Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Coffee Table Still Life

Helen is published in Vogue. It must be the first time the act of befriending a Goshawk has been featured there. (tip from Randy D).

She has also gotten a second prestigious literary prize, this time the Costa, I think what used to be called the Whitbread.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Santa Lampoon

I just ran across this, and am very sorry I didn't find it closer to Christmas. I will have to leave myself a note to post it in December to add to the spirit of the Christmas season.

Friday, January 23, 2015


"The compact between writing and walking is almost as old as literature--a walk is only a step away from a story, and every path tells."

Rob Macfarlane, in The Old Ways ; sent by Guy Boyd.

As Bruce Chatwin quoted, from St Jerome I think, Solvitur ambulando. Would that I could still walk the way I used to; I expect much that seems hard would be solved.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

ISIS hates pigeons

Yes, I know; first Patrick, then others, sent me the news that ISIS is now executing pigeon fanciers, some teenagers. I did predict it a few pages ago.

Long ago, I concluded that tyrants tend to get rid of pigeons. Not only are they a primitive form of clandestine, encrypted conversation; watching at them fly above the town is exhilarating, even subversive. If birds fly free, why not me? This proscription reached its zenith, or nadir, in Kabul under the reign of the Taliban, who made it one of their 16 precepts-- y'know, no sorcery, abuse your wife, no shaving, no music, NO UN- ISLAMIC PLAYING WITH BIRDS. They killed every highflyer in Kabul in two weeks.

But ISIS or ISIL or whatever the desert plague is currently calling itself, just has to be more badass, as usual. Not content to kill the birds, they are rounding up pigeon fanciers, some under 20, burning their birds alive in sacks in front of them, and executing them.

"...  Have no truck with the senseless thing/ Order the guns and kill." (Kipling) Which we may have no need to do. Right north of them is the most pigeon- mad country in the world, and nobody ever called the Turks or Kurds wimps. They may have had pigeons for 6000 years, and (Turks) claim to have brought them down the Silk Road's precursor in carts behind their horses....

Image, sent

The late Rio chases a pigeon... (click to enlarge)

Image, found

Carlos Martinez del Rio's photo of a "Magpie print",  in new snow in Wyoming...

Images, painted

A new Thomas Quinn (see J P Parker's perceptive article in Ranch and Riata)...

And an old favorite Russell  Chatham oil (favorite of both Reid Farmer's and mine), in the Denver Museum, an almost abstract painting of a favorite place on his grandfather Gottardo Piazzoni's ranch in Big Sur, titled "No Place for Disdain":


Serious stuff, really.

Jonathan Katz at Bedlam Farm Journal has been carrying a pretty heavy load by being the point man on the controversy, almost entirely fabricated by those who know nothing about animals, over banning the Central Park carriage horses. (If animals needed psychologists, those horses would be happy; as Freud knew, love and work are the necessities for a sane life). In the last month, he lost two of his animals to old age and decrepitude. Only others who love animals (most Animal "Rights" people don't know or love them, as has been obvious in this debate) will understand his grief. But, I am happy to report, he continues to think.

First, from one of his recent essays, "A Simonless World" (links aren't working but you can find it on his blog) , a passage  where he paused in his sorrow to contemplate the peculiar attitude that the culture seems to be making about animals these days:

"Last week, five or six people came up to me at different times and told me about their dogs – this happens to me daily – and each one told me their dogs were abused. I always ask why they say that, and they give me reasons like this: the dog is afraid of moving lights, the dog is afraid of men with big sticks, the dog is shy around loud noises, the dog is afraid of trucks and buses.

 "There are so many reasons why dogs might behave that way – breeding, litter experience, issues with the mother, encounters with dogs and the outside world. Abuse is actually the least likely for most dogs.

"Something in the life of contemporary Americans calls them to need to see animals as abused and piteous and dependent creatures. I think it makes us feel valued, worthy, even superior to other people.  We are a fragmented, tense and disconnected people in many ways, animals give us something to feel better about. Abuse is real, it is a crime, but I sometimes think it seems that every dog in America was abused, and I am always drawn to wonder why it is that people need to take ordinary animal behavior and transform it into narratives of human cruelty and mistreatment... We no longer see them as partners, but as pathetic wards and helpless beings.  I don't think it is good for animals to view them through such a narrow prism."

The late philosopher and dog trainer (and poet) Vicki Hearne used to say that Animal Rights activists could only envision two roles for animals: cute and abused. In the intervening years I can see a second: dead. GRATEFUL dead, and I don't mean the band. There is a little philosophical movement lurking about that scares the crap out of me, that says with Jeremy Bentham and certain odd Buddhists that absence of suffering is paramount, that things like carnivory must be remedied, and if it isn't then everything from re- engineering carnivores' genomes to ending our species to ending life is justified. I do suspect they are a small group, but I hope they never get hold of a weaponized virus...

Again, my old post defending coursing dogs, or any dog with a job, might be worth a look. As is this surprisingly sympathetic portrait of coursing coyotes in Oklahoma from the NYT. Of course, people are trying to shut that down too, as they did the legal wolf hunt with hounds in Wisconsin. Look at the contrast the clever NYT writer made between the solicitous hunters, who like most of us sustain large vet bills every year, and the AR activist who claims we leave wounded dogs in the field to die (yeah, I know that is unbelievable...)

And a slight swerve: an essay by an anti --gunner who admits without condescension that there are enormous divisions between people of good will over guns, even in Sandy Hook families that lost members to that crazed shooter, and castigates the familiar anti- gun tropes that insist all Americans want gun control or, worse, that those of us who oppose it are ignorant, bigoted,  etc-- name your cliche, and see that ass Liam Neeson, who has probably made more money off at least the image of guns than I have. I do not agree with her, but I get the sense we could have a conversation...

Ancient coursing dog photo:

Not Even Wrong

"Not even wrong" is a phrase you hear  a lot if you hang out with scientists; it came up constantly last week in conversations with Arthur Wilderson and gunblogger- writer  Nate Fitch (photo below). I think I first heard it when I hung out at MIT -- no, I never studied there, just hung out, for years, another chapter in a very speculative autobiography. It means, to an extent, that the person uttering the statement or (more commonly) asking the  question is so unequipped to understand the implications of what he is asking that he should go back and get a master's degree in  the subject before he asks it again, at which point he probably WON'T.

From Wikipedia:

"The phrase "not even wrong" describes any argument that purports to be scientific but fails at some fundamental level, usually in that it contains a terminal logical fallacy or it cannot be falsified by experiment (i.e. tested with the possibility of being rejected), or cannot be used to make predictions about the natural world.

"The phrase is generally attributed to Wolfgang Pauli, who was known for his colorful objections to incorrect or sloppy thinking. Rudolf Peierls documents an instance in which "a friend showed Pauli the paper of a young physicist which he suspected was not of great value but on which he wanted Pauli's views. Pauli remarked sadly, 'It is not even wrong'.

"... Peierls ... quotes another example when Pauli replied to Lev Landau, "What you said was so confused that one could not tell whether it was nonsense or not. 

Young writers, polymaths, taxonomists, dino fanboys, gun scholars, on flying winter visit, after three days talking about all that stuff, with tired but vastly entertained older hosts, as they get ready to return to Colorado:

Sunday, January 18, 2015


"Promoting novels in a soundbite culture is like selling elephants from a gumball machine."
Barbara Kingsolver

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A First

Back in November, granddaughter Bella was able to participate in her first horse show, at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Griffith Park. Only 4, she has started to learn to ride, but she was in a lead-line class, where her trainer led the horse around the arena.

Sure enough, in the best family tradition, she came away with the blue ribbon. I'll let you in on a secret - everybody in a lead-line class gets a blue ribbon. Luckily Bella was the only participant in this one, so she was none the wiser. As she came out of the arena with her ribbon, she told her trainer, "All my dreams have come true!"

But there really is a tradition of blue ribbons in the family. Here is a picture of her mother at age 15, jumping her mare Julie in the Dome at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara. Her team won the team jumpers event in their age category that year. Every time she looks at this picture Lauren says, "Why didn't I turn my foot in?"

Here the winner poses with her proud parents.  

Wading Bird

One day back before Christmas, I was surprised to see a Red-tailed Hawk land on top of the retaining wall on the north side of the house. Luckily the dogs were in the house so they weren't out to disturb him (her? knowledgeable people, please opine).

He stayed still long enough that I could get my camera.

After a couple of minutes, he plopped down into a puddle in the driveway that had been formed by melting snow.

He then spent the next 20 minutes or so happily wading back and forth in the puddle, occasionally pausing for a drink. 
He never bathed - never got  his feathers wet at all.

He finally decided he'd had enough fun and off he went. I added this last picture that shows the look he gave me when he spotted me in the window.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Local Artist

Libby's friend Happy Piasso is a Navajo silvermith who is not always traditional. The belt buckle design is based on a Japanese Goshawk portait in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (notice the red coral eye); the ring is built around a silver bat skull.


There is something soul- satisfying about getting firewood when you are in the midst of a real winter...

Libby supervises Tyler Scartaccini and Tom Rupenacht's delivery of a good load of what we call "cedar". It is actually a juniper but locally the common name is reserved for alligator juniper. This is the species with red heartwood-- some, not me, say it is "too pretty to burn."

The 94 Winchester "Modern" Sporting Rifle has no connection to anything-- we just brought it out  to show Ty.

We got it just in time...

Sunday, January 11, 2015


Hawk Roosting

I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed. 
Inaction, no falsifying dream 
Between my hooked head and hooked feet: 
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat. 

The convenience of the high trees!
 The air's buoyancy and the sun's ray 
Are of advantage to me; 
And the earth's face upward for my inspection. 

My feet are locked upon the rough bark. 
It took the whole of Creation 
To produce my foot, my each feather: 
Now I hold Creation in my foot 

Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly - 
I kill where I please because it is all mine. 
There is no sophistry in my body: 
My manners are tearing off heads - 

The allotment of death. 
For the one path of my flight is direct 
Through the bones of the living. 
No arguments assert my right: 

The sun is behind me. 
Nothing has changed since I began. 
My eye has permitted no change. 
I am going to keep things like this. 

- Ted Hughes

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Book Note

I believe that some of you might enjoy Marilyn Johnson's new book, Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble. It's a book written by an objective outsider looking in at archaeologists, their interests, motivations, and careers. Johnson has written two previous books on other "odd" professions, This Book is Overdue! about librarians and The Dead Beat about obituary writers.

I think she does a good job catching onto why us archaeologists are attracted to the field, how we do our work,  and also does a good job describing a number of the quirks in the culture of archaeologists (she can't get over that we are so fond of beer!). However, I think she paints an unnecessarily dire picture of the economic and career prospects of archaeologists. Most of us working in North America can make a reasonable living working as consultants in cultural resource management. Johnson talks some about CRM archaeology, but chose to focus on academia and government agencies, where jobs are few and far between and what I like to call "monastic" archaeologists. By that term, I mean those in the field (and there are a number of them) who become so completely captivated by a research area or topic, that they are willing to work on it for free and in fact, are willing to sacrifice other viable career alternatives in the field to do so. It's as though they have taken vows of poverty.

The book isn't nearly as well-publicized as it should be - I only found out about it in an ad for a book-signing she did here at The Tattered Cover, that I unfortunately had to miss because of a schedule conflict. I also found it interesting that she only talked with one archaeologist that I know personally. We are a fairly small field where most everybody is only a degree or two of separation apart, but we are somewhat geographically divided. Johnson is based in New York, and most of her contacts were in that region.

Stand Up And More

A couple of years ago, our daughter Lauren decided that she would like to try doing stand up comedy. Between then and now she has gone from working for free on open-mike nights in clubs to paid work. I put up this poster for an appearance she is making next month. This summer, she and three female comic friends are doing an all girls almost national comedy tour. Living in the Los Angeles area as she does is an advantage for her, but this is a difficult business to get into and we are proud of her.

We are also proud of our son Travis, who is also successful in a performing art. Also based in Southern California, he performs in two hard-core punk rock bands, Minus and Fell To Low. He has been at this since high school, much longer than his sister, and he usually does a national tour in the summer with one or another of the bands that includes a stop in Denver. Both of these bands have released several albums. I'll put some more stuff up about Travis and his work later.

Connie and I are both mystified as to why this "performance gene" has manifested itself in our children. Neither of us or anyone in our immediate families has ever seemed to have this urge to entertain people from a stage.

When Man Becomes Prey

Cat Urbigkit's newest, When Man Becomes Prey, is extremely relevant to the matter of the home- invader coyote below.* I rather thoughtlessly quipped "Ask Val Geist" because I have been corresponding with him on such matters for years, and the old zoologist's theories about too- bold urban predators are bedrock.

But Cat is a pastoralist and writer whose life and work are inextricably interwoven with-- I won't say "urban", but modern predators. She deals more with coyotes (and bears and wolves and lions) than anyone I know, and she is dedicated to finding "win- win" solutions to problems most people don't know exist. She has now written the first text on how people in our civilization can co- exist with big predators.

I hadn't realized that her book was not getting the attention that it should; perhaps it is too biological or realistic for the kind of pop Greenies who think that wolves are spiritual, and too accepting of the predator's role for traditional "shoot, shovel, and shut up" varmint killers. The more loss for them, especially the first; Prey is THE text on the dangers of taking too naive a view of these wonderful but not entirely benign "new" and ancient neighbors. Even the most  pro- predator advocate must realize that, if enough people are attacked by any carnivore, it will lose its protection.

This sounds as calm as Cat is when she discusses the potential problems on the wild/ human "interface", so let me reprint what I wrote to her a while back when she asked me for a blurb:

"Jeez, you write a revolutionarily sane book that goes against all trends in the world outside of Africa, takes brisk notice of the stupidity of rules made by sentimentalists in cities who think that all animals can be reasoned with (you don't HAVE to get gory to elicit the horror as that poor woman gets eaten for half an hour because she thought Timothy Treadwell was a reliable guide to grizzlies), remind people that not only will coyotes eat your dog but, just as happily, your kids (and show why the first publicly eaten kid will be in California, where runners should just sacrifice a woman a year to the Cat Goddess); and why even if that happens the residents of Boulder will give their dogs and children to lions rather than allow hunting or GUNS to be used in their peaceful city (and I have read details of the kid who got et, and it wasn't pretty)...

"And all this all without blinking, in a serious tone that still can be devastatingly if blackly funny when you come up with predictions of what will happen if idiots stumble on making the  same mistakes ("... and the idiot's twice- burned finger/ goes wabbling back to the fire..."**)

"You expect me to sum it up in three sentences???"

So I took one more.

"Cat Urbigkit is a scholar and a rancher and above all a writer, a woman who has lived with her flocks in the wildest ranges we have left, watching and admiring, and sometimes without rancor killing the great predators who share her home. In When Man Becomes Prey, she documents the increasing conflict as animals big enough to eat your pets, your children, and even you, come to live in close contact with people who do not believe that anything beautiful can be dangerous. In this lucid, sane book she brings her years of experience and study together to suggest the unthinkable: that if we live in intimate contact with big predators we must regain our ability to scare them, the heritage of a primate who only survived by knowing that when predators think you are harmless, you will become food. That hunting may both preserve predators and make the wilderness safer for humans may be counterintuitive, but it is as true now as it was in the Pleistocene."

Eventually, our big predators, through both learning and the elimination of aggressive individuals, may behave more like the ones in Europe. Ours MAY be less aggressive than those in Africa; if so it may be, as Valerius Geist suggested, due to the ubiquity of firearms on our frontier (Africans and Siberians generally were far less well- armed than our pioneers and frontiersmen).

But we aren't there yet, not when runners are eaten by lions, students by wolves, and Canadian folksingers by coyotes. If you like predators, enjoy the wild, and believe that we must find ways to live with more of it around, read this book. It is also a treasury of good up- to- date natural history backed by real- life experience, and full of first- rate photos, most by Cat. Buy it!
* People have been asking how it got in. A door was slightly ajar-- but what non- acclimated coyote would test doors like a burglar?

** Kipling, "The Gods of the Copybook Headings"

Monday, January 05, 2015


Last moonrise out our front door. I don't know why coastal people think this is Phoenix...

Right or double click to enlarge...

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Ataika and her mother in Almaty; Almaty life

Could it be ten years ago? More?

Ataika at 6 weeks, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in Konstantin and Anna Plakhov's back yard, the day we met her, with mother Oska.

A month in our apartment, with days riding around in Askar Raybaev's (Mitsubishi!) stretch limo; visiting museums and supermarkets and restaurants and archaeologists; then to New Mexico on KLM. What a strange postmodern dog's life! Scenes of that month following...

Happy New Year Hunt

I try to hunt at least a little on New Year's Day, which is a bit superstitious (Thanksgiving too, another story). I have been worried that Ataika, best of all dogs, was getting depressed from lack of activity; hell, I was, beleagured by, first, lack of feedback and misleading written advice from the new Rheumatology office, which caused one crisis (wouldn't you think that a bottle that told you to take it for "one month" meant THAT, and not "Then come back for another?") Then, my own stupidity led me to take too high a dose of another med without realizing some rather strong side effects- mea culpa. (I should note here that my "real" docs, Sarah and Jen, are perfect , and have nothing to do with these problems).

But even at my worst, I believe that I have a duty to my animals. Last week I wrote to Gil:

"Yesterday I made some sort of resolution that regardless of what I felt like I HAD to take Ataika out— she, the most cheerful and inteligent of dogs, seemed to be getting seriously depressed.

"Gil, it might be the best decision I have made in months. She and her line continue to be as remarkable as their Kazakh breeders claim. Remember, my old Lashyn died of “old age” when she was younger than Ataika’s mother Oska was when she gave birth to Taik (14!), and Oska then lived to 20! Her mother, Arys,  made 19.

"Taik is ten, and virtually hadn’t  hunted for around nine months. Not only did she seem utterly fit; she put up  a hare, ran it through a barbed- wire fence; remembered to flatten like a snake at full speed to go under the lowest strand; nearly caught up, turned it, forced it to flatten its ears (only hard- pressed hares do); ran it over a hill and out of sight, and returned promptly at my whistle, jumping OVER the four strand fence on her way back. Then hunted attentively for a half- hour over rough ground. As for me, I walked further over that rough ground than I had in a year!

"What a girl she is! I am sore but feeling re- energized. As for my future breeding, I am also thinking of her daughter Larissa, who embodies much of the line’s virtues,  and has already been offered as breeding stock…

"To be continued- I think I will take her out for quail next!"

I  appended this photo of 'Rissa-- who resembles her most of all her offspring-- by Shiri, leaping like her mother:

Today I took Ataika out for a run, hoping for a cottontail.

" I didn't want to go far, so went to the Rodeo grounds across Route 60, almost always good for a bunny or jack run, though it is hard for a single dog to prevail in coursing-- you need at least another dog and/or hawk. I took the .410 just in case we saw a close cottontail past the fence that marks Village limits, inside of which you are really not supposed to shoot.

"Instead, we busted a rather large covey of Gambel's quail-- 20? Ataika once again proved her quality and good memory by carefully hunting up and flash pointing the singles and stragglers, five I think, within shotgun range, and standing to the flush (only once did I have to remind her to "hunt close").  Since this was the first quail hunt for her in 3 years because of drought (she has hunted lagomorphs) I thought that was intelligent of her. Unfortunately all were within the Village. Now some of you may realize why I want an Accipiter or male Harris (or accurate air rifle), legal and effective within the village, where in dry years we often have more game , and still have dirt roads.

"Afterwards she insisted (as she does) on pulling out her own goatheads, and was predictably shy about being photo'd by Libby. "

Happy New Year!