Saturday, December 10, 2016

Fran Hamerstrom

In1907, Frances Flint is born on Louisburg Square in Beacon Hill in Boston, to a family both wealthy and intellectual. She would claim in her autobiography that she took up smoking cigarettes four years later while crossing the Atlantic, saying to the adults  “I ADORE my evening cigarette!” (She got the phrase from a visiting actress).

The Flints soon move, after some academic work in Germany, to an estate on the north side of Brush Hill Road in Milton Massachusetts, about a wooded mile square, west of the old north- south post road, centered on a huge but not inelegant half- timbered pseudo- Elizabethan mansion. The front door, reached from the northeast by a meandering drive through rhododendrons of Himalayan proportions, at least by the fifties, culminated in circular drive and a door flanked by huge windows protected by stone porches. The room on the right was the Flint ballroom, and overhead hung the most magnificent chandelier I have ever seen. Young Fran, smoking like a fiend as she always would, orders a .22 rifle by bribing the servants, shoots and traps small birds and mammals, and keeps her scientific collection of study skins in a hollow tree. I don’t think she is ten yet. Given she was a born hunter- gatherer, she doubtless soon found the thirty - foot deep, vertical- walled quarry in the woods north of the house, home to many things with niche habitats. In her childhood I bet it even had the legendary Blue Hills timber rattlers, though in the sixties and seventies we would search in vain.

Frances Flint, in her late teens, meets another Boston Brahman scion, Frederick Hamerstrom, who loves hunting and nature and science. They fall madly in love, and will remain so until he dies in 1990, stating when she got his attention by stripping to retrieve a duck he shot— on their first date. Here below both, young, with Aldo Leopold— I think ”Hammy” is mocking him.



Fran, on the other hand, never got called “Muffy” or some variant of that. People dumb enough to try that never made it to her circle; she insisted on “Frahn”, in a Mid- Atlantic accent like William F Buckley’s or George Plimpton’s. Or Betsy’s. When I finally caught up to her in the Golden Spur Bar in Magdalena, it was a hoot to see her diminutive figure (although she had worked as a model, standards were different then; she stood five foot nothing in cowboy boots), standing at the bar with one booted foot on the rail and a cigarette in her hand, glass of Spanish brandy in the other hand, talking to huge Wade Dixon in his giant black hat, and listen to that hard – core cowboy addressing her as “Miss Frahn”.

More, more, all necessary background if you are going to see this… time, twisting and braiding to make an unlikely figure, almost a Moebius strip or a Klein bottle, too complicated for a straight narrative highway. Back, deep into the past again: Aldo Leopold marries a New Mexico Spanish aristocrat, Estella Bergere (Bergeres are Lunas and that is all you have to know here in NM), to the utter horror of both their families, the one solid prosperous Midwesterners, the other the OLD horseback landed gentry of New Mexico. (My friend John Davila, of similar background, says of his people that they came up the river after the Pueblo Revolt and “… took the place BACK.” Gotta love that  BACK. Less “country” individuals might be more politic, but I doubt any child of that heritage lacks self- esteem, manners, or riding ability).

Luckily, it turned into another dynastic happy family, producing three brilliant scholars. One, Starker, who ran the Wildlife Biology department at Berkeley, may have his place in the braid as a mentor tol Kent Carnie, wildlife biologist, Colonel in Army intelligence, long- time resident in “Persia” as he always called it, falconer and anachronistic player of the Great Game, if I use enough thread…

They return to Wisconsin, where Leopold founds modern wildlife biology. The newly minted Hamerstroms go there too, where all of that generation will live for the rest of their lives. The Hamerstroms are part of his legendary first class, and Fran is the only woman. They make the Prairie chicken, the iconic game bird of the Great Plains, their life’s work. She also discovers falconry, will become the first female eagler.  

1992: I go to Idaho to read Querencia at a benefit for the Sun Valley Library at the behest of Russ Chatham, who published it. He hires a woman named Libby Frishman to cater the feast and drive me there from Bozeman. To a house owned by Sana Morrow, who is good at separating tight- fisted rich people from their money for a good cause. Meanwhile, Fran Hamerstrom has just showed up in Magdalena. Sharon Harris, a friend who was watching my house and animals has left a message to call. Sharon, who I checked with just yesterday:

“ FRAHN Hamerstrom is living in your house for a week on her way to Mexico. She retied your Peregrine’s leash, turned the thermostat up to 80, and edited the manuscript on your desk. She says you are NOT poor because you have a good shotgun, and good boots. Yesterday an 18-wheeler came through town too fast and broke a stray dog’s back. She examined it and quieted it down and took a 38 revolver out of her pocket and shot it.

"My boys think she’s a goddess. She’s at the Spur now drinking Spanish brandy with the cowboys.”

She was 84. 

Fran's and my friendship began epistolarily about 6 years earlier, in 84, when she gave my first book, A Rage for Falcons, a scathing review in the stuffy but important ornithological Journal the Auk. Looking back it was not all-- AT all-- bad; in fact she gave it the backhanded compliment of having style-- "his tough sportswriters prose". But she accused me of commercial exploitation, and the coming destruction of all birds of prey because of people like me.

Fran's and my friendship began epistolarily about 6 years earlier, in 84, when she gave my first book, A Rage for Falcons, a scathing review in the stuffy but important ornithological Journal the Auk. Looking back it was not all-- AT all-- bad; in fact she gave it the backhanded compliment of having style-- "his tough sportswriters prose". But she accused me of commercial exploitation, and the coming destruction of all birds of prey because of people like me.
Fran's and my friendship began epistolarily about 6 years earlier, in 84, when she gave my first book, A Rage for Falcons, a scathing review in the stuffy but important ornithological Journal the Auk. Looking back it was not all-- AT all-- bad; in fact she gave it the backhanded compliment of having style-- "his tough sportswriters prose". But she accused me of commercial exploitation, and the coming destruction of all birds of prey because of people like me.

--> I honestly think I would have let it go but for the fact that old Albany area hawk breeder Heinz Meng did something very different in HIS review.  --> Heinz gave his buddy, retired and now departed Field & Stream editor Jack Samson's, execrable book on falconry a rave, right below my equivocal one. Samson had never been a falconer, said things like "Harrises hawks are useless mouse hawks", advised kids to break numerous laws-- and when criticized, sent xerox copies of his bare butt with a set of lips drawn in lipstick. I got one. Obviously a class act, not to mention one who would brag about his Nieman fellowship in a hunting book.

So I wrote the only letter to an editor that I ever did complaining about a review. Betsy didn't mess around with flunkies; she sent a note to Fran.

If it still exists it is in Fran’s papers. I only know B claimed to have called her a "bitch". Too polite for her if she were genuinely angry; like many "U" women she had an angry or amused vocabulary worse than a construction worker’s. Snobbish old bitch my ass; she probably called her a "twat", or worse.

But I do still have Fran's first plaintive reply, and Betsy's to her, and many more during Betsy's and Hammy's last illnesses, and B was always just a little smug, quoting Wilde; "In friendship it is always best to begin with a little aversion..."

Big point: Fran sent me the galleys of her autobiography, and it became immediately obvious that the ROMAN nuns Fran spoke of, who bought their estate, were the French- based, multi -ethnic educators of the RCE, who turned the Flint--  actually Slater, which Google; the ones who brought the Industrial Revolution to New England-- mansion into classrooms with statues of Joan of Arc in every room: My Old School.

  Fran on Letterman, '89

Friday, December 09, 2016

Domenic "Doc" Conca, DDS- 1925- 2016, R.I.P.: on Conca's Lawn.

 One of my unmentioned mentors died at 91 a couple of days ago: Dr Domenic Conca of Randolph, Massachusetts.

 “Doc” was the father of my oldest friend, Michael Conca, who was my schoolmate from first grade through my first year in college (BC: I dropped out), as well as my housemate and partner in a firewood business in the wintry January Hills west of the Quabbin Reservoir an east of the Connecticut valley, one of the wildest parts of Massachusetts, for several years, during my second attempt at higher education; he lives there still, with his wife Mary Lou; more of his story later...

Mike at Rick Rozen's in Golfito, Costa Rica; Mike and Mary Lou a couple of years ago at Karen and George's.

"Doc"' as we called him--- his contemporaries preferred "Dom"-- was born in Rhode Island and went to Tufts. .There he met the love of his life and perfect  partner, "Rose" or sometimes "Ro": Ella Rose Simon, who was working as a secretary at the University. They married on June 30, 1948 at Saint Agnes Church in Arlington, MA. Rose was a Lutheran of Hungarian descent, but converted to Catholicism...
Doc was a dentist and a cultivated man, with a bunch of pleasing contradictions. He was the first man with a beard I knew outside of the the tonsured, sandaled  Franciscan monks whose monastery was south of Brush Hill Road in Milton, Mass, where  our weird Catholic private school,  Jeanne d'Arc Academy, was housed in Frances Hamrstrom's  childhood  estate on the north side of the same road). The old Flint ballroom to the right of the entry was our chapel, still with its enormous cut glass chandelier.
Jeanne d'Arc/ Slater- Flint mansion by Elva Paulsen, Fran's daughter
He was also the first man I knew who cooked, seriously;  he was a New England Republican; he was a motorcyclist, a recreational pilot late in life, and an unabashed car nut the way I am a gun nut, with an "enabler", a German dealer and mechanic -- Karl?-- who would let him take and drive cars until he HAD to have them. (Think Ron Petersen with me and guns).

When I first met him, when I was in first grade, he picked up the kids at school in a 1929 Hupmobile with an Irish water spaniel in the rumble seat. That dog was succeeded by Cindy, a long -lived basset of mournful visage who was so self - effacing that one kid-- Chris?-- suggested that she be stuffed and put on wheels when she died because "nobody would know the difference"., especially if they equipped her with a recording of her baying voice.

 He must have been relatively wealthy, as his many antique cars and being able to send his kids to Jeanne d’Arc show, but he had no rich man’s attitudes. His lawn always looked like a used car lo, albeit one with strange taste. There was an antique Mercedes ("The Yellow Car" --all cars were identified primarily by their colors), a 1950-ish job with a black leather roof,  landau irons, and a burl walnut dash, the ONE car none of us "kids" were allowed to drive; this early 50's 220 cabriolet is very close:

...and new ones, like a pagoda- roofed 280 SL:

This one was capable of an honest 140 mph at LEAST-- Mike and I both took it that high, and I took another borrowed one to 160 to beat an old townie rival, Joey Donnelly, in a drag race.We called it the Brown Car; it was  actually a sort of dark cranberry maroon color.

They were parked up against his old red  Cadillac, a finned one ca 1962, that he kept as an antique, a kind of cosmic mechanical dinosaur; my father later offered Betsy and me one just like it that he had long since stopped diving,  for a pet after I told him there were two Edsel and a red and white '56 Chevy with a continental kit in my town owned by the original buyers or at least their familes; no, I do not live in Cuba. At the time, he had  sighed "Cadillacs are irresistible to contractors, whether they are  Armenians, Bomb throwers [Siciilians] or Swiss; at least mine wasn't purple!" but we were afraid  of the gas it would take to get to Magdalena.

 Mike's Fiat Spyder, which he drove for about thirteen years, lived there then, and various  Japanese motorcycles, plus Triumph and Harley choppers owned by Rick Rozen and Jack Semensi, two other schoolmates, Randolph neighbors  and hunting and fishing buddies (Rick, who joined our circle at 13 at Xaverian Bothers, our Catholic prep school, is known to readers of this blog as "CAPTAIN" Rick of the Novi fishing boat Half- Fast, then out of Brant Rock: he was the first of the guys I grew up with to get a classic shotgun, an LC Smith, which we all envied, especially as he got it for $75 and a roll of carpet; he still has it. He made a fortune in the "Tuna Wars" of the late seventies and early 80's-- and drove two identical International Harvesters with  canoes on top-- that story too is still to be told. Jack was another J d'A alum; he was known as Joe there. He is the only person I ever knew who drove a Lotus Elan; it too was often parked on the  Conca's lawn...

Rose, our perfect den mother, was a Catholic convert with a green thumb who used to grow marijuana ornamentally in the 70s, though she wouldn't let her kids smoke it. They raised   their kids and a  whole pack of others in an amiable laissez- faire manner that came as  as a great contrast and relief to me in comparison  to my (then- Betsy Huntington would change him) controlling, rigid father. To give an example, I once went to their house and asked where Mike was. I got the following answers from the kids and Doc: 1) “He’s up in his room.” 2) "He’s at ‘Summahaus' (that’s what they called their house in Plymouth)” 3) “No, he’s on Key Marathon.” It turns out he was in Green Harbor on the Irish Riviera, where we nautical hunter-gatherers used to live.

(At the same time, .two typical remarks by my father were "Take your  dog and your wife and get the hell off my property!" and "Look, John., my asshole son just bought a rich man's gun.!" It was a 28 bore AvA No 2; that he had a Model  21 Winchester  worth ten of it didn't matter, though it took another decade for me to find one I could afford to buy!)
On the cusp of prep and hippieiedom, 1966?--  me & Mike on the way to the Lime Rock sports car races, in my Morris Minor Shooting Brake:
Doc was, I realize now,  my second father figure, the one I could talk to. From the age of 17, when I left home, until I went to western Mass in the mid seventies, I probably spent more time at the Conca’s house than any other place. During that time, from 1967 to around 74, I barely spoke to my father.

Rose suddenly came down with lung cancer in 1990, though as far as I know she never smoked. She died horribly quickly, and I never got a chance to say good- bye. Doc married  a younger Lydia Miils in 1992. I never met her, but she apparently took good care of Doc for the rest of his days.

Doc also did things  like take out my terrible infected wisdom teeth after I spent two sleepless days drinking his booze to numb the pain while he was away. He did nothing more than shake his head and he didn't even charge me. I called my first wife Bronwen in North Carolina last night, and she said “Shit Steve — we LIVED there!” So did Semensi and our friend Teddy Neves, now among those who went missing because of schizophrenia. (The Rozens, whose extremely original family lived  across the back fence from the Concas, deserve their own post. Soon!) Rather than oppose my hunting as "a waste of time”, as my father tended to do, Doc joined our Thanksgiving double gun hunt in Easton with his Model 12.

Not that he was sentimental about kids. One of Doc’s outstanding accomplishments was to teach the younger bunch of his kids to stand in the doorway when I showed up and chant “Steve’s here — HIDE THE BEER!”,  over and over again. But he also taught me how to do things like pickle squid- and MAKE beer. Both Rozen and Semensi eventually rented houses from him behind the dentist's office, filling the space with bird dogs and sailboats; Doc told us, puffing on his pipe,  that a friend had inquired after his "commune", a pretty funny thing for a life- long Goldwater Republican to have. Both were at his funeral.

Rozen in those days:
Doc (front center) and Rose  (lower left) ca 1983, with the younger kids:

I more or less lost touch with him in recent years. When Libby was living in Bozeman, he flew his personal plane out to see us. I don’t think they took his plane keys away until he was 90. I will add photos as I get them.; Mike has promised one with his plane. He was a man, who will be missed. And he has prompted me to begin what may be a memoir, just by making me think of that time.

A special thanks to Megan (McKenzie) Conca of Santa Fe, for photos and material.Obviously, more TK.

The First Eagle Huntress?

However admirable Ashiolpan seems (and she is), and however fine the movie the Eagle Huntress is (and I suspect it is, and I want to see it), SHE IS NOT THE FIRST EAGLE HUNTRESS. This mistaken belief is particularly promulgated by American reviewers and I know I shouldn't expect much of them; I should only be happy they're saying a form of hunting is good.

But for the record, with leaving out dubious semi-contenders like Princess Nirgigma in the 20s, who I very much doubt trained her own eagles, or Frances Flint Hamerstrom, who as far as I know never hunted with her eagle or participated in Asian culture, the FIRST eagle huntress is Lauren McGough, originally of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, who I originally helped achieve her dreams when she was 16, when she went over and hunted with the late Aralbai. She was so taken with this that she won a Fulbright Scholarship and spent a year in remotest Bayaan Olgii Aimag in the westernmost point of Mongolia learning both the Kazakh and Mongol languages while training her first eagle, Alema ("Milky Way") which she trapped herself. She subsequently caught 30-odd foxes with her, plus other game. She has not yet written up her experiences, but everyone who knows her knows that she is the real thing. She's hunting right now with her eagle...
Lauren at 16 with Aralbai
With Alema soon after capture

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Flyover Country- Who Knew?

Reading the WSJ, I was startled to encounter two old friends in an unusual context. The relevant passage:
 I called Russsell, who is in California and recovering from a shoulder operation ( casting lead- core steelhead lines in deep water for 60 years has got  to have SOME effect!) and he was as bemused as I was.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Photo Session

Stefan Wachs came down for another photo shoot, this time of me flying Matt Mitchell's sweet Harris. There will be more...

Friday, November 25, 2016


Two young  Magdaleneans of our acquaintance attended a"steampunk" wedding in Denver, and from what I could see caught the Mechano- Victorian essence of that subculture better than anyone. Although the style is often credited to this book (and Lord Byron's daughter is always a founding character) it is really a VISUAL style and came into its own in graphic novels like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I think that Torie and Adrienne embody it perfectly!

Tom's tour- and Book

A friend in Alberta snapped this photo of Tom Russell and Ian Tyson in fine form at a concert up there.

My informant said that he told a story of bringing his Swiss Father-in-law over the Continental Divide at night to visit us and our hounds and hawks. It could have been a fraught scene -- "Poppi" says that his only English was "Fuck you, cowboy", which as Tom said "went over real big with a bunch of drunk cowboys demanding encores of "Tonight We Ride", but our French wine, our posole, and our animals disarmed him, not to mention my ability to speak French, and he now sends us German articles on falconry.

This story and many others are in Tom's wonderful new collection of essays Ceremonies of the Horsemen. There are portraits of Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins, of Hemingway and Ian Tyson, Charles Portis and John Graves, and a piece on J P S Brown, a hard old man we both know who may be the best unknown cowboy novelist around. There is also that story about me and falconry, one about Gallo del Cielo (the "damn chicken song") and the only English cockfight corrida I know, which will teach you all you need to know about cockfighting (and I don't mean that sarcastically). It is a tragedy with laughs around the edges, although Tom has been known to claim that he wrote a version with a happy ending in which the rooster buys the Golden Spur Bar.
In the weirdest of these stories Tom ends up in the Swiss castle of Balthus' widow, discussing their mutual admiration for Tex Ritter's "Blood on the Saddle". Buy this book! Nobody but Tom could ever have written it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


I am as vain as the next guy, and I had come to hate the way I looked in some recent pics, like this one at Helen's signing:
I looked so frail compared to Helen that somebody who did not know me asked if I were taking chemo! I HATE that- PD is bad enough.

Luckily some good photos have appeared recently. Stefan Wachs, a Swiss photographer based in Santa Fe, did some fine ones for a forthcoming article on me in New Mexico magazine- he took many, but here are a few good ones. I don't look young, but (I have to admit) I'm NOT.
Then we decided to do our own sort of hipster- gunfigher set, maybe Keith Richards meets Sam Shepherd (embrace your decrepitude!)*, with a big influence from Jay Dusard's more urban portraits of Tom Russell. Actually the idea came about sitting on our "stoop", an old couch that once belonged to Anne Proulx which we put out for trash but that became such an afternoon social center that we have bought it a waterproof cover. The Edwardian high tech of  the 1896 Mauser Broomie adds a Steampunk touch...

*Jay McInerney once wrote that Tom McGuane was the idol of those who wanted to be Hemingway AND Keith Richards...

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Little Carnivores...

Tiny dinosaur sign: found "art", the leavings of a shrike, from Trent Kleppen up on the Hi-Line (which makes Miles City look suburban...)

Lion Tracks

Yes, lions follow us when we venture into the hills- I suspect almost always. From fellow Library Board member Bruce Holsapple, who has just published a bio of William Carlos Williams, a recent example:

Lever Gun Legacy

People from cities who hunt once a year think they must have he latest flat- shooting magnum to achieve success. So, often they miss because of an unexpected flinch, or end up destroying meat. Third gen ranchers like Miles City's John L Moore (well, that is the nearest TOWN) know better:

"My dad was a phenomenal shot with the old .30-30 that was in the Krutt shack when he bought this place. My Uncle Dan told me he could shoot the heads of ducks swimming out in the middle of a reservoir. When I was 10-years-old I got an Ithaca Model 49 saddle gun, a single-shot .22 falling block with a scabbard. I thought it was the greatest present ever. Joe and Jeff Peila were at that birthday present and wow, was Jeff ever mad and jealous about that! Now, more than 54 years later, grandkids David and Selah gave it a try. Don’t miss the classic photo of my dad with an antelope..."

Here it is, John:
And the kids:

John is also a lay preacher with a sense of humor- a rare breed in my neighborhoods.He once sent me this:

UPDATE: John reminds me that Midnight, the fine horse documentary he was involved with, is available on Amazon here. It is getting five stars from everyone...


BEST quality Coggswell & Harrison London - made non- ejector back- action sidelock, 16 gauge, six pounds even with 29" barrels choked very lightly (near cylinder and SK 1 by today's standards; probably a "lady's gun" with its 14" stock as it is too ornate for a young person's. Despite the length it fits very well with the Connecticut Arms detachable leather pad I use with my old LC. It is a "dark" gun and my photos fail to do it justice; unlike some later boxlocks by the maker I have owned, with fine finishes but a dubious ejector system that eventually weakened and affected the trigger(s) it is a London Best in every way. As a matt er of fact it is less the maker (which affects fit and esthetics, and more practically price) but the time: it is a Seventies pattern and patent non- ejector back- action hammergun. Before Diggory Haddoke bestowed his imprimatur on them in his new book on hammer guns , John Besse, as always, said it best and first, speaking particularly of Daniel Riviera's Purdey,
but meaning a whole class of London guns:"That is the pinnacle of gun development; they don't get any better. They're completely hand made to the highest standards- you never even see a tool mark anywhere- but they are completely practical. With one of those you could wander around, shoot a pheasant or a duck or a hare; or even a fox. After that, after the Beasley Patent Purdey" [what everyone thinks of as THE Purdey- 1874 I think, though most London makers would build you an old fashioned gun at LEAST until the Great War] "all the innovation was just gimmicks to impress rich people, needless complications. Who needs ejectors or easy openers except for driven birds? RICH people's sport!" It's an echo of my statement in the Book o' Books (a new one is in the works!) that the Victorians spread the vices of driven shooting and respectability along with enclosures and industrial capitalism- but read Colonel Thornton for that, or at least wait until I can quote the last of the wild squires at length.

Anyway, the gun; what do y'all think?

Chukar Hunting the Old Way

My long- time Canadian hunting correspondent, Alex Sharif, who I met through Valerius Geist, is primarily a sheep hunter and a mountaineer. But when he sent me a few photos from his cousin Afshin in Idaho,I was intrigued. Afshin is a Goshawker, and he hunts Chukar in the kind of country they have always inhabited, in Central Asia, where everything is vertical He put us in touch, and Afshin sent me this exciting portfolio,as well as a couple of short YouTubes that show his young Elhew pointer and the difficulties of hunting that terrain- watch the bird plunge into the abysss.

Zhinoo points

The proud falconer (technicaly of course, "austringer") with Tooran- two hawk's profiles!