Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Broken Email

Since this morning I have been without Email. No, that sounds like I am the only one; as far as I can tell ALL my server's customers have been without Email. Since I am overseeing the reprinting of  3 more of my backlist, trying to arrange covers and intros, and doing everything from gun repairs to talking* to Russia and Wyoming (and NOT talking to Alaska), it is making me nuts, exacerbated by heat, sleeplessness, and 3 new meds for 2 conditions (or is that ... 2 new meds for 3 conditions or...)

I should Email my consulting doc but NO EMAIL.

I need to arrange for incoming Lily dog but...

I need to research Scott pigeon guns. No Email needed there, but how can I ask questions of my expert friends?

Must get new book reviewed in WSJ about the computer - distracted, The Organized Mind.

*I say "talk". I may mean phone, for those I can talk to on my partly- blocked ancient unlisted landline ( same since I moved here 30- some years ago). But I mostly mean Email, a Godsend for someone who writes at letter length.

And for the young, or at least the smartphone savvy, a few facts.

My left ear is not quite stone deaf, but effectively does not work in the bar or phone.

I am supposed to "swipe" the phone to answer. I CAN'T. I swipe away, and the phone remains unmoved.

Similarly, I can't make it call. Fingers not brains. I use a mouse with my state- of -the- art Macbook Air. Lib wouldn't believe my inability to double click on the touchpad until she watched. Similarly,  I cannot make the phone work by touching it. And that is if I don't DROP the frackin thing.

Call the landline. I repeat, Parkinson's, not senile dementia. Yes, I can shoot, a trigger being more definite than a touchpad. But if you want to talk, better knock on the door,  call the one with wires,  or wait out my server.

For entertainment meanwhile, next cover, by Vadim for Edge. It IS an edge of the wild-- a Gos taking a hooded crow, with his Moscow apartment building in the background.

Working tools can be pretty too

More often than not, I like to publish pics of guns like pre- war English doubles; ones that, at their best, blur the line between art and craft. Only their theoretical utility keeps them to one side of that line, and ideally their utility increases as they approach it, like Daniel's 1870's Purdey.

For my amazement, and because they cross and tie together several of my and I hope  your  fascinations,  I will also present things like Holland's faux Japonaise Water gun, the only gun with gold inlays I ever really liked, or Malcolm Appleby's early guns for McKay Brown, one of which, a feathered Raven, was donated to the Tower of London. He calls such things "totems". When we were there it was in a dark room in a cramped dark space about two feet off the floor, with none of the associated material that even I have. . .

Despite the "woo" factor, I am less interested in the all- baroque over- the- top creations by England's and Vienna's bespoke makers who once made guns for the maharajahs of the princely states of India, and now design for Gulf princes, Texan oilfield fortunes smoothed by money, and, at the moment, Russian oligarchs.  (Though China is up and coming, recent investigations of provincials who own twenty- plus houses bodes dubiously for them, especially since as far as I know China still virtually bans all firearms more "technological" than matchlocks, which hunters still use in Tibet with the local tazis).

For an example, look for the one with animal skin textures, zebra and worse. Though if it is true that the owner hunts actual game with it in the Arctic and Central Asia, a "Flint's Rules" toast and happy escalation: Nos'drovya!

 I do still fewer modern-- postwar?-- production guns, unless in hunting tales. But because ergonomics, form and function, all work harmoniously together, I realized once again, while photographing my vintage Smith and Wesson revolvers, that they are artful constructions too. No one could have done the amount of handwork they required back in the day without having an aesthetic sense (the blue .22 is almost as old as I am and has a barrel of odd length; the stainless .38 "J frame" is newer but not new).

Of course the figured walnut custom grips by Herrett help. They make them to a tracing of your hand, and it takes a few months, but it is worth it.

Dream Birds

The Green Junglefowl and the Nicobar pigeon resemble chickens and pigeons but pushed to fever- dream intensity. The mere existence of such creatures is at least a partial antidote to the blues.

Photos taken in Indonesia by Federico Calboli


Nhubia sees a roebuck.


"A great many rifles and shooting books have passed through my life since the day I purchased that first 7 X 57 40 years ago this month, and the lessons learned have been many. One was to hold onto rifles and books that continually prove not just practical but delightful, and get rid of those that don't, because both make life so much more enjoyable."

John Barsness,  Rifle Loony News (Vol. 6, issue 2)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Lashyn departs

My first Tazi, Lashyn, the "jealous girlfriend" from Kiev, died yesterday on the couch in  our living room where she bore two litters of pups.  She had battled diabetes and cataracts for two years, but could not win over cancer. The first, her last photo, was taken last week.

"...The last look in her fearless eye was trust."

(from Tim Murphy)

Update: the comment by Chas below made me look, and Lashyn's Journey is still up on the Naturalist site in Ukraine. As he says, it seems like yesterday.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Summer Guardians

We moved our sheep flock to grazing range along the foothills of the Wind River Mountains in early July. We've had a refreshingly moist summer, bringing this arid rangeland to life. The ewes are fat, the lambs are growing, and we share the same piece of earth with abundant sage grouse, as well as nesting long-billed curlews. Nine-month old Beyza (an Akbash) has claimed the range as her own, and is a fantastic guardian – as are the others in her lineage, including her mother Luv's Girl, and sister Rena.

When we moved onto the range, my friend Pete asked if I would take care of an extra female livestock guardian dog. She had just given birth to five pups, and the pups were too small to travel with the herd as they moved into the mountains. I tended to the small family for a few weeks, but one of the 7-week old pups started trying to follow my herd as it grazed during the day. After retrieving the pup from more than a mile away from its siblings, we sent the female to the mountain, and brought the pups to our home, where we have a scattering of orphan lambs and adult sheep.

When people talk about getting livestock guardian dogs off to a good start, much emphasis rests on getting pups introduced to the species it will guard at a young age. That's important - bonding is best if if starts early. The introductions to the lambs went well.

But what doesn't get much discussion is how much easier it is to bond pups to a sheep herd that has had a long association with guardian dogs. It's nearly a cultural thing – this relationship is so close, continuing from one generation to the next. When new pups arrive on our ranch, the adult sheep come to investigate. When the pups walk underneath the ewes, and sniff the underbelly of the rams, the sheep are not panicked or upset. They don't stomp the pups, and show an amazing amount of patience as pups chew on the big curls of a ram's horn, or investigate a milk bag on a ewe.

The new pups were soon crawling under the yard gate to hang out with the adult sheep, especially a big range ram. We select and cull sheep based on not just performance and appearance, but behavior. Calm and attentive behavior is ideal. This ram is an ideal babysitter for the pups, and gently disciplines bad behavior.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Shrikes in falconry: Guest post by Matt

Shrike by Daoud Marrash in Sudan in the fifties; book by British Falconers' Club; Tiffany tiger paperweight from Betsy Huntington

Shrikes are used to attract Sparrowhawks in Turkish falconry, were trained by Tom Cade in Alaska when he was working on his PhD, were used in the courts of France and are flown from bicycles at sparrows in Beijing. But Matt Mullenix is the only (almost) contemporary I know who has worked with a few to rehab them, and writes this. Yes, he is still on the masthead, but with a new company added to his already busy life, we don't get enough of him! Take it away, Matt:

"I actually made an effort with the USFWS (then with pretty good insider connection in a friend in a high place to get the Lanidae included in the list of birds legal for falconry when they were first discussing opening up most of the hawks, falcons and owls.  We were not successful because it would have required an act of congress, literally.

"But they certainly are suitable for falconry and as I learned in my research they were indeed working members of several countries' royal mews.

"We have two species in the US (Loggerhead down here and the larger Northern in the upper parts of the US).  Both are voracious and regular eaters of birds.  No less an observer than Harry McElroy says that in his area, the wild shrike is the preeminent, long-distance pursuit hunter of passerines; and this is a guy who specializes in flying Aplomados!

"I conducted an informal but pretty serious shrike breeding survey when I moved to Baton Rouge and kept at it for about 5 years.  I counted and watched dozens of pairs raise and fledge young.  Most pairs caught and ate birds, some as large as cardinals, in addition to mice, rats, insects and lizards.  The young once fledged were particularly bold and would regularly pound into ground-feeding mourning doves and meadowlarks, although I never saw one subdue a bird that large; clearly they were game to try.

"Given the timing of the breeding season here, which coincides with the return of migrant warblers, it is not usual to see little yellow-feathered carcasses on barbed wire in late Feb and March around nesting sites.

"I've seen rehab birds (raised fledglings) follow me around the yard at a wildlife facility and attack anoles I flushed for them under boards.  They flew in a little pack of siblings and I think such a pack would be death on house sparrows.... shoot--maybe death on anything!"

Below, Turkestan Shrike (Lanius phoenicuroides I think)  in Kazakhstan, by Andrey Kovalenko, dog- in- law, ace photographer, and ornithologist.

Not so random doggage

Daniela's Shunkar, who had already survived a bad bite (you can see the damage from the old one) got bitten by a rattlesnake as he was coming in from a walk with Daniela. He is expected to recover, but it is no fun.
Warren's Lola, granddaughter to both Ataika and Lashyn, is one of those dogs who was bitten once and now looks for revenge. She killed her eighth rattler last week, getting bitten in the fight of course. Warren, who is taking care of a sick parent, trying to train two hawks, and raising quail, ducks, and pigeons, understandably doesn't want to have to deal with snakebite, and wonders if there is any tazi fan who would like to own a still- youngish, hunting, intact female with the sweetest of natures,  good in the house; her only vice is rattlers. If so, contact me through the blog comments and leave a number.  Below, Warren, Lily and Lola.

Friday, August 08, 2014

The New York Horses

Jon Katz, despite his recent open heart surgery, is still fighting the good fight for the Carriage horses of Central Park and against the combined forces of AR supporters and the City's incredibly clueless mayor:

"They are coming for the horses, and they are coming for the ponies and elephants and working dogs and chickens on farms and so many other animals who used to live and exist among us. Soon enough, they will be coming for you, for the animals in your world, for the way in which you live with them and love them. Soon enough, they will be entering your world, your life and telling you how to live and taking the animals you love a way from you and removing them from our lives. It is not a paranoid fantasy, it is here. It is the life of every carriage horse owner and driver and every horse today in New York. It is happening right now."

I think he is right, and it is that serious. The mayor, who has steadfastly refused to even MEET the horse owners, says he may move this week. Add your voice and whatever else you can...

Hemingway Metafiction?

Annie Hocker sent me this fascinating piece of Hemingway criticism from the New Yorker, in which he calls The Sun Also Rises , at least the new edition, a piece of proto- metafiction. I disagree on definition, but he makes a decent case; it is still a must-read piece for Hemingway fans and scholars, and far more right than wrong. 

The author, Ian Crouch, says:
 "...Hemingway was attempting to write a novel very different from what would become “The Sun Also Rises,” which made his name as one of “those ones with their clear restrained writing.” He imagined a book in which the “whole business” of life gets expressed, in all of its messy detours and associations... This minor manifesto, embedded in a draft of his first novel, conceives of a book with greater intellectual and artistic ambitions than Hemingway ever produced—one akin to the more abstract fictions of the modernists... The Sun Also Rises” is far from being a lesser thing, for all of its restrained clarity. It is partly a book of “literary signs,” perhaps against Hemingway’s own intentions. But it is also a book—Gertrude Stein be damned—of remarks, both in the elliptical declarations that the characters make to one another, and in the weighted silences that linger between them. “I mistrust all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together.” That line, which belongs to the narrator, and to the author, was there from the beginning. It is an echo of Hemingway’s more eager and brash equivocations in the drafts, a claim that there was an unseen depth to his plainspoken prose. It is an author’s note, a statement of purpose—subtly and skillfully absorbed into the art of storytelling."

I think this is entirely right, but I still think that he is wrong saying that TSAR is an intentional piece of metafiction. By this standard, any novel that has been self- edited and exists in drafts or a variorum form could be called a metafiction.

(Also, that it would have been "richer" is an odd judgement; Hemingway, with  some advice and a lot of self- editing, pared it down to a piece of art. The "other" book might have been good, but it would not have been Hemingway's Sun.)

A better candidate for metafiction would be The Green Hills of Africa, usually considered a journalistic book. If so, it is journalism the way Norman Mailer's The Armies of the Night is. In my essay in Sportsman's Library, I leaned to the idea that it IS a self- conscious metafiction (I don't use the word), and is announced and intended to be: "...Green Hills seems utterly modern, or even postmodern, but this is after the journalistic revolutions of the1960's and 70's that brought us the New Journalism and Truman Capote's "non- fiction novel" In Cold Blood. By the standards of the 1930's, it is a damned strange book.  Hemingway explicitly warns the reader in his three- sentence foreword: "The writer has attempted to write an absolutely true book to see whether the shape of a country and the patterns of a month's action can, if truly presented, compete with the work of an imagination."

If not so consciously  claimed by the writer, that superficially odder (and undervalued) volume, his posthumously published The Garden of Eden, has many strange and po- mo aspects too: its androgynous erotic scenes, where the woman cuts her and her lover's hair identically; the African hunting tale within the tale,  itself a lyrical passage  about a childhood hunt in an Eden akin to that in W H Hudson's Far Away and Long Ago, (a book Hemingway had read and recommended), but presented in the novel as the writer- protagonist's childhood AND work. How many layers is that? Is it because urbanites and academics no longer hunt, and so cannot see hunting as an idyll, that they dismiss this long fragment as a "boy's" (as in "Boy's Own") book?

No particular conclusions here, but that Hemingway always intended; knew, and subtly suggested, that a lot was going on under his simple sentences, and that this critique is more right than wrong.  As I said in the book of books: "Hemingway's ghost haunts us all".
Matt Mulllenix writes:
"In the same way Lyle Lovett calls his ballad 'Nobody Knows Me...' a "cheatin' song about Mexican food," I've always thought of GHOA as a hunting book about the writers life.

"It's simultaneously one of the best books on hunting and one of the best about writing that I know, and like many readers here, I've read many of both.

"But I've never found much satisfaction puzzling Hemingway's motives. I've wanted to.  I think in some ways HE wanted us to. But in the end, I think he was most easily understood as an intelligent, ambitious, sometimes insecure writer who was also a hunter. And in that frame, he was like many writing hunters I know: wanting first to get the words right because the pursuit (and the animals) deserved that.

"But also, as a writer and an explorer (as the best of them are), I see him as wanting to claim new ground wherever he went.  So well read as he was, this must have been a constant challenge.  I can see him, without much difficulty, "inventing" a postmodern perspective or at least anticipating it by trying to go where his heroes and contemporaries had yet to pass."

Green Hills trophies

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

English guns, big and small

I am tempted to agree with Bob Braden and Cyril Adams, authors of Lock, Stock, and Barrel; for SHOTguns, at least side - by - side doubles, you really can't beat the English. The new ones' prices are barking mad, far more than my house; for the Best London ones, easily three times as much as my house, and they can't keep up with the demand. I can't imagine who buys them- I have known exactly one person who has bought new London guns, though more than a few who have owned older examples.

Because for the rest of us, a little scholarship goes a long way. Consider this Thomas Turner boxlock .410, which is an expensive gun by my humble standards now, but not unaffordable, and was almost cheap when I bought it. Or this flawless (though it needs a stock refinish, and I would like to get the Damascus figure in the barrels to show more)  ten bore by Williams and Powell, which weighs twice as much as the little one, and cost less. Yet both are harmonious and graceful. There are few ugly English guns, especially ones made before WW II, and no two are quite alike unless built as pairs.

And that brings to mind another maxim from Braden and Adams: how many still- functional English guns 100 years old and more exist-- ones that need no repairs to shoot.


Mark Cortner, old friend and variously biologist, cowboy, rancher, farmer, and fine gun nut-- (we have traded various things including guns, books, and horses since Betsy was alive) stopped by just before sundown with Harry the Peruvian paso, one of the nicest horses I know. I still get jealous every time I see a gaited horse, and Harry is a sweetheart besides. He is not just a pet either; Mark used to rope off him routinely.

Like me and Steve Grayson, and one other friend I know in town, Mark is a 1950 baby. We feel the mortal breeze on the back of our necks. And I was and am the oldest...

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Hemingway, with burger

I have been saving this found image of Ernest and Patrick Hemingway. Patrick, closer to 90 than 80, doesn't look all that different today, but then, he did when he was about 8, too.

This month,  Saveur published a real Hemingway hambuger recipe.We just made two, and I swear it may be the best I ever ate. The only ingredient we lacked was "India Relish".

White bird, Black birds

Rio with Jenny Lowe's feasting crows

Steve Grayson, 1950- 2014

My friend Steve Grayson died two nights ago. He owned the Golden Spur for over thirty years, and made it into THE community center for Magdalena and the surrounding ranches. Betsy Huntington and I met most of the people I still know there, not to mention the increasing number we have lost. He makes an appearance near the end of Querencia- the book, when Betsy's sister Jane comes out to take her back to Boston to be buried; he recognizes her, and gives her a shot of Jack Daniel's on the rocks, something I doubt that she ever drank except here. My dark joke that everybody in the book but me is dead is coming close to the truth.

Steve's good cheer, warmth, and good sense made it impossible for anyone to do anything more than START trouble there. In all those years, no one ever pulled a gun or knife or swung more than a single punch. His good nature did not mean he was any kind of wimp, but his authority was always gracious. For along time his Missouri- born mother Mildred ("I have two sons, a Baptist preacher and a tavern owner") worked in the bar; until she was 89 I think. When I didn't have a phone she took my messages, including the one that eventually got me to Asia,

He and his wife Colleen (they were a perfect pair-- you rarely saw one without the other), were sports fans, and Steve and his two kids all had been serious basketball players. They followed everything , especially football, and played killer pool. Anyone who knows me knows I am not. Steve knew me. On the eve of the Superbowl, about ten years ago, Steve was talking to two strangers at the end of the bar. He came to refill my drink and asked me, casually, if I knew what teams were playing. I looked at him in disbelief and said "How the hell would I know? You've known me for twenty years and I've never known when anybody is playing-- not once!"

He grinned like the Cheshire cat, walked down the bar to the strangers, and said "Pay up!" I drank free for the rest of the night.

He is survived by Colleen (who in the antedeluvian days before computers typed several of my books), son Phil, who is a writer, teacher, and editor in New York city and sometimes appears here, and daughter Denise, who does high- end computer work near Washington DC.

We will miss you, Steve.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

If You're Happy and You Know It, Make Gumbo

I ran across this piece in the Washington Post that discussed the ratings of the ten happiest and ten unhappiest cities in the US. It was immediately clear to me that six of the ten happiest cities are in or near Southwestern Louisiana: so the higher the percentage of Cajuns in your population, the happier you'll be.


The novel is a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it.

- Randall Jarrell

Thursday, July 31, 2014

White Man in Africa, 1997

Dug this up when Annie D showed me a YouTube of a baby rhino-- white? -- in S Africa, in a similar predicament. Back in '97, when it was permissible if naive to think Mugabe was not a monster (such writers as Peter Godwin had already laid out the truth), when Zimbabwe had one of the most enlightened conservation programs in Africa, more innovative than ours...

Karl Hess Jr. sent us-- me and a couple of other journalists; Tom Wolf, Wendy Marston, Rich Miniter-- there at the request of the government, to report on their success, especially with elephants.

Someday maybe-- too much heartbreak soon followed. This photo taken near Kariba, where I caught the falciparum Malaria that almost killed me, and I suspect might have been the trigger that made such things as PD and RA, which I have genes for, express themselves. Certainly I never looked quite that robust again-- I look like Redmond O'Hanlon! White man in the tropics drinking gin...

The rhino's mother had been killed by poachers. The poachers had been killed by the tall, shaven- headed head ranger who, he gleefully told me, was the best ranger in Zimbabwe because "I kill more poachers!"


Rio with his ball. He still has down. I am not used to hulking 38 ounce tiercels and their prolonged infancy- biggest male falcon I have ever flown, and slowest to mature. Though it may take him into the rains... cool, in several senses...


Two tough animals.


Rio seems to be looking over Libby's shoulder as she reviews my work on the Mac.

"...all Dinosaurs had feathers"

The report (HT John Wilson) begins: "The first ever example of a plant-eating dinosaur with feathers and scales has been discovered in Russia. Previously only flesh-eating dinosaurs were known to have had feathers so this new find indicates that all dinosaurs could have been feathered."

The big thing here is the "all" I have been waiting for. Conceptually, this is huge.

The other key term is "Ornithschian", one of the two large divisions of Dinosaurs-- the plant- eating ones that often walk on four legs rather than two, including the duckbills and the Triceratops and its relatives. Some of us have thought  since the eighties that the meat- eating two legged Dinos, up to and including T rex (as Robert Bakker called it, "the 12000 pound Roadrunner from Hell"), were all feathered, and they did give rise to birds. But though we knew that some had weird bristly structures, it was less clear that the other group were feathered. Now it seems that from the start, maybe even before the Dino family split on two, that they came out of the Triassic extinctions wearing feathers. (There was a greater extinction  event BEFORE the Dinos, (see Out of Thin Air by Peter Ward), and its low- oxygen conditions may have caused the Dino- bird line to develop the air sacs, hollow bones, and efficient breathing that allow birds to fly over the Himalayas and "Brontosaurs"  to be agile moving animals even though they were bigger than my house).

In honor of all this, my favorite over- the- top depiction of the new standard, a feathered T rex attacking a "hairy" young Triceratops, and a dead Velociraptor by John Conway.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Snapshots from Rocky Mountain National Park

We hadn't been in a while and decided to do a day trip yesterday. I think we need to visit more often.