A pair of sandhill cranes arrive for breakfast every morning, slowly striding across the green sweep of ground where we’ve fed the sheep flock the day before. They appear in the early dawn, and I step out the back door to quietly call out my wishes for a good morning. The cranes respond with their trilling calls in this most calm time of day. I can’t help but wonder if these are the cranes that I developed the same routine with last year, and the year before … I like to think so. Greeting the morning with old friends is a wonderful way to start the day.
Of course, the biggest thing is Helen in Vogue and pieces on her in the New Yorker and interviews with her on NPR. The FUNNIEST was the New York Review of Books using her to advertise their edition of T. H. White’s The Goshawk (“the book that inspired Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk!”– see it a few posts below). Not for nothing did Matt Mullenix suggest that we have stickers to put on certain of our books saying “This book features FALCONRY, the sport featured in Helen Macdonald’s H is for hawk.“
But falconry may already be getting into our collective unconscious. There was a car commercial during the winter that showed a guy flying a magnificent Ferrug. And now there’s this:
Maybe it IS a “River Runs Through It” moment…
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. (Philo of Alexandria)
The minor great (is that contradictory?) southern writers are always being revived, sometimes by friends of mine; their agrarian roots make them more appealing to me than old Yankees generally. A person descended from Alpine peasants and mercenary Celtic soldiers can remember misty maritime coasts with nostalgia, but be impatient with the old cultural hegemony of Puritans; what Betsy Huntington, product of rural squires up the Connecticut River, called “that Boston commercial money.”
So an article pops up in the Catholic mag First Things celebrating Alan Tate. Well, OK, he did some good stuff (he was alleged to be…difficult, too– if I weren’t sober I’d be tempted to say “a dick”), but, OK.
But does anybody outside of academia read Tate? Whereas his wife…
She is not all that popular in feminist circles–as a Southerner and a Catholic convert, she is already odd. But her classic work, Aleck Maury, Sportsman is the tale of a “worthless” Classics prof who wastes his entire life hunting and fishing, while knowing he is doing something as important as anyone engaged in a so- called useful profession. NOBODY in the academy but oddballs like my friend Gerry gets that.
Maury is good enough to have a place as one of the hundred books in my Book of Books, A Sportsman’s Library. But even I can’t say anything as wild as Tom McGuane did back in the interesting book Rediscoveries, more than a decade back (I don’t own a copy, just a xerox of the essay– Google it!) He said: “… there are sections of this book which seem to me to have been dictated by God.”
Is it the best sporting novel ever? Naah– only in the top ten. But the stand- alone story about Maury, “The last day in the field”, available in Old Red and other Stories, may just be the best story- with- bird- shooting ever; its most likely runners- up are McGuane’s “Flight”, and any of, say, five of Turgenev’s reminisces…
And I have a treat. Caroline Gordon was a great friend of Father Anderson Bakewell SJ, scientist, hunter, explorer, drinker and teller of tales, and my Explorers Club patron. I didn’t get the .416 Rigby when he died, but i got all the Gordon books, and their correspondence. I had forgotten that he had a Mannlicher Schoenauer, my own favorite rifle, as it was overshadowed by his Rigby .416 “Rifle for heavy Game” and his two Italian over and under rifles, but you see it mentioned here.
Letter below, cut for relevance; inscription in Old Red; and Andy with his last feral hog (maybe HIS Last Day in the Field), using a Zoli over and under 8 X 57 JRS and custom loads with Barnes X (“my X- rated”) bullets.
If you read newspapers or magazines with “good” demographics, you might be bemused or puzzled by the totally irrational number of advertisements for wristwatches. Odder still, NONE give you any prices, perhaps because the sticker shock will be unbelievable if you are not already informed. Suffice to say simply– five figures, getting to six pretty fast…
In the seventies, any shooter who really wanted one might buy a second- hand London Best. A two or three thousand dollar fee was a matter of saving up. I was there, enthusiastically buying up many good guns from many countries, oblivious of what was lurking in the gun racks on a level just above what we bought. Before her death in’86, Betsy Huntington was known to mutter that if we had just bought a Purdey and a Boss in ’75 we would have saved a hell of a lot of money. Which is true- but we would not have gotten an education…
London Bests are made by hand, still, the way they were in a pre- electronic and even in a barely industrial civilization; more like the way my blacksmithed snaplock Mongol muzzleloader carbine (younger than I am) was. They don’t have to be; a few manufacturers, notably Italy’s Fabbri and, allegedly at times London’s H & H, do all but the last hand-fitting by using precise and very expensive machines. But they lose the mystique thereby, the mystique that says all work must be by hand or the gun is not “custom” – frankly, nonsense.
The suspicions of this nature’s own conservative is that this is decadent late capitalism, where value is so divorced from meaning that all is nothing but signifiers and you need a scorecard to tell the players, and a crib sheet before you buy ANYTHING.
I figured this out a while ago, using knowledge to buy Best quality shotguns with slightly obscure names. Meanwhile Libby and I watched the watch phenomenon take off, especially in the weekend Wall Street Journal. So it is only fitting that a writer there finally gave me a clue to what was happening. On March 12, Michael Malone wrote about why the high- tech iWatch got such a lukewarm response:
“…these products were prodigies of technological innovation. But their makers — some of the smartest businessmen ever — soon discovered that the watch business is not first about technology, but rather about exquisite design, cultural prestige and enduring value… to suggest, as Apple has, that today’s owners will pass their watches down to their grandchildren as cherished family heirlooms is absurd. People pass down Rolexes and Patek Philippes precisely because they aren’t subject to Moore’s law; their hardware won’t be obsolete in three years because it has been obsolete for a hundred.”
The last patents applicable to London Bests were in the 1870’s– the Purdey- Beesley self opener, without my looking it up, was about 1874. I rest my case.
If you inherit one, keep it. If you don’t, there are ways to shoot a Best without breaking the bank, by studying. I never had much more than a pot to piss in, and I have!
Below: Boss– new cost over $100, 000; below, Frederic Scott ca. 1910, once mine, now Gerry’s– at least 99% as good, but approximately 3% of the cost– still sound and shootable at 100.
“Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain the potency of life in them to be as active as that soul whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.”
Milton, Aeropagitica (HT Teddy Moritz)
I keep coming back to the old Juluka song “Digging for some words” because of its uncanny evocation of the “wanderers and nomads” who erupt from time to time to menace and destroy the accumulated wisdom of more settled societies. They have come to the gates again and again, bearing different or no ideologies but finally, a lust for destruction. “They’ve locusts in their scabbards, they’ve deserts in their eyes.” Yes. Some would say this cinematic evocation of the destroyers, from David Lambkin’s overlooked The Hanging Tree, is too romantic. Why do disaffected youth stream toward the Desert Plague if not for the romance of death? The raiders here are Somali Shifta pouring into a paleontological dig, but Wanderers and Nomads are always in the wings.