Still more gratuitous dog images

For the end of the year. Jutta’s girls in Germany once again, on a bright windy day…

An end- of- the- day game painting Jonathan found in a museum in Brussels, with greyhounds.

And Princess  Ataika, who can find a throne anywhere… at home or on the road, in this case Jim and Penelope Caldwell’s place outside Laramie.

Rigby Returns

The real thing, made in London on the old patents, the old ways. I have owned one once, a “.275”. So did Walter Dalrymple Maitland Bell, who shot many elephants with that “tiny”, actually moderate,  caliber. And Jim Corbett (man -eating tigers), and Eleanor O’Connor (mostly edible horned things).

They have a stock of older Rigby products, like these:

( Jonathan mutters something about it’s being worth a duel to own them).

All the old records…

 Jonathan harvests elk every year with the . 275 I used to shoot, and always remembers to provision us.

The sidelock are distinctive.

Father Bakewell preferred his .416 “”Rifle for Heavy Game.” (This is a virtually identical one, not his), After a severe mauling by a sloth bear that was menacing “his” villagers, he was given one. His bear is the only one in Rowland Ward’s top ten guided by “self”.

Not everyone is pleeased.

RIP: Frank Bond, 1943- 2013

Frank Bond, of Santa Fe New Mexico, one of the four founders of the Peregrine Fund; lawyer, rancher, principled politician, father, old- fashioned but innovative conservationist; old friend; perhaps first, in his own mind,  falconer, died of a swift- moving cancer last week.

The scion of a wealthy sheep -ranching family in northern New Mexico, one that once held the grazing leases in Valles Caldera, he grew up in Espanola, and spoke Spanish as well as he spoke English. He attended school at Governor Dummer Academy in Massachusetts and Colorado College before getting a Master’s in Spanish at the University of Arizona and a law degree at UNM. With Jim Weaver, who later came to live, ranch,  and fly falcons in eastern New Mexico, Dr Tom Cade of Cornell, who was born here down near the Bootheel, and Bob Berry, then of Philadelphia but now in Wyoming, he founded the Peregrine Fund, which then built the breeding barns at Cornell. Those became the first mass breeding facilities in the world, run by Jim. The Cornell quonset huts were the “factory” that fueled the restoration of the species in the lower 48, an effort manned for years entirely by falconers, who gave up their summer time and amenities to babysit birds in places ranging from urban to remote. (They did not “bring it back from extinction”, as the ignorant often say, though they did just that with the Mauritius kestrel). Those that scorn the Fund’s deliberately mixed- gene hack birds as Cornell chickens are probably jaded by seeing the now- common birds in eastern cities; without Cornell and the P- Fund  barns we might still have only the Colorado plateau birds and a few southern “Peale’s” birds on the coast of Washington breeding in our entire country south of Alaska.

I honestly thought Frank might be the one to provide the bridge between
nuevo “Green” enviros and old school ranchers, hunters, and game
biologist types, and when he ran for governor on the Republican ticket in 1990, I not only supported him but worked for and with him in Socorro and Catron counties (later I will post about one hilarious incident on the campaign trail). He was a rancher, a founder of the P- Fund, and a long- time trustee of Alan Savory’s Holistic Range Management group, whose intense short- term grazing and constant movement can revive desperately overgrazed, “ruined” land. He was both an early supporter of project Lighthawk and a connoisseur of fine guns who hunted big game in Africa. He loved his Gyrfalcons more than any other birds, but was also a serious pigeon racer; his loft was designed by an architect after some adobe structures he had seen in Spain. He offered me the plans once, but I had a feeling they would cost me as much as my (granted tiny, 4 room), house to build, so I thanked him and regretfully declined. He attended race meetings  where there were few Anglos and probably no other rich men.

When he lost by not too much to his friend (and ranch lessee!) Bruce King, a genial old – fashioned hand- shaking pol who never forgot a face but was alleged to have referred to a roadrunner on his desk as “that ol woodpecker”,  I realized that today’s divisions had begun. When the Sierra Club deserted an eminent conservationist for a Democrat who never saw a cow he didn’t like or a bird he could identify, my in- laws quit an organization they had belonged to for over fifty years. Frank devoted the rest of his life to law and conservation, especially to international bird of prey issues. He himself never paid undue attention to partisanship; my lawyer friend Jessica Abberly, a lifelong Democrat, emailed me that he was “…one of the last true gentleman attorneys out there, by the way.”

I used to spend a lot of time with him and his then wife in Santa Fe, a time that included my early days with Libby, but time and space and the human realities of loss, breakup, rearing kids, kids leaving, travel and distance all contributed to our not having spent much time together in the last few years, and I realized when I heard that he was ill that I had not seen him but once in the last two years, and that for only a hurried handshake . I wrote to him of the campaign incident, hoping to raise a smile, and then he was gone.

He will be missed. The Peregrine Fund  continues to work with rare species like the Phillipine eagle and the orange- breasted falcon, and is playing a big part in trying to reverse the dire population crashes of Old World vultures, first in India and coming in Africa. Frank himself had moved on to working for the International Association for Falconry and Birds of Prey, where he served as president; when you see films of their meetings in the Czech Republic or the Emirates, you often see his silver belly Stetson hat, the only one present. His importance as a conservationist and a diplomat serving both nature and our sport can hardly be exaggerated.

But he was a private man for all that, and my best memories of him are of sitting around a large living room with the Havell Audubon print of life- sized black Gyrs and the original Reid- Henry painting of white Gyr head studies, telling stories. Some of us will always miss that unassuming, hospitable, soft- spoken friend, a fortunate  man who always gave more than he got,  and one who spoke as easily and with as much interest to his homeboys in Espanola as he did to international figures.

Christmas 2013

 Over the desert and up in the range, to Muleshoe ranch we go. Right click for big…

Twelve miles of sometimes atrocious dirt and rock track, up to above 8000 feet, with the  astronomical telescope on the 10,000 foot ridge above glinting in reflected afternoon light from the west…

No art or essays or anything of import here, other than my old story of a place and those who by intent or accident belong there, that odd bunch who come to fit, who become part of an older community…

We have done Christmas at the Lassez for almost ten years now– they born in France and here almost as long as me, hosting natives and newcomers and visitors with warmth and hospitality in a hundred year old ranch house with a bit of the style of the old Swiss Italians who were an uncelebrated but substantial percentage of the European- American settlers here after the Civil War, as well as my New England paternal ancestors. And how likely is that convergence?

John and Carolyn Wilson, retired from Ohio where John ran an Audubon sanctuary, (though she has local roots), listen to our hostess describe the latest Lassez Asian odyssey, a month in Nepal; many footsteps where Libby blazed trails in the seventies, when she guided treks to Everest Base Camp. And Catherine and Libby comparing notes, backed by the window with the best view in the county.

Jean Louis explains economics to John…

(Economics also informs Jean Louis’ painting parodies, but we will deal with this later…)

Sarah Lassez, in from SoCal, and her dogs.

 Dolly Dawson,  Magdalena native and former Old- Timer’s Queen :

I did not get good enough pics of: Dominique, in from Paris (Domi, sorry, maybe before you go);  Donna Dawson, Mag native, daughter of Dolly and old fire crew friend of Betsy Huntington; the bonfire; Rolf Magener, my peripatetic e- mag travel editor, whose namesake uncle escaped British internment with Heinrich Harrer, but who then went to Burma; his book is as good as Harrer’s, but Myanmar has never been as popular as Tibet in the West.  Nor GUNS: my .410 ,which against odds I got back, and brought to show off– wait, here’s one from yesterday, so much smaller than my 12 that it makes that slim game gun look like a ponderous pigeon piece…

But finally, sated, headed home in the gloaming. And to all a good night!

Floyd Robbins

Reader and commenter Gil Tracy introduced me to the work of his friend, the wood carver Floyd Robbins of South Carolina. I didn’t think carving was art until I saw these. You have seen the “dead dove” below; take a look at these extraordinary objects.

 Gil says: “The wisp of snipe has to be seen to be believed.  He engineered it to where the birds are balanced and connected via wingtips.”

The .410 shells and box are also wood.  Gil : “A few years ago I visited him at his shop.  On an overturned boat that he was repairing, was a dead snipe.  Nothing unusual in his shop as he studies them for color, etc.  Two weeks later the bird was still there.  I poked it.  It was one of his carvings.”

Of Colonel Thornton and inedible quarry

My circle of friends has been talking about hunting predators, something I was for a long time reluctant to do for reasons (it now seems) I had not thought out. While I think all quarry should be treated with respect, a coyote skin or a big carnivore skull can be a magical object– as can a plume from a catch and release heron caught by a falcon in the last days of the old- fashioned air battles described below. We are not  going to talk here about why some predators MUST be killed in bad situations, as Cat has covered that subject better than I could hope to. Also, I think that predators capable of killing humans should be kept polite, and hunting enforces manners on everyone. The predators become wary of humans, and those who follow them must respect their quarry, and  learn more than any mere observer, to be successful.

Much as I love and enjoy food, I wonder if, especially for nuevo hunters, the prejudice against hunting predators has both class and utilitarian connotations. In America, such things as predator calling are considered blue- collar and “redneck”. Meanwhile, our educated ruling class culture is still touched with Puritanism: if you can’t EAT it, it is of no use. I could veer off now into tales of stir fried chile ginger mountain lion and such, but thought instead I will come at it from another angle, maybe more amusing.

The zenith of falconry is probably the aerial battle, extending over miles, with large, high- flying , often dangerous- to- the- hawks quarry: the largest herons, cranes, and (most difficult if not most dangerous) at one of two species of high- flying, agile scavenging raptors, the red and black kites (Milvus). Emperor Frederic II hunted all three in the south of Italy in the early 1200’s, and the Craighead brothers may have seen the last of it in India just before WW II; they were both the first, and so far the last and only, to film the kite flight. Despite the dubious utility of the quarry (most contemporary sources advise substituting pigeon meat for the bird’s reward before the falcon tastes it!), the flight was  dramatic and protracted; the seemingly endless series of stoops and evasions could go on for six miles. It was probably loss of land that did it in in Europe, even for emperors.

Colonel Thomas Thornton of Thornville royal (1757- 1823) was one of those larger than life humans that drive some people to madness while delighting others. The short version: Colonel Thornton was the last modern WESTERN master of the gyr until Ronald Stevens in Ireland and the westerners of my generation who hunt the Big Sage. Rich, profligate, arrogant and funny, he squandered a fortune, lived long, drank “like a hero”, dressed his mistress as a jockey, put her on his horses and bet on her in the races, then horsewhipped a cur who insulted her in the stands. He loved gyrs and greyhounds, and died old and content in Paris, having spent all his money.

He wrote two good books, his Northern Tour, which I have, and one with at least as good a reputation about a French “expedition”, which I have never seen. (Expedition? He traveled with nearly the baggage of Emperor Frederic; a contemporary journalist described his caravan: “Fourteen servants with hawks on their wrists, ten hunters, a pack of stag hounds and lap- dog beagles, and a brace of wolves formed the advance guard. Two brace of pointers, and thrice as many greyhounds in rich buff and blue sheets, with armorial bearings, followed in their train.”)

But the point of all this was that he was among the last westerners to pursue the kite, with a cast of gyrs at that. His amusement with the middle- class practicality of a guest who could not appreciate the high art of the flight at the kite comes across the centuries.

“The southern [meaning south of the borders between England and Scotland] gentlemen, particularly those in the vicinity of the metropolis, never see game of any kind without expressing, instantaneously, their inclinations for a roast… every alderman expresses, on occasion, the same emotions… A Mr. A A, attended by a little humpback servant with a large portmanteau, joined our party, ranging for kite near Eden Gap. At length one was seen in the air, and I ordered the owl flown.[ Eagle owls are hated and ‘mobbed’ by other birds, and one abroad by day will lure an angry kite– SB] He came, as we wished, at a proper distance. The day was fine, and the hawks, especially Javelin and Icelanderkin, in the highest order, and with them Crocus, a favorite slight falcon. [ Peregrine–SB] Never was there a finer day, keener company, or, for six miles or more, a finer flight. When he was taken, in an extacy [sic] I asked Mr A how he liked kite hawking. He replied, with a sort of hesitation that implied but small pleasure, ‘Why, pretty well.’ We then tried for hare, with a famous hawk called Sans Quartier. After ranging a little, we found one, and in about two miles, killed it. Mr A coming up again slowly, unwilling or unable to leave his portmanteau, I repeated my former question; and though the flight of a hare is fine, yet, being in no way equal to that of a kite, was surprised to see his countenance brighten up, and to hear him express himself with uncommon pleasure. ‘Ay,  that ‘  he said ‘was a nobler kind of hawking; the hare would be of use–a good roast— the kite of none.”

He hardly needed to add: “I leave every sportsman to guess the observations that were made by a set of lively young men on the occasion.”

Thornton with Gyr and greyhound; and his 16- bore double muzzle- loading gun, which resides on extended loan in the Archives of Falconry in Boise Idaho. Its owner, in England, has tempted me by offering to let me shoot it if I get up there, but though I have written about it, I doubt it will be easy to convince its guardians. Probably made in the late 1700’s and converted to percussion, it last killed partridge in the 1980’s… that is nine teen!

Finally, what may be the best painting Joseph Wolf ever did- and puzzling because he lived a bit late for seeing the almost medieval flight outside of Asia: a red kite brought down by a cast of gyrs:

It is official

You might have figured it out in comments below but it is official: because the Feds are allowing a three- decade exemption for wind farms to kill as many eagles as they “need” to, and because they exert no pressure on tribal use (right and understandable for religious practice, but ignoring the profitable if clandestine traffic in feathers for dance costumes), falconers will no longer be allowed to catch “up to six” eagles for falconry in areas of proven depredation, exactly reversing the win- win scenario Cat details below.

Nobody ever took six a year, an infinitesimal part of the breeding surplus; ranchers had proven predators removed; falconers got the companionship of one of the world’s formidable predators, often for decades, and the chance to participate in one of if not THE oldest falconry tradition on earth, at least six thousand years old.

Presumably if we do not fight this it means “for three decades?” Or forever?

And why in hell not allow trapping in wind farms?

No more of this!

Two for the Books

From Joe  Queenan’s bibliophile’s memoir One for the Books:

“Great writers say things that are so beautiful, the act of repeating them makes life itself more beautiful.”

“I love to pull my books down off the shelf and read striking passages to baffled dimwits who have turned up at my house.”