Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Bears are uncommon in Utah--in fact, I've never seen one here. When backpacking in most of the state I don't even take them into consideration; I often sleep with a pork chop in each pocket. My expatriate brother Mark has lived in California for over a decade, a state with far more bears than he's used to. When he and his family went backpacking east of Yosemite last week, they assumed, as I would have, that a locked car was a safe enough place to leave some food. As his wife Nancy's photo shows, though, some resourceful ursid simply popped out a window and pried back the door frame to relieve them of their goodies.
Photograph by Nancy Peterson

Friday, August 24, 2007


My work is available on a few old-fashioned birthday cards, but who sends those things anymore? If I were a shrewd businessman with a firm finger on the public pulse, I'd have an e-card site up, where folks could select one of my paintings to send to a newly-wed acquaintance or laid-up ex-brother-in-law with a minimum of fuss. I'm half tempted to send an e-card to my sister Michelle, who's celebrating her birthday today -- maybe a digitally-manipulated image like the one above (Hippo Birdies, Michelle!). But no, instead, I think I'll just post a link to her brand-new e-card site, Rattlebox, where an ever-expanding selection of edgy video cards lay in wait, perfect for that friend or co-worker with questionable taste (and you know that describes most of them).
illustration: HIPPOPOTAMUS & NILE SOFTSHELLS (1885) acrylic 20" x 30" digitally defaced by CPBvK

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


As a teenager, my favorite camping spot was a high, remote little valley that we called "Southfork." Just how it received that name is a mystery -- its stream wasn't a south fork of anything -- but the few people who knew the place all knew it by that name, and we all agreed that it was a special place. Nowhere else in the area was one likely to see Elk. I spotted my first wild Mountain Lion there, and for some reason the place harbored an unusually large population of Poorwills (Phalaenoptilus nuttalli) . As kids, we attributed the area's biological richness to its remoteness, and we were probably correct to a degree. It took two days to ride a horse to Southfork, so visits from humans were rare, in fact, my last visit occurred some 30 years ago.

Last week that all changed. On backpacking trip, I spent a night up at Southfork, and it was refreshing to see how little it's changed. I saw no Elk, just a couple of Moose (for European readers, that's Cervus canadensis and Alces alces, respectively). I've done some public whining lately about the apparent decline of Poorwills in northern Utah, and I was extremely pleased to see that they're just as common at Southfork as ever. I saw several, and must have heard about a dozen during the night. Best of all, I watched an adult hen catching little unidentified tenebrionid beetles on a talus field for about half an hour. For the most part, advancing on her prey was done on foot. For beetles over half a meter away, she used her wings to assist her tiny legs, but it was only for beetles over two meters away that she actually flew.

Poorwills seem to eat far more beetles than do other nightjars, and it's possible that this diet helps them survive torpidity during the winter. Beetles are very high in unsaturated fats, which remain liquid, and metabolically available, at low temperatures.

upper: Poorwill sketches done from memory by CPBvK Aug. 22, 2007
lower: Poorwill photos done from hunger at "Southfork" by CPBvK Aug. 17, 2007