Saturday, November 22, 2014


Brad Watson, who was on at least one of the hunts below, has just gotten his story "Eykelboom" published in the New Yorker, and it is FINE haunting story. Is the New Yorker publishing better fiction recently? I say yes, from all sorts of odd and good writers-- I know it is not northeastern- chauvinist anymore at least for contributors, but lately it has been on a roll. Now you can see (quite recently) Thomas McGuane with a strong if terrifying story, and people in translation you have not heard of-- and Brad, an Alabaman (well, I think he was born in Mississippi) with good guns and several books all of which you should read (I took the liberty of linking to a favorite collection above), who loves food and teaches at Laramie and hangs out with scientists  and philosophers.

You should always check Bedlam Farm for updates in the carriage horse fight and other battles against AR fanatics. Relevant posts here and here and here and here and...

I want one of these.

A feathered lizard is still a lizard. Think BIRD!

Check out Hillmap, then go here to see it applied, in this instance for finding grouse. HT Lucas Machias.

Help Joan Didion.

Peter Matthiessen (and John Cole) were outdoor writers, if only as undergraduates. And shot not only crows, but raptors! Of course back then everybody did.

A fine gun site from Russia. Great illos, many of things you don't see here...
Mechanical Houbara??!! Interesting but I am not sure if I approve.

Seasons 2: Big game & harvest

With a little help from my friends-- Carlos, Brad, Jim. I am not doing big game these days except in a group, hard in NM if you don't pay top dollar. Which is why I may move my meat hunts north if health permits...

All animals here provided feasts including long- gone lion-- see Don Thomas and/ or David Quammen.

And after thought I added locally grown free range pigs, Mark's, still on the hoof, out in front, and a suckling from a previous Thanksgiving. Big game season for me is FOOD first...

Jack calls the last "Contemporary Norman Rockwell".

Thursday, November 20, 2014


The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool.

- Richard Feynman, Cargo Cult Science

Programming Note

Steve asked me to put up a post to let everyone know that he is in Deep Springs visiting Jackson, Nikki and Eli. Internet access isn't the best there, so he will most likely not be posting much for the time being.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Women's Working Equine Partners

Shepherd's burro in Bulgaria

A new report estimates that there are 112 million working equine animals in the world, providing support to hundreds of millions of poor households in both rural and urban areas throughout the developing world. The breakdown includes:
• 43 million donkeys;
• 11 million mules; and
• 58 million horses.

Here in the United States, author JonKatz has served as the voice for the working carriage horses of New York, reminding us of the need "to work to keep animals in our world rather than take them out of it" and that earning a living in partnership with animals is a time-honored and respected tradition. It’s a reminder many Americans need, because for many, the notion of having a working animal partner is a thing of distant history. Readers of this blog tend to be people who know and understand working partnerships with animals, but for many Americans, the partnership of horse and man is limited to the workings of cattle ranches rather than broadly across our culture.

After adding three formerly wild burros (donkeys) to our ranch operation as guardians for our sheep flock, I quickly became fond of these calm and gentle creatures. In our travels throughout Europe and Asia, it would be impossible not to notice how many people still depend on these beasts of burden.

Cart horse in Kurdish region of Turkey.

The Brooke is a London-based international animal welfare organization dedicated to improving the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules in the world’s poorest countries. Recognizing the fundamental role of equines in providing support to rural families, the Brooke doesn’t seek to ban human use of equines, but works diligently to improve conditions for these animal partners – providing veterinary and animal health services, hosting training and skill-building sessions, undertaking research, and working to raise the profile of working equine animals. The organization is based on the belief that “when animals are well and prosper, so do the owners, families and communities who depend on these animals for their livelihood.” The Brooke currently operates in Asia, Africa, Central America, and the Middle East.

With this background, the Brooke has released the results of its Voices From Women research project exploring the role of equines in women’s lives in Ethiopia, Kenya, India, and Pakistan. The report is entitled “Invisible Helpers: Women’s Views on the Contributions of Working Donkeys, Horses and Mules to Their Lives.” The entire report is worth reading, and is linked here.

The report notes that over 95% of donkeys in the world are kept for work, and in developing countries the money earned by each working equine can support between 5 and 20 family members. People rely in these animals in order to survive. Two-thirds of poor livestock keepers in the world – 400 million – are women, according to the Brooke. How they use their equine partners is revealed in the Brooke report. It should be noted that although horses and mules are included, the majority of women use donkeys for their livelihoods.

Burros packing maize in Lesotho (Africa).

Ethiopia: Equines are the most important livestock in the farming and transportation system, providing a lifeline for 85% of rural Ethiopians dependent on subsistence farming for survival.

Kenya: Subsistence farming is the primary – or only – source of livelihood for rural women. Donkeys are used for farm work, to support other livestock by carrying water and animal feed, and donkey carts or pack donkeys are the main source of transportation.

India: In a country where 84% of women rely on farming for their livelihoods, working equines are used mainly for pulling carts or as pack animals.

Pakistan: Donkeys are widely used for transport of people and goods, and women use their donkeys in generating income through seasonal brick kiln work or rubbish collection.

In all four countries, women were asked to rank livestock species by importance and 77% put their working equines first. Cows and buffaloes, which provide milk for both their families and for sale, ranked second. Goats that provide meat and milk, and can be quickly sold in times of need, ranked third.

Researchers also found that although there is an assumption that the male members of a household are the decision-makers when it comes to purchasing livestock, most women reported that their husbands consulted with them about such purchases, and half of the women reported that such decisions were a mutual agreement between husband and wife. In Kenya, women make the decisions about livestock purchases, and in some areas a donkey is the first gift a husband presents to his new bride. In most communities in all four countries, women are the primary and traditional care givers for the family’s livestock.

One woman in Kenya provides a glimpse of the importance of donkeys in everyday life: “The donkey affects each and every aspect of my life as a woman. On a typical day the donkey fetches water, which I use to do the dishes, to clean the house, and for bathing. It also fetches sawdust which I use to cook all meals; then I hire it out and it brings in income on a daily basis that I use to buy flour for the evening meal. In other words, I eat, drink, dress, live off the donkey and more so as a woman and not one employed, I work hand in hand with the donkey. Basically the donkey is like me but to plainly put it, the donkey is me.”
A burro hauling firewood in Turkey.
Donkeys reduce the amount of labor and drudgery of household chores for these women. Imagine the burden of women transporting water and firewood without an equine partner. A donkey in Pakistan can transport a month’s worth of firewood in one day, whereas women without donkeys have to carry wood every day. In some regions, women collect dung as a fuel source and to sell to others, and use their donkeys to transport these materials. Women transport grain back and forth to mills. They use their donkeys to transport fodder for the family’s other livestock, and bring household goods to and from the market.

Many women told researchers that by using donkeys to share the burdens of everyday life, the women were able to spend more time caring for their children. One woman from Ethiopia said, “My donkey is just my backbone. It solves all my household problems.” When a donkey is sick, the woman’s workload increases and the family becomes stressed. If she can’t transport enough fodder for the family’s other livestock, the livestock will also suffer and the family will not receive as much milk from their animals.

All of the women interviewed by the Brooke were involved in some sort of income generation with their donkeys, although some was indirect income. A woman in India said, “They are our identity and our source of income. Not having one means no food for the family.” Women use income generated from their donkeys to purchase other livestock, provide food, and pay for household expenses, school fees, and healthcare.

The Brooke report concluded: “For women from equine owning communities, these animals are essential or, as some women put it, they are an additional member of the family or an additional limb of the body.”

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Pluvi wins a big one

Helen Macdonald has just won the Samuel Johnson Prize, a VERY big deal. Nice to see prizes go to someone whose writing eminently deserves it, especially when her choice of subject is so quirky, even controversial, as falconry.
It may say something about literary England-- or nature loving England-- that they would give a prize to a poet's book about "blood sport". Of course it helps that Helen may be the best and most vivid writer in England of her generation, even with peers and friends like Rob Macfarlane and Olivia Laing (who you should also read). And no, THIS time I am not going to quote her at length-- do yourself a favor and buy her book, NOW.

Magdalena story, relevant: Joel Becktell came over at the end of a summer day last year and I had this photo of Helen under a photomural of a young Sheikh Zayed, a pic taken I believe in the late forties by Thesiger, up on the big screen of my computer. Do remember, though Joel is one of the world's leading cellists and as sophisticated as me or thee, this is still a remote dirt road town where you may visit on horseback. The screen door opens into the room where I work, my back to it. I called "Come on in!" over my shoulder, and he did, holding a six- pack. Looked at the screen, and said with interest : "Who's that chick with Zayed?"

I prefer this one with a Lammergeier myself:

But as Mary Ann Maddy said to me at the post office this morning: "... and she's better looking than you, too!"

Thursday, October 30, 2014


The Kurdish Peshmerga from Iraqi Kurdistan are gathering in the southern Turkish province of Sanliurfa, south of the ancient city once known simply as Urfa, less than forty miles north of the border, looking south, and southeast, where a Kurdish Syrian town is besieged by an ancient enemy with a new face, one seen on social media everywhere these days. Nothing between Urfa and the border but irrigated wheat fields and a barbed wire fence... and south of that border, the black flags, black masks and headcloths of our latest fast- moving plague of wanderers and nomads, happy to exterminate anything that does not have its cultural DNA. Kurds who have retaken their towns report that the wandering "State" killed all their livestock and even birds....

Cat sent me a touching video of refugees with a  segment of a kid who had saved his pigeons, against the will of his father--who finally relented-- and probably wisely. After all, the Taliban made killing domestic pigeons one of its sixteen commandments, along with banning shaving, music, sorcery, kites, and uncovered women. A week after they took over, they purged every rooftop pigeon loft in Kabul, virtually destroying the ancient local highflyer breed. Isis apparently thinks Al Qaeda and the Taliban are too moderate and compromising.

The video of the Kurdish refugees is here, and the kid comes in about at 1:40.

Urfa may be the most ancient city I have ever stayed in, allegedly 9000 years old, with three real Neolithic sites in it. You cannot dig for construction without finding a structure or artifact of interest to archaeologists. Among the legends is that it is the Biblical Ur of the Chaldees and the birthplace of Abraham (probably neither), and that it is the birthplace of Job. It apparently was where the Armenian alphabet was invented, though the Turks purged all the Armenians in the first two decades of the twentieth century; mentioning that genocide is still a  criminal offense there. Perhaps one reason for the Turkish unease with the Kurds, today's dominant population locally,  is that they are honestly if horrifyingly uninhibited on that question; one quite civilized Kurd I know said he hated the Turks for not being grateful enough for the Kurds' help in killing the Armenians! Though they are pretty rough on each other-- Achmed would get in long shouting matches with his relatives, then turn to me with a smile and say "I am sorry-- the Kurdish problem is not yet solved!"

 But it is a magical city, built on steep hills, with its skyline of churches repurposed as mosques (some have switched back and forth three times); its minarets, its hundreds of contending pigeon flocks every dawn and dusk, its pagan remnants. The sacred carp pool belongs to Jewish, Christian, and Moslem tradition; in all three, Nimrod tried to immolate Abraham in a gigantic pyre there, and God turned the fire into water, the burning coals into fish. But it is an open secret that infertile women still take water and fish from it to change their luck. Urfa is a palimpsest of buried and not- so- buried civilizations.

Artsy effect unintentional, light rain on my lens

 I don't know whether these photos will be sharp enough to show the pigeon flocks...

But it is a city of pigeons. There may be  sixty flocks in the evening sky above, all competing. They even had a cupboard loft in the entry of my favorite rooftop restaurant, to entertain me when I ate.

A city of birds and ruins, some even inhabited...

A city with bazaars that were built before Columbus, still bustling...
  Where you can buy anything from a rug to a hammer to an iron collar...
To a pigeon of course...
 It is worth re- visiting my hotel, to see that art photo of the Ur Pigeon of Urfa, wearing the pigeon jewelry that pigeons have in the Middle East for centuries..

Another, a Mssawad , a breed which I saw in Urfa, with jewelry, though this was taken by Sir Terence Clark in a village in Syria. I wonder if it still exists...

Because somewhere south of Urfa is a whirling void, the kind that has come like a storm out of the desert before, and  flattened many other "old civilizations put to the sword" ...