Bureaucrats Run Amok

The Collard family of Glendale, California received a notice from the Fire Department ordering them to trim foliage from oak and sycamore trees around their house to lessen fire danger. The Collards agreed that their trees needed a trim and hired a tree service to do the work for $3,000. In the midst of the trimming operation, the city’s urban forester stopped by and ordered them to stop work as the Collards had not obtained a tree-trimming permit. They didn’t know one was needed and the tree service had told them no permits were required.

The Collards were warned that they faced a fine for this violation and a week later an arborist from the city visited to assess the damage. A few weeks later they received a letter from the city informing them that their fine was $347,600! Really too much to believe. RTWT.

Updike on Dinosaurs

Novelist John Updike writes a good, short piece in the latest National Geographic on some of the “new” (and weirder) dinosaurs recently discovered. I mention this because topic and author tug at several lines of interest running through this blog, and because I’m fascinated by literary journalism, whatever you call it, the journalism written by novelists.

Jonathan Franzen, better known for his fiction and for writing so well about himself, wrote a characteristically great piece–straight journalism–on the US Postal Service in his collection How To Be Alone. There are many examples, notably Steve’s own writing which is hard to mash into any category but certainly crosses several. Good writing is good writing.

Here’s the last paragraph of Updike’s piece. I think it’s wonderful.

Of the dinosaurs, he writes, “They continue to live in the awareness of their human successors on the throne of earthly dominance. They fascinate children as well as paleontologists. My second son, I well remember, collected the plastic dinosaur miniatures that came in cereal boxes, and communed with them in his room. He loved them—their amiable grotesquirie, their guileless enormity, their unassuming small brains. They were eventual losers, in a game of survival our own species is still playing, but new varieties keep emerging from the rocks to amuse and amaze us.”

Thanksgiving in Texas

My annual hunting trip to the Texas Panhandle is the highlight of my season. It splits the hawking year neatly in two: the building-up period, through late summer and fall, and the slide downward from winter into spring and the summer molt.

Often the weather on the high plain reflects this split. Last week, we spent the first two days hunting in short sleeves (80 degrees), but after Wednesday’s cold front we donned parkas to face temperatures in the mid-20s and driving snow.

Through it all, the hawks did their thing. Here are a few snapshots from the week. The falcons flew well at ducks, the Harris hawks at rabbits and the goshawk at, well, everything.

Above: Brian Millsap’s excellent tiercel peregrine, Amigo, early in the week. He caught several.

Jimmy Walker’s veteran tiercel prairie falcon, Harley–Also accounting for numerous ducks.
Below, Jimmy’s young female peregrine on her second duck of the season. Jimmy chats with my father, Ron, and one of the ranch’s bovine residents looks on without much interest.

Matt Reidy prepares to fly his tiercel peregrine. This bird has yet to find his stride this season, but will.

The walk down below this pond was like a hike through the Andes. The photo doesn’t do it justice. But from below, the slip for Harley is perfect.
The weather turned cold mid-week and knit caps came out of everyone’s coat pockets. Here we take a walk alongside some winter wheat in search of cottontails.

At a nearby spot, full of high cover and a few old buildings, we find them.

My hawks, Ernie (below) and Smash (above, held by Matt) catch a few.

Thanksgiving dinner was Texas-style, fried game over an open fire. Wonderful.

By Friday, the weather was abysmal. The hawks troopered on, but after catching exactly as many as they felt obliged to catch, they pulled their legs tight into their breasts and quit. We took the hint.

Below, Matt Reidy makes in to Smash in deteriorating conditions.

A last flight for Brian’s tiercel. This redhead died instantly in a passing strike, a viceral sound audible for a hundred yards.

One last shot for Steve and Helen: What but fear winged the birds and jeweled…. ok, enough Jeffers. This is Jimmy Walker’s champion gos, Vinnie, on scaled quail. Last catch of the week.

American on Horseback

If you hear of this fellow riding into your town, I hope you’ll tip your hat and feed his horse.

From the story by AP’s Carl Manning:

“When rancher Bill Inman decided to show there’s more to America than the gloom-and-doom on the nightly news, he hopped on his horse and started riding.

“And riding, and riding.

“Some 1,700 miles later, he’s burning through his family’s life savings as he collects stories of hardworking, honest everyday people in rural America.

“The scenery in America is changing and I’m really proud we’re taking a snapshot at slow motion of this time period, because 20 years from now it will be different,” he said. Inman soaks it all in atop Blackie, a 16-year-old thoroughbred-quarter horse mix who’s averaging 20-25 miles a day along backroads from Oregon to North Carolina…”

And later,

“Raised on a Texas ranch, Inman worked cattle, herded wild horses and managed a ranch on an Indian reservation in Nevada before he moved to Oregon last year and began selling horses there. He’s also an auctioneer and has done horse shoeing for nearly 30 years.

“Among those meeting Inman on the outskirts of town was Kurly Hebb, former rodeo cowboy and Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame member.

“‘He’s got my respect. I can tell from talking to him he’s going to make it. Just be a cowboy, that’s all you got to do,’ said Hebb, now a rancher.”

Know what? Maybe we’re not finished yet!

Neolithic Fashionplates

This report on excavations at a 7,500 year-old neolithic/chalcolithic site in southern Serbia doesn’t tell us lots of new information about that period in Europe. The article says this site may push back the initial date of the Copper Age by 500 years but doesn’t really give you enough information to assess the claim.

However, a study of women’s dress from analysis of clay figurines like the one above, turns up some fun insights:

“According to the figurines we found, young women were beautifully dressed, like today’s girls in short tops and mini skirts, and wore bracelets around their arms,” said archaeologist Julka Kuzmanovic-Cvetkovic.”

Paris Hilton Tries to Help Drunk Elephants

The headline for this piece was so bizarre I couldn’t let it go. So now she’s the celebrity spokesperson for a big problem in India:

“Activists said a celebrity endorsement such as Hilton’s was sure to raise awareness of the plight of the pachyderms that get drunk on farmers’ homemade rice beer and then go on a rampage.

‘The elephants get drunk all the time. It is becoming really dangerous. We need to stop making alcohol available to them,’ the 26-year-old socialite said in a report posted on World Entertainment News Network’s Web site. Her comments were picked up by other Web sites and newspapers around the globe.

Last month, six wild elephants that broke into a farm in the state of Meghalaya were electrocuted after drinking the potent brew and then uprooting an electricity pole.

‘There would have been more casualties if the villagers hadn’t chased them away. And four elephants died in a similar way three years ago. It is just so sad,’ Hilton was quoted as saying in Tokyo last week. She was in Tokyo to judge a beauty contest.

Her publicist couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.”

Her publicist is speechless and so am I.

Thoughts on Taking The Dog

I’ve written a couple emails to friends explaining why, for Pete’s sake, I’m not taking Rina to Texas.

My answers are many and are all over the map, which suggests to me that none of them are exactly what I mean to say. The bottom line is that I am afraid for her safety on the one hand, and she is more trouble than she’s worth, on the other.

Don’t misunderstand. Rina is indispensable to me—here. She flushes birds daily for my hawks, points, chases, catches, and generally provides extra fun and good company in the field. The hawks like her and trust her judgment. She rarely lets us down, and never on purpose.

But up on the high plains, her services are less in need and the inherent dangers of a fast, highly reactionary dog begin to outweigh the benefits. Amarillo, Texas is a blasted land of hard ground, exposed rebar, piles of concrete, irrigation pipes, cholla cactus, rattlesnakes, coyotes, eighteen wheelers, bone-numbing cold and great distances. Into this mix place a fast dog with thin skin and no brakes, and you have a disaster in the oven.

Last year, when Rina was new and (frankly) still proving herself, the dangers were the same but the perceived liabilities smaller. I had the benefit of ignorance, both of how good she is for what I do—here–and how quickly she could be hurt or killed doing what she does up there.

This is not to say that she could not be killed here by a snake (we have plenty) or a car or any number of other things. But her job here is to flush birds in fenced pastures in moderate weather. She is slowed down by the tall grass and soft earth, and we are unlikely to flush anything that will take her far away; there are no black tailed jacks in Louisiana. All else equal, she’s much safer at home. The dangers natural to a hunting dog here are the same ones I face and the hawk faces, and we accept that or else need to quit.

I can no longer claim ignorance about the situation up there. It’s a harsh land best weathered by natives. One week a year is not enough time to teach a dog how to operate within such tight margins; in fact, you can’t teach that. They learn it by living it. Perhaps a big dog, tough skinned and slower afoot would do better, and of course many hunters’ dogs do fine. But Rina is herself: a nutcase whirlwind and unstoppable when in high pursuit.

As for being more trouble than she’s worth, in Texas last year she spent more time in the truck than on the ground. We hawked too many places too dangerous to use her. Yet, we had to bring her along in case a good opportunity presented itself. On a hawking trip far from base camp, you take with you everything you might need.

On several occasions I noted to myself that my hawking and coursing trips ought to be kept separate. To use Rina with justice, I should concentrate on her and let the day follow her schedule. Last year she had to follow our schedule, and it was hard on her. She’s accustomed to working with the hawks, and could not understand why we left her behind; so she watched, barking mad, as we walked off in plain sight and hundreds of yards away. It was nearly as tough on me as on her. When rabbits flushed she could see them clearly, and we could hear her wailing rise to fever pitch.

Why do that to my good dog?

Finally, there was no relief to worrying at the end of the day. That’s a joy killer. Rina wanted to be with us as the day wound down, but even romping in Jimmy’s fenced acres with the other dogs left me wondering from minute to minute where she was. Rabbits were everywhere, and Rina hit fences full speed several times just chasing bunnies in the backyard. Thinking of her crumpled at the base of a fencepost, broken in some awful way out there in the dark, sucks all the fun out of sipping beer on the back porch.

Trust me, that’s true.

Morning Run– Sunday

When we have been to busy to go out more than a couple of times a week, like now, our hounds get pretty rowdy. Plummer barks and the tazis “sing” all the way to Lee’s.

This AM we went to the ranch. It is finally getting cooler. They chased one cottontail which immediately went down a kangaroo rat hole– as Libby says, bunnies cheat. Then Lib bumped a hare out of position and only Lashyn sighted it– she ran it out of sight as the others ran up to me going “Huh?”

Finally we put up a good hare in range and they all had a good though ultimately unsuccessful run– unsighted in cholla. Then to the tank where the old lurcher had a soak.

That peak in the background has a golden eagle nest on it, on a ledge on the left- hand extension. It is known to locals as “Mount Titty” though you won’t find that name on the map..

On the way home, the girls were much quieter.

Here is a dashboard still life on the way out– binos, whistle, .410 shells, comb for cactus spines, trigger spring for Mauser (must take that in…)

We also saw, in the distance, a HUGE and very black coyote slinking off.
Some think that wolf genes are leaking into the local population through the
introductions. This looked like the big northeastern canids I used to see
killing deer on Quabbin reservoir in Massachusetts in my youth– which do
have wolf genetic material. More on that later…


Here are some heirloom tomatoes grown by Mr. and Mrs. Peculiar this summer in Colorado. The big ones in particular may have been the best I ever ate.

It occurs to me that I, Libby, and the P’s were all born in cities, Lib and I in big ones, but we were not raised in fear of the natural.

Of course when Libby was a kid her family kept a pig and ducks, (and dogs, and a parrot) in Berkeley. And my father’s family kept chickens and rabbits in Boston.


The Asian tazi gene pool continues to expand– Vladimir now has three, in addition to mine and their offspring.

Puppy Urtak is somewhat related to my dogs, and is going to be huge.

Here he is at only four months with the full- grown female, Adel, who is closely related to mine. Timur, a young male, is from Saint Petersburg and of a completely different line. We may outcross to him.