To Come…

Reviews, short notes,and recommendations on things as various as a strange English memoir with angling (Luke Jenning’s Blood Knot), a fairly technical and indispensable book on bird anatomy and evolution (Gary Kaiser’s The Inner Bird– see Darren; link later), and Sy Montgomery’s Birdology, which I will review at length in Living Bird– my favorite books so far this year in addition to the one in the next sentence. New readers drawn by the discussions in the posts above should check out the review of John Vaillant’s The Tiger, my other new favorite, which also relates to the rifle post “next door”.

Meanwhile, Chad Love at The Mallard of Discontent, an always good if often rueful hybrid of literature, angst and good redneck esthetics, has found a musical YouTube so hilarious and brilliant (and outrageous and ABSOLUTELY NSFW!) that I’m glad it didn’t get him fired from his day job at F & S. For every kid who ever read The October Country or Something Wicked This Way Comes (which takes on a certain new meaning here): the video named, uhhh: “Fuck me, Ray Bradbury!”.

(And PLEASE don’t argue that he is not a “real” SF writer like Heinlein– he is a writer’s writer, which is why writers-to- be and lit kids everywhere loved him & seemingly still do).

Update: it is rumored that 90 year old Bradbury sent a fan note to the singer!

Military Rifles and the LATE Great Game

To continue the series on guns I have & like, humble & noble…

I don’t have a military Mauser because I already have a first rate example built as sporting one.

I don’t have a Springfield because with a gun of similar action and caliber (Mauser) it seems a bit redundant.

I don’t have a Mosin Nagant and given my Russophilia “might should”. I tell people I am holding out for a rare lever action model 95 Winchester made in Mosin’s caliber for the Czarist army (it would probably have to be a gift!– money isn’t getting better!)

I DO have two very different very utilitarian military rifles with a long history in Asia. Lots of cheap ammo is still available for both, from corrosive primer Pakistani army ANCIENT .303 British (clean with lots of Windex) to that steel case Russian 7.62 X 39 James McMurtry sings about– Russian bubba ammo. (Though remember its role in Vaillant’s Tiger).

The English bolt rifle is a late SMLE (Short Magazine Lee Enfield)in .303, Great Britain’s Empire gun for most of the 20th century, for years the most popular caliber in Canada, and a modest caliber that has taken every big game animal in Africa. It is still used by park rangers in Nepal and India. An old guide friend in BC once dropped a moose dead in its tracks at 400 yards using the elevated military sights– I prefer its excellent “ghost ring” peep, still good for my old eyes at 100 yards or so.

It is my favorite military action. Before they switched to (mostly– I have seen pix of some uncanny sporting Rigby Mauser clones) AK47 variants, the infamous weapons shops of Peshawar built many Enfields, complete with English proof marks. I wonder whether the gun toted by the Afghan hunter in this Kenworthy sculpture, photo’d by Sir Terence Clark, is one of those? It is certainly an SMLE.

Here are the two guns, the English bolt (older ones were used in WW I) and the late WWII Russian (actually this one is Yugoslav) semiauto that fires a similar bullet from a MUCH smaller case, and is because of its cheapness and ruggedness and the availability of ammo the choice of poor hunters from the Ozarks to Kamchatka. (Its bayonet is useful but generally as a “stand”– you extend it and stick it into the ground so your rifle remains high and dry and vertical). I like having one around for it Asian history, its utter utility, its cheap ammo, and because it pisses off some who love Gentleman’s Guns like my Grant, for I am a socially equivocal creature who rather likes both– lifestyles as well as guns…

The SKS is more accurate than the popular “pray & spray” AK47 of the same caliber, but I would admit (Arthur?) the long barrel and the good peep make me shoot the Enfield better.

(I should add that they are on a Kazakh wall hanging that might have seen either in a previous life).

While I am on the unlikely intersection of guns in Asia and Asian textiles I must show off a gorgeous Uzbek embroidered gunslip made specifically for the short version of the SMLE, the “Jungle Carbine”, obtained for me by old friend, falconer, and textile scholar Eric Wilcox. Nothing else fits its length and bolt hole. I’ll never get rid of it– anybody have a Jungle carbine that needs a home?

New Bird

After all the hints, he’s here– my “shotgun range” falcon! Yesterday we drove down to Bill Meeker’s breeding facility east of El Paso (and general animal friendly house– Ataika nearly went nuts trying to get to know –I hope only that!– their totally intact skunk through the bedroom door) to pick up a chamber raised tiercel Red headed falcon of the sub- Saharan race. He is only two days out of the chamber, hoods well, eats on the fist,and bites like a dog. I love him.

Pix are mostly self explanatory–will get more later in the week. 500 miles in a day brings out every bad symptom of my every condition, but we had fun with Bill and Becky, and the bird is PERFECT.

And a couple of Becky with Taik and her koi tank just for fun…

Photo Blogging: Daniela’s Pack

Daniela went to California to pick up a pup, one of the grandsons of her old Lahav, from falconer – scientist Alberto Palleroni. Their dam is a distinguished young lady from the Gulf who I believe has actually caught coyotes all by herself! They were raised around his Gyrs who like many such fed them, and they learn fast.

Three pups on what was once a hose. Blaze, the bold little smooth on the right, came to Magdalena with D., and we will give updates on him.

Daniela also created this sort of comic strip of the all- male household the pup, God help him, is joining (click to enlarge). The big old dog leading the action is Lahav, 12- year- old former coursing champ and grandfather of the pup, as well as father (by Lashyn) of Shunkar, the younger cream visible here, and our Irbis. The other dog is the inimitably goofy semi- lab rez dog Shugr, who has patiently raised the saluki pups like a doting aunt. (Lahav often finds them annoying).

Season’s Change: A little Photo Bogging

… to hold you. Apologies for light content; I have been very busy on everything from house repair to mushrooming to just exercising for my health (exhausting). I am also trying, no, plotting, to revive Q- the- Book, at least in NM…

Meanwhile: Monday, my neurologist gave me a thumbs- up. Performance was up in all categories– balance, walking, coordination–and she actually said: “Keep doing it all– weights, treadmill, daily stretches, walking, eating three serious meals and four a day on weight days, meds [no increase needed!] and [!] drinking your nightly vodka– you must be doing something right!” (Actually, moderate alcohol consumption increases ones’ natural dopamine production, A Very Good Thing for PD).

We are also getting housing & kit ready for the redheaded tiercel who we hope to acquire in El Paso this coming weekend.

I went and discarded much saved “links” stuff- it ages!– but promise some more up to date material soon (and with luck and time more book reviews).

Meanwhile the monsoons did a decent enough job of nearly daily storms for us to fill two of our big jars with dried boletes– that is, at least a year’s worth- and didn’t quite burst our ceiling. Though the leaks, in the library and the gunroom, scared us once, the rains seem to be winding down and now we can attempt to seal the roof before snow flies. The still often water- saturated sunsets, full of red light, are slipping toward fall, and though the lowlands are still sweltering the nights are cool at our 6500 feet. The first antelope hunts have already begun…

Rescue update

I’ve been trying to keep an eye on the rescued juvenile osprey. It was great to see him sitting upright in the nest the day after his ordeal, but his sibling has been doing plenty of flying while our rescuee stays put. Yesterday afternoon I saw him on the pole near the nesting platform, but I had a hunch something wasn’t right. It’s an odd place for him to be – near and below the nesting platform. If he had tried to fly but had a problem, it would be a logical place to land.

I waited until this morning to go back and check on the osprey family, and was surprised to see the rescuee wasn’t still on the short pole. Sibling and mother were on the nesting platform, but took to the air when I arrived. I soon found the rescuee, on the ground underneath the platform. When I approached, the bird didn’t fly. I got within about eight feet, and decided he must have been hurt more than anyone had thought. He could spread his wings, but was unsteady on his feet.

I backed off and called the Wyoming Game and Fish, asking them to send someone out to get the injured bird. One of my favorite WG&F guys, Ken Mills (who usually deals with wolves) was in the office when I called, so he came down to see what he could do. Ken walked right up to the bird and gently picked him up, grasping him firmly next to his body.

Although Ken had brought a cage, we stuffed the osprey into the arm of a sweatshirt and Ken put him in the cab of the truck next to him for the ride to the vet’s office in Pinedale. After a thorough exam, the vet determined nothing was broken, that the bird was still weak and trying to recover from its traumatic ordeal. Ken returned the raptor to the ground under the nesting platform late in the afternoon, much to the relief of its nervous mother. Hopefully she’ll keep feeding him on the ground until he is able to fly back to the platform. We’ll watch out for him as we can.

As for my other rescued animal, I’ve decided to name the dog Evita. She’s still a very ill animal, but she wags her tail at us, loudly guards her kennel, and has fallen madly in love with Jim. Jim’s the guy who has to put those pills down her throat at least twice a day (I do the mid-day dose) but he also rolls around on the ground petting her. They have a competition as to which one can melt more closely into the ground in submission, which seems to tickle her.

I took Evita out of the kennel for a walk this morning, but she was uncomfortable and didn’t want to go very far. At least she found a tasty bone for me to carry back to her kennel. I think we’ve got a long, slow recovery process to get this sweet girl back to a full life. That’s okay, because we’re in no hurry here on the ranch. Our schedule is the one set by nature.

Day of rescue

Yesterday was a day of rescue. The day before, the vet’s office in Pinedale called me about a sheep dog that had been brought in that was in very bad condition. I was in town for a meeting, so I dropped by to look at her and confirm it wasn’t a dog I knew. I didn’t know her, but was struck by how much she resembles my older female Akbash, Luv’s Girl. This young dog had recently had pups, was battling a raging internal infection, and was very weak, her unkept coat full of tags and discharge. I couldn’t get her image out of my mind as I drove home making calls trying to be sure none of my sheepmen friends were missing a dog. None were, and she had been picked up in a fairly remote mountainous region. It was obvious she hadn’t been cared for in a very long time.

So yesterday morning when Jim prepared for work, I asked him to put the dog crate into his truck “just in case” he needed it before the end of the day. I called the vet’s office when it opened, and said I would take the dog, but they cautioned that they weren’t sure she was going to make it. I suggested she might do better in my quiet grassy kennel with sheep grazing nearby than in a sterile kennel in town with unfamiliar noises, if they thought I was able to provide the care she needed. They would get back to me by the end of the day, so I headed out to check the herd, believing I probably wouldn’t get the dog after all.

The sheep were fine, and as I approached our place on my return trip home four hours later, I saw the Wyoming Game and Fish Department regional supervisor Bernie Holz sitting across the highway in his pickup truck. I waved and continued to the house, and once inside, opened the living room curtains and noticed something wasn’t right in the landscape spread out before me. A bright white object was dangling under the osprey nesting platform half-mile across the pasture. One of the juvenile birds had become entangled in the nesting material and was hanging upside down under the nest, unable to free itself. The birds are extremely attracted to the brightly colored twine used on hay bales, of which there is a never-ending supply in ranch country.

I drove back to talk to Bernie and learned he’d called the power company, and a bucket truck should arrive within the hour. I continued on with my chores while I waited for the power company, and during that time received the call from the vet’s office. The dog was doing a little better and they had decided she would be happier with me, but whether she would survive was still questionable. I called Jim and asked him to pick up our new friend on his way home from work.

The power company arrived and I photographed the process of two men untangling the by now completely limp young osprey. They placed the bird back into the nest while its mother screamed and hovered nearby.

When I checked on the bird at 6 p.m., he seemed lifeless, with the wind blowing his tail and wing with no resistance.

Jim brought the rescue dog home and we set out to make the nervous dog comfortable, putting out hay for bedding, and food and water. She seemed to settle down when Jim put an armful of wool left over from this spring’s shearing into the pen. She stuck her nose deep into the wool, then curled into it as her bed. We took her a few treats, which she politely consumed once we departed, but we mostly left her alone for the evening, softly talking to her out an open window.

This morning Jim had to force an antibiotic pill down the dog’s throat – regrettable but necessary. Within a few hours, she was up and wagging her tail while she barked at another dog and the nosey burro lurking nearby. When I went into the kennel to clean up, she showed me her belly in submission. Nice, but I prefer happy wags, not submission. Still, it was progress.

Bernie left a message asking for an osprey status update, but I dreaded returning his call since at last check yesterday the bird was flat as a pancake, getting blown about by the wind. I decided to check the nest one more time to be sure and was shocked to see both juveniles sitting upright next to their mother this morning. One juvenile flew from the nest, but the other remained. Still recuperating from yesterday, it had at least survived the night and was upright today.

That’s major progress for both my rescued critters from yesterday. I’ll take every small success I can get.

John Vaillant’s The Tiger

Here it is, Q- Philes– John Vaillant’s The Tiger: a True Story of Vengeance and Survival is finally out this week. It is better than good– my favorite book of the year so far, and a likely classic in my rare favorite genre, that which documents (to use a book title) “the edge of the wild”, that interface where humans and “nature” are not artificially separated but in conflict or cooperation, acting on each other.

Tiger is a non- fiction book that reads like a novel, set in “Primorye”, the Russian Far East– not “Siberia”, despite its desperately cold winters– but rather a huge block to the east and south of Siberia, a rugged place of mixed deciduous forests, few roads, a flora and fauna mixing the temperate and the subtropical (like leopards and tigers), inhabited by a never- prosperous populace now eking out their lives by such expedients as beekeeping and subsistence poaching.

Its protagonists are a single huge tiger, a ragged bunch of drunken poachers, and a patrol of anti- poaching rangers dedicated to protecting tigers over a huge area, with no money and inadequate tools. The beginning, as an unnamed hunter and his dog approach a dark cabin on a freezing evening, is a masterpiece of tension and quiet terror; the ending is utterly cinematic but real (the book is based on over 200 interviews). In between, Vaillant skilfully cuts from one “protagonist” to another, building an almost unbearable tension even as he dramatizes the serious issue of Asian poaching.

He manages to evoke sympathy for a man- killing tiger that outdoes any in Corbett (at one point he drags a mattress out under the shelter of a spruce to await his next victim in comfort; waits for another IN HIS BED; toward the end,`a la Kipling’s “Letting In the Jungle”, he appears to be contemplating the elimination of a village), but also for destitute subsistence poachers tempted by the Han Empire’s eternal appetite for animal parts, and above all for the underpaid, overworked, and threatened Russian rangers, who use SKS’s in 7.62 X 39 (on brown bear, moose, and sadly tiger if they must) because they are the BEST rifles available! (Regular readers will recall previous posts on my love/ hate for this working man’s rifle and cartridge– more later, but I would never use it for such animals if I didn’t have to!) On the other hand, a scene where a poacher pulls the trigger on an ancient Mosin and, instead of the firing pin falling, in the words of James McMurtry it “didn’t, quite…”, doesn’t end well; perhaps the rangers are doing the best they can.

(In fact, my only extremely minor quibble with the book is re firearms: if you know a bit it can be momentarily confusing; if you don’t, though, you won’t even notice. But a poacher’s badly- handloaded 16 gauge single- shot shotgun is not a “rifle”, and using a thing like that to try to poach an Amur tiger is the exact kind of drunken Russian foolery that is likely to bring on Nemesis, on wheels, with no brakes…)

But really, a quibble– this is an amazing book, one to stand with Arseniev and Corbett, its worthy predecessors. Annie Proulx sent me an early galley, asking that I return it as soon as I finished, and I was so blown away I asked– well, demanded!– another copy from the press, to quote to my friends until the real thing came out months later. On the Amazon site she says:

“The Tiger is the sort of book I very much like and rarely find. Humans are hard-wired to fear tigers, so this book will attract intense interest. In addition to tiger lore and scalding adventure, Vaillant shows us Russia’s far east and its inhabitants, their sometimes desperate lives interwoven with the economics of poaching and the politics of wildlife conservation… This is a book not only for adventure buffs, but for all of us interested in wildlife habitat preservation.”

Another good writer, Sy Montgomery’s friend Liz Thomas, adds:

“In it are chilling accounts of human encounters with tigers—but these encounters, however fearsome, convincingly demonstrate the role that these enormous cats continue to play in the natural world. Equally compelling are the people of Primorye, those who of necessity must hunt the tigers, and those who would preserve them. To call this book a page-turner is an understatement.”

I rarely quote other writers in praise of a book I like– as anyone who knows me knows, I am secure in my opinions (!) But in this case, I think this book is so good I want to remind readers that writers I respect and who like MY writing– “friends of Q”– are as over the top about The Tiger as I am. Run don’t walk…