Sunday, March 06, 2011
Beauty, and its opposite
Many of the most pleasant parts of my day involve encounters lasting only a few seconds, and sometimes as long as a few minutes, but they all involve beauty found in nature. The snowy grouse (Greater Sage Grouse) were out nibbling on sage along the Wind River Front near Boulder while we were hauling hay. Beautiful birds, and we saw a large scattering of them.
We had another storm dump a bunch of new snow, and nearly 70 head of mule deer traversed through our place – something odd enough to attract the attention of our horses (and burro). We’re much more accustomed to our pronghorn antelope.
A few weeks ago, a small herd of pronghorn moved in to join our sheep herd in the river pasture, which is surprising because of the amount of trees and tall brush present. Pronghorn like to have big sight distances, but apparently the frozen river provides a speedy exit, as this group demonstrates. That’s an ancient wooden stock driveway over the river, which we’ve used for both sheep and cattle herds. That route has been used for about 100 years, taking livestock from the desert to the mountain.
While beauty is evident here every day, last week we had five days where the county I live in exceeded federal standards for the amount of ozone in the air. Ozone is the primary component of smog, and we appear to have a unique situation that occurs here with our winter energy development program.
Ozone in rural areas like that of Sublette County appears to form when there is a mixture of bright sunlight on uniform snowcover, a temperature inversion, and the presence of precursor emissions (including nitrogen oxides from combustion engines, and volatile organic compounds). When an inversion hits this basin, and the conditions are right, this bad air is then trapped, like a lid sealing a pot.
One afternoon it was so bad that I drove up the river to the spot where much of the development occurs, and this was the view. This was at 3:30 in the afternoon. It was similar to driving through the smoke generated from a forest fire – it became dark enough that the lights came on for all the equipment and vehicles in the area. When I stepped out to take a photo, with pounding headache by that time, the smell was powerful – would have made you fearful to light a match.
Just three hours earlier, I snapped this shot of a rough-legged hawk hunting in a grassy meadow, with a few mule deer watching compatibly nearby.
Our elevated ozone levels usually only occur for a few days a year, but five days in a row so far were miserable. Much is being done by both industry and air quality regulators, and I expect work to continue to resolve this admittedly limited but severe pollution problem in an otherwise awe-inspiring landscape.