The Billings Outpost

Rocky professors win major reseach award

Rocky Mountain College

Rocky Mountain College students will benefit from research study opportunities thanks to efforts of two RMC professors closely working with the Geological Society of America and ExxonMobil.

Dr. Thomas J. Kalakay, RMC associate professor, geology, and Dr. Derek Sjostrom, RMC assistant professor, geology, recently received the GSA/ExxonMobil Bighorn Basin Field Award. The award included a one-week field seminar where participants were “exposed to some of the industry’s latest techniques and concepts in petroleum systems analysis,” Dr. Kalakay said. “Through our participation we will be able to integrate cutting edge industry concepts into our geology classes.”

Establishing collaborative relationships with professional geoscientists at ExxonMobil, the world’s largest privately owned oil and gas company, will lead to exceptional research study opportunities for faculty and students at RMC, according to Dr. Sjosrom.

“I plan on having a series of undergraduates work on research projects in collaboration with ExxonMobil geoscientists,” said Dr. Sjostrom. “The first projects will focus on Mesozoic rocks exposed in the southern Pryors and into the Bighorn Basin proper.”

According to Sjostrom, RMC is located in a world-class hydrocarbon-producing region. The location, combined with new industry connections and an already strong relationship with local oil industry experts, sets RMC apart from all other schools in the region, he noted.

In a unique collaboration of academic and industry professionals, the GSA and ExxonMobil seminars focus on the Wyoming basin that has been explored and studied for more than 100 years by geoscientists.

The seminars are taught by four ExxonMobil professionals, who between them, have more than 100 combined years of research in integrated basin analysis, with specific skills in tectonics, geochemistry, structure, sequence stratigraphy, sedimentology, paleontology, hydrocarbon systems analysis, and integrated play analysis.

Through the exchange of ideas and development of projects the program will benefit students, academic professionals and the oil and gas industry. It also supports ExxonMobil’s efforts to hire high-caliber geoscientists, according to Jennifer Nocerino, a program officer with the non-profit GSA.

“ExxonMobil has veteran geoscientists with broad backgrounds and terrific experience. We were pleased when they approached the GSA to propose the creation of a hands-on experience for faculty and students,” Nocerino said.

ExxonMobil funds the Bighorn Basin Field Award program with GSA organizing and administering it. Nocerino said for students it is a rare opportunity and for all participants it is prestigious to be selected. Only 20 college students (15 undergrads and five graduate students) and five college faculty are chosen from more than 300 applicants.

“The program involves five teams, with each one making field trips in order to study the rocks,” Nocerino said. “Each team does their own research and interpretation then the information is shared. It’s a meeting of talented minds from academia and industry.”

GSA manages the lodging and meals, all funded by the ExxonMobil grant.

The Geological Society of America, founded in 1888, is a scientific society with more than 25,000 members.

 from academia, government, and industry in more than 100 countries. Through its meetings, publications, and programs, GSA enhances the professional growth of its members and promotes the geosciences in the service of humankind. Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, GSA encourages cooperative research among earth, life, planetary, and social scientists, fosters public dialogue on geoscience issues, and supports all levels of earth science education.

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 October 2013 20:00

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Hemorrhagic disease widespread

South central Montana is experiencing a widespread outbreak of hemorrhagic diseases that are killing white-tailed deer, antelope and possibly elk.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife biologists say the naturally occurring diseases are more widespread than they have seen before, but are not particularly intense in any one area.

Bluetongue disease has been confirmed in both an antelope and a white-tailed deer in the area between Hardin and Custer.

FWP has fielded reports of dead elk in that area, but have not been able to collect a carcass that is fresh enough to test.

Biologists also suspect that epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD, may be responsible for some white-tailed deer deaths.

Reports of dead white-tailed deer and antelope are widespread across the region, including farther west and south than have been seen before. Biologists have fielded reports of dead animals along the Yellowstone River as far upstream as Springdale, along Rock Creek as high as Boyd, along the Stillwater River to Absarokee and along the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone to the Wyoming state line.

Bluetongue and EHD generally infect less than a quarter of local deer and antelope populations. Biologists do not know how many animals have died from hemorrhagic diseases this fall in south central Montana.

But they do not believe the mortalities are intense in any particular area.

Both EHD and bluetongue are naturally occurring viruses spread by tiny biting midges. The virus causes bleeding that kills the infected animal within a day or two. Dead animals frequently are found near water, where they go to alleviate a high fever caused by the disease.

Symptoms of EHD and bluetongue are identical, so laboratory tests on tissue from fresh carcasses are needed to differentiate between them.

The biting midges, also called sand gnats or no-see-ums, reproduce in wet sand or mud. Their numbers peak from mid-August through October, which accounts for the season appearance of hemorrhagic diseases.

The first frost of the fall stops the midges and brings a sudden end to outbreaks of bluetongue and EHD.

Other parts of Montana, including the eastern half of the state and the Missoula Valley, have reported outbreaks of EHD this late summer.

Humans are not at risk of contracting the disease by handling or eating deer or antelope or being bitten by midges. Animals that develop infections secondary to the hemorrhagic diseases may not be suitable for consumption, however.

A brochure of additional scientific information about hemorrhagic diseases is available online from the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at http://vet.uga.edu/population_health_files/HD-brochure-web.pdf.

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 October 2013 19:47

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Poachers wanted

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks game wardens are offering a reward for information about an elk that was killed illegally in the Pryor Mountains south of Billings last month.

Game warden Courtney Tyree said someone killed the elk illegally and left all but the head and small amount of meat to waste.

The Pryor Mountain portion of hunting district 510 is closed to elk hunting because the herd there is struggling. “It is acts like this that are keeping the population from growing,” Tyree said. Also, it is illegal to leave elk meat to rot.

Anyone with information is encouraged to call Tyree at (406) 247-2940 or 1-800-TIP-MONT (1-800-847-6668). FWP is offering a reward of as much as $1,000 to anyone with information that leads to a conviction in the case.

The 1-800-TIP-MONT program is a toll-free number.

 where people can report violations of fish, wildlife or park regulations. Callers may remain anonymous. It is similar to the well-known Crimestoppers program and offers rewards for information resulting in conviction of persons who abuse Montana’s natural, historic or cultural resources.

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 October 2013 19:46

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How to raise a low-effort, high return garden

FLASH IN THE PAN

By ARI LAVAUX

A kitchen garden is as much an act of self-expression as a means of growing food. But not all of a garden’s expressiveness is intentional. In the same way that pets and their owners can grow to resemble one another, gardens can reflect their gardeners’ personality, including how fastidious, lazy and greedy they are.

It would be a stretch to accuse me of being overly tidy, and the same can be said for my garden. But lazy and greedy? Guilty as charged. And when I allow these tendencies to play out in the garden, the target result is high output with minimal input, to indulge both my great expectations and my, shall we say, hands-off approach. My garden isn’t the most organized patch of dirt on the block, but it’s the only garden I can grow. And it does what I ask.

At the core of my low-effort, high-return gardening style is a practice I call throwing seeds at the garden. This technique is exactly what it sounds like: After preparing the soil and deciding what I’m going to plant in a given plot, I blanket the area with seeds cast by the handful. These seeds are not for my intended crops, but for a blanket of leafy plants to cover the space between them.

The seeds, usually a mixture of leafy greens and carrots, grow into an edible, living mulch. I look at it as a bonus crop, as it grows in space that isn’t normally planted. And it fills an important function in the garden as a ground cover.

I often toss seeds at the garden multiple times in a season. This year’s first tossing, just the other week, was a mix of curly and flat-leafed endive, tall and round radicchio, escarole, lettuce, cilantro, spinach, chard, basil, and whatever else I could scrounge together in the old seed bag. I even threw in sunflowers, nasturtiums, and beets. I simply dumped all my old seeds from last year’s garden in a bag, walked outside, and tossed my seeds at the empty brown garden by the handful, like I was seeding grass.

The garden had been put to bed last winter with early season seed tossing in mind, so it was ready. I raked the ground before and after seeding, and then watered in the seeds really well. Already the ground is dusted with green confetti.

My garden is basically one big garlic patch, which works well for my practice. Garlic is a great crop to scatter seeds at for several reasons. Garlic plants grow vertically, both above and below ground, so there is no conflict with other leaves or roots. Garlic doesn’t need much tending in general, so you won’t be stepping much on your greens and carrots. Also, garlic likes mulch, and if I wasn’t using this edible living mulch I’d have to mulch it with something else, like straw. After the garlic is harvested in July, it’s off to the races for the scattered carrots and greens, which suddenly have the place to themselves.

Other crops that work well intercropped with edible mulch are similarly lanky, non-spreading plants like corn, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, to name a few. Tomatoes, strawberries, and other slow-spreading plants can work as well. After all, tomatoes don’t really fill in until July. You can grow a lot of greenery in the space between in the meantime. You can also train tomatoes vertically to allow more salad space between plants.

Even if you don’t know what main crop you want to plant yet, you can start your garden as soon as the ground has thawed enough to be worked, by throwing seed mix at your blank garden now, and planting into it when the occasion arises. Say you’re at the farmers market and see some beautiful eggplant or pepper transplants to buy. You just take them home, clear a space in the salad and carrot patch, and pop them in. While the transplants are still small you may have to “weed” the neighboring mulch plants to make sure the new starts don’t get smothered by salad. By the same token, now would be a great time to place a seed order for some leaves and carrots.

It’s well-known that eating green leafy vegetables offers multiple health benefits. In addition to the dietary advantages of edible green mulch, it’s also a basic part of my zero-tolerance policy toward exposed earth, Any piece of ground that I can glimpse between plants is a place where sunlight is being wasted. Every wasted photon is a missed opportunity for edible plant growth, and actually does damage when it strikes the earth. Sun and wind both allow moisture to escape the ground, and wind can blow topsoil away.

My edible mulch discourages such damage by forming a thick green mat that captures the sunlight and shields the ground from the elements. It also tempers the daily extremes of hot and cold, and fosters an active bacterial presence in the soil, which can make a big difference in the garden’s yield.

And, anytime you want to have a salad or a stir fry, tear into that green mulch. It will eagerly grow back, which means that unless you’re a total salad addict you can harvest as much as you like. When the garden has finally run its course come fall, make sure to dig up the carrots before the tops die in the frost. After that, the carrots will still remain happy and delicious in the ground-if you can find them. Without the tops to flag them, you won’t know where to dig.

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 September 2013 20:25

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Keeping utility bills low

(StatePoint) Having trouble keeping your home comfortable year-round? You’re not alone. The average mid-size U.S. home has a staggering half mile of gaps and cracks that outside air, including dust and allergens, can infiltrate and that inside, conditioned air can leak out of, according to the Air Barrier Association of America.

You don’t want to let gaps and small holes around windows, doors, plumbing penetrations and electrical outlets go unaddressed.

By doing some straightforward air sealing and insulating projects around the home, homeowners can typically save up to 30 percent on home energy costs, according to the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET). Even if you’re not that handy, you’re in luck. Sealing your home is as simple as knowing your 1,2,3’s and ABC’s. 

All you need to get started is:

• One sealant: An inexpensive product can do the trick. Opt for a versatile sealant to tackle a series of sealing projects around the home.

•Two Hours: It only takes a couple of hours to seal all those gaps and cracks that cause drafts in your home. Doing so will permanently increase the comfort, performance and energy-efficiency of your house. For a complete home sealing project checklist, visit www.GreatStuff.dow.com/pdfs/checklist.pdf.

• Three Locations: Three key locations will be impacted the most by air sealing projects — the attic, basement and central living space. 

So where should you start looking? An easy trick to remember is the ABC’s of air sealing:

• A is for Attic: The attic is one of the main places in the home you’re likely to lose heat. So in addition to adding insulation, seal around the attic door to help keep air from escaping. You’ll keep heat inside your living space and make your family comfortable year-round by sealing the attic tightly to prevent drafts.

• B is for Basement: It’s damp, dark and cold, and often one of the largest air leakage culprits in the home. It’s also the most accessible, making it an excellent place to start sealing to prevent cooler air from seeping into the rest of your house.

• C is for Central Living Areas: Don’t neglect the most trafficked areas of your house where you eat, sleep, watch TV and hang out.  Fill the gaps and cracks in your living spaces - including around electrical outlets and plumbing penetrations - to prevent drafts throughout the year that directly impact the comfort of the home.

By following easy steps to seal your home, you can put a little extra spending money in your pocket and increase the overall comfort, performance and energy efficiency of your home.

 

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 September 2013 20:24

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Free cleaning services offered to patients

Maid to Shine Cleaning has partnered with Cleaning for a Reason to offer free professional house cleaning to improve the lives of women undergoing cancer treatment. Maid to Shine cleaning is committed to give back to the community by giving the gift of a clean home using non-toxic “eco-friendly” cleaning products, a news release said.

Elizabeth Buchanan, owner of Billings Maid to Shine, said “The Cleaning for a Reason program represents a community based opportunity for charitable giving and service with benefits that extend far beyond clean. Spirits are healed, gratifying experiences, professional generosity and a the sense of purpose rediscovered.”

Maid to Shine will donate its services to a loved one with cancer who is in need of a sparkling clean and dust-free home. “We want you to feel like your old self again!”

Contact Maid to Shine Cleaning at (406) 702-0337, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at www.cleaningforareason.org/.

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 September 2013 20:21

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Smart home improvements may save owners money

(StatePoint) During fall, many homeowners focus on small upgrades and improvements. The turning season is the perfect time to find and correct potential compromises in your home before they become larger, and more costly, renovation issues.

“Whether it is routine home exterior checks or appliances purchases, there are many ways homeowners can conduct basic, inexpensive home maintenance,” said Harold “Bud” Dietrich, member of the American Institute of Architects Custom Residential Architecture Network.

DIY home inspection

Many people don’t know that they should perform twice-a-year home inspections. The prime time for these inspections is in the spring and fall. Take the time to give your house a thorough review.

Start by walking the perimeter of your property to see if there is any rotting wood, mold, loose gutters or shingles. Then check for any cracks that have settled or work that could be done to siding, roofing or windows.

Inspect the bathroom and kitchen for loose or missing tiles and leaks in sinks and faucets. Ensure that appliances are working at maximum capacity.

Although these may not seem like major issues, it is much easier to tackle them during milder seasons so potential problems aren’t made worse by extreme weather.

Exterior updates

Many people underestimate the seriousness of dirt and mulch covering the siding of a home. Most building codes actually require at least six inches of the foundation to be exposed.

Beyond breaking these codes, dirt and mulch build-up pulls moisture from the ground and causes it to develop in the walls. Eventually mold will start to grow, which can lead to a variety of indoor air quality and structural problems. Raking around the foundation of your home regularly can help combat this problem.

Another area to consider for easy updates is exterior paint. Peeling paint isn’t only unattractive; it also exposes the siding of your home to the elements. Regular maintenance of areas that need re-painting can save major headaches down the line.

Updating appliances

Buying new appliances can be an investment, and, as such, paying a higher price upfront can actually save you money in the long run.  The right appliances can last for twenty years or more, while more inexpensive models often break down after a few years. Newer models are also often more energy efficient. If cost or budget is an issue, store display models are often offered at extremely discounted prices.

Also make an investment in flooring and countertops. Buying laminate countertops will initially be cheaper than granite countertops, but in ten years the granite countertops will still look brand new, while the laminate will be worn out and need to be replaced.

An architect can help homeowners apply many of these cost-saving home improvements in smart and strategic ways. To find one in your area, visit: http://architectfinder.aia.org/.

Don’t wait. Fall is the ideal time to make small improvements that will save you money and time later on.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 September 2013 20:20

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NorthWestern warns of scam

NorthWestern Energy is again warning residential and business customers about an attempted scam involving collection on allegedly overdue utility bills.

In recent days, an individual telephoned a NorthWestern Energy customer in Huron, S.D., claiming to be an employee of the company and demanding payment on an energy bill. The customer was told that if immediate payment wasn’t made, utility service would be terminated.

The customer lost $300 after purchasing a prepaid debit card issued by a discount store and sharing the card’s redemption information with the scammer. The customer later contacted NorthWestern Energy to report the activity. A similar attempt targeting a NorthWestern customer in Butte, was also reported. In May, a business owner in Bozeman lost $1,000 in a nearly identical scam.

NorthWestern reported the recent incidents to law enforcement authorities. The activity appears to be the latest version of a scam that has targeted a number of NorthWestern customers this year. Across the nation, other utilities have reported similar scam activity.

The phone callers typically seek immediate payment of “overdue” utility bills, often demanding credit-card numbers or other form of payment that can be converted to cash.

NorthWestern reminds customers to be vigilant when it comes to anyone seeking payment information on utility bills, either in person or via the telephone or Internet. The phone callers can be convincing.

They might use “spoofing” software that lets them falsely display the name and phone number of the utility company on the recipient’s Caller ID.

NorthWestern will provide several past-due notices before terminating service. If you get a cancellation notification, always verify it by dialing the customer service number on your utility bill. Don’t supply any personal information unless you are sure you are indeed working with the utility. NorthWestern never asks customers to use a prepaid debit card for payment.

The Better Business Bureau offers these tips to avoid falling victim to a utility scam:

* Never provide your Social Security Number, credit card number or banking information to anyone requesting it over the phone or at your home unless you initiated the contact and feel confident with whom you are speaking.

* If you receive a call claiming to be your utility company and feel pressured for immediate payment or personal information, hang up the phone and call the customer service number on your utility bill.

* Never allow anyone into your home to check electrical wiring, natural gas pipes or appliances unless you have scheduled an appointment or have reported a utility problem. Also, ask utility employees for proper identification.

* Always think safety first. Do not give in to high-pressure tactics over the phone for information or in person.

Customers with questions or concerns about potential scams should contact NorthWestern Energy or their state’s Consumer Affairs department to report possible scams or questionable or business offers. Montana customers can contact NorthWestern at (888) 467-2669.

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 September 2013 20:19

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Signs you need insulation

(StatePoint) The average family spends more than $1000 annually – nearly half a home’s total energy bill – on heating and cooling costs, according to the U.S. government's Energy Star program. Unfortunately, a large portion of those expenses are wasted due to poor home insulation.

Homeowners prepping for winter can stop the energy waste cycle by taking a closer look at their insulation. As one of the fastest and most cost-efficient ways to reduce energy waste and lower bills, insulation traps warm air inside a home’s walls – similar to how a fleece sweater does for the body – to regulate a home’s temperature. But how do you know if your home is properly insulated?

“Fortunately, there are telltale signs that can alert any homeowner that it’s time to add to or replace their home’s insulation — before the temperature plunges and the energy bill rises,” says Mike Benetti, segment manager at Roxul, a leading manufacturer of stone wool insulation.

The experts at Roxul advise any homeowner with a do-it-yourself mentality to run through the following checklist to determine whether their home has adequate insulation:

• Vintage home: Prior to consistent building codes, most homes built before 1980 were not insulated. If your home has no materials trapping heat, energy conservation is an uphill battle. Walls, ceilings and floors are the most important areas to add insulation for an immediate, positive impact on a home’s energy usage and bills.

• Non-stop furnace: Does your furnace seem to run non-stop in the winter? Adequate insulation leads to less maintenance on your heating system, as it lasts longer, runs less and will require less maintenance for long-term cost savings.

• Temperature inconsistency: If you feel cold spots coming from the walls or attic, or one room of your home is drafty and another one warm, you may need to beef up your insulation. The fireplace, walls and attic are prime spots for drafts.

Look for insulation that can fit snugly in rafters and other tight areas. For example, Roxul ComfortBatt insulation made from recycled stone, can be cut with a serrated blade for an exact fit.

• Roof hot spots: If your shingles are exposed after a recent snowfall, chances are these “hot spots” are indicative of warm air escaping. Check your attic for adequate insulation.

If you can easily see your floor joists, you should add more.

 Use insulation, such as stone wool, that won’t sag or lose density over time.

• Mold Growth: Mold in the corners of ceilings could mean your current insulation slumps and holds moisture. If this occurs, it’s time to replace your insulation with one that does not store or transfer moisture and is completely resistant to mold, mildew, rot and bacterial growth, such as Roxul ComfortBatt.

More information about properly insulating your home can be found at www.Roxul.com.

Don't let cool weather take you by surprise. With proper insulation, you can improve the comfort of your home significantly and enjoy energy savings.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 September 2013 20:17

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In Billings, landscaping is all about cosmetics

By CARA CHAMBERLAIN

“In Billings,” the letter said, “we value neighborhood and community efforts to maintain a beautiful City.” The problem was, the letter maintained, that I had not been doing my part in these efforts. My yard represented a “nuisance” to the “public health and welfare” because it contained “untended vegetation” more than a foot tall. If I failed to rein in this excess and refused to pay the variety of fines that could build up in response to said failure, a lien would be placed on my property.

I thought about the six years of my residency at the address referred to in the city letter and the care I had taken to choose just the right plantings. I thought about my aching hands, knees and back from all the yard work I had done. I wondered, to be succinct, what exactly the complaint was.

So I assessed my yard. Ah, there was bindweed growing up the fence in back and bindweed in the front flowerbeds. Now, bindweed is about the most vile plant known to man, and I have been working all these years to control it. I could understand any complaint lodged against bindweed.

But, as I soon discovered upon talking with one of Billings’ two code enforcement officers, bindweed was not the problem. No, it was my blue grama grass out front, a plant with lovely seedheads and a rich green hue in summer that turns golden in fall and winter. I also — gulp — had a patch of sunflowers.

Blue grama is a warm season grass and, I admit, it does look pretty ratty until it greens up. However, it requires very little water (about 12 inches per year seems to work well), no fertilizing, and little (if any) mowing. It also effectively chokes out bindweed and other noxious intruders, and thus requires no applications of herbicide.

However, to please the good people of Billings, I will keep it trimmed so that it looks like an almost grown-out crew cut.

Frankly, though, I have to wonder at the popular definition of “public health and welfare,” and how growing region-appropriate plants constitutes a “nuisance.” A quick exploration of neighborhood yards has led me to several conclusions in this regard:

1. Codes are enforced haphazardly. As the very kind code enforcement officer explained, there are only two such professionals in Billings, and they must respond to complaints. Perhaps they have little time for problems that do not generate outrage.

2. Bindweed and other noxious invasives are ubiquitous. Thus, there is no concern for quality of vegetation. It’s all about cosmetics. If I keep a crop of goat-head thorns at a tidy 4 inches, there is no health hazard or public nuisance even though all the neighborhood kids will have flat bike tires and their dogs will limp.

3. No particular effort is made by the city to trim weeds in public spaces.

4. Vegetation that obstructs drivers’ vision is not deemed a “nuisance.”

5. Drenching a lawn with herbicides does not constitute a health hazard and, is, in fact, quite common.

My explorations of the neighborhood and, indeed, the city itself have led me to characterize the choices we citizens of Billings make about our living space. We prefer monocultures to diversity, convenience to beauty, and order to disorder. Certainly, these preferences are understandable if biologist E.O. Wilson is right when he claims that we humans innately crave the open, grassy landscapes in which we evolved.

Still, given our dwindling resources and tight pocketbooks, why doesn’t the city encourage (and why don’t citizens demand) a more suitable use of our yards? They are, let’s face it, basically prairie. What should grow here are bunch grasses, skunkbush sumac, cottonwoods, deer, rabbits, and bison.

Bison?

Ay, there’s the rub. Though going a bit “natural” in our landscaping would conserve water, save money, and limit chemical runoff into our rivers, it would also force us to consider our presence in this place. Why did the wild things that lived here have to be “cleared” away?  And what about the human cultures that inhabited our neighborhoods, say, a hundred years ago? What of them?

No, most of us don’t want to think about that. So we cultivate our Kentucky blue grass at great effort and expense, put money in the pockets of chemical companies, and rarely (from what I have observed) venture outside at all. This lack of pedestrian traffic must also be why very few homeowners shovel their walks in the winter, preferring to leave them an icy hazardous mess ... but that’s another argument.

Cara Chamberlain teaches at Rocky Mountain College.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 September 2013 20:15

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