The Kurdish Peshmerga from Iraqi Kurdistan are gathering in the southern Turkish province of Sanliurfa, south of the ancient city once known simply as Urfa, less than forty miles north of the border, looking south, and southeast, where a Kurdish Syrian town is besieged by an ancient enemy with a new face, one seen on social media everywhere these days. Nothing between Urfa and the border but irrigated wheat fields and a barbed wire fence… and south of that border, the black flags, black masks and headcloths of our latest fast- moving plague of wanderers and nomads, happy to exterminate anything that does not have its cultural DNA. Kurds who have retaken their towns report that the wandering “State” killed all their livestock and even birds….

Cat sent me a touching video of refugees with a  segment of a kid who had saved his pigeons, against the will of his father–who finally relented– and probably wisely. After all, the Taliban made killing domestic pigeons one of its sixteen commandments, along with banning shaving, music, sorcery, kites, and uncovered women. A week after they took over, they purged every rooftop pigeon loft in Kabul, virtually destroying the ancient local highflyer breed. Isis apparently thinks Al Qaeda and the Taliban are too moderate and compromising.

The video of the Kurdish refugees is here, and the kid comes in about at 1:40.

Urfa may be the most ancient city I have ever stayed in, allegedly 9000 years old, with three real Neolithic sites in it. You cannot dig for construction without finding a structure or artifact of interest to archaeologists. Among the legends is that it is the Biblical Ur of the Chaldees and the birthplace of Abraham (probably neither), and that it is the birthplace of Job. It apparently was where the Armenian alphabet was invented, though the Turks purged all the Armenians in the first two decades of the twentieth century; mentioning that genocide is still a  criminal offense there. Perhaps one reason for the Turkish unease with the Kurds, today’s dominant population locally,  is that they are honestly if horrifyingly uninhibited on that question; one quite civilized Kurd I know said he hated the Turks for not being grateful enough for the Kurds’ help in killing the Armenians! Though they are pretty rough on each other– Achmed would get in long shouting matches with his relatives, then turn to me with a smile and say “I am sorry– the Kurdish problem is not yet solved!”

 But it is a magical city, built on steep hills, with its skyline of churches repurposed as mosques (some have switched back and forth three times); its minarets, its hundreds of contending pigeon flocks every dawn and dusk, its pagan remnants. The sacred carp pool belongs to Jewish, Christian, and Moslem tradition; in all three, Nimrod tried to immolate Abraham in a gigantic pyre there, and God turned the fire into water, the
burning coals into fish. But it is an open secret that infertile women still take water and fish from it to change their luck. Urfa is a palimpsest of buried and not- so- buried civilizations.

Artsy effect unintentional, light rain on my lens
 I don’t know whether these photos will be sharp enough to show the pigeon flocks…

But it is a city of pigeons. There may be  sixty flocks in the evening sky above, all competing. They even had a cupboard loft in the entry of my favorite rooftop restaurant, to entertain me when I ate.

A city of birds and ruins, some even inhabited…

A city with bazaars that were built before Columbus, still bustling…

  Where you can buy anything from a rug to a hammer to an iron collar…

To a pigeon of course…

 It is worth re- visiting my hotel, to see that art photo of the Ur Pigeon of Urfa, wearing the pigeon jewelry that pigeons have in the Middle East for centuries..

Another, a Mssawad , a breed which I saw in Urfa, with jewelry, though this was taken by Sir Terence Clark in a village in Syria. I wonder if it still exists…

Because somewhere south of Urfa is a whirling void, the kind that has come like a storm out of the desert before, and  flattened many other “old civilizations put to the sword” …

Made in China

Earlier in the week, I visited the contemporary art galleries at the Denver Art Museum and saw this fabulous resin sculpture of a T-Rex (or maybe that’s an Allosaurus) by Sui Jianguo called Made In China. I confess I no sooner saw this than I heard Steve’s voice in my head saying, “Shoulda had feathers!”


When we were together…..Dixon would never converse much. He did not need to. He was one of those rare and wonderful companions who did not carry with them a requirement that one engage in constant conversation. We had our occasional discussions of matters quite profound, but for the most part while visiting he would draw or read. The wonderfully warm feeling he radiated – a feeling of recognition, of support, of universal compassion, and of dedication to his art – rendered verbalization unnecessary, even superfluous.

Which is not to say that Dixon was a less than engaging conversationalist. He possessed what I would call a creative cynicism. He had a talent for characterizing people in terse, perceptive, very cynical, but never really unkind statements. I remember his turning this particular talent on the hero of his youth, Frederic Remington, a man whom he judged to be “one of the few who really understood horses.” That was Dixon’s way of saying that Remington, a significant artist in his own right, knew a great deal about the West, knew the cowpunchers and the corrals, and the horses, of course, but did not really comprehend the major concept – the important concept – that of the land, of the West itself.

– Ansel Adams, Maynard Dixon: An Artist, A Friend

Quick Links & Pics

Not a hornet.



Chorus: “Allosaurus shoulda had FEATHERS.”

Southwestern petroglyphs and hallucinogenic plants.

Cave art and auditory illusions.

“Do you write, Mr. Faulkner?”

Sounds like William Gibson has his best novel in a long while. I’m ordering it!

It is a shame that one of our greatest living writers must resort to crowdsourcing for a documentary of her life and times, but at least you have a unique opportunity to help Joan Didion while she can enjoy it.

Malcolm does the BEST review of my “Book of books”.

So far nobody seems to be buying it;  nevertheless, I am planning a second volume of 100 whether the book companies support me or not. I don’t know a single person who has read it that hasn’t come back for copies for friends, and at least two of the multiple buyers neither hunt nor fish. It is just that nobody who hasn’t read it understands what it is. Malcolm’s review, and its intelligent venue,  will help.


 Thanks for the tips: Reid, Lucas, Jonathan, Annie PH, Micah at Prufrock, and anyone I missed!

Poorest of People Caught in Anti-Hunting Crossfire

In March 2011, a coalition of animal welfare groups opposed to the hunting of African lions petitioned the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for protection of this lion subspecies under the Endangered Species Act. FWS responded this week by proposing to list African lions as “threatened” – not the “endangered” status sought by the groups. Still, the groups claim success. It is evident that the sought-after listing is more about stopping the hunting of African lions and less about lion conservation after all.

Unfortunately those who stand to be most impacted by the listing aren’t rich American hunters seeking a trophy, but the some of the poorest people on the planet who live with Africa’s 30,000-40,000 lions on a daily basis. Since this is a proposal for animal conservation, the human equation is largely ignored – with the exception that the proposal notes the continued increase in Africa’s human population further endangers these iconic cats.

Three major factors largely ignored in the discussion are:

• African people have to eat to survive;

• African people rely on their close association with their livestock and wild animals to feed their families;

• African lions kill not only thousands of livestock, but hundreds of African people, each and every year.

Instead, headlines in American media report of the “Last-Ditch Effort to Save Remaining African Lions” and the need for action “Protecting the African Lion From Trophy Hunters.”

Here’s a list of the groups authoring the petition for endangered status:

• International Fund for Animal Welfare,

• Humane Society of the United States

• Humane Society International,

• Born Free Foundation/Born Free USA

• Defenders of Wildlife, and the

• Fund for Animals.

These are not organizations devoted to spending a large portion of their revenues on the ground in Africa to alleviate conflicts between humans and lions. A major motivation for the proposal is the desire to stop trophy hunting of African lions, which the FWS proposal will not do. But what the FWS proposal may do is further jeopardize the already dire future of the poorest residents of Africa.

Single-species protection efforts rarely (if ever) address the core issues of large carnivore conservation – human wellbeing, and in the case of Africa, alleviation of poverty. “The impact of conservation policies on human wellbeing is critical to the integration of poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation,” according to a 2012 paper in Biological Conservation. “Conservation and provision of livelihoods should therefore go hand-in-hand.”

Elephants in India kill people every day. African lions kill more than 100 people each year in southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique alone. People killed in these human-wildlife conflicts are generally from “the weaker socioeconomic sections of society” – the rural poor.

Conservation policies often have the heaviest impacts on the poorest of people, and when there are human-wildlife conflicts such as loss of one cow, it aggravates a family’s existing poverty. Studies have shown that crop-raiding by wild animals in Africa frequently results in a reduction of the overall food supply available to a family. That often means that mothers will eat less to provide nourishment for their children, resulting in her diminished health. Family members become anemic, and people die from lack of sufficient nutrition. If a family member is attacked and killed by a wild animal, and that person is an adult wage-earner, this further threatens the entire family’s livelihood, well being, and potential survival.

In Africa, if an adult male is lucky enough to have an outside job that generates income in a subsistence-based economy, that male wage-earner will spend his days at a paying job, and stand guard over his crops or livestock at night. That means that daytime guarding is conducted by children who are therefore not attending school to better their futures. Many of these daytime guards are killed by predators that hunt during daylight hours: African lions.

To some, the impact of human-wildlife conflicts may seem small on a national or global scale, but “but they give rise to exponentially high costs for the affected individuals and families, many of whom are amongst the least privileged people in the world,” according to the Biological Conservation paper.

The listing of a species as threatened or endangered often leads to the setting aside of more lands to protect that species. When more land is set aside for wildlife conservation, traditional human use such as hunting and livestock grazing are forbidden or restricted. Subsistence livestock producers, or people who depend on bushmeat for nutrition, thus lose use of traditional resources and land. This global trend has resulted in a new class of people aptly termed Conservation Refugees. Google it.

The reliance on bushmeat in Africa includes everything from rats to elephants, and from subsistence use, to providing meat for the urban marketplace. A paper in a 2006 issue of Conservation Biology (“Hunting for Consensus: Reconciling Bushmeat Harvest, Conservation and Development Policy in West and Central Africa”) notes: “Where bushmeat markets are booming, poor rural communities are often mining their wildlife resources to subsidize the protein consumption costs of urban families. The failure of development to provide growing urban populations with secure livelihoods and sustainable sources of animal protein are resulting in overharvesting of wildlife in rural areas and decreased livelihood security of poor rural families who are dependent on a dwindling wildlife resource. Bushmeat harvest is more a survival strategy than a development strategy. The places where species are threatened pinpoint places where development policies have failed, and the future of the rural poor is likely to be threatened as well.”

Those advocating for switching subsistence economies toward ecotourism at least acknowledge the need for human economic viability, but have failed to find an alternative that actually works. Ecotourism is often touted as alternative, but few people impacted by wildlife conflicts receive benefit from such schemes. In one recent study in Africa, only 17% of families were associated with ecotourism, but 65% lost livestock to lions. Other programs offer compensation for certain (proven) losses, but the time and effort required to seek such compensation – especially in poor countries where fraud is rampant – is often too much for the rural poor. Poor and illiterate people lacking social capital are not likely to seek compensation for their losses to wild animals.

We all want African lions to thrive well in the long term. But unless we actually begin to address the core issues involved in human-wildlife conflicts, we’ll adopt policies much as this one, meant to harm rich American hunters traveling to do something many find distasteful (hunting lions as trophies), but the resulting impact may be the death of more of Africa’s poorest people. Until we adopt a new approach, the cost of conservation will continue to be disproportionately high for rural people to bear. For a moral people, the loss of human life should be at least as important as wildlife conservation.


Cooper’s hawks, quintessential Accipitrine stealth predators, transform themselves from hidden to active in an instant. Dan Gauss gets it here.

But how did Audubon do something nearly identical about 175 or more years ago? I will try to find but this is better a search in books than in the electrosphere, books I assume that many of you have…

Breakfast Club

Recently– last winter- an odd mix of ranchers, cowboys, artists, medical workers, teachers, and even less classifiable types started having Sunday brunch at Tita Dixon’s brief version of the Bear Mountain Cafe. It was so much fun that when Linda Rael Mansell and Kelly Kent opened a good cafe at the old Magdalena Hotel it migrated there, and is now an necessary weekly stop.

My IPhoto DOES NOT WORK;  my upgrade to “Yosemite” has damn near killed my computer– but here are a couple of trial shots. Biggest thing that bothers me other than the computer industry’s insistence on leaving users out in the cold is: GOD, what a bunch of old farts. No one here is more than three years older than I am (well, maybe Ed adds another year) and some are younger. Degrees in medicine and biology and archaeology, ranches and farms bought and sold and managed, children brilliant and difficult, travels to Mongolia and Yemen and Everest Base Camp and the back country of China, as pioneers or guides, hunting in Africa, wild romances, secrets, harrowing work in the third  world and the rubble of the World Trade Center*–  and here we are saying “Kelly, you KNOW I take MILK in my coffee!”

We are missing many I wanted to get– Ken Cason running off to meet a semi full of incoming calves,  a whole lot of friends being weenies about the breeze and sitting inside, ones who fly medical emergency planes or restore stained glass in cathedrals; they were moving fast, and I, knowing I probably couldn’t edit any photo I took, didn’t try very hard. But I have a duty to depict my odd little community of thirty— four?– years. (Big  question today: how many came here intentionally? Even those that sorta wanted to say yes –all of two– wanted to qualify it)…

“Golden girls and boys all must/ As chimney sweepers/ Come to dust…” Click double or right to embiggen, as always.

Above: Libby, me, Mark Cortner; and Vincent’s Pepe, ambassador, and greeter to all. Mark is probably my oldest friend of the bunch– he knew Betsy, and we have traded guns and books and a whole lot of meat and a horse.

Mary Anne Maddy, L, Mark, Vincent DiMarco, Ed Erickson. Pepe is under the table demanding his tithe. And below… the ambassador himself, with Vince.

* It is MAGDALENA. It is the best traveler’s town, at least of its size,  I have ever known– since 1895 or thereabouts we have been everywhere, especially if you count our rural neighbors who come to Magdalena for necessities and socializing. For years they stayed at the old Magdalena Hotel where we are sitting today, (our last cattle drive was in ’72!), right up to the missile tests in the fifties and sixties, when they shot them from White Sands to Fort Wingate; that is, over the ranches. They would pay for the ranchers to stay here, the first place to stay outside of their evacuation zone,  and I bet they covered some serious bar bills…

A few travelers in and out, randomly: Montague Stevens, high- born Englishman, riding with one arm, having lost his other in a hunting accident; rancher, grizzly hunter, finally grizzly protector. Aldo Leopold, of Wisconsin, speaking to a crowd here in 1914, bigger
than today’s whole town population, and taking a local bride back to the
north. Norman Cleaveland,  born a few miles west and off to Stanford and Indonesia. The late Louis Nalda, who used to use his plane to herd his cows and played polo in England after graduating from New Mexico Military Institute; we also spent some good nights in the Bar, and one night (I may tell it someday), he left with us to criticize a painting, with a full glass of Jack Daniels balanced in his pocket. Floyd Mansell from Arkansas, my mentor, self- described (half- Lebanese) hillbilly, houndsman and cocker, who went to college on the GI Bill, and in his words “got a master’s, married an Indian, became a liberal and a Catholic, moved to New Mexico and had nine kids. My family doesn’t know what to think of me!” (He kept his hounds and fighting chickens til he died). From Oklahoma he hired Leonard Parker, my other mentor, Comanche aristocracy, Quanah’s grandson, teacher and trickster…

Our own Ed, born in New York but in this area since he was a child, now a travel agent who will try anywhere himself.  Mark, who grew up in the Canal Zone, whose first wingshooting quarry was
a Toucan; then to Sul Ross, cowboying, a biology degree… poet James Nance, raised off- pavement on the Field Ranch by parents whose brand is 2XS, and who house the Juan Tomas Foxhound pack; a cowboy,  a sherriff’s deputy, but also the youngest Master of Hounds in the US; young enough to be my grandson, published as I have been in the Atlantic (twice),  going to Sweden to help raise his kids…

This footnote grew, didn’t it? Stories, stories… as Ian sings in his song about Charley Russell, “get ‘er all down, before she goes..”


Rio, or “Guero” (Whitey or Blondie as opposed to Tavo’s little black Gyr MERLIN Negrito) is making progress. Photos by Shiri Hoshen, training by Octavio Cruz…

UPDATE: The little guy has brains too! Tavo writes: “Last night Güero flew off after chasing two rabbits. I got him back right after dark.

“He flew back to my car in the dark. I saw him with my head lights.

“I was closing in w the telemetry and when he saw the car 1/4 mile away he flew to it.

“Good bird!!!”