Tuesday, September 20, 2016

George Graham RIP

My brother in law and dear friend, George Graham, died early today after a struggle with esophageal cancer. He was not quite 54, and I can't get my head around it yet. Until a month or so ago he and Karen were pretty optimistic, and I always thought he would outlive me.

We were utterly different people who shared a surprising number of interests: our deep love for Karen; a fascination for New England nature, especially in its maritime aspects, and all its inhabitants; great enjoyment in telling stories and drinking until all hours of the night; local lore and language; eating an enormous amount of delicacies unknown to westerners, like bluefish and fried clams with bellies-- who is going to find me the good clam shacks now?

Though he didn't know it, he had already inspired me to write about the returning alewife run he showed me last year. I always hoped he'd come out here again -- he enjoyed shooting Winchester level action rifles, and patronizing the Golden Spur Bar, where the locals loved to make him talk to hear his accent: "Say your name, George". He taught me that for all my airs I am "OFD" "Officially F****n"' Dawchesta", born on Templeton Street just off "Dot (Dorchester) Ave", on a site now obliterated by New Ashmont station. I left at four, but my private schools from five up and my pronunciation of the letter "r" notwithstanding, he made me say the one "r"- less thing he knew I would:

"What parish were you born in- don't think about it, just SAY it!"

(ME) "Saint Maahk's!".Learned before four and never forgotten.

George: "SEE? Only people from New Orleans and Dawchesta know the answer to that question! You're from Saint Maahk's off Dot Ave-- your as OFD as Maahk Wahlberg!"

I'll have a lot more to say later. For now it is enough to say: he was a wonderful man, a great father, and the best husband my sister Karen could have had. We will all miss him.

Thank you, George, for being the friend that you were to a talkative cranky old man in the desert. We love you, and will miss you.
Alewife run

With Tom Russell and co at Passim in Harvard Square

It seems like just a week ago- celebrating my new book, which they got before I did (and notice they have the Gorbatov cover image on their wall)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

George is still fighting

Keep him in your prayers and thoughts- he is going through a hard patch. That is him as letter "K".

Convergent Evo -in Double Guns!

I had no idea, when I started measuring these, just how close they would be. They are of different origin and design. One is an LC Smith so- called Featherweight 12 from †he 1920,s, built and designed in New England and New York. One is a typical 12 bore British game gun (though proofed for American loads and with a metric barrel- length- Frederic Scot twas always odder then his kinsmen), built to Best or near Best standards in Birmingham. And one is the only grade 7 Manufrance Robust I have ever seen, a 16, with an Ideal- style fore-end ( better seen than described), skip- line checkering, a reel- up "Brettel automatique" sling, a swamped rib, fine scroll engraving, and a horn buttplate. AllI know is that it was made before the War.

I'll spare you every detail, but I weighed the barrels, the fore-end, and the stock and action of each on my hawk scales, in ounces rather than grams. Each unit varied a bit, but in the end they all converged.  I should add that I left the slip - on pad on the Elsie, as she always wears it, and it helped the convergence.

The barrels varied most, from  44.7 (lightest) in the Scott to 51.6 in the French gun. (They were all almost the same length-- 28" in the LC, 70 cm for the other two (about 27 1/2). In the end, the FRENCH gun was lightest, at 6.43  pounds, despite its barrels. The Scott was next, at 6.51, and the LC heaviest, at all of  6.6.

That is not a lot of difference. All the makers knew what they were  doing.

I have put more photos of the French gun, as it is most unusual!  Thanks to Kirby Hoyt of Vintage doubles for that, and to my friend Gerry Cox for the Scott. That is the Turner .410, my other near "Best" shotgun, peeping out on the left.

New Tim Murphy

Enjoy these- they will only be up for a month...

September, an Ode

Song for the Sandhills

Forested shoulders sloping down its valley,
the Sheyenne carves its way through North Dakota
to Agassiz, lakebed of the Red River.
I pass a timber truck to prove that logging
endures far east of our Montana mountains.

Certainly cutting spruces, climax forest,
their seed borne to the plains in bison droppings,
much as the Sioux fled from the Ojibwa
who built birch bark canoes to run our rivers
long before the Lakota learned Horse Culture.

Lake Agassiz burst east, out through the Pigeon
to feed the Great Lakes, clear to the St. Lawrence.
How slowly it retreated questing northward
to bring its mighty river up to Churchill.
Agassiz lapped six hundred feet above me.

Long hunting the Sheyenne National Grasslands,
a vast moraine, scrub oak-clad hills and prairie
draining its watershed forever northward,
bound for the Arctic, bound for the Aurora,
it makes an aging man feel mighty youthful.

No Township, Range or Section

There ain’t no grouse in southeast North Dakota
save for one secret spot I have long scouted,
a half section high on the Sheyenne’s shoulder,
gravel moraine, weather-rounded erratics
left in the wake of our retreating glacier.

An eastern outlier of short grass prairie,
what makes it magic is its silverberry,

knee-high shrubs irrestible to sharp tails
who covet berries dangling at eye level.
Treeless covert, I found it in my twenties
well before dawn, wingtip to wingtip covey
hurrying home from water at a stock pond.

Don’t ask me where, it’s under strict embargo,
but lies less than a hundred miles from Fargo.

Ransom County Rambles

Force five gale from the West, the grouse flushed wild,
and I was porting my tiny Twenty-eight.
The slingshot that I brandished as a child
might have been more lethal.  We came too late,

grouse in the silverberry wide awake,
skittish, flushing seventy-five yards out,
three years since I left grouse guts in my wake,
the prairie lush, healed of our summer drought.

Tomorrow I’ll go back, heavier iron.
Long before dawn we’ll leave our little house,
vest up at sunrise and explore the siren
scent trails of the wary prairie grouse.

Hunting at Sixty-five

Clothe me in camouflage, and like as not
I’ll miss because my reflexes are shot,
my eye is bleary, and my legs are not

fit to pound up four hundred hillside feet
behind young Chucky, every bit as fleet
as Feeney.  Let me not just repeat

triumphs recorded long ago when young.
Let me swirl sips of whiskey on my tongue,
recalling barn doors where my cocks were hung

to air, their entrails in the bloodied grass
where young hunters sigh with a soft alas
this hunt is over, and this too shall pass

when like our forebears we are growing old.
Too soon I shall come in out of the cold.

Best of Seasons

I’ve longed to farm the Sheyenne River bottoms,
their topsoils black as the Red River Valley.
Instead I’ve hunted them for forty autumns.
Wake in the dark, sleepless before each sally,
white line fever, the asphalt still before me,
Columbian the coffee to restore me.

Ploughshares too swiftly bury all the stubble,
no pigeon grasses for the witch doves’ covens,
and every day I pray to shoot a double
jalapenoed and baconed for our ovens.
Sumac turns crimson and the aspens yellow.
I scratch the soft ears of my little fellow

and offer praises to the One who made me
and every side hill scrub oak that will shade me.

More Mushrooms

Not only have the belated rains kept them coming; perhaps edible Mycology is meme that has finally come to Magdalena.
VLA near highway  

The day of our hunt, we worked our way down Bear Trap Canyon, which runs south from Monica saddle in the San Mateos to finally emerge in ranchland, on our friends' the Welty's ranch as a matter of fact, in high- about 7000 feet above sea level-- desert grassland, We usually return north through the Plains of San Augustin,  a dry Pleistocene lake bed, along one arm of the VLA .

Sargeant Canyon runs to the west from the Bear Trap, also coming out on the plains. It is our second favorite harvesting place. Though not as deep as the Bear Trap, it runs east and west, gathering more rain than Bear Trap.

While we were picking, our neighbors Frank and Cenaida Key stopped and asked us what we were doing. We showed them a few specimens and explained that only the big boletes were edible.

About a half hour after we returned home, they came to our house and dumped out about five full paper bags full of mushrooms. It was hilarious -- they had turned down Sargent Canyon and harvested about every mushroom they saw. They had two species of absolutely deadly Amamitas plus muscarias, a bunch of boletes, and about twenty things I needed to key out. I hastily separated the deadly ones and threw them in the trash. They observed carefully my techiniques for cutting and drying boletes, and told us we could keep them. The next day, however, Frank showed up with a big bucket of boletes just to make sure he had gotten the right thing. I think we have created a monster, or at least disciples



Friday, September 02, 2016

Late Mushrooms

We are going in search of late boletes tomorrow in the San Mateos, But so far this season all we have is this lonely clutch of lobsters from the White Mountains of Arizona from Simon Armijo.These delicious parasites are more consistent from year to year because they are only found above 10,000 feet, and our ten- thousand plus peaks, though we can see one from our south windows, do not have enough area..

Now THAT is a bookstore!

The El Atenio in Buenos Aires. HT Micah Mattix at Prufrock.

Heinz Meng, 1925 - 2015: RIP

Heinz Meng in the 70s.

Dr Heinz Meng of New Paltz NewYork, a long -time professor of Zoology at the State University there and the man who first bred falcons in captivity in the US (Not in the WORLD as many news reports chauvinistically state; Renz Waller bred several in Germany before the war, and Ronald Stevens and young John Morris actually bred a  Saker- Peregrine hybrid clutch in Ireland in the sixties. But Waller and especially Stevens were gods of falconry, and Stevens had an entire huge estate in Ireland where he often let his  falcons range free, and pioneered training methods and attitudes in his modest little Observations on Modern Falconry that were to change the ways of everybody from Harry McElroy to me.

While Heinz was a modest professesor in a state college who bred Peale's Pergirines in his backyard, making it look so easy that in a very  short time, his friends Tom Cade and Jim Weaver, driven by the DDT crisis and the disappearance of the anatum- race Peregrine from its eastern eyries, cranked up what became the a kind of falconry Manhattan Project in their quonset huts at Cornell. This in turn would lead to the Peregrine Fund being founded by the late Frank Bond, future Republican gubernatorial candidate of New Mexico : Jim Weaver, born in Illinois and now a rancher in eastern New Mexico; Bob Berry, then of Philadelphia's Main Line and now of Wyoming, where he endowed the Berry Center for Biodiversity at U Wy Laramie, run by my friend Carlos Martinez del Rio, and Tom Cade, born dirt poor in there Depression in New Mexico's Bootheel, professor at Cornell and the only poor man among them. For the next (approximately- I would have to look it up) twenty years, hack teams would receive their precious hatch of "Cornell chickens" (a derisory term coined by, I believe, the birding writer Pete Dunne-- write to me, Pete!- and adapted with pride by those of us who worked the hack, including me) and nurse them to maturity, enduring everything from lightning storms to yellowjacket stings to rattlers to tourists to, even, slightly misinformed federal undercover  agents. My partner,  John Tobin, Vietnam vet, grad student, falconer, recently retired Massachusetts Game warden, and I survived all of the above, plus drunken races down the Mount Tom Alpine Slide, in which you would sometimes find trapped copperheads, which could flip into your lap...

All to be told, soon, and in the blog, but not here.What Heinz Meng did was deceptively simple: by his own knowledge and patience, he bred a threatened glamor species, a "charismatic" if not mega- faunal species that had captured the imagination of humans in many cultures for hundreds if not thousands of years. He was a scientist and so recorded his information in reproducible ways.The result was not just one revolution but several (think of the importance, and money, devoted to falcons in Arab cultures, for a hint; think of the blow to the egos of at least some traditional Arabs when they found the larger, braver "male" migrant falcons they were so proud of, that they had never seen nesting on their remote Central and Arctic Asian homes, were FEMALE!)

 Meng's simple brilliant act of husbandry was to give the east back a relatively common Peregrine, if not precisely the one it started with; start entire industries, up to and including  Robo- Falcons; extended to virtually every falconer's bird, including a new one, the Harris's hawk, possibly the most popular hawk in the world today*, and a rediscovered one, the "Alethe", better known as the Aplomado; make modern falconry possible (most European countries, unlike the States, do not allow any wild "take" at all);  employ semi- unemployable types such as me and Helen Macdonald, at least on occasion, and give us stories to tell; and generate a truly amazing amount of myth and counter myth. And it all started in Heinz Meng's garage.

I only met Heinz once. Although most reports of his first successful breeding give the dates as 1971 or 1972, I am for various external reasons sure that the date was 1970, when my friend Mark, a long time falconer who met me that year, and Mike Conca, my oldest friend, who still lives in the hills of western Massachusetts, went to a very off-the-radar "meet" in central New York. Heinz was there with a young and very vocal Peale's falcon (the choice of that difficult sub-species makes his breeding more remarkable). Others present included that old bandit Victor Hardaswick, then a young bandit; then and forever he resembled a rather sinister version of Seinfeld's George. He was to become a celebrated breeder of falcons himself, and then the only breeder of Siberian goshawks in the U.S., but then he was a bandido from Bridgeport, as well as a second generation fighting cock fancier, the son of a great pouter pigeon breeder. His friend Fran Lynch, another bandit, was there, and a biologist who would later have an extremely savage Golden eagle, which nearly caught me, confiscated and sent to Martha's Vineyard, where it would live out its life in the household of Vineyard falconer Gus Ben-David, who is best known for flying Great horned owls (THAT falconer was alleged to have consorted with "escorts" at falconers' conventions, one of whom supposedly answered the phone in a motel with the news that "Bill can't come to the phone right now -- he's tied up.") In addition to the legal birds there, there were the first two "blonde" beach peregrines I'd ever seen up close, who were sitting on blocks on the lawn. Mark said "I'd sure like to have some lawn ornaments like that". Their owners too are long dead, so I'm not worried about repercussions.

Later they were flown successfully at bagged pheasants. They were two weeks out of the trap; that's how tame the Arctic birds are. I coveted them fiercely, and have still never flown one now that they are legal.

Later, Heinz flew his bird, and he would not come down. Victor killed a pigeon and threw it in the air to see if he would return. He didn't. He vanished behind the trees, still calling, and I don't think he ever came back. He might have been taken by a horned owl, an all too common end for birds left out overnight, especially in the days before electronic transmitters. It appalls, and on some level, blackly amuses me, to think that I saw one of the very first clutch of falcons bred in the United States fly away.

Autre temps, autre moeurs. Here's to you, Heinz, for starting a whole new world.
Dr. Meng more recently, with a Peale's
*Leaving ultra- traditonalists like England's Roger Upton to grump that they went very well with pit bulls and tattoos!

Monday, August 29, 2016

John Craighead is 100

 And he doesn't look much older than he did when Libby and I attended his and his late twin  brother Frank's 80th birthday party at Moose, Wyoming 20 years ago. (fuzzy photo from invitation)

We actually had separate invitations- Libby had babysat the now middle- aged kids of both, and I had long ago written an intro for the Lyons reprint of their first book, Hawks in the Hand, which they wrote when they were not much older than in the Scout portrait below.

THAT book got them their invitation to a great adventure, by the Indian Prince R.S. Dharmakumarsihnji , to spend the winter learning the Indian, ie the surviving grand- scale Medieval, way of falconry.The trip produced the National Geographic article "Life with an Indian Prince" in 1942, and, 59 years later, the limited edition of the book of the same name, which is recommended in my "Book of Books", Sportsmans Library. (A new one, not limited to books with hunting and fishing but including nature and wild travel, is in the works!)

They kept detailed notes. One of my prized possessions is a spiral- bound xerox copy of those notes, given to me by the "kids".

It also produced the best nature film you have never seen, the only film version of the field sports of the Raj ever produced, in color that looks modern even today. But  apparently flying Sakers at kites,  pretending to be a mendicant vegetarian Brahmin to trap crows, coursing blackbuck with cheetahs (they rode hooded like falcons in bullock carts, and were fed the blood of the quarry in long-handled ladles), and shooting a Gir forest lion as a wedding present,  were too un- pc for Nat Geo even in the immediate postwar years.

They were to go on to fame and even noteriety as wildlife biologists, particularly when they told the truth about the garbage eating bears in Yellowstone. Their work is carried on by their children and the Craighead Wildlife- Wildlands Institute. When I met Frank at 80 I told him he had been a great influence on my life. He said wryly "I hope I didn't ruin it entirely!" On the contrary, both brothers enhanced my life enormously.

Happy birthday, John.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Mountain Counts

A range flock of domestic sheep exits the mountains in the southern Wind River Range of western Wyoming. Before the flock begins its slow movement to lower elevations, herders needed a head count. But how do you count thousands of sheep with only two men? It's fairly simple.

Range sheep have strong flocking instincts, and if you can get the lead sheep to go in the desired direction, the rest of the flock will follow. The herders (on horseback) approached the head of the flock as it traveled downhill, forcing the sheep through a bottleneck formed by their horses. The men count the sheep as they pass through the bottleneck. (Click on the photos for an enlarged view.)

Even though the sheep could easily go around the riders, they don't, instead following their flockmates down the determined path. This flock of yearling ewes is used to the counting technique and know the drill.

Notice how the sheep in the top left of the photo don't cut down the hill to join their flockmates but turn to move through the bottleneck as the herder to the left steps back, providing a wider path.
The tail end of the flock easily moves through the bottleneck created by the herders. This is low-stress livestock handling.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Wild Rumpus

We know well that having a  puppy and a new bird may be FUN, but not easy. For Phil and Kerri (and Lane):

Friday, August 05, 2016

Quote: a Preview of Cat's New Book

"I have been in many countries and there is not a Kangal anywhere. That is why the world will be at war soon. If everyone had my father’s dogs, things would already be settled. In my home . . . the wolves will come for something that is not theirs. The Kangal finishes it all and sends them away. We are herders, and we like it. The Kangal keeps us safe in our land. We cut off his ears when he is little, so the wolf cannot bite. The wolf is always killed by the time we get to the dogs. My sister, she has two sons now. The wolves came for her and were destroyed . . . now she has two sons... Sir, the Kangal is good for the world. Not just families. They are the color of sand and rock, they have the heart of those before them, the wild animals that have become our friends. It is that way with our dogs. Every- one should have a Kangal.”

An old Turkish herder in Cat Urbigkit's Brave and Loyal: An Illustrated Celebration of Livestock Guardian Dogs

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

A Poem for the New Dogs

Margory Cohen sent this, by the late, great, and much- missed Vicki Hearne:

The New Hound Puppy

Now it is time for her name –

Start the call.  The time may come
For her job, which is to run
Holes in the palpable wind

Hallowed by world and the world
Will collapse, follow this hound
Through meteoric  valleys.

Wolf-shag domains.  Here God says
Himself through the wolf until
A slenderness of hound bitch

With a speed like silk shimmers
At God, all arc and angle,
Revelations for voice.  So

It was in the beginning
And evermore shall be, so
Her arcs speak back to the light

Which is become an affair
Of luminous shadows, so
It was in the beginning

And evermore shall be in
Her temporal impudence,
Intended as litany.

Vicki Hearne

Tricks of the Light
University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London


It’s fairly predictable that within a matter of minutes of meeting me you’ll learn how important livestock guardian dogs are to our western Wyoming sheep outfit. This morning provides an example.

After lambing season ended, we ended up with five bum (orphan) lambs. The lambs spend their nights locked in prime real estate (our yard), but during the day the front gate is open and they are free to roam. This morning, I fed the lambs before daylight, swung the front gate open, and proceeded with other morning chores. Once the sun was up, I returned from checking our main flock and noticed I didn’t see the lambs out grazing anywhere near the house. A quick search confirmed that they weren’t where they should be.

I noticed a few spots of white in the distant sagebrush, and pulled out a set of binoculars for a closer look. Three of our guardian dogs were sitting down along our back fenceline, surrounding the bum lambs and stopping their wild venture away from the safety of the ranch yard. I laughed as guardian dog Rena turned to begin the trail for home, the five lambs lining out behind her, with another guardian bringing up the rear. The third guardian cut back through the sagebrush to return to the main flock as the bum flock received what amounted to a police escort back to the safety of the ranch yard. (Click on photo for larger view.)

Even though we’ve lived with guardian dogs for decades, my respect for the work these animals do grows by day.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Isabella's pups

..In Virginia- 5 boys,  5 girls:

0ur pick is the small brown- collared girl, who has a white blaze and the prospect of a dark muzzle and ears. She might resemble the late lamented Pax. They, and Ataika, are all closely related. Our current thought on a name is Alema, Kazakh for Milky Way, after Lauren's Kazakh eagle.