perspectives by Glenwood
Larry Lightner: Unusual Year, Unusual Critter
Jesse Hardin: Catron County Road Dispute
Dexter Oliver: The Crux of the Condor
Fr. Gabriel Rochelle: A Path Not Taken
Unusual Year,Unusual Critter
by Larry Lightner
To say that this has
been an unusual year is a gross understatement!.
The temperature at the Lightner compound dropped to an amazing minus eight
degrees one bone-freezing morning, then the drought hit and the rains came
late and when they did hit, most of them went right around us!
I'd watch the storms come from every
direction; a storm seemed imminent,
then about a mile or so before hitting,
they'd veer to the east, west, south
or north! Time after time I watched
them coming from the south, only to
separate and go on either side; very
strange weather indeed.
When we were fortunate to get an occasional frog-drowner, the ground soaked
it up so fast that there was seldom any runoff. At most, the soil became
loamy, but never truly muddy.
I could take hikes afterwards and never had to worry about my hikers getting "clumpy".
The pin oaks were late too; oh, they shed their leaves right on time in
March, but they never leafed out until well into August.
But the oddest event wasn't the weather,
but a critter- a mule deer doe to be
specific. She first showed up last
winter inside the four-foot high web
fence that surrounds the property.
The doe was lying up in the head of a brushy draw and the dogs flushed
her and sent her running back over the fence. I was hiking with them and
saw her go, but instead of her running away, she stopped about thirty yards
away and just looked back at me with those big, brown, soft eyes, as I
got to the closest point to her.
I stood there talking softly to her, as is my habit with all critters that
I approach close to. She just kept looking at me.
I'd never seen this doe before, at
least that I would have paid attention
to her. She was different in the fact
that she was quite lean but not ribby,
and she had extra long legs. Right
off I nicknamed her "Rangey Doe",
reminding me of some old wild Bronc
Whenever we'd see her, or jump her inside the fence, she was always alone,
and the dogs would jump her usually in the same place. In every case, she'd
jump the fence, then stop and stare at us from about the same distance.
In late August, just before the noon hour, I heard the dogs carrying on
in the back yard. There is another web fence, five foot high, that surrounds
the backyard. Huey and Buko were furiously barking at something very close,
but on the other side of the fence.
What the? Since no coyote or dog can get through the outer web fence, I
figgered that there was a fox, skunk or snake out there, maybe even a dreaded
I got out there fast as I could, hobbled by a recent back injury while
bear hunting, and arrived to see Rangey-Doe with her nose almost touching
the fence! Then she suddenly stood on hind legs and pawed the air with
her front legs in what I would call, a playful manner!
Upon seeing me, she stopped and stared
then abruptly turned and trotted down
to the outer fence and jumped. And
in her usual manner, she stopped and
stared back as I called to her.
A week later the dogs were again furiously carrying on, but this time right
off of the back porch where we have a bird feeder on the fence. Both Jeri
and I walked up and there stood Rangey-Doe, This time she didn't run away
but stared at us both at ten feet!
She could care less that the dogs wanted to tear her apart. Of course,
I asked her what she was doing; she didn't reply, but soon just casually
turned and walked down to the water troughs, then into the brush.
It happened once more in September; the dogs were below the driveway along
the outer fence and furious, so I hobble down there and sure enough, Rangey
was coming towards them but outside the fence. She's just not afraid; she's
I can't explain it. Did someone raise her from a fawn and with dogs? Why
does she seek the company of my hounds when they absolutely don't like
her? Many questions but no answers.
There is always something to see
and do "out there' -all ya' gotta
do is find it!
May the sun forever be at your back, the wind forever in your face, and
may The Forever God bless you too.
Catron County Road Dispute Hits Private
As County Commissioner McKeen states in his report about a road
Gazette), there was indeed a bulldozer run down
the San Francisco River between Reserve and Alma in October. Less
supportable, is the claim that it was a championing of private property
rights. Nor was this bulldozing in response to a call for access
by either county residents or visiting flatlanders. In 31 years,
I've almost never been asked for permission to drive through this
jeep-eating river canyon, and hunters on foot and horses have always
What they did was a deliberate provoking of the US Forest Service
to create a test of the feds' right to restrict vehicle travel on
any preexisting roads in this region - an illegal act of civil disobedience
that we might applaud for its spirit of resistance, but an act that
also happens to ignore, disrespect and violate private property in
the process. Locked gates were breached and trees trampled. Private
landholders are stuck in the middle of the latest county versus feds
fight, a lot like a child getting a black eye from being caught in
the middle of mom and dad throwing blows.
Old time respect for individual rights and private property was
one of the factors that led me to choose this wonderful place for
my home over 3 decades ago. A biker turned cactus hugger turned backwoodsman,
there could be no better home for me than here, which is why I set
aside writing and art to work hard labor jobs to pay for my own piece
My neighbors are every bit as odd, painfully honest and full of
attitude as I am, and I love them for it. But most of these good
folks let out a John Wayne laugh when they hear about the county
wanting to do repair and maintenance on this old wagon trail down
the river! They remember how I used to go to the Commission every
year for 15 years pleading for them to work on the "road" so
I could get the beat-up old vehicles I could afford into my land.
15 times I pleaded my case, 15 times I was told they were letting
it go and wouldn't be grading any crossings no matter how hard it
was for me to get home.
Today, right before I wrote this, some friendly enough fellows from
the Alma offroad vehicle club drove around our gate and moved trespass
signs in order to come ask about access. They had accepted the encouragement
of certain people to drive on down here without bothering to be told
they were getting into the middle of a big county/federal battle,
or that they would be considered in trespass by several of the landowners
whose land they would be crossing. I felt sorry for them, fellows
just out to have a good time, suddenly facing my irate wife who had
her cooking interrupted! If they feel set-up in this process, well,
they just might be right.
I do not personally believe in nor would I ever participate in litigation
of any kind, I should make clear right now. I do not readily celebrate
that fines said to exceed $60,000 will be levied against the county
by the USFS and other agencies that feel harmed, more costly private
lawsuits against the county will have their day in court, and yet
more scant county funds will go to paying lawyers and penalties -
and yet I have to accept that it's OK if that's how voters here want
their dollars spent. After all, the United States was founded on
expensive rebellions over matters of principle, and this latest move
on the part of the commission is no less driven by principles of
rights. The zealous Commissioners can strike a blow for me while
they are at it, against the corporate backed Obama government and
its endlessly expanding intrusion into our daily lives.
Unfortunately, whatever the merits of this debate on either side,
the county's freedom to protest federal road management also happens
to infringe in this case on the rights of private land holders -
who should by all means have the right to prevent people from entering
or damaging their property.
Whatever goes down between our ticked-off Catron County and a half
dozen equally ticked off federal agencies, this issue of private
land also needs to be considered and respected. And any innocent,
well meaning folks considering taking up the general invitation to
drive a disputed trail, should only fairly know the situation, and
know that they will be considered to be trespassing if and when they
make such a choice.
This isn't just about "roadless" versus access, trees
versus pavement, or even county versus forest service. Would anyone
reading this like to have their gates and signs ignored, and strangers
driving trucks and dozers through their front yard?
As an American citizen who busted his bottom to pay for his "yard",
I feel entirely patriotic in asking that it be respected.
Now go ahead and give the government hell, boys . . . it's the least
you can do.
The Crux of the Condor
by Dexter Oliver
Wildlife Consultant & Writer
I like California condors. It's an exhilarating
feeling to see a bird with a nine and a half foot wingspan glide thirty
feet over your head while it checks you out. Knowing that they had
their heyday 12,000 to 36,000 years ago during the Pleistocene Epoch
adds to their unique condition. The fact that they are as ugly as
original sin and reek of the dead carcasses they feed on doesn't detract
from their appeal. Because they are so out of tune with the complex
madness of the modern world it is easy for me to feel a certain kinship
with them. We are both endangered species.
I like them so much that I use the image of a California condor on
one of my business cards, right below the words "Action Wildlife
Services". But I am enough of a realist to know that the planet
has changed since the demise of mammoths, mastodons, giant sloths,
saber-toothed cats, and other megafauna the scavenger birds fed upon.
Back when humans were lucky to have a cave to dwell in but didn't
have to worry about inflated mortgages. Unfortunately the condors
haven't been able to adjust to overwhelming human activity and loss
of major food sources.
The condors' range shrank to our Pacific coast and population numbers
dwindled to just 23 when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS)
gathered them for captive breeding in zoos. That was in the 1980s.
The big birds did fine in this human conceived environment, propagated
well, and soon had excess numbers that were then put back out into
the wilds. Next year, 2012, will be the twenty year mark of this reintroduction
attempt by the federal agency and partners such as the Peregrine Fund
and the Ventana Wildlife Society. So far the project has cost 35 million
dollars. Despite a recent spate of magazine articles willing to claim
a glowing success (although they all still want you to send money
to help out) the reality is easy to see if one looks closely enough.
California condors have had a tough time of things since the very
first release efforts back in 1992. They died from forest fires, dehydration,
malnutrition, being shot, golden eagle attack, coyote attack, ingesting
lead bullet fragments from hunter gut piles, from chewing on lead
battery posts on cars, as well as swallowing antifreeze from radiator
hoses they sliced open with their powerful, sharp beaks. The birds
were imprinted on all things human way too much and they turned into
pests and vandals around the areas where they were turned loose. A
vast array of personnel, both federal employees and volunteers have
to feed them, chase them from people's homes and school yards, and
give them "human aversion training". They need to be monitored
constantly with radio telemetry and they have both transmitters and
large numbered signs riveted onto their wings to facilitate this.
Despite the on-going feeding of still-born domestic
calves to the birds they still have died from starvation. This can
sometimes be faulted to the condors themselves because they have
a rigid pecking order and the older, tougher birds often keep younger
ones from the food. In Tibet, there are members of a low caste, called
domdens, who handle human corpses for "sky burials". This
involves putting the deceased on a high spot to be devoured by vultures
because there is little fuel available for cremation. In our country
it is federal employees and their lackeys who lug carcasses to high
points to feed our own endangered members of the vulture family.
Another way these released birds have met their end is by colliding
with electrical power lines. Five have died this way since the first
releases with three dying in the past ten years near Big Sur. Because
the project is flailing every which way to come up with the "success" that
has been touted for years, the feds will do anything to try and keep
the project afloat. This has recently meant threatening the Pacific
Gas and Electric Company into burying about three miles of high power
line where the three condors met their fate. The endangered species
act (ESA) was invoked and used as a hammer over the electric company.
The work started in August 2011 and should be done in October (our
tenth anniversary of another great federal success, the war in Afghanistan)
at a price tag of 4.2 million dollars. A drop in the bucket compared
to what the Department of Defense has flushed down the toilet in the
Near East but still …
Interestingly enough, three state biologists and a helicopter pilot,
flying a deer survey northeast of Big Sur, collided with power lines
and were all killed in 2010. But the transmission lines there weren't
Back in 1991 north up the coast of California, one of the country's
most famous rock concert promoters, Bill Graham, and his pilot died
in another helicopter that hit high power lines but those transmission
lines weren't subsequently buried either. The list could probably
go on but I think the point has been made. And since condors can fly
150 miles a day, burying three miles of power lines, at such a cost,
seems like grasping at straws. Which is not uncommon with federal
Arizona got into the act back in 1996 when California condors were
first released near the Vermilion Cliffs and in the Grand Canyon.
Since there have not been enough food sources for these birds in this
area for a long, long time one has to wonder if "reintroduction" is
an accurate word to be using when describing the on-going open-air
zoo that the project really has become.
2011 marks the second year of condor puppet shows on the south rim
of the Grand Canyon and selling caps and tee-shirts with condor imprints
has become a cottage industry. But this all smells oddly like a freak
show at a county fair, where one might view a two-headed calf. Ted
Turner once contemplated releasing condors on one or more of his New
Mexico ranches but the realities such an action would have to deal
with seems to have proven too much.
I worked as a FWS employee on the condor project north of Los Angeles
in 2000 and quickly learned that the public was being fed a lot less
than the truth about any of what was happening. The feds had freezers
full of dead condors and files full of local newspaper stories reporting
all the failures within the program. The personnel involved didn't
seem up to the task at all. They were, however, competent enough to
go on routine calls to use a "Super Soaker", a large toy
water gun, to chase condors from people's homes that had been broken
into; or where vehicles were torn up by the birds that would chew
on anything man-made. These were free-flying but certainly not wild
I got to trap and handle fourteen of the condors, replacing old tags
and transmitters, and they seemed resigned to this indignation since
they had all been through it before and would be again.
We had to chelate (pronounced kee-late) one, treat it for lead poisoning
which is intensive hands-on work that you don't like to see done with
what is supposed to be a wild animal. Everything I saw proved to me
that if the birds were left on their own, as in a truly successful
reintroduction, they would all be gone within less than a year.
Since we have them breeding so well in zoos, where they do just fine,
why subject them to all the drastic problems they face outside of
cages? (Hopefully we won't have another situation like Europe did
during World War II when zoo animals, endangered or not, were eaten
by starving people.)
The answer, after twenty years of playing around with this stuff,
is that we're now doing it for folks to have jobs and to make money
off the backs of dead and dying "nonessential and experimental" condors.
Successful reintroductions, like elk and river otters in Arizona,
mean getting people out of the equation as soon as possible. If that's
not possible then there won't be any fulfillment.
I had been hired for a two year gig with the condors but by the end
of three weeks I knew the inside scoop, not the mistruths fed to gullible
reporters that I still see coming out in magazine articles. I had
enough integrity to resign my position. Not surprisingly, I recently
saw another job opening for that same job.
Dexter K. Oliver is a freelance writer and wildlife consultant
living in Duncan, AZ. There is a chapter on the California condors
in his book, "Tracks in the Sand: Tales From Outside City Limits".
WHERE THE SPIRIT BLOWS
Fr. Gabriel Rochelle
A Path Not Taken
It seems like a hundred years ago. My best
friend and I were in seminary and we had
this brainy idea. We would get two used
milk trucks like they used to drive for
home delivery, and load one with a refrigerator
full of beer and food and a couple beds
for sleeping. The other one would carry
folding chairs, an old pump organ, a pulpit,
and a tent.
We would start in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, which we believed
was the buckle on the Bible belt, and go westward from there.
He'd get saved one night to kick-start the offering, so
to speak, while I preached; the next night he'd preach and
I'd get saved. And so it would go.
This was all supposed to take place in summer, when we had finished a year
of seminary education. We were unvarnished smart alecks at the time, and
we thought this would be a hoot. We'd be like a carnival only instead of
pitching the ring toss game or the sideshow, we would preach the gospel
and rake in the bucks that folks would give to be saved night after night
across the southland. Maybe it goes without saying that we never perpetrated
the deed, perhaps because neither one of us had any money to get to step
one (buying the milk trucks),
perhaps because we came to our senses and realized we could not pull it
off without being hypocritical since it was decidedly not our style. We
had enough respect for people like Billy Graham see that his evangelistic
meetings had their place,
especially in America with its history of revival movements back to the
1740's. On the other hand, we had seen Burt Lancaster in the 1960 film
version of Sinclair Lewis's novel Elmer Gantry, decidedly not supportive
of phony evangelistic efforts.
Lo and behold, we find a review in the New York Times of October 12th on
Holy Ghost Girl, a book about a woman who fell under the spell of a traveling
preacher and dragged her two children along with her as they did the tent
meeting circuit in the sixties. The woman's daughter, who was three when
this adventure began, wrote the memoir. She remains ambiguous about the
experience and the evangelist.
Some readers will remember Marjoe Gortner, who appeared on TV talk shows
after a documentary film about his ministry appeared. He began preaching
at the age of four and amassed a huge following by his teenage years. Disillusioned
with the whole experience, however, he left the tent circuit and entered
acting. Some would say that was no change of career, only one of venue,
which I believe Mr. Gortner would say
I learned that, if I was going into the ministry, I had to be ruthlessly
honest with myself. I had to make sure that I was not bilking the public
with tall tales of God, but that I was sure enough of my experience to
use it as a ground for communicating with others. I had to check my experience
historical record to make sure I wasn't spouting wacky ideas.
I had to be able to look in the mirror to make sure
I was honest.
When Christian faith is treated like it belong on the sawdust trail, it
easily becomes a laughing matter for "intelligent" and "sophisticated" people.
But we must remember that Jesus did come among the lowly and the poor and
he brought them good news as an itinerant teacher. A percentage of those
drawn into tent meetings dig deeper and develop a faith mature enough to
last a lifetime. May we be like those folks.
Fr Gabriel Rochelle is pastor of St Anthony of the
Desert Orthodox Mission, Las Cruces, where he tries to remain
honest. Visit the church web site