Monday, October 17, 2016

Friday, October 14, 2016


Jack Unruh was a fine artist who did the best, or at least the most interesting, illustrations for many magazines , especially ones of the Time- Life Group, for over 50 years. One of his last regular assignments was doing the pic for the humor column by Bill Heavey at the end of Field and Stream. Bill wrote a good remembrance of him here.
He could be surreal...
He also could see beauty in unlikely creatures. Sure, a Sandgrouse is pretty; but how many people would or could do such a delicate drawing of a Lappet- Faced Vulture? (I am pretty sure that is what it is, not a griffon!)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

What I know about Spooks

This started as a comment in "Secret Agent Man" responding to a crack by Tim, but when I realized it was "too long" ( since WHEN?") I decided to make it a post, with illos. Les Murray is a Catholic redneck, something of a naturalist, and the best poet Australia ever had.I have two big fat anthologies of his work. There was a good piece on him in the NYRKR last year. Of Australians I only read him, the late art critic Robert Hughes (good, AND a sportsman, though more a New Yorker in his old age, and the hilarious but brilliant naturalist Tim Flannery. Oh, and Germaine Greer- you'd be surprised (Muggeridge like The Female Eunuch!) Lately I have been reading three rather hard to find (try Andrew Isles) books by the Aussie avian evolutionist Tim Low which will blow the minds of the conventional, as he tells of the evolution of slavery in Australian "Choughs", about how certain NATIVE species (Noisy Miners)have established exclusive hostile monocultures in territories of hundreds of square miles, killing off or harassing all others out of existence- bracing p inc- stuff. Try Where Song Began (the best and most specific, about the weird evolution of Aussie Passerines, with the war makers and slave takers and songbirds that can imitate chain saws and worse), The New Nature, and Feral Future; for a milder US version without the evo- bio I recommend Emma Marr's Rambunctious Garden. And that is it for Aussie stuff. Key quote" .. nature is portrayed poorly whenever harmony is implied." Whirl is king....

Now:EVERY DAMN BODY WAS IN THE CIA, OR THE OSS - it wasn't called 'Oh So Social" for nothing. Its first recruiting office was across from the Explorers Club, right across the street from the AMNH, also a recruiting spot in its time. I wouldn't be surprised if Andy Bakewell, though a Jesuit priest, was also a OSS agent. Jack Hemingway was. He parachuted into France with a cane fly rod. They recruited from the Left, and the upper classes. The Left because they could make contact with the other political groups fighting Nazis in Europe; the upper classes because most of the intellectual adventurers Wild Bill Donavan knew were upper class people. Bakewell had the social register, the Alpine Journal, and the cocked and locked Colt Commander on his shrine to the La Guadalupana as long as I knew him.
Andy was rather of the right, though he was chaplain to both the Kennedys and the Buckley family, and treated them alike. Though a very rich man, his politics were probably in the Catholic doctrine, rather left economically, though he sure believed in shooting bad guys -- he'd say to people offended by his cocked and locked Colt "What's the use of an unloaded gun?" It reminds me of how I made friends with my son's friend Eli, then fifteen, when he asked me "Why do you carry handguns?" "To shoot bad people." Eli replied "That's the first honest answer I've ever gotten." He ended up a sheriff's armorer, among other things, albeit one who once wanted to dye his hair chrome.

All the old spies were FDR "liberals"; most of them were in the New York social register, and the Bakewells owned Missouri, an outpost. Their ancestor was Lucy Bakewell, who Audubon married, up. Julia Child was an upper - crust Californian about seven feet tall ; she was an OSS agent. (As with many of these people, she somehow knew my mother; they used the same butcher). She was recruited to cooking, and probably spying, by my late friend Angus Cameron, the emeritus editor of Knopf, who was probably a damn STALINIST at the time, and who never became much more conserva†ive. He lost his job in the McCarthy witch hunts, and unlike more namby pamby fellows he and his longtime wife Sheila, went first to Minnesota and then to Alaska to live as trappers until things cooled down, and then went back to New York to resume their place in society.
Angus, when I knew him, had just retired, as is my usual luck, as he wanted to publish me desperately. He was fascinated by food, as would be anybody who wrote a cookbook with Judith Jones. The cookbook for LL Bean is still the best single game cookbook. He was also Jack O'Connor's editor, and I have in my possession a letter written to Jack saying that it is better to be reviewed in The New Yorker than the New York Times, as Jack was complaining. I think he had an obit in both. I just missed getting one of his 20-gauge custom Spanish shotguns, which Angus had given away to some lickspittle relative because he didn't know I'd want one. The story of my life... McGuane did the same thing with a 16-gauge Boss, both about three weeks before I said I'd like to have them. Angus did give me a Pezon et Michel parabolic cane rod owned by Charles Ritz, but as usual, I sold it at a time when I needed to eat more than I needed to fish.
Interesting point is, all of these people were liberals or Leftists, granted of their time-- none were "PC". Johnny Barsness always rejected the idea that the late Datus Proper was a CIA agent. REALLY??! I've never seen a more likely spook! He was old family and old school, was incredibly erudite, physically strong, totally close-mouthed about anything he ever did, and was in Ireland for the resurgence of the Troubles, and in every Portuguese speaking hotspot in Africa when it was hot. When asked if he was an agent, he would always say, with a grin, "Why would you think such a ridiculous thing?" and change the subject. Plus he was a fly-fisher, just like James Jesus Angleton (that's a joke).
The CIA changed, and for good or for ill, those old legends are long gone. Except for removing Mossadegh,the stupidist act of clandestine foreign policy ever perpetrated, an act devised by the Roosevelt grandfather of Bill Weld's wife, they did more good than harm I think. My source for this stupidity of this act is no less than my other retired spook friend, Lieutenant Col. Sydney Kent Carnie of the Army Intelligence Service, who spent about twenty years in Persia (he was training to be a wildlife biologist under Starker Leopold, Aldo's son, at Berkeley, when he became fascinated with Arabic and Farsi at the Army language school). When I asked him if he'd go back, he said no."My friends were the enlightened intelligentsia; the Shah's SAVAK killed half of them, and the Ayatollah wiped out the rest. Why should I go back?"
Nevertheless, they sure had fun. Carnie used to plant listening stations on the borders of Soviet Armenia while trapping Peregrines. Think of novels like Tim Powers' Declare. These people actually lived lives like that. Of course they funded Peter Matthiessen -- they also funded the Aga Khan and George Plympton as partners in the Paris Review, which was started with CIA funding as much as the Aga Khan's jewels. Plympton was much more an OSS type; Matthiessen was too solemn.

That's all I know about the secret life. I've be willing to be debriefed about strange things I've seen, but that's it. I have been lucky or unlucky enough to have been to some weird places -- hard-assed Kurdish Turkey, twenty miles from Kobani, before the troubles started, for a month; Zimbabwe before Mugabe cracked down on the Hwange area and the N'dbele, a Zulu-derived culture he disliked even more than white people. He drove a white friend of mine to suicide, and his 11th brigade cut off the head of a black acquaintance, the headman of Tsholotsho township, who was delighted and amazed that a "European" would eat chile hot sauce ("I'm not European- I'm New Mexican", I told him). It's all gone now.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Why I may NEVER be rich...

What's that? Oh, a Jack Unruh illo, for a piece I had published, that I sent in un- asked for, "over the transom". In SI. In 1980. When Pat was still editor. And I didn't follow up.

Because I didn't know how. Thank God Gray's was only a subway stop away....

The Girl with the Brook Trout Tattoo

My separated- at- birth friend from Savannah, Gil Tracy, recycles Larsen's title with these shots of his daughter Julia, a French scholar, fishing in North Carolina...hey Russ Chatham, take a look at these!
UPDATE: Here is a poem about Julia's tattoo by her grandmother, who was a friend of Flannery O'Connor's, and appears in her letters:

Saturday, October 08, 2016


At first I was interested in this catalogue, but the longer I looked at it, the more uneasy I became. The kits for analysing owl pellets were fine. But what is with the artificial FEATHERS?

I know, it is illegal to pick up feathers.It is also STUPID for it to be illegal to pick up feathers. Paper ones are not real enough- real feather have quills, can "zip" together, are found in context OUTSIDE. Do we really want to develop a generation who can only enjoy nature mediated through artificial substitutes?

Friday, October 07, 2016

Carlos's Sparrow Sauce

Just like my paternal grandmother's, which she used on Polenta. "Makes a nice-a sauce", she would say as she caught the sparrows in the pigeon loft by swatting them with a
broom or popping them into a brown paper bag and whacking it on a beam. I have never felt more Italian.......

Here she is in the back of a car driven by my dad, in '38:

Obligatory Pigeon Material

Every so often non- pigeon readers have to put up with a pigeon post- pun intended. These ones are relatively painless, and the second is also of interest to dino- philes, evo- bio- types, and even competitive pigeon show fanciers...(Ava, birds soon- we got the boxes, but one pair is still feeding. You are getting the Bagdads below, avery productive pair, among others)

First, photos: one by Daniel of a pair of pouters he got from me a while back, and one by Stefan Wachs, who photo'd for the forthcoming (this spring) article about me in NM Magazine by John Muller, of my Carriers.

Here are a couple of future pigeon breeds from the ever inventive Deviant Art site, courtesy of Arthur. The Dinosaurian tailed breed may be genetically possible today, according to Jack Horner.

Saladin's pigeon post, from Keith:

From Saladin by John Man. The casual reader of ancient history is often puzzled by the seemingly impossible speed of communication in certain civilizations. For example, an outlying city like Aleppo will be under siege by an enemy and yet will somehow be in communication with a major city such as Baghdad or Cairo. It turns out that by the twelfth century CE, the time of Saladin, the Muslim world had developed an elaborate communication system using carrier pigeons:

"[In the twelfth century CE,] Turks, Arabs and Europeans were enemies and rivals, but also allies, trading partners and friends, often all these things in quick succession.

"Information flew between them, literally, because all major cities were linked by pigeon-post. This gets only passing mention in Arab sources, possibly because it was so routine as to be unworthy of comment. It would have started a long, unrecorded time -- perhaps centuries -- before, with pigeons being kept for food, as we keep chickens. Over the years, people noticed that they were able to find their way home from very far away (modern fanciers race their pigeons for up to 1,600 kilometres). Pigeons can fly for up to twelve hours at 100 kilometres per hour, for three days, resting at night. All leaders, civilian and military, would have kept pigeons ready to send to distant cities or take into battle.

"The historian al-Maqrizi recorded one very non-routine use of homing pigeons. In the late tenth century, the fifth Fatimid caliph al-Aziz loved the cherries of Baalbek. As a treat, his vizier -- in effect, prime minister -- arranged for 600 homing pigeons to be sent off from Baalbek to Cairo, each carrying a silk bag attached to either leg, with a single cherry inside each bag. The pigeons had 600 kilometres to fly. If they left in the morning, al-Aziz could have had fresh cherries for dessert that evening, with enough left over for his many guests.

"Others took note, and were impressed. Sir John Mandeville mentions pigeons in his fourteenth-century book of Travels ... :

In that country and other countries beyond they have a custom, when they shall use war, and when men hold siege about city or castle, and they within dare not send out messengers with letter from lord to lord for to ask succor, they make their letters and bind them to the neck of a culver [an obsolete word for a pigeon, perhaps from the Latin columba], and let the culver flee. And the culvers be so taught, that they flee with those letters to the very place that men would send them co. For the culvers be nourished in those places where they be sent to.

"Consider: for this system to work at all, every major town must have trained its teams of pigeons, which would have been divided among every other major town. How many towns the size of Baalbek or larger would have been part of the pigeon-postal system? Shall we say twenty? The 600 cherry-carriers were raised and trained in Cairo, their home base, then transferred by horse or camel to Baalbek, along with (say) a few dozen more which would have been kept for offi­cial business. But Baalbek would have had pigeons delivered from all the other nineteen cities as well, and constantly redelivered after each mission. And as breeders know today, you need redundancy. Not all pigeons are equally talented: the good ones lead the bad. Nor is there a guarantee that any one pigeon will survive severe weather or predators. Over 160 kilometres, 95 per cent survive; but over several hundred kilometres you expect to lose about 50-80 per cent of them. Of al-Aziz's 600 cherry-carriers, perhaps only 300 made it. To be sure of a message getting through long distance, you had to copy the same message three or more times and attach it to that many different birds. There must have been a whole specialist industry of dovecote builders, breeders, trainers, transporters and supervisors -- hundreds of people to look after tens of thousands of pigeons."

They would have been Bagdad types, ancestral Carriers, like these:

Great Dog Pic

Daniel's Boone and Maggie nap.

Jean Louis' Idols?

Jean- Louis Lassez, just back to the Muleshoe Ranch from his art show in Florence, says:
"There is this game on facebook where you put images of three people who represent your soul.
As I have a more complex personnality than your average facebook user (I think), I decided on 4 instead of 3.
The first three, Rasputin, Davy Crockett and Commodore Peary were quite honored that I picked them up.
The fourth one was less impressed :)
He forgot Yosemite Sam:

Monday, October 03, 2016

Secret Agent Man

I'll resume blogging with a bit of humor; I for one could used it...

When JP Parker reviewed Hounds of Heaven for Amazon (an almost embarrassingly good review), he stated:"Everyone and everything has to be quickly and easily pigeonholed in our Age of Single-Minded Experts: if you’re an artist, you can’t possibly be a scientist; if you’re a naturalist, you most certainly cannot write fiction; if you’re a cynologist, what the hell can you be expected to know about paleontology? When obvious exceptions such as Peter Matthiessen do arise, they are explained away as anomalies: Well, after all, how can you expect anything else from someone like Matthiessen when he was really a CIA agent all along? But Steve Bodio is a genuine polymath without being a CIA agent. As far as I know."

Well, "I am not and never have been.." But deniability is difficult. Back in 2002, Brian Micklethwaite, a writer for the often original online Brit libertarian online mag Samizdata (a site which had often been friendly to Q), decided I was a secret agent, and "outed" me. He called his essay "Watching the Bird Watchers"

"I met up with Tim and Helen Evans yesterday. After several years at the Independent Healthcare Association, Tim is now the President of the Centre for the New Europe, which is pro-free-market but neutral about whether the EU as such is a good thing, which, when Britain is finally and irrevocably swallowed up by what Freedom and Whisky calls the Holy Belgian Empire, is what I will probably end up being. Tim is now connecting with lots of excellent European libertarians, including a lot of well placed academics. How come continental Europe’s libertarians are so excellent? Simple. They have to be.

"Tim also reminded me of an email I received a few weeks back from his CNE colleague Richard Miniter, following a plug I put here for two forthcoming books by him. Apparently a long lost friend of Richard’s saw my mention of him and got back in touch, much to Richard’s delight. I asked Richard if I could mention this also – Samizdata brings people together again, etc., etc. – and he said yes fine. After all, if you’re someone like Richard, getting your books plugged is easy enough. Keeping in touch with all your cool friends is harder, and he was genuinely grateful. But then I forgot about this. Meeting Tim again is my excuse to mention this touching reunion now. Said Rich:

"The friend, Steve Bodio, wrote a excellent piece for the Atlantic Monthly last year entitled “The eagle hunters of Mongolia.” He spent some time with those fiercely independent steppe riders and watched them bring home dinner with their trained eagles. He is also a gun expert and genuine authority on birds. And, of course, he loves freedom and despises 'priggish authority' in all its forms.

"People who habitually watch birds in countries other than their own are as likely as not spooks of some kind, in my opinion. After all, what better way is there to spy on metal birds and their habitats, and such like, than to pretend to be looking only at regular ones? And this bird man is also a gun man. Add the fact that one of Richard’s forthcoming books is about Bill Clinton’s (mis)handling of al-Qaeda and is apparently full of juicy revelations, and you get the picture. These guys may not have spook ranks and spook serial numbers, but they definitely have good friends who do.

"Some libertarians say that we should never make any friends among the spooks, even the part-time ones, all of whom are the statist spawn of Satan. What tripe. For starters, not all of these people advertise themselves as flamboyantly as some of them do, so how can we know who to avoid? And more seriously, they (or their for-real friends and contacts) work at the darkest heart of the state and spy on the rest of it, and they know how it really works, and doesn’t work. They know that the state is an anarchy, and they are mostly individualist anarchists themselves, in their everyday working lives if not in their beliefs. So if we’re right about what the state is really like – and we are right, right? – then the spooks should be moving our way. The question the spooks mostly ask me is not: Are you sure that the state is really that crazy? It’s: How could a totally free market in spookery actually be made to work, given that it’s such a nice idea? (I’m working on it.)

"Think what would happen to the course of history if all the spooks and semi-spooks (or even a decent percentage of them) did become hard-core libertarians."

I wrote semi- hysterically and half- humorously to Jonathan Hanson: "Micklethwaite thinks I'm Meinertzhagen!"(He wrote back in the persona of Younghusband,a good joke). But I had ZERO deniability. For one thing, one of my sources on the first expedition was Colonel Richard Wilhelm, the Special forces warrior- scholar who spoke Mongolian, rode with the Mongols, was a friend of the Mongolian air force colonel who was Canat's cousin, and who was the subject of a Robert Kaplan article in the Atlantic, which I was writing for. For another, I saw a MIG fly into an underground hangar, something Canat had told me about and which even Wilhelm doubted at first, and reported upon that. (Canat, who had flown for years on planes that were parked in such hangars when he was Spetsnaz, was completely casual:"Look, Stev [my Kazakh name-- see Eagle Dreams]-- here comes a plane to land underground." He didn't even want to stop the jeep!)

Many years before,I was on the other end of the rope-- after our hack falcons, the first ones on Mount Tom near Holyoke Mass, flew off prematurely, we were investigated by undercover federal wildlife agents, who were sure we had stolen them and sold them to the "Arabs". For reasons that will become clear, I won't give TOO much detail, but they plied us together and separately with legal and illegal intoxicants to get us to inform on each other. The whole affair came to an end when we nearly convinced them we were innocent, then out- macho'd them in a tequila- and- pot fueled race down the "Alpine slides" to the bar below. John and I had all summer to practice, and still bear the scars to show it. We could put the sleds up on wheels so there was no friction, steer by leaning, never touch the brakes, and could actually go 90 mph or more if were feeling immortal. John, a red= headed former Vietnam medic and falconer who got his masters from UMass the next year, and retired from a career as a Massachusetts Game warden a couple of years ago, is usually a serious man, but at a mention of this tale, he will show the arm where he burned off 18 inches of his fair Irish PEI freckles -- another cousin-- when he slid fifty feet on the twisting mile- long fiberglass chute. Incremental damage was the editing process that taught us how to go fast, and by the end of the season wed we would accelerate right up to the last hundred (straight, level) feet. We dumped both Wally and "Cubo"("Conduct UnBecoming anOfficer") in the granite boulders of the turns at a half a mile, and they limped in to shake our hands, admit their defeat, and buy us all more tequila. I remember Bill (Cubo) handing me his rare- unique?-- 3 inch barrelled Smith and Wesson .41 magnum revolver, which he kept in an ankle holster, at the bar. I don't think they were used to losing. At least they didn't get copperheads in their laps, as John and I each did once.The gentle little snakes (or maybe they were just cold in the AM) never offered to strike, not the case with our one new England timber rattler...

Years later, I saw a newspaper article tacked up in a New Orleans shop that sold ivory, citing the owner's help of Walter in a dangerous undercover sting operation in Alaska, involving native bikers and walrus ivory; the bad guys reminded me of the Aleut assassin in Snow Crash. And years after THAT, in New Mexico, I got these two photos in the mail: Walter, reading Querencia, on his sailboat Querencia.

And here are the successful Mt Tom falcons today. They do look more "tundrius" than anatum...

Thursday, September 29, 2016

More George

......Some serious- and silly- photos. I think Karen did the painting, which was on the casket:

Blogger, my host for over a decade, has seen fit without warning today to go to an all code format - all HTML - which means that all editing is impossible for non-coders until it is entirely done, and it is difficult then. I am a fair coder for a FUCKING NON CODER, but I will take the blog out of Blogspot if this continues. It is one more aggravation than an old man is willing to put up with. FYI

Sunday, September 25, 2016


 George's obituary from the Boston Globe:

"GRAHAM, George M. Of South Weymouth, formerly of North Weymouth, died September 20, 2016. George worked as an engineer for many years. He was a volunteer for NOAA, Care Packs, Fore River Young Marines and a member of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. George was also a Weymouth Youth Baseball Coach. Always looking for his next adventure, George could often be found hiking, kayaking, traveling and collecting junk. He enjoyed photography, playing the guitar, solar pyrography, had an affinity for sharks, birds of prey, Civil War and WWII history and his beloved puppy Hal. He will be fondly remembered for his crazy sense of humor, well known for his "George-isms", storytelling, the ability to fix anything, and devotion to his family. George's celebration services are to be as bright and colorful as his life. Beloved husband of 22 years to Karen (Bodio) Graham. Devoted father of Alec and Evan Graham. Cherished son of the late George and Elaine Graham. Loving nephew of Marilyn Moran, Kenny and Pat, Milton "Dutchie" and Jane Moore, Sarah Atencio, the late Patricia Brinkmann and the late Roberta "Bobbie" Graham. Special cousin or "brother" of Bob, Frank, Paul, Cheryl, Diane and Karen Brinkmann, Lynn Moore, Carla Loonie, Scott Moore, Tommy and Richard Moran, Lynn Golemme, Lorraine Rovani, Gayle Aguirre and George "GP" Treantafel . Also survived by many extended family members and many, many friends. Relatives and friends are respectfully invited to attend the visiting hours on Friday 3-8 PM in the McDonald Keohane Funeral Home NORTH WEYMOUTH at 40 Sea Street (off Route 3A - Bicknell Square).. Funeral Mass in St. Jerome Church, Weymouth, Saturday at 10 AM. George's services are a celebration of his wonderful life so bright clothing and hawaiian shirts are requested and encouraged both days. In lieu of flowers donations in memory of George may be made to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, P.O. Box 849168, Boston, MA 02284 or Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, PO Box 66, Chatham, MA 026

The Graham's fascination with sharks, especially the great white, was of long standing- you will see the shark themes in his funeral. Karen was in a kayaking group where one of her congeners was struck and dumped, but not injured , by a white last year. As Tom McGuane mused many years ago, at the edge of the sea you are at the edge of a great wilderness.
George at home with a shark head

...and contemplating a more dry- land phenomenon- our official ruin.

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)