Gil’s Turkey

My friend Gil Stacy is a naturalist- hunter, reader, game cook, and fine gun addict who lives in Georgia and hunts everything with zest and style. While like me not… quite a collector, he has things like a Fox or two, an uncommon ten magnum Ithaca, English boxlocks. He even likes FRENCH guns, putting himself into a very small minority with me. His current snipe gun– he HAS a snipe gun, and I swear I will get out there to hunt snipe, and maybe Woodcock, before I die,  partially because he does, is a Manufrance Robust 16 bore.

I know from these and other things that he is a man of taste and necessary obsessions, and one who would never cook either of those incredible birds for a half hour in the oven. I put mine in a very hot one for no more than ten minutes after setting them up, with or without “trail”– I know some otherwise sensible folks who accept all our other traditional food madness, but won’t go that last inch, so if we have a good harvest we cook them with AND without, though If I am the cook I will insist on leaving the heads on, just because…

 Guy Valdene once saw one of those recipes that get published in newspapers and local hunters’ cookbooks, the ones where you get Jello recipes and the like, that recommended breading and deep-frying woodcock and then cooking them in two cans of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup for hours. His furious and correct response was : “As this negates the very motive for killing the birds in the first place, why not take it a step further and poach the woodcock overnight in equal parts of catsup, pabulum, and Pepto-Bismol?”

But I digress (!) I wanted to put up Gil’s first gobbler of the year, with one of his highly modified 1- shot .410s, with which he has made more than a few immediate kills (custom chokes, custom loads, knowledge of the terrain, calling ability, and the patience to wait until they get close– don’t try it unless you have all those factors).

Gobbler, Turkish Yildiz folding .410, and a caller made from a  turtle shell. We will have more to say about that, as Gil has just sent me a package of the “ingredients”… (WE? sorry– I am neither a king nor Elmer Keith. “I”!)

Where Did Everyone Go?

It’s not unusual for us to see raptors buzzing the deck with a resultant mad scramble of birds on the feeders heading to cover. We don’t usually get to see the hawk or falcon, just the scattering prey. I don’t know much about the raptors’ success rate, but there is currently a pile of feathers on the ground just east of the deck that is evidence of the murder of a Eurasian Collared Dove.

But we’ve never seen one land to look around like this Sharp-shinned Hawk did last month. Maybe just casing the joint.

More Helen Rockstar

New York Review of Books Press is now using the H is for Hawk connection in ads for its edition of The Goshawk.

Helen sent us the schedule for her April American book tour. As she told us, it’s rather coastal. If she’s going to be near you, go see her.

4/7 Tuesday            Boston                          Harvard Bookstore
4/8 Wednesday    New York                      Greenlight
4/10 Friday           Manchester Center, VT    Northshire Bookstore
4/11 Saturday       Saratoga Springs, NY     Northshire Bookstore
4/12 Sunday         Rhinebeck, NY               Oblong Bookstore
4/14 Tuesday       San Francisco                Rakestraw Books (lunch)
4/14 Tuesday       San Francisco                Green Apple (7 PM)
4/15 Wednesday  Point Reyes, CA            Point Reyes Books

4/16 Thursday       Seattle                          Third
Place Books


…The kind of covers you may buy a book to get.

Despite my limited space I have a few. One book below was bought for its cover and illos, the Ibex story; one excellent series, published by Putnam’s in Boston in the  early years of the last century, is made up of good natural history books, but I started collecting them only after I bought three separately, and realized that the volumes I nostalgically remembered from my childhood days at the Ames Free Library in Easton, Mass. all had gilt images embossed on their covers.

As you can easily see, they were not limited to fancy or small press books– popular subjects like big game hunting, children’s books, light natural history, and fishing all were decorated with gilt- embosssed figures.  Look at Abel Chapman’s Savage Sudan, which I bought for fifty cents in Magdalena (go to abeBooks for more realistic prices), which has a golden warthog; The Tribes on my Frontier, “EHA’s” accounts of birds and beasts who were human commensals in Colonial India, and doubtless still are today (those little things are what Kipling called “muskrats” in “Rikki Tikki Tavi”, a kind of smelly house shrew), and the Ibex in a slightly sub- Seton but beautifully illustrated biography of that animal. The Rod in India, which I got from the late Datus Proper in Bozeman and which contains one of my favorite chapter titles anywhere, the nearly self- parodic “Circumventing the Mahseer”, also has one of my favorite cover emblems, said mahseer hanging from a tree.

The second edition of Patterson’s Man Eaters of Tsavo has a splendid but unexplained sabertooth; John Lockwood Kipling, father of Rudyard and the keeper of the “Treasure House” museum in Kim, has a rather more understandable elephant.

Sometimes the bindings, if accurate, convey coded info– the open double gun from Bogardus shows a breechloader, so it cannot have been published much earlier than 1875; some have more interesting images on their spines than on their covers; sometimes the covers have no figure, merely border designs,  but are still attractive; sometimes the images are more dramatic or cluttered than would be thought seemly today. Look at that smoke coming out of Roosevelt’s gun, or the feathers drifting down after the Peregrine’s strike on Michell’s Art and Practice of Hawking. Though none are as startling as the PAPER dust jacket of  my copy of The Peregrine’s Saga.  Despite Williamson’s Fascist politics, I think its cheerful ferocity owes more to the fact that the artist, Tunnicliffe, watched plenty of Peregrines!

 And my favorite? Though the English often made better and definitely did more, the best I know is this buck, for American Henry van Dyke’s Still Hunting, handsome and virtually 3- D.

New Addition

Connie and I had been threatening to get back into the horse business for some time. Recently we bought a three year-old Warmblood/Holsteiner mare. Above you can see a girl and her horse.

Her official name is South Beach GES, but we’ve given her the barn name of Sophie. Buckskin Warmbloods are not common. She is a big girl at 16.4 hands, and as Warmbloods are late bloomers she is still growing.

Sophie is currently in California where our daughter Lauren has her in training. Here you can see Lauren taking Sophie over a jump. Sophie will eventually come here once we get facilities in shape for her. She’ll probably be ready to start competing in some horse shows this fall.

In other important equestrian news, granddaughter Bella got another blue ribbon in a lead-line class at the big horse show in Thermal, California.

Residues and Residues

It has become increasingly common in archaeology to test the working edges of excavated artifacts for the presence of blood or protein residue. In some cases we can determine the species of animal was impaled or cut by the tool. Several years ago I posted about the Mahaffy Cache, a cache of Clovis tools discovered by a landscaping project in near-by Boulder. Analysis of blood residue from some of the tools showed they had been used on Pleistocene camels and horses. I recently saw a paper presented at the Colorado Council of Professional Archaeologists annual meeting, where projectile points excavated from a high-altitude site in western Colorado proved to have protein residue from bighorn sheep.

Good archaeologists don’t wash or handle excavated tools anymore.

I recently came across this article about a research program at Cambridge University to identify another sort of residue on projectile points – poison residue. The use of poison arrows for example is well known from history and ethnology, but it doesn’t appear that anyone has systematically looked for it on artifacts. Dr. Valentina Borgia of Cambridge is working with forensic chemists to come up with techniques to identify poison residue on artifacts. The ancient Chinese crossbow bolts pictured above are involved with her testing program.


Homo erectus Shell Engraving

Earlier in the week in that post on Neanderthal jewelry I indulged myself in a little rant on how important discoveries can be made while reanalyzing collections from old excavations. I’d forgotten another recent example.

The Trinil site on the island of Java in Indonesia, was excavated in the early 1890s by Eugene Dubois. The site is best known in world archaeology as the discovery site of the first Homo erectus skeletal remains. The collection from this excavation resides at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. When Dubois was working, Java was part of the Dutch East Indies.

A marine biologist recently decided to re-examine the mussel shell in the collection due to his interest in an extinct species represented there known as Pseudodon vondembuschiansus trinilinsis. While photographing some specimens he noticed what appear to be zig-zag patterns that had been scratched on the exterior of one of the shells. You may need to click on the photo above and enlarge it to see the scratches clearly.

In addition, one shell had a retouched edge that indicated its use as a tool. A number of shells showed holes gouged in them near where the muscle attachment was located to pry the shells open.

Dating of sediment on the shells places them between 540, 000 and 430, 000 years old. Analysis shows they come from the same stratum that contained the Homo erectus remains.  This makes one shell the only known example of artistic expression by Homo erectus and the other the oldest known shell tool.

They sat on the museum shelves for nearly 120 years, waiting to be discovered.


No one has ever explained this close evolutionary convergence to me; even Jonathan Kingdon thought they looked less alike than they do.

Nearctic Meadow “lark”: an icterid ((New Word blackbird), common here and a lovely singer; and African Longclaw, also a bird of savannahs. But HOW? I am sure we will someday figure it out, but I don’t have a clue…

The images alternate, starting with a longclaw. And no, they are NOT related- cats and dogs…

Another Quote

Courtesy of Carlos, and probably from his library which makes my good one look rather anemic..

[He was] “… subject to a kind of disease, which at that time they called lack of money.”

(Rabelais, chapter 16 of Gargantua).

 Carlos examining interesting books from the family library in his own collection in Laramie; I am holding a first Spanish edition of Linnaeus’s  Systema Naturae;  in the other, he holds a less important book…