Captain John Brandt, RIP

Captain John Brandt, military man, ethnologist,  zoologist, hunter, and rancher, died a couple of weeks ago, just short of his 86th birthday. He was my “other” sponsor for the Explorers Club, (the first, Father Anderson Bakewell, has been profiled here more than once). Both lived lives of adventure and scholarship of a kind that may no longer be possible.

Brooke Lubin (whose credentials include a life of adventure even rarer in my generation) touched a few biographical points in her contribution to his memorial. Correctly calling him “gregarious but discreet”, she noted: “…It might take one years to realize the ‘Ret. Captain’ John Brandt stands for a Naval Captain who specialized in counter- intelligence and counter- insurgency in some of the remotest, most exotic corners of the earth for three decades covering World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam…[he lived with] the Malayan Semang Pygmies. In Borneo he spent time with the Iban..He knew the Akha of Thailand, and his contribution to the understanding of the Chimbu of New Guinea led to his election to the membership in the Explorers Club in 1961.” This on top of the fact that he was a zoologist whose PhD was in Environmental Biology from Tulane!

He was also a hunter- naturalist and writer whose books include Hunters of Man, Horned Giants, and the magisterial Asian Hunter, the last chronicling much that has been lost forever (and as a bonus, that one features Father Bakewell on the huge sloth bear that mauled his leg, beginning with Kipling’s poem “The Truce of the Bear”).

In John’s retirement he raised cattle in the San Luis Valley, the most beautiful valley in Colorado, and thoroughly enjoyed the rancher’s life. We saw each other all too rarely, but he kept a strain of fascinating letters going as long as he lived. Perhaps it would take a Kipling or Roy Chapman Andrews or a Teddy Roosevelt to write a proper epitaph for him– like Bakewell, he belonged to another, more confident era. I remember him standing in the hall at the Explorer’s Club banquet. With his proper military kilt, his medals, and his curled 19th century mustache, he made the rest of the crowd look drab, telling tales that were remarkable not least because they were from a life ‘s happy work and not just a rich man’s whims or play.

He is survived by his wife Dorothy, his best companion for almost 66 years. Raise a drink for a life well- lived.


Fall is coming and my thoughts turn to hawks and bird guns first. I don’t know if I will have a chance to train a Gos again or not, but they will forever remain a favorite, flown in a circumpolar band by virtually every falconry culture because of their utility and I suspect beauty, though their temperaments do not always make training easy. (Either Asian Gosses are inherently tamer than ours or they do things a bit differently– my own hawks, kept in the alcove between kitchen and dining room, are tamer than most, and this mirrors Asian practice…)

So as a preview of fall, the Brit Gos video,  Manchu falconers near the Amur River in China from this sory, HT Anne Price, and my friend Paul Domski, New Mexico master of Goshawks and hounds.


Is the Honeyguide the most gruesome nest parasite alive? The video is not for the faint- hearted, but check out the little blind monster hanging fby its bill from the naturalist’s finger in the still pics.

That it will grow into a pretty if nondescript bird that eats wax and guides humans  and honey badgers to beehives so it can feed on broken combs is only slightly less weird…

A plug for a good beer: when we were at Deep Springs Jack introduced me to “Icky Ale” with the dolphin- like reptile (so to speak) on the package. Many designer beers and ales seem to put more energy into their labels than their product, but this one is delicious .

The Ichthyosaurs are from the famous “arranged” site that was interpreted at least half- seriously as being “art” from a giant squid or Kraken.

This infuriated some paleontologists, but stimulated others to play with the idea. A LOT of scientists appear to be H P Lovecraft fans, and the word was never far away. Mark Witton’s blog took time off from Pterosaurs to do a genuinely original Chthulhu, flickering interdimensionally rather than just sitting there like a winged man with a cephalopod’s head.

The best, and the scariest, video I have ever seen of desert flash floods.

Over 20– almost 30 years ago, at about this time of year, Floyd Mansell, his then teenaged son Phil, Betsy Huntington, and I were shooting doves north of town and were cut off by such a creek. Phil was amazed by my amazement. “Doesn’t the water do that in Massatooshetts?” Nope, and you don’t lose pickup trucks in it either, as you might if you attempted fording this one.

One more selected bit of eclectic weirdness from the world and the web: a functioning wooden model of a Desert Eagle autopistol.


” You should be polite as long as possible and, when you can’t be polite any more, don’t run.”–Daniel Woodrell, Ozark “noir” novelist.

This one is so good it may make it to the header. I have not been feeling polite lately.