McIntyre’s Snow Leopard’s Tale

At VERY long last Thomas McIntyre’s Snow Leopard novel is out. I have waited longer for it than I have ever for any other book. Long story…

First, let me quote my own recommendation– I pared it down to say exactly what I wanted to: “McIntyre’s tale may have predecessors, but it is unique. I strain for literary comparisons and think: Kipling, the classical Chinese poets, early Patrick O’Brian, Hopkins. I search for a definition of its animating presence: the predator, the Buddhist sage, the hunter. All fall short. I stand before The Snow Leopard’s Tale in awe and with a little envy. It is a gem, an uncanny evocation of the cold ancient dusty highlands of Central Asia, and could only have come from Tom McIntyre. It is his best.”

The story germinated after McIntyre hunted on the Tibetan plateau over a decade ago, as did an anthology of contemporary Asian sport which never saw publication. It was good the first time he wrote it, and I supposed he would soon sell it to a popular publisher. I even suggested a few; then waited in first impatience, then annoyance as they all returned it, too nervous to buy a book they all assured him was excellent but was neither a hunting book nor “realistic” nor slanted toward a particular audience- of course, that it WAS in some ways a hunting book (ever see a vegetarian snow leopard?), and evokes the environs of Central Asia like no “realist” book, and appealed to any age, and was a weird tale with supernatural elements and a knowledge of natural and human history and cultures were to some of us FEATURES, not bugs…

I then watched with apprehension as he rewrote it more than anyone I ever knew rewrote anything, fearing he would lose the magic as he refined and “densified” the language– see Hopkins ref above. At one time I think I had three versions in my computer! And against all odds it kept getting better.

Finally he sent it to editor Allen Jones at Bangtail, a small quality press in Montana– and…Allen GOT it! He not only loved it and edited with a light hand– he connected Tom with the perfect artist, Wyoming- based Joel Ostlund, whose daughter had actually studied the beast in Asia.

What else can I say– run, don’t walk, buy it, and buy more for friends. Click or right click image below to see it big- it is worth it.

Flyover Country?

Thesis: talk is as good in Magdalena, or the Spur, as anywhere.

It was Sissy Olney, fourth generation rancher and lion hunter, who on seeing me reading Sybille Bedford in that bar, asked me if she were the one who had written “that big fat book about Aldous Huxley”.

Joel Becktell is a world- class cellist, a New Mexico homeboy, a Magdalenian, a friend of Yo Yo Ma. Here he is hosting a dinner for us and the Colorado Raptor Education Foundation, “The Russians” as we sometimes call them (they brought Vadim Gorbatov to the Spur) at his house here.

Last year I was folding up to have a drink but still had the photo below, of Pluvialis in the Gulf under a huge photo of Sheikh Zayed, up on the monitor when Joel knocked on the door. I waved him in, he pointed at the photo and said “Is that Sheikh ZAYED?” When I looked amazed he said almost apologetically ” I know him!” Of course he did.

Omar, long- time “semi- native”, bird dog fancier, game cook and horseman, hosted a party, an elk dinner, for our visitor and friend Jen Wilding from KC last week (she reported last year on Tom Russell’s show there). She took a bunch of pix, and it amused me when I opened them today– longtime incomers, natives, visitors, good talk.

From Sharon who was born here to old- time incomers to Omar’s mate Deb who is on her second time around to Omar’s mother Sandy who just moved to Socorro– all looking at the Artists for Nature Fund volume on the Pyrenees, where Omar’s brother and his Catalan wife Marta, who wrote “Viva Catalunya” in the Spur’s ladies room, run a B & B…

OK, one more: Lee Henderson, rancher, holding up a Vadim Gorbatov print of quail sketched on his ranch. He gave Vadim, who is in the ANF book, his first tequila at the bar…

I KNOW Jackson Hole is more provincial, and sometimes I think Manhattan is…

Jesuit “Final Exam”

This was sent by the biographer of the late legendary Jesuit adventurer, mountaineer, hunter, and my sometime mentor Father Anderson Bakewell, S J, who found it in an 80’s Jesuit newsletter among his effects. It has been around in various iterations, but I wonder, given the rifle , if he were also involved in its creation. His was the only sloth bear in Rowland Ward’s top ten guided by “self” and he was the youngest member of Tilman’s Everest crew, whose pioneering south route was finally accomplished by Hillary– among a lot of other things.

It is also his birthday– happy birthday, Andy, and many thanks to Anne Winter.

INSTRUCTIONS: Read each question carefully. Answer all questions. Time limit: four hours. Begin immediately.

HISTORY: Describe the history of the papacy from its origins to the present day, concentrating especially, but not exclusively, on its social, political, economic, religious, and philosophical impact on Europe, Asia, America, and Africa. Be brief, concise, and specific.

MEDICINE: You have been provided with a razor blade, a piece of gauze, and a bottle of Scotch. Remove your appendix. Do not suture until your work has been inspected. You have fifteen minutes.

PUBLIC SPEAKING: Storming the classroom are 2500 riot-crazed aborigines. Calm them. You may use any ancient language except Latin or Greek.

BIOLOGY: Create life. Estimate the differences in subsequent human culture if this form of life had developed 500 million years earlier, with special attention to its probable effect on the English parliamentary system. Prove your thesis.

MUSIC: Write a piano concerto. Orchestrate and perform it with flute and drum. (You will find a piano under your seat).

PSYCHOLOGY: Estimate the sociological problems which might accompany the end of the world. Construct an experiment to test your theory.

ENGINEERING: The disassembled parts of a high-powered rifle have been placed in a box on your desk. You will also find an instruction manual, printed in Swahili. In ten minutes a hungry Bengal tiger will be admitted to the room. Take whatever action you feel appropriate. Be prepared to justify your decision.

ECONOMICS: Develop a realistic plan for refinancing the national debt. Trace the possible effects of your plan in the following areas: cubism, the Donatist controversy, the wave theory of light. Outline a method for preventing these effects. Criticize this method from all possible points of view, as demonstrated in your answer to the last question.

POLITICAL SCIENCE: There is a red telephone on the desk beside you. Start World War III. Report at length on its socio-political effects, if any.

EPISTEMOLOGY: Take a position for or against the truth. Prove the validity of your position.

PHYSICS: Explain the nature of matter. Include in your answer an evaluation of the impact of the development of mathematics on science.

PHILOSOPHY: Sketch the development of human thought; estimate its significance. Compare with the development of any other kind of thought.

Father B with subarctic bison and .416 Rigby Rifle for Heavy Game

Crab Diaries

A new one for the blogroll: Crab Diaries, the serious, scary, witty, and laugh- out- loud funny journals of… well, she prefers to remain anonymous for now; let us just call her “My friend the Oncologist” and add, since she reveals this in a particularly funny post, that she is a (we met because she is a) Dog Friend.

Who has the best stories?– and no, I am not talking about writers at the moment. I would answer, in my personal experience, E R docs, street cops, ambulance drivers, veterinarians, zookeepers, ranchers on remote spreads; people who are right up against it, who cannot waste time whining or wringing their hands or moaning “Whyyyy?” but who must get up and deal with life and death and accident and wreck, people who must Get The Job Done.

Then they go and tell the most mortal and hilarious stories about it. Long ago Betsy Huntington and I christened a whole sub- genre “Dead Animal Stories”, born at the Zoo (Ask Annie D, who once wanted to call her memoirs Death and Diarrhea), grown to maturity in our hard ranch country. It was no accident that the night she died rancher John Davila (use the search box upper left for a few John tales) and his then- wife Becky showed up with an un-capped bottle of Jack Damage to tell them and remember her…

So it is no wonder that an Oncologist would have such stories, but such writing I have seen by her peers tends to solemnity. Hers loses no ground in seriousness, but is so much better than that. Get over there and read her, not just on death and life and Cancer but also on lying and perfectionism and whether you want your kids to be doctors and even Taking the Dog’s Medicine…

I now officially begin to harass her to write a book.

Altai Roads

Or Central Asian roads in general, are not like western roads. The highway from Ulan Bataaar to Olgii is over six hundred miles long, but it is not paved. It is studded with old car parts and camel bones; sometimes, when the land is flat, its ruts seem to stretch a quarter mile wide and more. In the winter even the “Highway” can just vanish.

When I saw the road where the tomb below was found I did a double take– it certainly looked like ones I had driven on. “Altai Princess” road:

But I think it is just proximity (in a American- Western or Central Asian sense of close, maybe less than one hundred miles away), or the kind of high- desert- with- permafrost environment. Here is my similar road, which also has kurgans, a scant few miles south in Olgii.

On such roads, from Mongolia to the Ukraine, stand the balbals, enigmatic markers, often holding bottles– for ritual snuff?

But though these cultures trained hawks (and may even have invented falconry and more) I have only see one Balbal, in an Olgii museum, that pictured a bird….

California Fieldwork

I spent last week in California doing a survey for a project we have in the San Diego area. The picture above shows the inland scrub environment of the area. If you look closely you can see an old landslide in the middle of the hillside. Believe me, it was plenty hot there last week.

This was our fourth time to visit the area as the project “footprint” keeps changing. We really hadn’t found much of anything in the previous surveys but I did run across a few things this time. In this picture you can see a deflated hearth that is the semicircle of stones near the top of the pic. There is also a stone-lined roasting pit seen as the circle of stones at the edge of the shade near the middle of the picture. There is a 10 cm scale on the north arrow in the picture. We didn’t find any artifacts of any sort in the immediate area, which really leaves us stuck for a guess as to whether these are historic or prehistoric in age.

Later, about 10 meters east of the hearth and roasting pit, we found a feature unlike anything I have seen before. There is a natural intermittent drainage running downhill from north to south here. At some time in the past, someone had worked their way down the drainage taking cobbles out of the bottom of the channel, and stacking them on either bank. You can see the north arrow/scale in the bottom of the channel in this picture. Where the channel curves, cobbles are stacked on the outside of the curve to reinforce the bank.

This goes on for a stretch of about 130 meters, ending abruptly about 30 meters south (and downhill) from the hearth and roasting pit. As I went downhill, I kept expecting this to end in some sort of dam and pool arrangement to trap the water flow increased by deepening the channel, but it just stopped. It doesn’t connect with anything. It appears to have been done by hand, and as with the hearth and roasting pit, there were no artifacts found. I assume all of these features are related.

We frequently find and record lots of irrigation channels and other ditch-like features, but I have never seen a natural drainage modified this way. Quite a mystery, and so far no way to date it. None of the historic documents related to the area give us any clue as to what this might represent.

Several hundred meters from these features, we did find a single isolated prehistoric artifact, this quartzite secondary flake. No indication of use-wear on it. Looks like it just fell out of somebody’s pocket.

Hot Links

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have completed the reconstruction of the Denisovan genome. It still blows me away that the entire collection of physical remains of this group of ancient humans (as different from modern humans and Neanderthals as they are from each other) consists of one finger bone fragment.

Underwater archaeologists have located the wreck of the USS Hatteras off the Texas coast. The USS Hatteras was a Union gunboat sunk in a Civil War sea battle in 1863.

A few years ago, I posted about grits, a staple of Southern cuisine that was finally getting well-deserved attention in the foodie world. This week the NY Times tells us buttermilk, another Southern staple, is finally getting its due.

Last month, Steve posted about ancient Central Asian tattoo designs. This week I just saw this article about the excavation of the tomb of a Siberian “princess” buried in 500 BC. Her body and grave goods were preserved by burial in permafrost, and several tattoos are still visible on her skin.

Becasse, Becassine

We had our first cold snap last night and it somehow has me thinking of the family of snipe, mysterious and delicious migrants. Got them on the wall, pictures of hunts past, and memories, but sure would like to hunt either. Snipe are in the state at least; Tom Daly shot these in Colorado before they arrived in the library.

These more famous ones aren’t bad either.

But a bird in the hand is even better, in any year– this woodcock was back east in ’76, and my last were in 1987. The gun is a Parker 16, long gone…