Off to Kansas City on the train tomorrow to get blood drawn and God knows what else in a Parkinson’s study. Soon I hope to have a tablet or laptop, which may (or not) encourage more impulsive posting; but not yet, so blogging is hereby suspended for a couple of days. I will report anything of interest…
Paleoblog reminds us that it is Roy Chapman Andrews’ birthday. (HT Walter Hingley, once again). Naturalist, intrepid explorer, bone digger, hunter (he shot a Mannlicher- Schonauer 1903 carbine like mine, Savage Model 99’s, and Savage bolt actions in .250- 3000), writer, self- promoter, and sometime director of the American Museum of Natural History, he was the closest thing to Indiana Jones in the real world.
Father Bakewell knew him, and he was a childhood idol of mine.He may have rubbed more modest scientists the wrong way, but he had a genius for finding remarkable things even while looking for others; his expedition discovered dinosaur eggs in a nest, iconic fossils which I saw and touched in Ulan Bataar, while looking for human ancestors.
His many books are still readable. You can join the Roy Chapman Andrews Society here.
Never let it be said that he was not an inspiration…
I was thinking about the proposed water grab on the Plains of San Augustin and thinking about writing as I put some notes together for Lauren, when I read this post by Chad Love on the Sand Hills and a little connection sparked across my synapses. I remembered how I used to use a passage from The Hidden West by Rob Schultheis to teach my students at Wildbranch how to write about Place. The following is from my preface to the Wilder Places edition of 1996.
“I learned to push my students to write in class, not just in their off-time; to handle short assignments with vivid writing , evoking favorite landscapes, putting real animals and people into them. I searched fro writers and passages that would inspire emulation. I introduced my students to essays by Annie Dillard, descriptions of tarpon fishing by Tom McGuane, poems by Ted Hughes. And I brought them a passage from Rob Schultheis’ The Hidden West.
“On the first day of class I read them the passage that begins: “If the mysteries of the Great Plains have a heartland, it is the Sand Hills of Nebraska.” Schultheis introduces the area with a disconcerting image (one with a structure I suspect he “stole” from Churchill)– the grassy hills are a desert, a hidden one, with more secrets hidden inside them: “A sea inside a desert wrapped in a green prairie.” He brings you, the reader, into the scene in an intimate, active way, with vivid language that owes nothing to the piling up of descriptive words that students often think characterizes “fine” writing: “…dig. Beneath the brittle grass and the thin smoke of soil you hit sand: you are standing in a sea of dunes.”
“After setting the scene, he gives us a character, Martha Schaller, who was born there of a settler family. I don’t know what kind of person the reader would first imagine, but Martha “was six feet tall and weighed about a hundred pounds, still wore the Levi jacket she had gotten for her thirteenth birthday, smoked little black cigars and had been a model in Paris. Her childhood had been a honky-tonk fairy tale.” He sets her family in the ghost-ridden landscape:
‘Once as she rode home at winter dusk in a swirling Great Plains blizzard, her horse spooked and she looked up and saw (she said) an enormous white wolf, three feet high at the shoulder, leap the barbed-wire fence and race away across the white prairie. There was also an eroded sandstone bluff back in the hills, and when you crawled in with a flashlight you found yourself in a vault that went as high as fifty feet in places. And there were bats: tens of thousands of the ruby-eyed little leather devils hanging upside down.’
The “story,” all of three pages long, ends in tragedy. Martha’s father and his pal blow up the bat cave in a spasm of unnecessary fear of rabies. The Ogallala Aquifer, the hidden sea, begins to dry up. Martha returns to find her father drunk at his desk.
‘It’s all over, he told her. Sand Hill’s cattle ranching’s dead. We got maybe thirty years left, and then the whole business is going to dry up and blow away; from Denver to the hundredth meridian, this country’s gonna look like Afghanistan. The dirt farmer and the rancher’s gonna be as fifty million buffalo, as dead as Crazy Horse, as rare as a set of Jackalope antlers. Ed Weicker and I and every other rancher in this county should have crawled in that cave with the goddamn bats and dynamited the door down from the inside.’
I look at my students, as hushed and moved by this set of characters in a landscape, this piece of nature writing, as by any short story or tragic play. And I say, “Go thou and do likewise: write me a piece of landscape that means that much to you. You have ten minutes.” And I walk out the door.
The hag Coopers that is. I am a LITTLE tired of her. She doesn’t take too many pigeons, and the ones she takes are probably not my best (though if any of my occasional flying pouter discussion group are reading, several half pouters of the bulky Spanish kind have so far outflown her), but she keeps them stirred up and nervous, and that’s not really good at the beginning of the breeding season. Also, she goes right inside the loft, kills and eats a pigeon, and sits there staring at you. I like predators, but she’s a little presumptuous.
So this time, we decided to take her five miles south and a couple of hundred feet higher into Hop Canyon, which rises up into the peaks of the Magdalenas. It is a lush riparian canyon and also hosts an affluent subdivision where people feed birds. Finally, I believe her nest site is at the mouth of that canyon, and as it is almost courting season I’m hoping she’ll hang up there even if she’s heading back to my loft.
In sequence below: She bit me! This better be your last time; Ready; Go! Gone…
As you can see. not even a good point and shoot, swung as fast as I could, can catch an angry Accip.
Our neighbor Jean- Louis Lassez of Muleshoe ranch– see below or an many Christmas posts- seems to have embarked on anew career as a- satirical? ironic? painter. I STILL don’t get his Mondrian down there, but his Version of Munch’s Scream makes sense. First he sent this one, titled State of the Art (Market):
After which he declared that the Queen, Angela Merkel, and other European heads of state were threatening to boycott his “master- pisses”, so he came up with a version for them:
These flights! They are amazing and addictive. I liken these eagles to Houbara spotter falcons, who somehow see that rust colored spot scooting along in the distance – and immediately become pure predatory power. Many times I never see the fox, I just trust that that is what the eagle sees. Once she’s powered out over the valley, becoming just a speck herself, I often finally see the fox myself, and hold my breath as I wait for the two to converge. In a way, its like longwinging. My favorite flight style, which has a seemingly low success rate, but is spectacular to watch, is when the eagle keeps all of her height from the mountain and when directly over the fox, folds into a teardrop and stoops completely vertically. The fox has a lot of options to fool the eagle then, but I don’t think I’ll ever tire of seeing an eagle, all grace and raw power, stoop hundreds of feet.
There have been many great things, but I’ve also had some troubles lately. On a very windy day, we were on the mountaintop waiting for the slip, flying two passage eagles together. A fox appeared, we two slipped, and waited. The fox was clever, and disappeared. The eagles broke off pursuit and began to fly aimlessly, very buoyant in the wind. The mountain we were on was stupidly steep (one where you secretly hope you don’t get a slip). It was impossible to ride down, we had to get off of our horses and walk them down, which took a good 20 minutes. By that time, the eagles had gone and we were baffled. We rode across the valley for a good half hour with lures until finally we spotted them soaring along another mountain ridge. If I thought the other mountain was steep, this one was a great deal more so. Suddenly both eagles stooped and caught a Pallas’ cat on this mountainside. It was nothing but a stream of stones, no way one could ride up or climb (without equipment anyway, and even then…). We couldn’t do anything but gaze up those hundreds of feet (it seemed that high) while the eagles broke in and started to eat their fill. The other falconer in desperation started to attempt to climb, but before I knew it both eagles had bumped, regained their soar, were soon specks in the sky, and then flew away upwind out of sight. What an awful, lonely, sinking feeling that is. You feel like such a puny, weak creature when you try to follow an eagle with nothing but a cheap pair of binoculars and a pony-sized horse.
But follow her I did. Or at least I tried to. And, defying all my expectations, I found her on a dead horse on the steppe, just before nightfall. I was able to approach close enough to grab her jesses…phew! The poor other falconer didn’t find his eagle, and as far as I know, is still looking for her.
More here— scroll down.
“Dogs are like people. Not too literally, of course, but in the sense that the dog population contains a virtually infinite range of individuals – distinctive in physical structure, temperament and past experience. As a group, they are more loyal, more forgiving, more generous, yet less neurotic than people. Our relationship with each of them will be different; and it will be dynamic and change every day. We can make many generalizations about dogs, just as we can about people; but we must be thankful, rather than upset, when something works with one dog and doesn’t with another. It is this powerful range of individual variation that makes bird dogs of sustaining interest for a lifetime.”
Earl Crangle, via Daniel Riviera
Mostly polishing off, with endless revisions, the Book O’ Books, done for months but still being tweaked, also endless Good- But- Endless visitors, end of holiday and other serious food, arthritis and steroids and two major dog operations and too much to drink, and far too little to chase…
Any weariness in these lines is less about telling stories which I still love but about having to spend far too much packaging them, and knowing that if you don’t watch out, they will sink without a trace. Or as frontier ornithologist Elliot Coues said, way back during the Indian Wars; “I have seen a mule’s ears disappear in genuine mud…”
So, before resuming serious broadcasting on anything from literature to guns (can’t have too many/ much of either) a few images. First: Bosque del Apache; the Rio’s & the Fed’s farm for wildlife, at Christmas, by John Wilson:
“Life has really not stopped, and the world is really not a museum yet”*. Old men still chase hounds, even if they need strong drink after…
All over the world…
Older men and younger women make art (“Their eyes, their ancient glittering eyes**…”
Peace still may need an AK 47 (The Madins with appropriate props near Hovdsgol)
But the old can still amaze the young: Joel Becktell, mother Niki, and Eli Frishman Dec 2012, Magdalena
All this & more coming in Q, 2013. Thanks all! * is Ted Hughes and I bet everybody knows ** is Yeats in Lapis Lazuli.