Friday, May 22, 2015

New Discovery Pushes Date of the Oldest Stone Tools Back 700,000 Years

Up until last month, the oldest known hominid-manufactured stone tools dated to approximately 2.6 million years ago and came from a site at Gona, Ethiopia.  In April, Science Magazine reported on a conference paper announcing that tools dating to 3.3 million years ago had been discovered at a site near Lomekwi, Kenya. This is a VERY important discovery, pushing the date for earliest tools back 700,000 years. I held off posting on this as I was frustrated (as were other archaeologists I know) that there were no photographs of the artifacts provided. Earlier this week, the New York Times had an article on the subject that provided a link to the abstract of an article published in Nature by the discoverers. The photo of artifacts above was posted with the abstract along with some others, and my curiosity was somewhat satisfied.

This new discovery is similar to the one at Gona, in that the tools so far have not been discovered in direct association with any hominid remains.  It is assumed that they must have been made by contemporary known hominids, perhaps Australopithecus sp. or Kenyanthropus platyops. Unless and until we find a direction association of tools and bones we will not know who was responsible.

One of the more controversial aspects of the find has been the fact that the discoverers have asserted that these earlier stone tools should be referred to as a new Lomekwian lithic tradition. Up until this time, the earliest stone tool tradition (including the discoveries at Gona) were referred to as belonging to the Oldowan lithic tradition, based upon their first discovery by Louis and Mary Leakey in the 1930s at Olduvai (now Oldupai) Gorge in Tanzania. Discoverers subsequent to the Leakeys continued to use Oldowan as a descriptive term for a specific lithic "tool kit" even though their discoveries sometimes predated the ones at Olduvai (Oldupai). Looking at these tools, it doesn't appear to me that they are really any different than those that have previously been classified as Oldowan. It doesn't appear that the discoverers have advanced any real evidence that the Lomekwi tools are qualitatively or quantitatively different from Oldowan.

Usage by archaeologists over time will tell the tale, but somehow I doubt Lomekwian will catch on. I look forward to reading what other archaeologists have to say about this.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Catherine and Jean Louis Lassez are back in the states, and Catherine is back at Muleshoe Ranch, after being right in the middle of the Himalayan earthquake. Much to be said, much of it serious and some harrowing, but the trip was not without its whimsical moments...
UPDATE: English bird and nature writer Conor Jameson, friend of the blog and author of Looking for the Goshawk, now available at English Amazon in pb, was over there for four weeks before the quake, working for the RSPB. He has written a guest post on their blog, suggesting ways to help and ending with these original thoughts, which I think both the Lassez and Libby, who has been going there even longer, would agree on:

"We can also help, in the longer term, by considering a visit to the country, when it is back on its feet. I hope if you do that you find time to get a little bit off the beaten tourist track and visit projects like ours, working with communities to sustain the sublime natural environment of this brave, spirited country, embodied in the reputation of its religious figures, mountain guides and Gurkha regiments which have done so much for us. Nepal and its people hold a deserved place in the world’s affections


Taalai and Nhubia CATCH their lures...

Thursday, May 14, 2015

McGuane at the Strand

As promised. These have generated a lot of email (personal, off blog, though I would encourage them here) enough that I might start looking for such interviews. I will put some thoughts in reaction below (above?),  probably tomorrow...

OK, in-stream commentary to friends edited only for a minimum of sense and coherence:

"Living in the west, natives, newcomers, "Stickers". He conspicuously left out New Mexico, often an exception to easy rules. Given the ancient ethnes here-- well, just OLD for Navajos and Apaches, who just beat the Spanish- the old populations here, which I think still are more than half of our population-- any newcomer/ Anglo (includes, specifically, Italian here in Magdalena) has a chance at acceptance if he is what Stegner called a "sticker". Oldest ranch here is the Italian one, Sis Olney's (Pound ranch), and her great grandfather Joe Gianera came from the Swiss border about 18 miles from my gparents in 1859! John Davila considers his Davila ancestors parvenus becauise they married "UP into the Guttierez family" in 1820! Whereas the Guttierezes "... came up the river with Onate and took the place BACK!" after the Pueblo revolt. Gotta love that back... but it also means our church (big parish, San Miguel, Socorro) has a not always friendly rivalry going with Santa Fe as to who has the oldest church. Ours has the oldest wall, but had to incorporate it into a new one after the rebellion, because the Indians burned the old one...

"But despite (because of?), I surely am considered an old timer in this town, with pics, mostly hunting ones, on the bar wall, not because I am "famous" but because I live here and have hung out there for three incarnations of the bar and a couple of generations of humans. As I said to my (75 year old!) friend Lawrence Aragon last year when he lamented the dearth of old- timers: WE, los borrachos perdidos- the surviving ones anyway-- are the old timers!

"So, Stegner's "Stickers". A good concept- though are we ones entirely by choice, or does economics play a part? The Stickers are often poor enough they might not do as well in richer placers, though McGuane and some others are exceptions. I wonder that any distance he feels from his neighbors might be because he is wealthy rather than an incomer-- it puts up barriers. Certainly he has a good rep as a man who knows horses, all the way down  here.

(Jackson and Eli both were born in Santa Fe, and they can make a case for Eli being a 4th Gen Gringo SANTA FEAN, not just NMexican-- pretty rare and cool...)

"With my crappy typing these days this feels like a dissertation, but a few more thoughts. Stegner fellowships at Stanford: did he like ANYBODY? McGuane, Robert Stone, Kesey, Shetzline-- all were told they were lazy, beatniks, hippies, drug addicts- being selected seems to have meant success of sorts, but not from him. Back in MT it was as bad-- Bud Guthrie AFAIK disliked without exception every incomer, and once told someone I know that anyone who moved there and bought a horse or rodeo'd was a poseur and a phony and he didn't hyave to read them. Harsh...

"McGuane's lament for a more playful and less minimalist fiction rang true to me- his old stuff had more sheer FUN in it, prosodically anyway. I blame the influence-- baneful influence, however he is regarded, of Raymond Carver. Luckily the South has somewhat escaped this-- read Barry Hannah, much mentioned, and Brad Watson , two good examples. (Both Tom and Brad have written affectionate memories of THAT wild man).  And then there are crazy Catholic memoirists and poets like Mary Karr..

"Tom gave a shout- out to not just Helen but Helen's friend Olivia Laing and her great book on drunkenness in writers, The Trip to Echo Spring. What can I say- that it is an ENJOYABLE book on drunkenness, celebrating the writers if not their excesses; that it is utterly free of cant or twelve step religion; that it is  a road book, by a naturalist, about Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Carver, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, and John Cheever, that got me reading at least one (Cheever) again? That I once got an email from her in New Hampshire with an attached photo of my Good Guns Again, Blogger " Doctor Hypercube's" Arrieta, and the remains of bacon and eggs on the table?  Read her!

"Last: I enjoy his short stories but if he is really working on a novel about his family I am excited, hope it is BIG, and also hope it will go back to the "Irish Riviera", South Shore of Boston all the way around to Providence, where his roots (always acknowledged) are. Of course he has told me to do the same, just from bits in my pigeon book...

"I wish he would write more about bird dogs and guns and horses, at least as much as fish. (did you see him call to Nick Lyons in the audience?)"

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Tom McGuane on writing and reading

The always intelligent McGuane on what made him a writer. "I read like a son- of- a - bitch" was an early statement of his that helped confirm my vocation-- in my youth I wrote at best in spasms, but read everything. That includes books he mentions he read but alludes to as as "non- literary", like Beebe's Arcturus Adventure, but I respectfully disagree- everything was more... not literary but readerly;  literate, then, if only because there were fewer ways to transmit information...

I have another, newer interview to watch-- if it adds much I will put it here too, so check back...

Tuesday, May 05, 2015


Micaela's Lublub from Finland, one of my favorite dogs, reminding us that at 13 she can be elegant as well as comic; the third, used here before, reminds us of the comedy. She did that herself with no human help...

Coming Attractions

Back from almost a week in Boston, where I went to see and hear Tom Russell's debut of his new Ballad of the West, The Rose of Roscrae; also to see my 90 year- old mother, whose birthday I had missed, my siblings-- 4 of out of 8 of them still live there, as well as any number of splendid nephews and nieces: and to eat sea creatures, as well as have any other adventures possible for an impoverished 65 year old writer badly in need of brain surgery.

It was a success, from music to family encounters to food, and paid what may well be an unexpected dividend; my brother in law George Graham, avocational naturalist- localist and photographer,introduced me to his town's restored herring (alewife) run, and our mutual fascination with it became my unexpected second theme for the visit- who knows what may come?

Tonight, a preview and glimpses; I have an assignment to write on Tom, and many herring photos too, all to come.

 Coffee house nostalgia-- I went to the predecessor of Passim, Club 47, (47 Palmer Street in Harvard Square) from about 1966 or 7 on. I saw Ian Tyson, who is now 82 and who I met when he played with Tom in Santa Fe, with his then wife Sylvia there, before 1970 anyway...

On the subway with K:

Sideman Thad Beckman; later, local singer Barrence Whitfield, who recorded more than a few songs with Tom back when... Cuban Sandwich!

My mother: "You look OLD", she said to me. "And I am NOT convinced I'm 90, either!"
Sisters Alicia, Anita, Karen...
The blurred one below is, I believe, my sisters (and niece Stella) expressing solidarity with their geographically wayward brother, or something equally hilarious. Beware the Sister Posse.... (sorry for blur), and me with Wendy, closest in age to me.

The run- got an article's worth, but some highlights-- restored urban anadromous fish spawning, with predators! (Comorant by Lisa Erwin, Weymouth MA)

Monday, May 04, 2015

Black Marmots

This dark marmot lives in Grand Teton National Park, and the more typical colored one below lives 100 miles north in Yellowstone National Park. A melanistic population of yellow-bellied marmots have persisted in the Tetons for more than 80 years, with 15-23% of the population consisting of these "black marmots."

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A contrarian view on eagle conservation

I had published this on Jameson Parker's blog in response to a question and it occurred that it would make an interesting little essay. But some have misunderstood it, so let me give you my conclusions before my reasoning:

I don't think (Golden) eagles are in any way endangered, but I support protection for them.

I don't think wind power companies and other utilities should get an automatic free pass  on killing eagles.

I don't think any Indian tribes without a strong religious reason for taking eagles should be allowed to do so (I am encouraged that at least one pueblo now keeps live eagles, and attempts to breed them). I think that commercial exploitation of eagles and other birds of prey for their feathers by anyone is deplorable, and ideally should be ended. In today's world, I doubt that it will.

The legal take of no more than six eagles for falconry was something that put less pressure on the population than any other conceivable use, and even added to the Indians and wind farms, would have a negligible effect. In all likelihood allowing ANY falconer who qualified to take an eagle would not make any difference. If officials were really worried about this, they could mandate that trained eagles be released into the wild after ten years as the Kazakhs do.

In the ideal world, conservation decisions should be based on biology. In our real world, they can't be, not entirely anyway. Still, using a little information and pretending to a bit less hypocrisy would be welcome. And another thought: the educational value of trained eagles is not to be dismissed.

So, here it is:

I have a bit of a heretical stance about Golden eagles re wind farms. I dislike the amount of kills allowed for wind farms. But whether or not the population is harmed needs at least two questions answered. One is how many (Golden) eagles there are; the other is what else takes them out of (breeding) circulation.

The first is never discussed except among biologists– it is as though certain enviros do not want to ever say anything optimistic. The number of Bald eagles got brought low, partly by persistent pesticides, and now increases as it becomes ever more tolerant of human society. But the number of known Golden nests (or rather the reasonably accepted extrapolated number ) is AND MAY ALWAYS HAVE BEEN almost inconceivably high, so high I am not inclined to quote it without access to the actual data, except five figures of pairs in North America. (There are two nesting pairs I know of within ten miles of where I write these notes). This is never publicized, but you can track it down. The data is not from livestock or energy apologists, either. Remember, there is an untouched Arctic population, and ones in Labrador that seem to eat herons in breeding season. The golden is so adaptable that there is a Greek population that eats mostly tortoises. I doubt wind turbines will dent those numbers or scare them away.

The Texans used to shoot hundreds every year and it seems to have done little biological harm. Now wind farms are allowed to kill several hundred a year, and Navajos and other Native peoples are allowed not only unlimited hunting but utterly unlimited access to such species as Red- tailed hawks, not to train but to sell feathers. Which works out in practice that every delinquent kid on a troubled reservation sees a hawk on a pole and shoots it. Then probably sells it. While there are serious religious uses of eagles by the Pueblos, there is also an internal market, really illicit, in feathers for tribal dance outfits, competitive and lucrative- and some sympathetic judges have decided these commercial competitions are protected too. (Meanwhile one pueblo has modified its ceremonies to no longer kill eagles, and has hired a biologist to teach them how to keep them in a healthy way!)

Many activist types hate falconry as intolerable meddling with romantic symbols, but a falconer’s eagle is not even lost from the population– only “on loan” so to speak. The Kazakhs I rode with in Asia let them go to breed after ten years, and eagles commonly live to over 30. Until now falconers were a allowed a take of  6 wild-caught Golden eagles a year, only from areas in Wyoming and the Dakotas with proven sheep predation problems. Right now the government is inclined to end this benign “use”. I wish that moralists and humane activists would not go after the tiny portion of eagles allowed to falconers! If we allow a small kill harvest from the tribes, an unknown yet amount for wind farms, oil wells, roads and such, and want a healthy population… we HAVE to set fairly rigid quotas to be safe. But known numbers could easily allow a live take of up to six (or ten or whatever– except I don’t think that there will ever be that many eaglers), some of which would eventually even breed.

Meanwhile, in the warden- free lands of most reservations eagles still exist only because of apathy– there is no protection. Ranchers under 60 are more or less benign, and don’t shoot them (wolves are far more threatening in both reality and reputation), but some angry young rez kids kill every sitting bird they see, and sell the feathers no matter what, as a demonstration that they “own” them Some tribes have made clear falconers shouldn’t get any quota, because they are religious symbols! A bit of Googling would show us the old regs, under which we existed and complained for decades, while Texans shot hundreds or maybe even thousands (see Don Scheuler’s Incident at Eagle Ranch), were uninformed– they now seem almost as unimaginable as photos of the aerial dogfights with eagles when they were hunted from planes. But, counterintuitively, they were probably biologically harmless in that they didn’t– because they couldn’t– wipe out eagles. Morally though, making dead eagles a commodity for anyone looks worse to me than wind farms; commerce can drive extinction like stoking a fire.
        (Photo above from Life Magazine in 1953, from an eagle shooter's view in Texas)

Why not reasonable quotas for falconers’ birds? Fewer privileges for Indians, at least ones with no religious stake, as those don’t have the built- in cultural reverence? And less posturing from anti- wind people at least about eagles aka Charismatic Megafauna (the turbines may actually be worse for bats, a group far more threatened than the Golden eagle!)

Nepal Earthquake connection

The disaster in Nepal has taken a personal turn. Jean Louis and Catherine Lassez, long time  "semi- native" residents of the old Muleshoe Ranch fifteen miles out of Magdalena, Asia hands, Christmas hosts, originator of the barbecue for the Old Timer's fiesta queen; artists, art collectors, keepers of as many dogs as us; above all dear friends, are among the yet un- accounted for in the Himalayan earthquake. (Scroll down).

This may mean nothing. They could have been on the road between Pokhara and Katmandu. They are resourceful, calm, experienced travelers, sometimes in  places even more remote, and communications there are terrible at the moment. But how can we, and their daughter Sara in LA, not worry?

This blog has long connections that only come to light  at certain times; one, for instance,  helped pay for Irbis's leg operation. If anybody out there runs into our friends, let us know.

Last pic from Nepal this trip; Lassez 1968; J L with saddhus in Katmandu on  previous trip; all of us at Christmas; Lib & Catherine 2 Christmases ago;  various JL art parodies.

HAPPY UPDATE:  Just got word they are OK, just stranded, like everybody else, and better off than many; as I said, they are seasoned third world travelers.  They have braved "Myanmar", and Lib reminds me they were in Indonesia when the big tsunami hit the area...

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Paradigm SHIFTED

... decisively: not the "Cover of the Rolling Stone" as I have been calling it but, of course, that of Scientific American. I thought at first they were a bit late to the party, as it was the late John Ostrom who started the ball rolling with his discovery of Deinonychus, which he reported in SA in an article which suggested warm bloodedness but did not QUITE say feathers. That must have been (a lot?) more than thirty years ago. Robert Bakker soon called T rex the "20,000 pound Roadrunner from Hell", but as far as I can see it was my old friend John McLoughlin who first dressed raptors in feathers in the popular press-- 1979? I'm sure he'll tell me.

Now proud Tyrannosaurs have them, in mainstream publications. On second thought, SA deserves great credit. It may be slow compared to the avant garde, but it is the FIRST popular magazine to portray a feathered tyrant, as well as the first to broach the ideas that led to it.

Two more thoughts. I counted only four sentences in- text that said "feather"-- after paradigms shift, they seem "normal".

Second, what do readers think about those poor naked chickens coming in the new Jurassic Park thing? And what about the less sophisticated public?

Rueful truth

Reid attended Tom McGuane's signing for his new book of short stories, Crow Fair, at the Tattered Cover,  where they talked of Helen's meteoric rise, gun nuts, and the blog-- I was pleased to know he sometimes checks in. He was kind enough to send down an inscribed copy via Reid-- thanks to both.

I have read several of these stories already, mostly in the New Yorker; some are funny, some very dark. I see a deep Irish thing there, transplanted to the Plains; I often find the same thing in North Dakota poet Tim Murphy: "Cast a cold eye/ On life, on death. / Horseman,  pass by...";  though I think both Tom and Tim are merrier characters than Yeats...

But for some reason I went to the back of the book to read the last line of the last story and laughed aloud, albeit not without that frisson of recognition of one's own mortality that accompanies such rueful truth- telling. It applies to me as well as it does to his narrator, and to Tom, who is eleven years older than I am. And  you'd better believe he did it consciously.

"Lately, I've been riding a carriage at the annual Bucking Horse Sale, waving to everyone like an old-timer, which I guess is what I'm getting to be." 


Actual headline from this morning's Wall Street Journal:

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Useful phrase

From the great Victorian explorer and translator Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton: "Lying like a publisher."

Saturday, April 18, 2015


                                               Constant commenter Lucas Machais wondered if the cover photo on the new ed of Querencia- the- book, seen below with my other  new covers, was "generic". I am afraid I got more indignant than I should have. We pay attention to the particular here, not the general. I answered that the cover photo

"... was taken up Anchor Canyon five miles east in the Magdalena Range, looking northeast over a cabin built by the Strozzis, a family of the local Italian- Swiss "cousins" early in the last century, then over Lee Henderson's ranch where we run the dogs and hawks and Vadim Gorbatov drew the quail. Strawberry Peak, where Charlie Galt found the northernmost specimen of Crotalus lepidus, stands at the edge of the Rio Grande Rift; the Big River flows north to south, left to right, behind it and 2500 feet below."

Dogs on ranch, Lee's horses.

Lee and Gorbatov quail, Vadim with Libby on the ranch, and studying a Swainson's hawk nest there:
Me with Charlie's snake, a million years ago:
The infamous Ferruginous hawk nest made, all but the cup, of fencing wire, which so fascinated the Russians.
I had hoped to "quote" Russ Chatham's cover painting of Betsy and her hounds on the original Q, itself an accidental near- quote of this well- known  shot  of Karen Blixen and HER hounds,  with this haunted pic of me on a Christmas hunt on the plain, but was persuaded, reluctantly,  to go with a different concept. None of this is anything but intensely local.  And all but the Blixen take place within the field of the first cover photo.