Babysitting

I drive by a hay meadow outside of Pinedale on a regular basis and always look at the pronghorn antelope that inhabit that spot. In the last few weeks, there were about five does that had their fawns in the meadow. This afternoon I had to laugh, since this one doe had apparently been assigned babysitting duty to seven fawns. The same thing happens with our domestic sheep – ewes take turns babysitting for the nursery bunch.

Wet season delights


It’s rained here almost every afternoon for a month, making big changes to our range, which has suffered from 10 years of drought. Jim and I had to look these birds up in the bird book because we’ve never seen them in the hay meadow before. They are Wilson’s phalaropes. It has a peculiar way of walking in circles, and swimming in circles. The vortex caused by the spinning apparently delivers food to the surface.

The wet weather has led to an amazing eruption of mushrooms. It’s crazy to walk through the sagebrush and see all the mushroom tops breaking ground. Jim’s making all kinds of mushroom sidedishes for dinner, and stops every morning and picks a few fresh ones for the lunchbox. I have no idea how many varieties are out there, but there are only two types he knows are safe to harvest and eat.

And the pronghorn antelope babes are growing nicely.

The Mighty Tranter

While browsing at The Suburban Bushwacker I was introduced to a new blog With the unlikely name of Lone Star Parson. It seems SB and LSP were partners in a punk band years go before LSP became an Anglican priest and moved to Texas. Whether he was a gun nut in England or not, he has become one! The whole blog is a delight but what moved me to envy was this .50 caliber Tranter revolver. Is that not the perfect steampunk handgun? To hell with S & W’s 50–it’s so … modern. I want one of these.

There is a Wiki page on Tranters but it is machine- translated from German and, be warned, it includes sentences like this one:

“Especially, the double deduction Tranter revolvers, this was below the trigger guard a second vent at the margins of a rooster served.”

If any of my more capable colleagues could get me the pic of the one on the Parson’s site to post here I’d appreciate it!

A Guest Post

Introducing Lane Batot, who often comments, especially on dogs and domestication. I hope we will be seeing him here again!

“With a diverse(some would say eccentric)interest and experiences with canines and the outdoors(usually combining the two in some fashion), and as a big fan of this blog, I have been invited to “guest-write”(not to be confused with “ghost-write”) occasionally about some of my many misadventures and perspectives, which may be of interest to other readers.

“First off, it was suggested I relate why I have so many dogs(13 at present), the advantages(?) of keeping such a large pack, and the very real danger of losing this privelege with the increasingly restrictive laws cropping up limiting one’s canine acquisitions.(para.) My own reasons for ending up with so many dogs are as much accidental as planned—over half my pack are rescues. Dogs that, had I not taken them in, would not be alive today. This is something dog restriction laws will inevitably do, doom even more dogs to euthanasia or abandonment. People that now will take the time to rescue and rehome a stray or two, will be discouraged from such humanitarian actions by these laws.(para.) I also have so many dogs because, well, there are just SO MANY interesting dog breeds and types out there! My own personal motto is, “so many dogs, so little time”! I have experienced a lot of dogs in my near half-century of living(especially with my tendency to experience them in multiples), and yet there are so many more I hope to experience and share my life with before I cash it in! So dog limits imposed on citizens are also personally restrictive to my chosen lifestyle. Doesn’t this violate my basic constitutional rights? Yes, it does.

“As I have yet to breed a litter of any sort(way too dangerous a prospect for a sentimental chap like myself!), so I do not fall in the category of someone breeding to maintain a line of working dogs, be they for herding, hunting, sled work, guard and police work, handicap-assistance dogs, and others. Breeders not allowed by law to keep multiple animals are going to have a hard time providing these types of real working dogs to those in need.

“One thing I do do that involves the use of more than the pet or two these laws restrict us to, is train sled dogs. Mine is purely recreational, but this is a whole genera of dogs that will no longer be able to fulfill their roles with such limitations. It’s kinda hard to have a team with just a pet or two.(p.) Of course radical, unreasonable, “humaniac” Animal Right’s Activists could care less about the many contributions such dogs make to society, or the joy they have in fulfilling these roles(in the proper hands), since they wish to eliminate(or so it seems) any human/animal interactions at all. Legislators who go along with the passing of these laws are often just ignorant that any other legitimate perspective exists, so we dog-people do need to do all we can to educate them. It would be great if we could get these law-makers out of their offices and let them see the real deal in the field–they’d probably enjoy that too, for a change! Action does speak louder than words! Hopefully I will be relating some of these experiences with my own dogs in future posts.”

Free Speech Challenge in Supreme Court

Hawker, digger, long-dogger and outdoors writer Teddy Moritz forwarded this news of a case to be heard by the Supreme Court. It regards the editor and seller of a hunting dog video who was convicted on federal law prohibiting “depictions of animal cruelty;” his conviction was later overturned on 1st Amendment grounds, but US prosecutors are taking the case to the highest court for a ruling. From the summary:

“The Third Circuit struck down a federal law banning “depictions of animal cruelty.” 18 USC 48. The statute does not ban acts of animal cruelty themselves (and so this case is not about such actions). It bans images of animals being hurt, wounded or killed if the depicted conduct is illegal under federal law or illegal under the state law either (i) where the creation of the depiction occurs, or (ii) where the depiction is sold or possessed.”

The video depicts “catch dog” training, featuring pit-bull type dogs hunting wild hogs and also domestic pigs, and it includes historical video of Japanese dog fighting. The product was edited from pre-existing footage (no new footage shot) with a voiceover to illustrate training points. So the subject matter is certainly controversial, and I’m sure the visuals are rough. But we are talking here about a depiction, not an action.

The charges are based on an existing law passed to prohibit the sale of videos depicting the torture of animals in a sexual context (evidently there’s a market for that). The prosecution is inviting the court to add “depictions of animal cruelty” (defined more broadly than the above context) to the very short list of unprotected classes of speech, as is the case with child pornography. With the opportunity to reference dog fighting, hog hunting, torture videos and child pornography laws all in one case, prosecutors have a lot to work with here.

At stake may be the freedom and livelihood of everyone involved in hunting and trapping media, every state game agency, retail outlet, publishing house, hook and bullet writer, etc., to include myself as author of two books in print full of text and photographs of active falconry. In fact, the existing law may already apply to many media products, if their content includes depictions of activities “illegal under federal law or illegal under the state law either where the creation of the depiction occurs, or where the depiction is sold or possessed.”

For example: one of my books contains a picture of the use of a classic falconry noose trap (a bal-chatri), a humane and practical device for the legal live-trapping of raptors for falconry. Such traps were temporarily outlawed in Washington State when a broadly-written anti-trapping law was passed there a few years ago. An exception to the law had to be included to permit trapping for falconry.

Although falconry traps are obviously not intended to “hurt, wound or kill” birds, falconry itself entails killing animals; it is hunting! Commercial falconry videos certainly exist. I own several and have shot my own footage, plus photos for personal use and for sale. The difference (in terms of its elements and visual impact in a video depiction) between catch dogs holding a wild hog and, say, Harris hawks catching a jack rabbit, is probably negligible to the non-hunter.

Here’s an interesting question: While hog hunting with dogs is legal in Hawaii, falconry is not (it’s the only non-falconry US state, having no suitable native raptors and strict environmental law for imports). For all I know, someone in the Aloha State has a copy of one of my books, purchased online from my Wyoming publisher and sent via US Mail. Could that fact lead federal prosecutors to his door? Or to mine?

Ten-Percenters

I speculated recently that if Americans provided just 10% of their own food via gardening and hunting, Monsanto would have a cow. I wondered further: Could any elected official propose such an alarming change in the national status quo? More importantly, Could the average American even pull it off?

Ten percent. Every day. Michael Pollan spent a year and wrote a whole book about making just one meal on his own. It seems unlikely any more casual effort would do the trick.

Yet, of course, millions of Americans routinely fed themselves almost entirely from their own gardens, barns, pastures and woodlots up until about the middle of the last century. Obviously it can be done.

Henry challenged us to try to calculate what a 10% self-sufficient garden or game larder would look like. There are probably 100 or more ways to calculate this, and mine can’t be the best. I know some wise-cracker will leave a URL in the comments that has it all tallied up. But for a few minutes’ scratching with a pencil, here are my thoughts:

First, what we grow in the yard: Beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, lettuce, strawberries, and blackberries.

What game we commonly eat: Rabbit, dove (also quail and rail), squirrel and deer.

How much of each? A quick count. We have:

  • 40 bean plants
  • 8 tomato plants
  • 40 lettuce plants
  • 2 pepper plants
  • 1 blackberry bush
  • 3 strawberry plants
  • (plus herbs, not counted)

My hawk hunts mostly small birds and rats he eats by himself on the spot. We are not usually hunting “for the pot.” But he does get about 30 rabbits a season and maybe 20 table-ready birds, all of which we eat. Rina catches or I scavenge (don’t tell) about 5 squirrels for gumbo each season; and we have all the deer products (stew meat, sausage, etc) we want from friends. Even so, we don’t eat as much of it as we could.

You need, say, 2000 calories a day. A nice round figure, pun intended.

10% of that is 200 calories, call it the Revolutionary Threshold. We can extrapolate that to 6000 calories a month per patriotic American male.

How much home-grown or self-killed food do you have to eat in a month to join the Revolution?

Here it gets real fuzzy. I found a few sites online that provide rough calculations of caloric value for fruits and veggies. My wife, who does some nutritional counseling in her work in athletics, has a nice computer program that lists same for game meats.

I just now ran around the yard counting fruits and plants and weighing cherry tomatoes, etc., on the hawk’s gram scale. Super-duper fuzzy now. But here we go.

  • 100g beans (20 beans) = 25 cal.
  • 100g cherry tomatoes (5 ch.tom.) = 17 cal.
  • 100 grams lettuce (20 leaves) = 13 cal.
  • 100 grams peppers (2 peppers) = 18 cal.
  • 100 grams blackberries (20 berries) = 20 cal.
  • 100 grams strawberries (10 berries) = 70 cal.

So right there you can start your engines. You could, for example, eat 200 blackberries a day and call yourself a Revolutionary Hero.

But say that’s not practical. Say it’s more berry than you’d care to eat. And since my single bush probably makes only 300 berries in an entire season (which only lasts a couple months), you see it’s not even possible with berries alone.

And to calculate how much garden I’d need to provide 1 person 200 calories a day, I have to know how much garden I have. Back to the plants:

  • 40 bean plants X 20 beans per month = 800 beans = 1000 calories a month
  • 8 cherry tomato plants X 100 tomatoes per month = 800 tomatoes = 2,720 calories p/m
  • 40 lettuce plants X 40 leaves per month = 1600 leaves = 1040 calories p/m
  • 2 pepper plants X 2 peppers per month = 4 peppers = 36 calories p/m (WOW)
  • 1 blackberry bush = 300 berries per season = 300 calories
  • I won’t go into strawberries; mine sucked wind this year.

Our Revolutionary Hero would need 6000 calories of veggies per month. I’m making (by the above super-fuzzy mathematics) a little over 5000 calories. Another bean bed would put me in the running.

But what about my wife and kids? Count Revolutionary Wife at 4,500 calories per month (10% her normal ration), and Revolutionary Drummer Girls at 5,000 per month combined, and that will require a garden about three and half times the size of our current one.

Doable, but not actually being done.

But hey! We haven’t even killed anything yet!

Meat may be murder, but it’s also chock full o’calories. If you round the already-pretty-close caloric values of those above-mentioned lean game meats, you get about 130 calories per each 100 gram serving. If you eat a supper of those 3.5 ounces of game, a side of 20 beans, a salad of 20 lettuce leaves and 5 tomatoes, and you top it off with a handful of berries, you’ve got your 10% daily intake right there. Welcome to the Revolution!

If it wasn’t nearing my bedtime, I’d break down our rabbit-to-deer ratio for those who’ve read me this far. But it isn’t necessary. I think it’s clear that if you combine game meat (1 deer a season, a few good rabbit and dove hunts), with an active garden on a normal-sized suburban lot, you can provide 10% of your caloric needs without ever stepping foot in Whole Foods Market or bowing at the foot of Monsanto. If you fish, you’re in like Flinn. And if you brew your own beer, brother, you’ve got it made!

Attack of the Scientific Reductionists

LiveScience reported yesterday on new research published in this month’s Genetics (the journal of the Genetics Society of America) attempting to determine the existence and location of genes for “tameness” in animals. According to the LiveScience version, “A study of nasty and nice lab rats has scientists on the verge of knowing the genes that separate wild animals like lions and wolves from their tame cousins, cats and dogs.”

LiveScience provides a brief background on the study, which uses a population of rats now almost 40 years in captivity:

“The roots of this study date back to 1972 when researchers in Novosibirsk, in what is now Russia, caught a large group of wild rats around the city. Back at the lab, the researchers arbitrarily separated the rats into two groups. In one group, called the tame rats, the scientists then mated the friendliest rats, those that tolerated humans, with one another, and in the other group they mated the most aggressive rats with each other. “

The study itself includes more detail on the development of its subject population:

“To select the animals, their response to an approaching human hand was observed, and the rats showing the least and the most aggressive behavior were allowed to mate within the two lines, respectively. The initial response to selection was rapid and then slowed, so that little change in behavior from generation to generation has been observed in the last 10–15 generations, although the selection regime has been continued to the present. Today, the ‘tame’ rats are completely unafraid of humans, they tolerate handling and being picked up, and they sometimes approach a human in a nonaggressive manner. By contrast, the ‘aggressive’ rats ferociously attack or flee from an approaching human hand.”

The rapid development of ‘tameness’ through selective breeding is interesting to those of us who believe domesticated animals can be produced rather quickly. The remarkable Russian fox experiment is relevant here and is referenced in this rat study. There is an ongoing debate about the possibility of rapid domestication, even numerous independent domestications, in ancient dogs. In the falconry context, I’m convinced that selective breeding of Harris hawks (Parabuteo unicinctus) has produced demonstrably tamer and more cooperative birds in as few as five generations—I’ve been witness to this in my lifetime.

The popular reporting on this study seems to focus on the notion that domestic animals and their wild counterparts could be separated by few or even a single gene; that somehow all of what makes a “wild animal” wild is encapsulated in one trait.

As anyone who has lived and worked with animals both wild and domestic can tell you, it’s nothing like that simple.

Animals, regardless their origins or number of generations in captivity, are incredibly (irreducibly) complex beings, individuals every one. Their complexity mirrors their environments, which even in the Spartan conditions of a laboratory may be more variable than we like to assume. In “the wild,” those variables are innumerable and subject researchers to principles of uncertainty, acknowledged or not.

The result is enormous diversity and confounding truths. Very tame animals, for example, are common in the wild. Island endemics like those of the Galapagos are well known, but any falconer with sufficient experience can tell of wild-taken hawks flying freely to hand in a matter of days and behaving entirely at ease in human company. Steve’s falconry mentor even had a pair of free-roaming goshawks eating from his hand.

Conversely, stories of domesticated dogs attacking the hand (this study’s key signature of the ‘wild type’) are so commonplace as to serve as the classic example of what is not news!

What can the science of genetics tell us about these cases?

Volumes, I’m sure. But I’m equally sure that the complicated truth about our genes and our environment will never be wholly revealed in the lab. It may never be wholly revealed at all, but merely intuited and approximated by those (like falconers, sheppards, hunters) whose lives intersect and entwine with wild and domestic animals. For many, that will be revelation enough.

News from The Front

The situation on the ground since my last Revolutionary Update is good. The troops are flourishing, even as the local heat and dry spell continue. Pictures to follow.

But first, I’m pleased to forward this Revolutionary Report from our friends The Barrows, who are furthering their plan for financial independence by putting in their first garden. Begins Garden Sergeant Major Soo:

“After days of digging and forty bags of compost and garden soil from Home Depot, we found ourselves with 240 square feet of lumps of clay. I reassured Gregg that in time, with plenty of compost, these lumps would somehow change into the rich, dark, crumbly, loam shown in all of my gardening books. I don’t think I convinced either of us.”

What Soo and Gregg have accomplished after that uncertain start is amazing. See for yourself!

Henry Chappell also writes in with news and pictures of the war effort in his neck of the woods, and this well-deserved raspberry at Big Ag.

Back at Camp Mullenix, the battalion stands at parade rest.


The tomatoes have nearly reached the top of their 10-foot high poles and are full of fruit.



The lettuce still looks nice but is decidedly delicate now in this heat. And I think the taste of the leaves has suffered some. An interesting and ongoing experiment in summer greens.


Here the blackberries peek through the weathering yard fence. They are small and tart but the girls still like to sprinkle them on their morning cereal.


Both the pole beans and the bush beans are now producing. These have been a big hit with the kids. Speaking of beanpoles, the sunflower is almost as tall as B.

And note Rina to right, standing guard against rogue squirrels.



And here’s what a day’s harvest can bring….


I bring these updates to you mostly out of pride, but also as evidence of what good (what Resistance!) may be possible, even in the suburbs. None of us is a farmer; we all have jobs and families and other hobbies to distract us. And yet there is space and time enough to grow a little something to eat and a little bit farther from our tragic economy.

Trapped!

Sunday afternoon I heard a loud buzzing noise coming from the living room, and found this broad-tailed hummingbird had flown in through one of the french doors. He was totally disoriented and trying to fly through closed windows. I opened doors and windows and tried to shoo him out.

He flew up to the top of a door where he rested for a while and then went up to a second-story window and tried to fly through it. Connie climbed a ladder up there, caught him in a towel, and released him on the deck.

He revived himself at our feeder and went back to fighting with the other hummingbirds for feeder access.