Bueno perro

I just received my first copies of the about-to-be-released bilingual version of my Brave Dogs, Gentle Dogs: How They Guard Sheep book. This was my first children’s book, and is still my favorite, because it’s some of my favorite subject matter. The Spanish translation was done by Aida E. Marcuse, and the new edition is being released in both hard cover and paperback. This new edition was just honored as a Junior Library Guild selection and is featured in their monthly magazine.

Milton v. Dante, the Cage Match

Continuing the ecclesiastical theme begun by Cat, our shepard, I thought I’d share some thoughts on related readings.

I’ve been on a damnation kick lately (possibly spurred by a recent birthday) and have read in the last few weeks C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, all of Wayne Barlowe’s fascinating infernal art and text, John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno. I suppose I’ll have to get around to the Holy Bible at some point.

Curious about my reading list, my sainted mother asked how I find Milton and Dante and how they compare. I sent her this brief review:

…I am not quite done with Inferno, but here’s my sense of how these two poets differ.

The Dante is in translation, and evidently his many translators disagree on how various passages should be read, and whether the translation should be literal or in spirit (as interpreted by the translator.)

The guy who did my version (Mark Musa) wrote a lengthy introduction titled, “How to Be a Good Lover,” in which he argued for a gentle but active approach to translation. He sees Dante as speaking to Everyman and interprets the poet’s choice of words as colloquial, so translates them in kind. He tries to mirror Dante’s puns but did not try to mirror his rhyme, which he sees in other translations as making for a tortured work that serves the wrong master. He frequently prints the original Italian lines in his page notes so that you can decide for yourself if the cognates make sense. Interestingly, there is a good bit of falconry referenced in this (Dante lived in the 1300s) and obviously he knew the sport; the translations of it are accurate and meaningful.*

All that said, I find Dante’s poem a little too pedestrian, considering the subject matter. He seems to be using the work mostly as a vehicle to make his political statements and lampoon his contemporary rivals. I could be wrong (probably am considering the legs this poem has!) and even after Inferno I will have the epic’s other two parts to read (Purgatorio, Paradiso) so will reserve judgment.

Milton, on the other hand, is glorious, top to bottom. I wept in a couple places where the meaning and the beauty of the words hit a harmonic note. Milton uses every device to get his message across: It reads on one level as an adventure story (I’m sure its original audience ate that up–sex and violence and all!). On other levels it makes painfully clear the wages of sin, and then counters its own arguments with plausible, thoroughly modern excuses for our worst behaviors. No one is set up as a straw man. There are no purely rhetorical figures, a fact that amazed me. Satan, whom Milton paints with incredible complexity and even pity, would be a high-paid talking head in today’s media. Hell, maybe he is!

Milton’s angels are brave and wise in ways that do not seem at all contrived. They seem inspired. Adam and Eve are drawn as complicated full-scale people, faulty in ways we instantly recognize and better in ways we should want to emulate. Eve, like Satan, is thoroughly complex; and while she gets her due, she goes down swinging and comes back up better off. Milton makes Adam do the best he can as a wide-eyed, somewhat naive man who truly loves his wife and his God but cannot do either of them full justice.

It’s just great, start to finish…

* Interesting falconry references from the Dante: First, Emperor Fredrick II, that paragon of falconry lore and higher learning, is right now burning in Hell, according to our guide. In Canto X, we learn that Fredrick repents eternally for the sin of Epicureanism, the seeking of modest pleasures and worldly knowledge. Well, so much for that option!

In Canto XVII, Dante’s narrator and his companion Virgil travel into a lower circle of Hell on the back of the monstrous, winged Geryon, who is none too happy about providing this service. Near the end of the flight, Geryon’s annoyance becomes hard to conceal:

As the falcon on the wing for many hours,
having found no prey, and having seen no signal
(so that the falconer sighs: “Oh, he falls already”),

descends, worn out, circling a hundred times
(instead of swooping down), settling at some distance
from his master, perched in anger and disdain,

so Geryon brought us down to the bottom
at the foot of the jagged cliff, almost against it
and once he got our bodies off his back,

he shot off like a shaft shot from a bowstring.

Here and in the next passage (from Canto XXII) we see something remarkable about these falconry references that prove to me Dante not only knew falconry but expected his 14th century readers to know it as well: These two passages are descriptions not of glorious falconry but of mundane failures, “blown slips” we might call them today.

In this passage, two angry devils are in pursuit of a cheating government bureaucrat (evidently as common an occupation in the Middle Ages as today):

Little good it did, for wings could not outstrip
the flight of terror: down the sinner dived
and up the fiend was forced to strain his chest

like a falcon swooping down on a wild duck:
the duck dives quickly out of sight, the falcon
must fly back up dejected and defeated.

In the meantime, Calcabrina, furious
also took off, hoping the shade would make it,
so he could pick a fight with his companion.

And when he saw the grafter hit the pitch,
he turned his claws to grapple with his brother,
and they tangled in mid-air above the ditch;

but the other was a full-fledged hawk as well
and used his claws on him, and both of them
went plunging straight into the boiling pond.

I’d wager Dante spent many a day in the field with hawks and falcons. Or rather, I wouldn’t risk to wager, lest there be eternal consequence!

The mark of the cross

There are plenty of legends and stories about what wonderful and loyal companions burros make – miners and shepherds of long ago talked to their beasts of burden and treated them like old friends, which they often became. I’m going to venture into new territory here and share a story about the cross mark on a burro’s back. I think of it often, especially when I see the sheep are peaceful, protected by their sweet burros. Our burros are mellow creatures, kind but brave.

Some say that the cross mark on a burro’s back is a sign of love from God. In the story of the Crucifixion, Jesus rode a burro to Jerusalem. The burro wanted to carry the heavy cross for Jesus, but was not allowed, so he followed Jesus to the hill of Calvary. His heart filled with sorrow, the burro was unable to bear to watch the horrible scene before him as Jesus was nailed to the cross. The burro turned his back, but stayed nearby Jesus on the cross, and heard Jesus pray for those who had harmed him. To reward the sweet beast, the shadow of Jesus on the cross fell across the burro’s back and remains there to this day, as a visible symbol of God’s love.

Evening in the pastures

Final check of the day today was beautiful, with stormy skies and a breeze. The sheep and their burros were down by the river, munching on greasewood and bluegrass. Never got a photo of the guard dogs, since they were getting fed at camp nearby.

On our way out of the pasture, flushed two red-tailed hawks from their nesting tree, drove by the female kestrel that hangs out on the fence, and saw a prairie falcon hanging out near where I saw a brood of young sage grouse having a dust bath yesterday.

When we pulled into our driveway, a couple of the rams were posing, and I couldn’t resist. Handsome boys they are.

Bat quest

We have a maternal colony of little brown bats in the barn next to the New Fork River. There is an old stack of doors and plywood leaning against a partition, and the bats move into the spaces between the wood every summer to have their babies.

I call the photo above “The Four Amigos.” Click on the photos to see the larger images.

Yesterday, I asked husband Jim to help me with a project when he got home from work, and he scowled at me, wondering what I was up to. I told him he could hold a beer in one hand, and all he had to do was hold a heatlamp up with the other hand so I could have more light. We went into the barn and with the red bulb in the heatlamp, the bats didn’t seem too disturbed. I got about 30 photos in a couple of minutes, before we closed the doors and left them to the darkness.

We also caught a packrat watching us during the photo shoot, but I never got any good photos. The buggers are sure cute with their big ears, but mercy do they stink!

Turkey vultures

I know very little about turkey vultures, but am fascinated by them. Thirty years ago when I reported I had just seen two vultures in Sublette County, I was met with disbelief. Although still not common here, we do have a few turkey vultures in the summer these days. Our western migrants spend winters in Central or South America. Official maps of turkey vulture summer distribution indicate we still have only a few in this region of western Wyoming. They are wary of human presence and are easily disturbed here, but I know that isn’t the case in areas where they are more abundant.

Hawkwatch International reports that there are about 2 million turkey vultures in North America, which it estimates is 29 percent of the global population. Hawkwatch also reports populations of the Turkey Vulture have:
• increased substantially throughout northeastern North America in the last 30 years and expanded the species’ range northward; and
• increased since the early 1980s in western North America, but declined since the onset of regional drought in the late 1999s.

If you know something about this species, please share some comments. I shot these photos of two vultures yesterday on my way to an artist guild luncheon at Boulder Lake Lodge, in the foothills of the western slope of the Wind River Mountains.


My post of draft horses yesterday included a photo of what we call a beaverslide, which is this wooden contraption used to stack loose hay. Beaverslides dotted ranches throughout the West until the last few decades and its modernization/mechanization of hay harvest. Nowadays, most outfits use gas or diesel-powered balers, but there are still ranches that put up hay in loose stacks – they look like huge green loaves stacked in fields.

From what I’ve read, the beaverslide was actually patented in 1910 as the Sunny Slope Slide Stacker by two ranchers from the Big Hole region of Montana. The slides can stack hay 30 feet high – about 20 tons of feed.

Here’s how it works. On the Campbell Ranch of western Wyoming, first the hay is mowed with draft teams:

After the hay is raked, Walden drives the sweep (a modified tractor with a sweep attachment – this also used to be done with horses), to sweep up the cut hay:

Walden sweeps the hay onto the basket of the beaverslide:

In the old days, the horsepower supplied by a team of horses would run the series of belts or cables that move the basket of hay to the top of slide, allowing it to drop over the top into the stack. Today, this (slightly modified) pickup truck is hooked to the cables of the beaverslide. When Walden’s aunt puts the truck in reverse and slowly drives backwards, the basket rises.

When the basket reaches the top of the slide, the hay spills out into the stack. The men working atop the stack with pitchforks are called stackers and their job is to level the stack as hay is dropped in.

Once this stack is finished, the beaverslide can be skidded to another place in the hay meadow to create the next stack.

To feed the hay in the winter, a draft horse team pulling a sleigh is driven to the stack, where the hay is forked off the top of the stack onto the sleigh. The sleigh is then slowly driven across clean snow (a clean plate every day) and the hay is forked off in a feedline to nourish the livestock.

Mystery Hound

I would have said Taigan myself, as did about 90% of respondents, here and on email But she is an Afghan- poodle cross– a rescue, but unaltered. After three hours with her I can see nothing about her that isn’t oriental sighthound- temperament, gait, structure, voice, even smell. Fascinating! (Yes, Jess, she has the “Afghan “boing”).

I imagine she will shed in spring if she develops a true winter coat, which she may not as she lives in Dallas. She is only 8 months old (Chris?) now so we will have to wait. I know the northernmost one of Ataika’s pups, a male, develops almost this much coat on his legs in winter.

Apparently all 5 litter mates were similar in coat and disposition, but two were (brindled?) gray.

The couple who owns her thought she looked taigan but wanted us to see her— they only knew about taigans from us (Chris knows tazis well, as he is a friend of son Jackson’s (Peculiar), and has been around tazis since his teens).

We will probably feature reports on “Bisy” as she grows older. She is coming out to run with us in the fall.

Incidentally the one breeder of real old- style fierce Afghans we know said that a some Afghans (not hers) were bred to poodles to “improve” them (?!) in the fifties.

Working drafts

Bondurant, Wyoming, gets one heck of a lot of snow in the winter, but grows lush crops of native hay in creekside meadows in the summer. The Campbell Ranch at Bondurant is an old-time outfit, been there forever it seems, and still uses draft horse teams to cut hay in the summer and feeds the hay on horse-drawn sleighs to their cows in the winter. It makes sense for them, with fluctuating diesel prices, and tractors bogging down in snow, to simply continue on in a long-standing tradition. The Campbell men are good friends, gentlemen, and excellent horsemen. They do have tractors and trucks, but each tool has its place, and for the most part, if it can be done with a horse, that’s their preference.

When it’s time to start the hay harvest, things take a logical progression. First, the horses are run into the corral.

My friend Walden Campbell, 12, is the next generation starting to work the draft horses on the ranch. He enjoys the process of harnessing these gentle giants.

This is a portion of the Campbell outfit, with the Gros Ventre Mountains in the background.

The horses are lined up to begin the process of hooking onto the cutting equipment.

One of the summer hands cuts hay behind a team on the ranch. That’s a beaverslide in the background, used to stack loose hay.

This is what a stack of loose hay looks like – a huge bread loaf. You can see the teams working to cut fresh hay in the meadow behind the stack.

While there aren’t many ranches left in this area that use draft teams to harvest their hay crop, there are actually numerous outfits that use draft teams to feed the hay in the winter. Husband Jim has the harnesses for a team hanging in our shed, waiting for the right team to find us as well.