Sandoval Signpost


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  The Gauntlet

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Signpost welcomes letters of all opinions. Letters are subject to editing for length, clarity, libel, and other considerations. Anonymous pen name letters will not be published. Attach your name and contact information. Send to: Signpost, P. O. Box 889, Placitas, NM, 87043 or

c. Bunny Bowen

The Good Coyote, Rozome on kimono silk, by Bunny Bowen

re: A death in the neighborhood

The coyote lay sprawled like a sacrificial offering at the base of our sculpture of St. Brigit. Perhaps it simply died in our garden, with no connection to the supernatural. The cause of death was un-determined. Parvovirus? Tularemia? Poison? Most likely the latter.

This is the second time in a year that a coyote has died in our yard. Local pack rats and field mice, if they understood the implications of this, would be rejoicing.

This is a reminder to those who feel poison is the only remedy for packrat proliferation: when you poison them, you poison their predators, who would kill far more of them over a wider area than your poison. Please don’t use poison. Ask your exterminator what he uses. Learn about other ways to deal with the problem.

The two coyotes who died in the yard did not have any visible injuries, and they looked healthy, apart from being dead. It is a major thing to bury an adult coyote in rock and caliche, and Animal Control was not interested in picking them up or in determining cause of death. Seems like someone would want to know whether it was plague, etc. Leland buried the first one a year ago, but the second died while we were away, and our house sitter was no more able to dig such a hole than I would be. So Michael Crofoot saved the day and wouldn’t take any payment.

Thanks to Michael Crofoot, who buried the coyote, and to Reverend Joyce, who said a few words over it at the interment.

—Bunny Bowen, Placitas

re: native plant sale

We can make our yards more wildlife-friendly and help the land hold moisture in these drought-stricken times by channeling the spirit of Johnny Appleseed. In time for fall planting, the U.S. Forest Service is offering a great deal on native plant seedlings. Between July 6 and October 19, you can purchase 49 small-container seedlings of a single species for eighty dollars, twenty larger-container seedlings for $57 dollars, or various mixed-species packages.

This is a terrific bargain. Nearly sixty tree and shrub species are available, including Desert Willow, Pinyon Pine, Native Plum, Apache Plume, Winterfat, and Golden Currant. Seedlings can be purchased by landowners with at least one acre of land who plan to use the seedlings for conservation purposes, such as erosion control or preservation of wildlife habitat. This program is popular, so order early, get your seedlings in hand, and plan a fall-planting party. The quail, songbirds, lizards, butterflies, and other inhabitants of the landscape will appreciate your effort. For more information and to order, visit the New Mexico State Forestry Conservation Seedling Program at:

—Judith Hurley, Placitas

re: managing wildness

Peter Callen’s article in the July 2015 Signpost, “Puma or ‘managing wildness’,” strikes a deep chord within me because I’ve long felt that nature “manages” wildlife just fine if only we humans would leave it alone to do its job. I had to laugh at the thought of the Martinez administration thinking it had more knowledge of the puma (cougar) population in the state than the Department of Game and Fish, so as to pressure the Department to triple the allowable annual “take” of pumas. This is an obviously political ploy, based on the fact that New Mexico is one of the few states to have a sanctioned hunt for pumas. As Mr. Callen points out, most of the demand comes from out of state. The hunting of pumas is one of the least “sporting” of all. The use of dogs to flush, and then chase a puma eventually up a tree, there to be shot by the “sportsman,” is not within the true meaning of being sporting, in my most-humble opinion. Mr. Callen also points out, correctly, that the size of the mule deer population is dependent on many factors, the very least of which is the size of the puma population, of which little is really known. I’m not a wildlife biologist, and, to paraphrase Will Rogers, I only know what I read, so please don’t take my word for this. Again, in my opinion, unless and until there is more factual knowledge of how many pumas there are in the state, the “hunt” should be suspended.

—Mark Follett, Placitas

Ego cairns have got to go

—Robyn Martin, Writers on the Range

Stones: we’ve built pyramids and castles with them and painstakingly cleared them out of farm fields, using them to build low walls for fencing. We marvel at the rocks in the Grand Canyon, Arches and Grand Teton national parks. Yet a perplexing practice has been gaining ground in our wild spaces: people have begun stacking rocks on top of one another, balancing them carefully and doing this for unknown reasons—possibly as some kind of personal or “spiritual” statement.

These piles aren’t true cairns (the official term for deliberately stacked rocks). From middle Gaelic, the word means “mound of stones built as a memorial or landmark.” There are plenty of those in Celtic territories, that’s for sure, as well as in other cultures; indigenous peoples in the United States often used cairns to cover and bury their dead. Those of us who like to hike through wilderness areas are glad to see the occasional cairn, as long as it’s indicating the right way to go at critical junctions in the backcountry.

Stone piles have their uses, but the many rock stacks that I’m seeing on our public lands are increasingly problematic. First, if they’re set in a random place, they can lead an unsuspecting hiker into trouble, away from the trail and into a potentially dangerous place. Second, we go to wilderness to remove ourselves from the human saturation of our lives, not to see mementoes from other people’s lives.

We hike, we mountain bike, we run, we backpack, we boat in wilderness areas to retreat from civilization. We need undeveloped places to find quiet in our lives. A stack of rocks left by someone who preceded us on the trail does nothing more than remind us that other people were there before us. It is an unnecessary marker of humanity, like leaving graffiti—no different than finding a tissue bleached and decaying against the earth that a previous traveler didn’t pack out, or a forgotten water bottle. Pointless cairns are simply pointless reminders of the human ego.

I’m not sure exactly when the practice of stacking stones began in the West. But the so-called Harmonic Convergence in 1987, a globally-synchronized meditation event, brought a tighter focus on new-age practices to Sedona, Arizona, just south of my home. Vortexes, those places where spiritual and metaphysical energy are reputed to be found, began to figure prominently on national forest and other public lands surrounding Sedona. Hikers near these vortexes couldn’t miss seeing so many new lines of rocks or stacks of stones.

Since then, the cairns, referred to as “prayer stone stacks” by some, have been multiplying on our public lands. Where there were just a dozen or so stone stacks at a much-visited state park on Sedona’s Oak Creek ten years ago, now there are hundreds. What’s more, the cairn craze has mushroomed, invading wilderness areas everywhere in the West.

Why should we care about a practice that can be dismantled with a simple foot-push, that uses natural materials that can be returned quickly to the earth, and that some say nature will remove eventually anyway?

Because it’s not a harmless practice: moving rocks increases erosion by exposing the soil underneath, allowing it to wash away and thin soil cover for native plants. Every time a rock is disturbed, an animal loses a potential home, since many insects and mammals burrow under rocks for protection and reproduction.

But mainly, pointless cairns change the value of the wilderness experience by degrading an already beautiful landscape. Building cairns where none are needed for route finding is antithetical to Leave-No-Trace ethics. Move a stone, and you’ve changed the environment from something that it wasn’t to something manmade. Cairn building might also be illegal, since erecting structures or moving natural materials on public lands often comes with fines and/or jail time. Of course, I doubt the Forest Service will hunt down someone who decided that his or her self-expression required erecting a balanced stone sculpture on a sandstone ridge. Yet, it is an unwelcome reminder of humanity, something we strive to avoid as we enjoy our wild spaces.

Let’s end this invasive practice. Fight the urge to stack rocks and make your mark. Consider deconstructing them when you find them, unless they’re marking a critical trail junction. If you must worship in the wild, repress that urge to rearrange the rocks and just say a silent prayer to yourself. Or bring along a journal or sketchpad to recall what you felt in the wild.

Let’s check our egos at the trailheads and boat launches, and leave the earth’s natural beauty alone. Her geology, as it stands, is already perfect.

Robyn Martin is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News ( She is a senior lecturer in the honors program at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

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