Saturday, November 21, 2015

Classic Childrens' books

... and their lack of modern political corectitude. From Jack, on Honk The Moose, which he was raised on too:

"The joys of classic children's books!

"When a Finn gets mad he doesn't do a halfway job. First he gets madder than a Chinaman; then he works up through the Italians and the French and on to the English and the Germans and then to the Irish -- and when he is madder than a mad Norwegian he knows that he is a real Suomi."

More pigeons

Must be in the air. Anne Pearse Hocker just sent this piece from the Guardian about how they may be better at detecting tumors (visually, from X rays) than humans. Their rate of detection is something like 99%. Actually I am not surprised-- much "Dinosaurian" visual acuity exceeds that of us mammals.
And Tesla, everyone's favorite Fortean near- alien from Serbia, fell  chastely in love with one.

"In particular, he claimed to have a very special bond with a certain white, female pigeon, stating he loved her as a man loves a woman.” He said that the pigeon was the “joy of his life,” and claimed that one evening she flew into his window, let him know that she was ill, and died in his arms. He insisted his entire life’s work was complete in that moment."

I don't like them quite THAT much... only like Darwin did.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Domestic evo

Nobody cares about the biology of domestic animals-- something I hear about on campuses all the time, from traditionalists who are told that they're irrelevant AND frustrated innovators who KNOW they are seeing something new. Johnson and Janiga's wonderful Feral Pigeons was all but dismissed as trivial for years.

"Domestic" pigeons are damn near as old as we are, and it may be no coincidence that Turkey, where I used to spend time on the roof of the ancient ( 120o AD ?) caravanserai in Urfa watching the end of the day flights, is the center of Silk Road breeds and holds more pigeon variation than anywhere on earth I have yet been.

Here are some from there; first, a portrait in the lobby of the best hotel in town, signed by the photographer and labelled "Ufa Guvercin" pigeon of Urfa; then a restaurant  cupboard loft. Urfa is close to the Syrian border, and the black plague of the Islamic "State" has already reached out to the ancient town to behead two defectors; as I have mentioned, they have made pigeon flying a capital offense. Let us hope the Kurdish hard guys (and women) I know there can keep them at bay.

This was IN a restaurant, while there was a bird flu epidemic!

 Here are some strange ones I didn't see, but that  are part of the Turkish ancestral swarm. I don't think there is a pigeon breed not prefigured in Turkey; many have just been there forever.

Earrings! From Sir Terence Clark in a more peaceful Syria

Scientist and artists have worked with pigeons for years-- would you deny Darwin, an absolutely mad pigeon fan who practically drove Mr and Mrs Lyell from the dinner table with his enthusiasm (not always a good word) for his subtly "Lower- class" birds...? I mean, Darwins and Wedgewoods didn't go to pigeon shows...
But now some serious artist- scientists are working on domestic beast and birds. Last year Katrina van Grouw brought wonderful animated pouter skeletons to her exhibit at Laramie...
And now she is working on dogs. These show the "improvement " (not!) of the St Bernard in the 20th c. Stay tuned...
Pigeon update; the Suburban Bushwhacker has just given me a link to this wonderful photographic tribute to Darwin's pigeons. Here are a couple of examples. The first is a pouter, like Katrina's skeleton.

Undue Influence

E Donnall Thomas is an old friend who has written many good books, and had many adventures. In our neck of the woods he is best known as the guy who convinced David Quammen that at least some hunting of mountain lions was OK after David editorialized against the practice, by taking him out with his longbow (made by him) and his hound (trained by him), and later serving him stir fried lion with ginger and chile, cooked by him. David wrote his recantation as "Crossing Lines in Lion Country" in Outside, and later reprinted it as "Eat of This Flesh" in the collection Wild Thoughts from Wild Places.

Don is also a  MD and flies small planes, in fact was a flying doc in Alaska, so you may infer that he does not scare easily. (He also shoots bears with longbows). Which makes it all the dumber when a millionaire who was illegally trying to block public access on Montana streams, used his clout to get Don kicked off a twenty- year gig writing for Ducks Unlimited, because Don wrote a piece in a Bozeman publication decrying his efforts.

There is a lot of hypocritical crap going around, some of which I have seen. Some DU officials say he wasn't fired because he never "worked" for DU. Right-- as Tom McIntyre said, quoting Dorothy Parker, "... and I am Marie of Roumania." Others claim no company would ever keep on someone who "insulted" an advertiser. I cry bullshit on that; first, he "insulted" no one, only told the truth in an unrelated publication. But B (a BIG "B") I know for a fact that when once I  drew the ire of a large advertiser at Gray's Sporting Journal, many long years ago, Ed stood with me, and lost a not inconsiderable sum of money. Not all editors are craven.

Here is Don in his own words, cut slightly for space:

"In October, 2015 I wrote a piece for Outside Bozeman magazine, "A Rift Runs Through It", about the long Montana legal battle to secure and maintain public access to the Ruby River in accordance with the state’s stream access law. (I will make a copy of that text available to anyone on request.) To summarize a complex issue for those unfamiliar with the case, wealthy Atlanta businessman James Cox Kennedy engaged in extensive litigation to prevent such access, only to be denied repeatedly in court due to the efforts of the Montana Public Land and Water Access Association. While the article was not complimentary to Kennedy, no one has challenged the accuracy of the reporting.

"James Cox Kennedy is a major financial contributor to Ducks Unlimited. On November 10, a Ducks Unlimited functionary informed me that my position with the magazine was terminated because of Cox’s displeasure with the article.

"... The Ruby River article had nothing whatsoever to do with ducks or Ducks Unlimited (DU hereafter). The article did strongly support the rights of hunters and other outdoor recreationists to enjoy land and water to which they are entitled to access, and DU is a hunters’ organization... DU has essentially taken the position that wealthy donors matter more than the outdoor recreationists they purport to represent.

"... If every journalist reporting on these issues faces this kind of vindictive retribution, the future of wildlife and wildlife habitat-not to mention the hunters and anglers of ordinary means who form the backbone of groups like DU-is bleak indeed.

"... If you share my concerns-especially if you are a DU member-I encourage you to contact the organization, express your opinion, and take whatever further action you might consider appropriate."

DU has not only "fired" Don-- they have done a Soviet- esque rewriting of history, eliminating every reference and piece of writing that he ever did, and his name, from their website. They are risking making themselves appear not only spineless, but pretty close to a laughing stock, a shame for an organization that has done far more good than harm in the past. Ding Darling must be spinning in his grave. It brings to mind old Montana curmudgeon Peter Bowen's too- true and much- quoted apercu: "Poor folks act like folks; rich folks act like govermint..."

I am betting Don comes out of this looking a lot better than DU, never mind Mr Kennedy...

Monday, November 16, 2015


Eli overlooks his world... Eureka Valley
Mining equipment

Eli says:
"We're Scots, so we can toss big trees like the Scots do!"
"[Optimistically] We could have centipedes for dinner!"
"Special Padda [ ie Father] juice means beer!"

The LC 16: what it IS

The "weird gun" is finished.  A 16 bore wildfowl gun that weighs close to 8 pounds, with 30" Damascus barrels and full chokes, it appears distinctly pre - modern. Which it literally is- an early grade 2 LC Smith from about 1904.

But it was not unique in its day. So many of us use English guns as our standard, but there are others. In his The American Shotgun in 1910, Charles Askins Sr. wrote: "Thirty inch barrels in a sixteen bore with the stock cut on finer lines makes an especially elegant looking weapon. Should the arm weigh over six and a half pounds,  or be intended for trap and duck shooting, then try the thirty-two inch barrels." This gun follows his formula: his old ornate Flues model Ithaca 16, later owned and written about by Elmer Keith and sold this year for more than $8000.
My gun, though it has extractors and double triggers, is obviously built to the same standards.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Past blasts

In honor of her move from her almost- natal Newton MA to North Carolina, I thought I would post these photos of Bron Fullington. I may also post later on some linguistic weirdness Jackson sent on her old neighborhood, and her thoughts. TOMORRROW!
 Last spring...

Yes, that is Betsy Huntington about to shoot a Retrieve- R- Trainer dummy off Bron's Newton porch-- 1978?- and get us in trouble with the cops. July 4th with no firecrackers.

Old & very old guns

Latest restorations. More text later. But the 12 "featherweight" handles like a Best Brit gun, while the "Askins- Keith special" 16 is almost 8 pounds and has 30" barrels and tight chokes. The prairies were not bucolic England...

To see the details like Damascus, click to enlarge...

No Comment 2

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Sixty- Three

... posts til  #4000.  On June 5, 2005, I wrote the first, rather casually, never dreaming that a blog would become part of my writing life...

Several books, a step- grandson, Parkinson's, many friends gone...

Selling some guns I should not have (well I do that every WEEK)...

I need without question to write a couple more books while I am still here. Not sure if the blog gets in the way... my memory and cognition may not be what they were-- or maybe it is just lack of concentration...

I will be thinking about all of this in the next month or two, zeroing in on New Year's. Most likely the solution will be a compromise, but I do need to cut back. I am getting slow.


Update on "Beebesaurus"

... also known as Microraptor gui. I painted it a sort of irridescent black, to conform with what is known about its feathers. Can't believe how much it looks like Beebe's bookplate in his pre- WW I (1910) book Our Search for a Wilderness. Microraptor was dug up in China in 2003.

The Kids Know...

Dinos had feathers! Eli's 4th birthday card... feathered T rex by Jackson. Article coming in Living Bird...

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Road Books

My thesis for years has been that there are three great 1950's "Road" books. Two are obvious to the literate: Jack Kerouac's On the Road, and Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. The other  may be MORE obvious to naturalists, many of whom miss one or the other of the first two; Wild America, by Roger Tory Peterson and his late English buddy James Fisher. It is the most handsome book of the three, with scratchboard illos of every habitat in North America you can think of, and many of its inhabitants.

Given their time scheme, it is easy (and temporally possible) to imagine a motel in eastern Colorado or maybe Kansas, early in the morning, with Roger and James out in the yard contemplating a Scissor- tailed flycatcher on a wire, Volodya and Vera chasing a blue butterfly around a bush, he clad in unsuitably European shorts; and, in another room,a shirtless, sleepless  Kerouac typing manically on a roll of paper while Neal Cassady fills his ears with an endless speed rap. If I were, say, Tom Stoppard I could write a play about it...

I have a good first edition copy of Wild America, inscribed to me-- I'll tell the gratifying story of how Peterson came to sign my old copy one of these days. Out of curiosity I thought I would see how much comparable copies of the others would cost. It was a lesson in the comparative value of "nature" and "Lit" books.

Here is my copy and the inscription:

You can find several like it, signed, for $50.

Here is a copy of the original 2 vol Olympia Press Lolita . It goes for a cool $8,875.
A Putnam US first is more modest at only $20, but it is an eleventh impression-- not my idea of a "first."
This nice first edition, second printing, of On the Road goes for $475 with a later jacket.

And here is a London first with an odd jacket for  $516. Is that supposed to be Allen Ginsberg in the glasses?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Driving with Animals

Charley Waterman used to say. of a dog that always occupied the driving seat when the humans were absent, that she knew driving was important, and that somebody had to do it; she just didn't know how.


"In my rucksack I took Mandelstam's Journey to Armenia and Hemingway's In Our Time. Six months later I came back with the bones of a book that, this time, did get published. While stringing its sentences together, I thought that telling stories was the only conceivable occupation for a superfluous person such as myself."

Bruce Chatwin in 1983, on the genesis of In Patagonia.


I finally got my copy, Beebe's copy, of his book Our Search  for a Wilderness, with his bookplate. The seller thought it was an iguana, but I knew it was a sketch of a possible "pre-Archaeopteryx" avian ancestor he had imagined. In 1910.

I think it was 2003 when they dug up Microraptor gui. The model is light- colored, but it has been discovered to be irridescent black. Mira!

I am painting my model black, and displaying it with the book...


ANOTHER review. I don't do many for satirical novels, but this one is caviar, and unique. I have oxymoronically described it as vaguely like a kindly early Evelyn Waugh or a sane Edward St Aubyn, both manifestly impossible. Its tone and setting in contemporary Virginia remind me of photographer Sally Mann's excellent recent memoir, Hold Still. Its plot is (consciously, according to the author) based on Shakespearian comedy, with a classically perfect ending. The author's only previously published work evokes an uncommon Eurasian bird, The Wallcreeper.

Any description of the  plot sounds like pure farce: it begins when a mostly gay, upper- class southern English prof impregnates a (mostly lesbian, decidedly not rich) young woman and marries her. They have another child, a boy, and break up; fearing for the loss of her daughter, the woman runs and hides in plain sight in a rural corner of the county, squatting in an abandoned house. Here, she hits on the idea which will animate the entire farce; in order to keep and educate her daughter, she will claim and raise her as a rural, legally black child, even though both are blue eyed blondes.

Meanwhile, her brother is being raised to be, among other things, the only kindly frat boy I have ever encountered...

In between you get Native American dope dealers, squirrels, all the possible idiocies of identity politics, a fraternity that admires H P Lovecraft, and more pitch perfect observation of more classes of people than I have ever seen in a single novel, acute but sill somehow KIND.

Those who read as widely as I think my readers do may get a glimpse of how wide a net the author casts in this late scene, where the daughter is explaining to her father how she longs to go to Capri, though she is in college mainly because her (genius nerd actually black) boyfriend was such a prize they sort of comped her in too..

Lee, her father, has just told her he will send her anywhere.

"Anywhere at all?"...

"If it's Disney and Epcot, summer is out of the question."...

"Did you ever read Kaputt ?

Lee did not answer, so she went on. "It's my favorite book. It's a memoir of World War II by a guy named Curzio Malaparte. He starts out by visiting his friend Axel Munthe on the Isle of Capri, and he thinks his friend Axel is, like, dumb, for caring a lot about birds. But before that, he visits his other friend, King Bernadotte, whose hobby is embroidery." She pronounced the names "Mallaparty", "Monthy", and "Burnadotty", but Lee did not smile. "He's the king of Sweden, but what he does all day is, embroider, like, napkins! And then Malaparte goes to the war. And he realizes that people are exactly like birds. They're innocent bystanders that only an asshole would kill"-- and here Karen developed fierce- looking tears in her eyes- "and embroidery is symbolic of the very best part about them. He goes all around the war, seeing beautiful people and animals suffer and die for no reason, but he never looks away. He writes it all down. And in the end he goes back to Capri to build himself this house..."

Her voice slowed as she saw his eyes, which had turned glassy, being squeezed shut. "Dad, why are you crying? Do you think he's a fascist? Temple says he's a fascist."

She lowered her eyes to her empty plate. She saw that to a sophisticate like Lee, reading Malaparte was equal in puerility to eating scabs, and that she would soon be in New York, acquiring modish things to make herself less of a rube.

Lee said, "Don't mind me. It's just my life flashing before my eyes. You were raised under a rock, yet your life's dream is to see the Villa Malaparte. And I realized I must have passed something down to you in my semen after all. The divine spark. It's the first time in my llfe I ever felt like a man."

Mislaid by Nell Zink.  A good bad pun, too....


Conor Mark Jameson, who might be familiar to readers of the blog from his involvment in getting the TH White memorial plaque up at the World Center at Boise, or for his excellent book Looking for the Goshawk, has a new title out: Shrewdunnit: The Nature Files.

Shrewdunnit is done in an old form, one currently neglected, perhaps as old- fashioned, in the US, and still done very well in England-- a year's observations, mostly of one place (although he is a thoroughly modern naturalist and also goes abroad); a phenology, a record, a series of sketches light and serious.

Such a book stands or falls by two things: how well the writer knows his chosen place, and how well he writes, how originally he he can see. Conor succeeds on both counts. Here he is on a Sparrowhawk who has just begun to "unwrap"-- nice verb- his prey:

"This male hawk is little bigger than the blackbirds haranguing it; certainly leaner... Like David Beckham about to take a corner kick, to fire the ball into the goal with deadly accuracy, in front of jeering opposition fans, the hawk is inured to such abuse. This is what I do. This is what I do well. I don't expect you to like me for it."

In a smaller country, he is properly as excited by the presence of a stoat  or a "ghost" barn owl as I might be by a mountain lion; predators define a landscape. He looks for adders (he says "I have always revered snakes") and wonders if they will ever find their way back to his neighborhood; I have never thought before about how hard it is for a snake to migrate once it has gone from a place, and who mourns venomous snakes? He listens closely enough to a cuckoo to hear the breaths between its call; I have done this with the nightjar called a whippoorwill back in my native New England, and his account brings back a naturalist's memory.  He watches migrants, but doesn't keep obsessive lists; a fault by some standards, but one I confess I share; there are more interesting observations to make. He describes a dinner with one of my favorite English nature writers, Mark Cocker, who  decants a dubious pile of egg cartons containing odd moths and worse in front of his students, saying "You've just got to go out and find some weirdness." You sense that would be Conor's perfect motto: he is always a serious naturalist, but never a solemn one.

He is, as a modern observer,  international enough in his interests and travels that he writes about the terrible vulture crisis in India, where the side effects of Diclofenac, an anti- inflammatory drug given to cattle, has brought several species to the brink of extinction. But, traveling, he can also have a light epiphany on the high alpine Italian ridges near where Otzi, "The Iceman" was found, realizing that a rolling flock of Alpine choughs floating overhead is watching him as much as he is watching them. His knowledge, earned and deep and local, is balanced by his quirky humor and quirky insights. In the title essay, his bad pun comes from realizing that the culprit who has been leaving dead goldfish by a neighbor's pond is a water shrew, that delightful and little-seen mammal Konrad Lorenz wrote an essay on many years ago, still the only place most of us have encountered it.

Shrewdunnit is the kind of book you can keep at your bedside or bathroom, where you can dip into at will for new insights, facts, or natural entertainment. I hope that Jameson will write "heavier"  more serious books, but I hope he will also keep us up with this kind of work, and play, too. I will buy any book like this as long as he writes them.

New Coursing Book

To See Them Run: Great Plains Coyote Coursing, with text by Utah folklorist Eric Elaison, splendid photos by Scott Squire, and a long introductory essay by me, is finally out from the University Press of Mississipi... and about time! Our efforts have seen us, for about five years (more?) right through a couple of academic presses and out the other side, as Plains coyote coursing was seen as too retrograde for modern audiences, or, even sillier, presses demanded material on non- existent "Native American Coursing". (A quote: "I was leading my greyhound and whippet. As I passed two Native Americans, my wife, who was following, saw them pointing at the dogs and saying 'there goes dinner'."
It is a really beautiful "Coffee Table Book" AND a thoughtful text-- a great gift for hunters and students of dogs and the Old Ways, for Christmas or birthdays. I can truthfully say we are all proud of it as well as relieved that it is finally a book. I will add more photos later but wanted to get this post out. One complaint: Amazon will not let me list it under my name, on my page, although those who have introduced my books routinely list them on their Amazon pages. Perhaps a word to the publisher?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Got it!

The Mauser C96 "Broomhandle" automatic pistol-- if anything I own is "iconic", it is.

I have wanted one for many years. I will add Arthur Wilderson's excellent short essay when he sends it, but it was the gun of Churchill at Omdurman and Lawrence of Arabia; Walter "Karamojo" Bell supposedly shot down a German fighter with one in WWI; the great Indian ornithologist Salim Ali, referred to affectionately by his friend Meinertzgagen as"you treasonous little Wog", had one, as well as a 20 bore Jeffery shotgun bought by his wife, a Mannlicher Schoenauer carbine like mine, and various bolt- action Mausers (and, unusually, Winchesters!)

Ali shooting swallow specimens in the 50's with his Jefferey
Various versions, including the shorter barreled "Bolo" (for Bolshevik), were used by both sides up and down the Trans- Siberian Railway in the Russian Civil War, and Chinese bandits and government troops both favored them  in .45 ACP, to match their American Tommy guns, which led to the destruction of many in the Cultural Revolution of 1968, for possessing a "bourgeois caliber." You can't make it up..

They were also used by two favorite fictional protagonists, Charles Dennim in Geoffrey Household's Watcher in the Shadows, and Jane Doe in Michael Gruber's Tropic of Night.

I was in Ron Peterson's guns for other business when I beheld a clean Broomhandle on the table in front of my friend Mel Merritt, the manager.  I am afraid I behaved badly-- I swooped down on the young customer, who was comparing one to a Luger, and said "THAT one is MINE!" Mel looked injured, saying only "I thought you already found one!"

Luckily the kid didn't have any historical interest, and I ended up with it and all the bells & whistles-- a holster/ shoulder stock made of walnut, a pigskin shoulder holster, a set of stripper clips-- all for less than any I had seen on the Internet. It is a "Red Nine", so called not because of any revolutionary associations but because of the big red "9" burned into its side to denote its caliber, the still- popular 9 mm Luger.
That is it on the right of course, beside my S & W  .38 and my Hi-Standard target and rabbit .22.

Everyone has been worried by my absence. I had a tough few weeks with the implant, but it IS a learning process, and my latest setting is the best yet. Unfortunately, I felt so good today that I cleaned out two year's worth of detritus from the yard, leaving me utterly exhausted. This is all for tonight; I won't even add links til later. But later this week: new book reviews, a new coursing book, more Beebe, Microraptor, Phillott on falconry; more and worse...

And here is Arthur:

"The Mauser C 96 was not the first automatic pistol, but it was basically the first that worked well.   Its predecessors were curiosities and toys.   It emerged in the last days of the  belle epoque; that last, glorious sunset of European civilization before the blood dimmed tide and mere anarchy were loosed.   As such, it was the sidearm of choice for the roguish heroes and heroic rogues of the era; Winston Churchill, T.E. Lawrence, and Chinese warlords all favored the type.   In that strange, bygone era officers were socially stratified gentry and bought their own weapons.   Very few nations officially adopted the Mauser pistol, but many of their armys' officers bought them on their own initiative.

"I have spoken to a number of gunsmiths, industry officials and machinists about making reproductions of these things.   A century and change of advances in manufacturing, and these sorts of weapons would be thousands of dollars per piece.   The entire structure of economics, and the price of skilled machinists at the time was incomprehensibly different.

 "Men worked in satanic mills to make the steel billet that would be painstakingly whittled and hand-fitted to form these beautiful, utterly decadent weapons.   A modern combat handgun is completely soulless and utilitarian by comparison.   It is truly an artifact of Hesiod's golden age.   It's like a pair of marching boots with gold trim.   Putting that much personal effort, especially into a weapon as unimportant as a handgun, is unthinkable today.

"Our culture is a descendant of theirs, but in some ways it's unrecognizable.   Wittgenstein said that if a lion could talk, we could not understand him.   Sometimes I think the same is true of the Edwardians.   Their children roamed with incomprehensible freedom.   They lived in cultures with incomprehensible levels of social stratification and thought it (generally) normal, just and natural.   Our science would have few secrets with which to shock them; Einstein's General Relativity is a hundred years old now!   And yet their medicine barely worked..."