Sunday, November 23, 2014

Deep Springs digest

Last week.

The roads in and out are ridiculous...

The valley bottom is dry...

 Though the irrigated land is rich.

We searched for Bufo exsul at the springs, but it was too cool...                                         

 Eli is as ever adventure kid.

 We had fun, especially Libby.

Another peaceful Tyrannosaur image...

... adolescents, from Mark Witton. Bird- ish.


Brad has reminded me of the late great impossible Barry Hannah. An almost random quote (sometimes I think he wrote only quotable phrases):

"Walthall bought an ancient Jaguar sedan for nothing, and when it ran, smelling like Britain on the skids or the glove of a soiled duke..."

Found Data

From The Eskimo Cookbook, Shishmarek Alaska, 1952:

 "Soured Seal Liver:

"Soured seal liver is made in the summer here. Place liver in enamel pot or dish and cover with blubber. Put in warm place for a few days until sour.

"Most boys and girls don't like it. Only grownups and old people.

"I don't like it."

"Loon Soup:

"Take off feathers and clean the loon. Wash, and put into cooking pot with plenty of water. Add salt to taste.

"Do not make the loon soup."

Found-- no, SENT- image

From Toby Jurovics, a Titian, early 1500's:

"Giorgio Cornaro with Falcon celebrates Giorgio Cornaro the Younger’s election into the Maggior Consiglio or the Great Council of Venice. "

I had never seen it, and wrote to Toby that I preferred it to the better- known Holbein of Sir Robert Cheseman with a Gyr. Henry 8's courtiers were a cold and tight- lipped lot; I sometimes think his must have been a more opulent version of Stalin's. We also agreed that the food must have been better in Venice.

Book Review #2: Rifle Looney News

John Barsness and Eileen Clarke seem like such normal people that is hard to realize at first just how unusual their "lifestyle" is. They are ubiquitous in the hunting and gun magazines, more so than any other couple I have known (I dare say I have known many of the sporting couples of my time). John writes technological piece in vivid and comprehensible English. He writes exotic hunting pieces, many of them on the big game of Africa, Europe, and Alaska, that make you feel that even a poor man might get to do these things.

Best of all, he writes of a life of hunting in his native Montana. As he once said to me, in a manner not entirely satirical, "I am a third generation Montanan... academic." And though I believe that he ended up as I did studying biology, his first published material was a book of poetry. And his mentor in the woods and fields, before he met the old Lakota patriarch Ben Burshia, was the New York transplant Norm Strung.

Eileen's history is even less likely. She came from New York and studied literature at Missoula. She was also a vegetarian. Needless to say, she got over that. I don't think she and John ever eat any domestic meat ever, except possibly at restaurants. Furthermore, she has written some of the most important game cookbooks of our time, ones that can delight the sophisticate but explain everything to the rankest beginner. And she is this knowledgeable about everything. I think she is still the only published cook I know who puts enough fat in game sausage. 

They live the life of the hunt, also the title of one of John's books. They may be the only writers of our generation who have made a decent living entirely as freelance sporting and culinary writers. As publishing changed, they decided that the best way to present and sell their work was by taking ownership and control of all of it, and publishing their own books. You can judge their success by going to their "Rifles and Recipes" website. It's all there -- all the books and cookbooks they have written since they started, and links to other things of note.

Around five years ago, they also started publishing a quarterly online newsletter, Rifle Loony News. At eight dollars for the year, it may be the best bargain in outdoor writing yet. Its eight pages contain some of the best and clearest- headed technical prose on rifles around, presented without the constraints of length that make all magazine writing difficult; all the more so these days, as so-called editors, searching for advertising space, shrink content to 500 word "essays", captions, and bullet-point lists, all written by young staffers who would probably pay to be in print.

Generally John does most of the technicana, and Eileen the food. But don't miss Eileen's gun writing or either of their occasional story-telling. What it is exactly like is sitting down to a long fall dinner with both of them and somehow having a recording of what ensues. It's too bad we don't have an audio version, punctuated by Eileen's whoops of laughter, which stepson Jackson used to claim kept him awake at night, and John's dry interjections. He may have invented the genre of old-style outdoor writing we called "I knew an old dog who died". I also remember telling them about how I shot a blue grouse off a limb when I was first dating Libby, at her... request. I opined that women were more pragmatic hunters than men (and perhaps more enthusiastic; when they first visited me more than twenty five years ago, in Magdalena, Eileen mimed her stalk of what I believe was her first pronghorn through a northern Serengeti of everything from mule deer and bison to sandhill cranes, with  prickly pear sticking into her hands).

John looked at this wife and said "Pragmatic? The first seven sage grouse she shot had skid marks on their breasts." I believe that story is in there too.

So it's fun, for sure; a hunting life lived 365 days a year. It will make you a better cook, and tell you of new products that are really useful rather than just pushed by marketers. As for rifles: John probably has 80 rifles wandering in and out at a time, though I bet fewer than 10 make his permanent list. He shoots constantly, and while he is the gentlest and most genial of men, he will neither praise crap nor take another's opinion as truth without testing it for himself. If you read carefully, and are a typical modern hunter, he will save you a lot more than $8 a year while entertaining you in the process.

Rather than searching for quotes, I will give you Eileen's account of last year's first volume. "Year six started with Eileen's feature on brining wild birds and venison (yes, it's different from chicken and beef) and a to-die-for and easy-to-make Cookie Dough Truffles as well as John's reports on laser range finders, the CZ Model 452 .17Hornaday Rimfire Magnum, 'Guns I Don't Buy Anymore' and lots more."

John also has another new book out, Modern Hunting Optics. I've hardly had a chance to open it in the chaos of the last two weeks, but I will say that it is the most up to date and comprehensible account of that ever-changing subject that I have seen yet. John also can't resist debunking cliches. I always thought that the 25-yard sight-in worked, not that I actually did it. We who read more than do need John's writing to admonish us for intellectual laziness.

It has 200 soft-cover pages and goes for $25 postpaid. Rifle Loony has 264 pages and a color insert as well as black and white illos; it goes for $28.95, media rate shipping. Both are sold exclusively through or from Deep Creek Press, PO Box 579, Townsend, MT 57644; telephone 406-521-0273.

John with Selous buff and CZ .416 which he bought in NM and modified to be like Harry Selby's-- one of his keepers I think...

Book Review #1: Blood on my Hands by Gerry Cox

Gerry Cox -- the "G" is pronounced hard as in his ancestor Gerhard -- is an administrator at Cornell these days. In his previous life he was an English professor, who back in the 70's at least once wrote for the scholarly journal English Literary Renaissance, where I was an editor.  He is also a third generation bird hunter, a big game hunter,  and, most unusually for an academic, a custom rifle maker who once made me an early 20th Century sporter on an SMLE action. As is perhaps obvious, he is also a friend of mine. But that's not my reason for recommending his book.

Below, Gerry left, John right, in John's shop in Mag looking a Scott sidelock, once mine, now G's; SMLE in the style of Empire .

Many of the remaining northeastern hunters started with whitetail deer, and have never progressed beyond the lore of that species. Gerry started late, shooting an antelope in southeast Wyoming after a lifetime of bird hunting. Before his experience, he shared the attitude of many - dare I say it? - upper class northeastern hunters. Bird shooting was socially acceptable; but there was something "wrong" with hunting large mammals-- something not spoken of,  that was potent and hard to think about, never mind discuss. Easier to dismiss "poachers"...

This odd diffidence might exist because hunting large mammals was far more important to the evolution of what our roving restless species became than foraging, at least to what our species became.* And because our larger quarry seemed-- is-- more like us, killing and eating big sentient beasts is both more satisfying and more frightening-- more "serious".

In his own words: ... I was unprepared for what I actually experienced. After field dressing the antelope, I looked down at my hands and said aloud in shock, "I have blood on my hands." I didn't have a clue what I meant: the spoken words simply came out of my mouth. I only knew that this recognition involved something altogether outside my previous bird shooting experiences, something mysteriously important/ I dreamed about blood again and again that night. I felt compelled to learn what this meant.

His quest led him to read every justification of hunting, every philosophical animal rights work, and a fair amount of biology and anthropology. Some of the more symbolic or poetic works seemed to hold far more truth than the "rational" and theoretically objective ones. He reads accounts of aboriginal tribes and discovers why "killing beautiful animals" may not be a sin. He teases the reader with a title like "Putting Animals in Their Place", finding that their place is not where any of the defenders or enemies of hunting think they are. He discusses altered and enhanced states of mind in history and in the present. He combines the insights of these chapters to show us "ways" for us to see ourselves as interesting animals among other animals; then adds the insights of evolutionary biologists to the mix to show how science weaves still more threads into the pattern.

His penultimate chapter is not a simple synthesis (if there is anything simple about his synthesis!). It is called "After the Kill: Making Meat, Feasting, and Story Telling". In this one he argues that the last sleepy farewells as the hunters and their families leave the table are as much a part of the hunt -- I almost want to capitalize the word Hunt-- as the stalk or the kill; it is one whole drama. With the next and last chapter, he brings his account to a close; necessary, but I am still at the table, swapping stories and savoring the last of the vodka.

This has been a hard review to write because I have been reading this book since the first drafts. What could I say that would be new? How about that our friend John Besse, the best amateur gunsmith I know a hunter and backwoodsman with a bias towards that scientific rather than the poetic, has read it twice?

Or I could just give you my very considered blurb: "Gerard Cox has always been a bird hunter. But when he saw the blood on his hands from his first antelope, he was so moved that he began his inquiry into the nature and realities of this "serious business" of hunting large mammals, so close to and yet so different from us. His resulting thoughts build into a volume rich in anecdote (and not without humor), covering everything from the esthetics of animals, through altered states of consciousness, to celebrating the pleasures of feasting with friends. A unique union of the philosophical and the earthily real, it will end up on your permanent bookshelf somewhere between Thomas McGuane and Ortega y Gasset. it is that good."

Blood on My Hands is now available from Amazon in hardback, paper, and Kindle form, under his real name, Gerard H Cox. I would go for one of the dead trees editions; the cover is nice too.

 *Gerry has a discussion of how having female hunters expands our vision-- biology is not destiny but human nature DOES exist-- my not Gerry's point.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


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

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

I want one of these.

A feathered lizard is still a lizard. Think BIRD!

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

Help Joan Didion.

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

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

Seasons 2: Big game & harvest

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

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

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

Jack calls the last "Contemporary Norman Rockwell".

Thursday, November 20, 2014


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

- Richard Feynman, Cargo Cult Science

Programming Note

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

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Women's Working Equine Partners

Shepherd's burro in Bulgaria

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

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

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

Cart horse in Kurdish region of Turkey.

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

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

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

Burros packing maize in Lesotho (Africa).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Pluvi wins a big one

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

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

I prefer this one with a Lammergeier myself:

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

Thursday, October 30, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

Artsy effect unintentional, light rain on my lens

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

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

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

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

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

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