasso literature.
Credit2018 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Picasso’s pre-1900 work is marked by his father’s art-school conservatism, as seen in the dark, unpainterly “First Communion” of 1896 and “Science and Charity” from the following year. Picasso was liberated from the 19th century’s heavy-handed conventions in Paris, which he first visited with his friend and fellow aesthete Carles Casagemas in October 1900. There he found inspiration in the Louvre, in the retrospectives of the flickering Impressionist generation, in his acquaintance with would-be painters and poets and, it appears, in the invigorating camaraderie of la Vie Bohème.
On the way to the hothouse, proto-Cubist summer of the “Demoiselles,” the shocker of his book’s title, Unger ably covers the El Greco-influenced “Blue”and “Rose” periods; the patronage of the Steins; and Picasso’s path-altering discovery of African art in the collection of the Trocadéro museum, the precise dating of which has divided scholars.
Unfortunately, insistent platitudes and pigeonholing tend to mar Unger’s efforts. Picasso is “bathed in the dazzling aura that surrounds all famous men”; Montmartre is the “ground zero of the worldwide avant-garde”; Picasso is compared to “an athlete before the big game,” an actor on “the stage of history” and “an ingénue making her way to Hollywood.” In one passage, Picasso’s rivalry with Matisse is described as an aesthetic “game of thrones.” Elsewhere, Picasso and Braque are said to knock Matisse “from his perch atop the leadership of the avant-garde,” imbuing painting with all the nuance of Flywheel. Unger plays up the “tortoise-and-hare” caricature of the contest of Matisse and Picasso, “the plodding striver against the facile genius, the introvert against the extroverted gadfly.” In his view, “Picasso was a born rebel, Matisse a rebel through circumstance, and a reluctant one at that.”
[DISCLAIMER: This episode o tells an extremely disturbing story. This is not suitable content for children or anyone who shouldn’t read a graphic and detailed account of murder.]
Spade Cooley came to California in the early 1930s, as poor as everyone else who did the exact same thing at the exact same time. Only, Spade became a millionaire. And all he needed to accomplish that was a fiddle, a smile and a strong work ethic. If it sounds like the American Dream, stick around to hear how it became an American nightmare of substance abuse, mental illness and, eventually murder.
The first 45 years or so of Spade Cooley’s life went more than alright.
Born 1910 in Grand, Oklahoma, with the name of Donnell Clyde Cooley, the official story is that Spade was one-quarter Cherokee. That’s backed up by his attendance at Chemawa Indian School in Oregon, where his family moved when Spade was 4 years old.
Spade’s father played fiddle at local dances and he hoped his son would one day find success as a classical cellist or violinist, a dream that Spade shared as a child and he took his lessons accordingly. Though his classical training did not lead to a classical career, it did eventually lead to paying jobs playing fiddle at local dances, just like his dad.
Performing music and doing a bit of amateur boxing seems to have occupied Spade’s time until he was around 18 years old, which is when he eloped with Anne, a full-blooded Inuk from school and soon-to-be mother of their son, John. A year deep into what is now known as The Great Depression, this young family would arrive in California with nothing but, and I’m quoting Spade here, “a fiddle under one arm and a nickel in [his] pocket.” The year was 1930 and, as it turns out, he didn’t have much to worry over…
Spade Cooley was always the kinda guy to make you feel like his best friend. He called every man he met “son.” He’d put his hand on your shoulder and a smile in your face. When he showed up for a job, he was there to work hard and make sure it got done right. Knowing his way around the fiddle like he did and the ability to sight read sheet music was enough to place Cooley at the top of several call lists for short-notice, pickup gigs. That “down home” good ol’ boy routine helped him move up the ranks of the Los Angeles music scene fast, which is how he came to play with the Jimmy Wakely Trio, Riders of the Purple Sage and Sons of the Pioneers.
Unless you go add it after listening to this, you won’t find Spade Cooley’s name on the Sons of the Pioneer’s Wikipedia page. To be fair, that legendary group is a bigger part of Spade’s story than he is a part of theirs. By the time Cooley came around, they’d already had their signature hit with “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and the group’s breakout star, Roy Rogers, had mostly moved on to work in major motion pictures. But Roy would still come around every now and then. Someone pointed out that Spade Cooley bore a passing resemblance to Roy Rogers. Before you know it, Spade was bringing down some extra cash by serving as a stand-in for Roy on movie sets during the day, while still playing pickup gigs with multiple bands on the L.A. dancehall circuit at night. With one foot firmly planted in each of Southern California’s most desirable professions, Spade was about to find himself a very rich and very famous man.
Who Is Spade Cooley?
Every country music fan with more than a passing interest in Western Swing knows the name Spade Cooley.
It’s like a little bit of trivia for the genre.
There are two facts we associate with that name. One – Spade Cooley was “The King of Western Swing” long before that title was transferred to Bob Wills. Two – Spade Cooley murdered his wife.
But there’s a lot of story hiding in those two facts.
“The King of Western Swing” was more than just a cool nickname. For most of the 1940’s and 1950’s, Spade kicked as much ass as it was possible for a musician in Los Angeles to kick. It would be difficult to exaggerate his professional success. Not only does Spade Cooley have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame but at the height of his television show’s popularity it’s estimated that 75% of L.A. viewers were tuning in on any given night. Put it this way. In 1951, Frank Sinatra already had over 20 Top Ten singles to his name but his career wasn’t doing so hot anymore. He needed a comeback and part of his plan for that was a singing appearance on Spade Cooley’s hit TV show.
Looking back on it now, we can see things ended up working out pretty well for Frank Sinatra.
Spade Cooley, not so much. Because of that second little piece of trivia.
Now, I don’t know how so many people are comfortable using a simple word like “murder” to sum up Spade Cooley’s actions on the day of his wife’s killing. This was not a domestic argument that got out of hand. Not an accident with a dangerous weapon. Not a so-called crime of passion. This wasn’t even an isolated incident. It was a savage and deliberate execution which many people had to have seen coming.
In the 50th-anniversary year of the death of John Coltrane, Zen teacher Sean Murphy looks back at the jazz icon and how meditation practice and a deep interest in Eastern traditions informed his monumental late-period work.
One predawn morning in 1964, the already-legendary saxophonist John Coltrane was sitting in meditation in his Long Island home when the structure and themes of his masterpiece, the album A Love Supreme, came to him in its entirety. “It was the first time I had it all,” he said, as reported by his wife, pianist and harpist Alice Coltrane, with whom he shared a practice of meditation and a deep interest in all things spiritual.
This was not the first time that Coltrane, who came to consider his musical improvisation a form of meditation in itself, experienced what he thought of as divine grace. He’d sweated out addiction — his first, failed path to transcendence — in 1957 after what he described as a “life-changing spiritual experience” that helped him overcome heroin and alcohol and set him on a search for other means of transcendence, through meditation, prayer, and music. His search would also profoundly influence the jazz world, and the cultural landscape of western society itself.
“There are always new sounds to imagine: new feelings to get at. And always, there is a need to keep purifying these feelings and sounds so that we can really see what we’ve discovered in its pure state.” —John Coltrane
Fifty years after his death in 1967, Coltrane remains a cultural and spiritual icon, exerting an influence over jazz that is impossible to escape — so much so that it has given rise to a strange phenomenon, surely one of a kind: the Saint John Coltrane Church. Based in San Francisco, the SJCC is an actual community of worship that continues to this day, using A Love Supreme, Coltrane’s signature work, as scripture and hymnal.Before Coltrane, jazz had largely been regarded as a sensual, even risqué form of expression, linked as much to libation as to liberation. But jazz and spirituality have always been linked.
Jazz is an improvisational art form — it requires the moment. Total immersion in it, that is. I have long been struck by the unusual purity of the best of this music, despite the fact that it was so often developed under the most impure of conditions: smoky clubs, alcohol, drugs, and the inescapable burden of racial prejudice. How could this be possible? As a Zen practitioner/teacher and musician myself, I feel the answer lies in a brand of what we in Zen call working samadhi – an immersion in moment-to-moment activity so complete that it becomes essentially a meditative state. Improvisational music, at least at the level of complexity exhibited by jazz, requires a putting aside of the ego — if you start thinking of good or bad, try to impress, become distracted by the flubbed note of the last moment, try to anticipate the next moment, or give yourself over to anything else but what’s happening now, you’re lost. To play truly great improvisational music, you have to lose yourself.
The best musicians, like Coltrane, are able to summon an immersion in the moment that can transcend even the worst environments, personal problems, or state of health. Of course, this doesn’t mean that certain players don’t inflate themselves after the fact, building themselves up and taking credit for what in essence, had passed through them — via, perhaps, the greater power to which Coltrane often alluded. But Coltrane was not one of these.