Cyanocitta cristata

Somehow it always seems to surprise me when I see these Blue Jays of my youth out here at the western end of their range. I hadn’t seen this many at once before at our feeders. There was a fourth who wouldn’t cooperate with the photo process.

They ended up getting bullied off the food by a bigger Scrub-Jay.

But they’ll be back now that the weather’s turning.

Denver & Rio Grande

We recently finished fieldwork for a wind farm project in south-central Colorado, Huerfano County to be exact. We found quite a few prehistoric sites, that I’ll talk about in another post, but perhaps the most significant historic thing we found was an abandoned grade of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.

The D&RG was founded in Denver in 1870, and its principal director was General William Jackson Palmer. At that time, most of the major railroads and the minds of the American public were focused on the big east-west transcontinental routes, the first of which had only been completed the previous year. Palmer’s strategic vision was different, and he wanted a north-south oriented railroad that would link Denver with the unserved markets in New Mexico and Mexico. Once that was accomplished, the D&RG would swing west to the Pacific.

Palmer also took a unique approach to the equipment he wanted to use to build and operate the railroad. At that time there was no agreement on a universal railroad gauge – the distance between the rails. In the US the most common gauge was 4 feet – 8 1/2 inches, that later became known as “standard gauge” but it was hardly standard at the time. There had been experiments in Europe with the use of a narrow gauge, 3 feet, and some felt that it was more efficient for hauling freight than wider gauges. At any event, narrow gauge was much cheaper to build, and that helped Palmer to decide on its use.

The D&RG starting building south from Denver and reached Colorado Springs in 1871. The line was completed to Pueblo in 1872, and later reached our project area in 1876. Narrow gauge never proved to be as efficient as standard gauge and this portion of the line was converted to standard gauge in 1890. It was eventually abandoned in 1932 for a right of way closer to the foothills that is still in use.

The picture above shows a wooden trestle still standing nearly 80 years after the route was abandoned.

We also saw a number of these sandstone culvert structures that were part of the original 1876 construction. Those are the Spanish Peaks off on the horizon.

This close-up shows the ceramic culvert pipes that were housed under the sandstone. We used to really know how to build things in this country.

Here’s view looking northwards along the top of the grade from atop one of the culverts.
Our work was met with skeptical looks from the locals.

Born to Hunt

John Barsness has just released his latest book, Born to Hunt, a collection of essays that ranges from his home in Montana to Africa and the Arctic, along with more obscure destinations like Norway and Ireland.

If you read magazines you surely know that John is one of the most prolific “gun writers” alive, as well as one of the most experienced hunters. What more casual readers may not realize is that John, who started as a poet (and the son of a Montana-born English professor) is one of the most lyrical hunting writers around, as well as one who has truly lived “the life of the hunt” (which is also the title of his last collection of essays). He and his wife Eileen Clark eat more game than anyone else I know, including me — and we eat far more game than domestic meat. They are also both good writers.

This collection, though well-rooted in the Rockies and the north country and alive with elk and mule deer, moose and caribou and grizzly and the ways of the Inuit, roams as far afield as John has — which is to say as far as anyone I know who was not born with a trust fund. If I have one (minor) whining complaint it is that his only mentions of game birds are glancing if elegant asides on such as sage grouse; I’d love to see more bird hunting.But this is a book about big game and food, and maybe as befits a sixty-ish hunter, mortality.

John knows the Real Things and Big Truths. On wilderness, he quotes Teddy Roosevelt saying that Roosevelt “…grew up in the cradle of 19th century civilization, part of an aristocratic New York family, but felt healthy humans needed occasional time with naked nature.” Roosevelt said of hunting and the wilderness that “the wilderness hunter must not only show skill in the use of the rifle and address in finding and approaching game, but he must also show the qualities of hardihood, self-reliance, and resolution needed for effectively grappling with his wild surroundings. The fact that the hunter needs the game, both for the meat and for its hide, undoubtedly adds zest to the pursuit.”

He also knows that real hunting, where you pack everything out, is brutally hard work as well as fun. Eileen has badly compromised lungs because of a rare disease, but is one of the hardest hunters I know. She “…packed half the ewe out on her back a round in her 30-06’s chamber as we hiked through grizzly country smelling like fresh blood. You cannot buy a day like that, or meat that tastes like mountain meadows, or the God’s-eye view from timberline, where the mountains rise in a line from Canada and the prairies disappear in the earth’s curve. The only way you can find that particular part of the Rockies is to climb it yourself, each step like the hard pulse of a mountain’s heart.”

He knows the scarier truths: that when you are out there in the wilderness, asleep in a tent, “…there come memories beyond our five external senses, deeply imbedded reminders that there isn’t much separating us from all that is around us, whether the darkness beyond the fire the stars wavering in the heat waves from the wall tent’s stove pipes, are lions or grizzly bears.” But he knows purely funny truths too, including one that I have noticed myself, birding with an old PH in Hwange in Zimbabwe: “African professional hunters, unlike many North Americans, don’t regard bird-watching as a subversive if not actually wimpy activity. Russell, who shot hundreds of elephant and buffalo on control, proved just as adept at identifying a saddle-billed stork or a cape teal.” There are even nuggets of useful advice and hard-earned knowledge — the skills you need to ride in a horseback pack hunt; the fact, that seems utterly unremarkable to me, that you are as likely to find good meat on a big-racked bull as on a fat doe (I think over-privileged trophy hunters use the cliche of the inedible big bull as an excuse to give away the meat. The more for me!)

Finally there is a poet’s delight in pure writing. To find a big mule deer “…his hard land must be entered softly without breaking the horizon with our bi-pedal stance. We must ease inside — and then sit down, like some high country accountant and pore over the same land again and again, rechecking the same columns of numbers, until we find the big-antlered anomaly in all that tilted space.” Or, on Cape Buffalo “We probed the herd’s perimeter like infantry, armed only with my .416, Russell’s old .458, and just enough adrenaline to make buffalo appear like black holes in green space.

Go to Rifles and Recipes and buy this one. And The Life of the Hunt, and Rifle Loony, and Eileen’s big cookbook (perhaps the most useful game cookbook ever; after all, what other cookbook writer eats no domestic meat?) or, with confidence, just about anything else there.

And here’s John with his latest, post-book buff, taken with that CZ .416, which I sold him a long time ago and he modified to be something like Harry Selby’s– the story is in Rifle Loony.

Fall shipping

This seemingly peaceful scene is deceptive (click photos to enlarge). That’s Vega, one of the Aziat females, lounging on the hillside in the foreground of the parked sheep wagons, trying to ignore what we were doing to her herd. Just outside of the photo are the portable sheep pens, filled to the brim with thousands of sheep. The sheep would be sorted, with ewes released back onto the range, and the lambs loaded on trucks for Pete’s annual lamb sale. This is a herder from Nepal, keeping the sheep bunched toward the front of the pen.

Here’s the overall scene, with the lambs walking up the ramp onto a semi in the right of the image.

Typical, beautiful range lamb. Its unique earmarks are Pete’s registered mark.

Three sheep camps lined up together nearby, with their supply wagons.

We did the sorting and shipping on Thursday, at what is known as Ten Trees – a spot on the emigrant’s trail, named for the characteristic that made it different from the miles and miles of landscape surrounding it. There are a few trees left, but not 10. As we worked, a winter storm began to threaten.

Vega’s son Mikey is the lead dog in this image. He hasn’t seen me for a year, and followed me around all morning, with a young dog tagging along behind.

It rained as we worked, and eventually the rain turned to snow.

This pretty young ewe stopped for a minute to watch the goings-on before rejoining her herd for grazing.

This is Mikey’s mother, Vega (sister to my Aziat Rant).

Livestock protection dogs hate it when people mess with their sheep. The dog in the middle of this herd in the photo below was very upset with the situation, and stayed among her herd, sulking, the entire time.

We finished loading the lambs within a couple of hours, just as the snow was really starting to fall. By the next morning, we had six inches of snow on the ground. It’s all gone from the lowlands, but the mountains are still getting dumped on, four days later.

Matt’s Whereabouts

Hello All! I’m still here, reading and enjoying the continuing chatter at Querencia.

“Been busy” is inadequate to explain my lack of correspondence; so to overstate it only a little, I sometimes feel I’ve been travelling for two years down a long tunnel, away from myself: Little writing for pleasure; falconry pared to bare-essentials; contemplative reading replaced with scanning and abstracting—a cut-and-paste mental life facilitated by smart phones. 

But it’s more likely just the commonplace post-40 existence, with our one-mortgage/two-income family, two pre-teen children and four aging parents.  It’s a lot to do and talk about at the same time.
Here’s a small blog contribution from my morning hunt.  This is Rina the whippet and Ernie the Harris’s hawk, hunting in the tall weeds near home.

Notice the big crop.  The team might have spoiled our Tuesday hunt with their Sunday morning gluttony…

UPDATE: My friend Tyler called just after dark for help pulling a deer (this adult buck with stunted rack, “still good for meat”) from the woods behind our neighborhood.  It’s bow season, and this is Tyler’s first kill for the year.  A small buck, says Tyler, but big enough to feed three families.

Young Eli

I’ll slow down the doting grandpa stuff after this weekend but here is Jack’s own link to Elisha Joseph (a middle name he shares with my dad, who has often featured here) Frishman, with pix funny and touching.

Jackson also sent some excellent pix of the late Big Eli that sum him up better than my profile below, including ones of his daughter who also looks to be carrying on the tradition…

Baby Name

He’ll have a good old- fashioned name, “Eli” (Elisha) after the late Eli Tripp, our “other kid” in Montana and a worthy namesake. My obit quoted his local one for some examples of his interests.

“In addition to taking courses at NYU Film School and MSU, Eli was a student of life, backpacking in Europe and the Arizona desert. He filmed, painted, sculpted and chronicled the many challenges of his life through epic poetry. He had a voracious taste for film, literature and a passion for science. He loved opera, riding his motorcycle, dancing, singing, working his bird dogs, gardening and cooking. But most of all he loved spending hours playing with his kids and teaching them all he knew. Huge bonfires, star gazing, rock hunting, studying animal tracks, playing pirates.

“Eli loved to help others. He trained as an EMT, worked in search and rescue, volunteered on the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Posse and was a lieutenant in the Sweet Grass County Sheriff’s Auxiliary. He was an expert shot, a trained sniper for law enforcement, and a founder/partner in Templar Tactical, a Bozeman-based manufacturer of high-quality firearms.”

His mother Patty (Stetson) sent us a fascinating history of his name- I had no idea: “Elisha was named after my great grandfather Elisha Keene Jones who ran away from Danvile, VA to Texas after the Civil War to become a cowboy. When he got tired of that he returned to VA and worked in the tobacco industry… (His cousin was Nancy Langhorne also from Danville– who later became Lady Astor– one of the first– if not the first– female in British Parliament. Her sister married illustrator Charles Dana Gibson who used her as his model and she became known as “the Gibson Girl”). No one in my family ever used that name. My uncles used to ask me where I got the name–I’d have to remind them about their Grandfather… We called him Lishy when he was little– then he wanted to be called Eli–then he started using Elisha again. It’s a good, honorable, interesting and rarely used name…I love it.”

Eli died of Cystic Fibrosis, one of its oldest survivors. He will be a brave example, one who always had fun while being totally aware of his mortality. We approve!

And here are the two Elis.

(Don’t worry about the oxygen, normal for Caesarian babies…)

Long Awaited?

Well, yeah. Here is Niki last week at a St John’s reunion dance with Larissa.

I can’t believe she could still walk never mind dance, but this IS a woman who climbed Mt Taylor’s 11,000 plus feet while visibly pregnant!

Q Blog Post 2500: It’s a (big) boy!

A delightful coincidence: I had hoped for something good to blog for # 2500 but never dared dream it would be this good; the long- awaited birth of the”Peculiar- Querencia baby”! On Sat Oct 1, after two strenuous days of labor, a vigorous boy of 9 pounds 12 ounces (about twice as big as I was) was born to Nicole Mazzia Frishman and my stepson Andrew Jackson Frishman, who blogs as “Peculiar” at O & P and under his own name at Crest Cliff and Canyon. He is our first grandchild. Everyone is (a) exhausted and (b) doing fine.