A First

Back in November, granddaughter Bella was able to participate in her first horse show, at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Griffith Park. Only 4, she has started to learn to ride, but she was in a lead-line class, where her trainer led the horse around the arena.

Sure enough, in the best family tradition, she came away with the blue ribbon. I’ll let you in on a secret – everybody in a lead-line class gets a blue ribbon. Luckily Bella was the only participant in this one, so she was none the wiser. As she came out of the arena with her ribbon, she told her trainer, “All my dreams have come true!”

But there really is a tradition of blue ribbons in the family. Here is a picture of her mother at age 15, jumping her mare Julie in the Dome at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara. Her team won the team jumpers event in their age category that year. Every time she looks at this picture Lauren says, “Why didn’t I turn my foot in?”

Here the winner poses with her proud parents.  

Wading Bird

One day back before Christmas, I was surprised to see a Red-tailed Hawk land on top of the retaining wall on the north side of the house. Luckily the dogs were in the house so they weren’t out to disturb him (her? knowledgeable people, please opine).

He stayed still long enough that I could get my camera.

After a couple of minutes, he plopped down into a puddle in the driveway that had been formed by melting snow.

He then spent the next 20 minutes or so happily wading back and forth in the puddle, occasionally pausing for a drink. 

He never bathed – never got  his feathers wet at all.

He finally decided he’d had enough fun and off he went. I added this last picture that shows the look he gave me when he spotted me in the window.

Local Artist

Libby’s friend Happy Piasso is a Navajo silvermith who is not always traditional. The belt buckle design is based on a Japanese Goshawk portait in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (notice the red coral eye); the ring is built around a silver bat skull.

Firewood

There is something soul- satisfying about getting firewood when you are in the midst of a real winter…

Libby supervises Tyler Scartaccini and Tom Rupenacht’s delivery of a good load of what we call “cedar”. It is actually a juniper but locally the common name is reserved for alligator juniper. This is the species with red heartwood– some, not me, say it is “too pretty to burn.”

The 94 Winchester “Modern” Sporting Rifle has no connection to anything– we just brought it out  to show Ty.

We got it just in time…

Poem

Hawk Roosting

I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed. 
Inaction, no falsifying dream 
Between my hooked head and hooked feet: 
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat. 

The convenience of the high trees!
 The air’s buoyancy and the sun’s ray 
Are of advantage to me; 
And the earth’s face upward for my inspection. 

My feet are locked upon the rough bark. 
It took the whole of Creation 
To produce my foot, my each feather: 
Now I hold Creation in my foot 

Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly – 
I kill where I please because it is all mine. 
There is no sophistry in my body: 
My manners are tearing off heads – 

The allotment of death. 
For the one path of my flight is direct 
Through the bones of the living. 
No arguments assert my right: 

The sun is behind me. 
Nothing has changed since I began. 
My eye has permitted no change. 
I am going to keep things like this. 

– Ted Hughes

Book Note

I believe that some of you might enjoy Marilyn Johnson’s new book, Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble. It’s a book written by an objective outsider looking in at archaeologists, their interests, motivations, and careers. Johnson has written two previous books on other “odd” professions, This Book is Overdue! about librarians and The Dead Beat about obituary writers.

I think she does a good job catching onto why us archaeologists are attracted to the field, how we do our work,  and also does a good job describing a number of the quirks in the culture of archaeologists (she can’t get over that we are so fond of beer!). However, I think she paints an unnecessarily dire picture of the economic and career prospects of archaeologists. Most of us working in North America can make a reasonable living working as consultants in cultural resource management. Johnson talks some about CRM archaeology, but chose to focus on academia and government agencies, where jobs are few and far between and what I like to call “monastic” archaeologists. By that term, I mean those in the field (and there are a number of them) who become so completely captivated by a research area or topic, that they are willing to work on it for free and in fact, are willing to sacrifice other viable career alternatives in the field to do so. It’s as though they have taken vows of poverty.

The book isn’t nearly as well-publicized as it should be – I only found out about it in an ad for a book-signing she did here at The Tattered Cover, that I unfortunately had to miss because of a schedule conflict. I also found it interesting that she only talked with one archaeologist that I know personally. We are a fairly small field where most everybody is only a degree or two of separation apart, but we are somewhat geographically divided. Johnson is based in New York, and most of her contacts were in that region.

Stand Up And More

A couple of years ago, our daughter Lauren decided that she would like to try doing stand up comedy. Between then and now she has gone from working for free on open-mike nights in clubs to paid work. I put up this poster for an appearance she is making next month. This summer, she and three female comic friends are doing an all girls almost national comedy tour. Living in the Los Angeles area as she does is an advantage for her, but this is a difficult business to get into and we are proud of her.

We are also proud of our son Travis, who is also successful in a performing art. Also based in Southern California, he performs in two hard-core punk rock bands, Minus and Fell To Low. He has been at this since high school, much longer than his sister, and he usually does a national tour in the summer with one or another of the bands that includes a stop in Denver. Both of these bands have released several albums. I’ll put some more stuff up about Travis and his work later.

Connie and I are both mystified as to why this “performance gene” has manifested itself in our children. Neither of us or anyone in our immediate families has ever seemed to have this urge to entertain people from a stage.

When Man Becomes Prey

Cat Urbigkit’s newest, When Man Becomes Prey, is extremely relevant to the matter of the home- invader coyote below.* I rather thoughtlessly quipped “Ask Val Geist” because I have been corresponding with him on such matters for years, and the old zoologist’s theories about too- bold urban predators are bedrock.

But Cat is a pastoralist and writer whose life and work are inextricably interwoven with– I won’t say “urban”, but modern predators. She deals more with coyotes (and bears and wolves and lions) than anyone I know, and she is dedicated to finding “win- win” solutions to problems most people don’t know exist. She has now written the first text on how people in our civilization can co- exist with big predators.

I hadn’t realized that her book was not getting the attention that it should; perhaps it is too biological or realistic for the kind of pop Greenies who think that wolves are spiritual, and too accepting of the predator’s role for traditional “shoot, shovel, and shut up” varmint killers. The more loss for them, especially the first; Prey is THE text on the dangers of taking too naive a view of these wonderful but not entirely benign “new” and ancient neighbors. Even the most  pro- predator advocate must realize that, if enough people are attacked by any carnivore, it will lose its protection.

This sounds as calm as Cat is when she discusses the potential problems on the wild/ human “interface”, so let me reprint what I wrote to her a while back when she asked me for a blurb:

“Jeez, you write a revolutionarily sane book that goes against all trends in the world outside of Africa, takes brisk notice of the stupidity of rules made by sentimentalists in cities who think that all animals can be reasoned with (you don’t HAVE to get gory to elicit the horror as that poor woman gets eaten for half an hour because she thought Timothy Treadwell was a reliable guide to grizzlies), remind people that not only will coyotes eat your dog but, just as happily, your kids (and show why the first publicly eaten kid will be in California, where runners should just sacrifice a woman a year to the Cat Goddess); and why even if that happens the residents of Boulder will give their dogs and children to lions rather than allow hunting or GUNS to be used in their peaceful city (and I have read details of the kid who got et, and it wasn’t pretty)…

“And all this all without blinking, in a serious tone that still can be devastatingly if blackly funny when you come up with predictions of what will happen if idiots stumble on making the  same mistakes (“… and the idiot’s twice- burned finger/ goes wabbling back to the fire…”**)

“You expect me to sum it up in three sentences???”

So I took one more.

“Cat Urbigkit is a scholar and a rancher and above all a writer, a woman who has lived with her flocks in the wildest ranges we have left, watching and admiring, and sometimes without rancor killing the great predators who share her home. In When Man Becomes Prey, she documents the increasing conflict as animals big enough to eat your pets, your children, and even you, come to live in close contact with people who do not believe that anything beautiful can be dangerous. In this lucid, sane book she brings her years of experience and study together to suggest the unthinkable: that if we live in intimate contact with big predators we must regain our ability to scare them, the heritage of a primate who only survived by knowing that when predators think you are harmless, you will become food. That hunting may both preserve predators and make the wilderness safer for humans may be counterintuitive, but it is as true now as it was in the Pleistocene.”

Eventually, our big predators, through both learning and the elimination of aggressive individuals, may behave more like the ones in Europe. Ours MAY be less aggressive than those in Africa; if so it may be, as Valerius Geist suggested, due to the ubiquity of firearms on our frontier (Africans and Siberians generally were far less well- armed than our pioneers and frontiersmen).

But we aren’t there yet, not when runners are eaten by lions, students by wolves, and Canadian folksingers by coyotes. If you like predators, enjoy the wild, and believe that we must find ways to live with more of it around, read this book. It is also a treasury of good up- to- date natural history backed by real- life experience, and full of first- rate photos, most by Cat. Buy it!

* People have been asking how it got in. A door was slightly ajar– but what non- acclimated coyote would test doors like a burglar?

** Kipling, “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”

Winter

Last moonrise out our front door. I don’t know why coastal people think this is Phoenix…

Right or double click to enlarge…