Still Staggering…

A  reader below, in comments, worries about my current photo. It is a crop from this one of me with Shiri and hounds:

I replied:

“It is part of a cheerful photo of me with a dog– may publish. Health? I
am 65 with Parkinson’s and rheumatoid srthritis, as healthy with those
as I can be. I am in the process of getting an operation that should
diminish the Parkinson’s considerably, but I don’t have any illusions of
youth either…”

If the consensus is that it is too alarming, let me know– I have others!

I am hard at work but shall return.

New Discovery Pushes Date of the Oldest Stone Tools Back 700,000 Years

Up until last month, the oldest known hominid-manufactured stone tools dated to approximately 2.6 million years ago and came from a site at Gona, Ethiopia.  In April, Science Magazine reported on a conference paper announcing that tools dating to 3.3 million years ago had been discovered at a site near Lomekwi, Kenya. This is a VERY important discovery, pushing the date for earliest tools back 700,000 years. I held off posting on this as I was frustrated (as were other archaeologists I know) that there were no photographs of the artifacts provided. Earlier this week, the New York Times had an article on the subject that provided a link to the abstract of an article published in Nature by the discoverers. The photo of artifacts above was posted with the abstract along with some others, and my curiosity was somewhat satisfied.

This new discovery is similar to the one at Gona, in that the tools so far have not been discovered in direct association with any hominid remains.  It is assumed that they must have been made by contemporary known hominids, perhaps Australopithecus sp. or Kenyanthropus platyops. Unless and until we find a direction association of tools and bones we will not know who was responsible.

One of the more controversial aspects of the find has been the fact that the discoverers have asserted that these earlier stone tools should be referred to as a new Lomekwian lithic tradition. Up until this time, the earliest stone tool tradition (including the discoveries at Gona) were referred to as belonging to the Oldowan lithic tradition, based upon their first discovery by Louis and Mary Leakey in the 1930s at Olduvai (now Oldupai) Gorge in Tanzania. Discoverers subsequent to the Leakeys continued to use Oldowan as a descriptive term for a specific lithic “tool kit” even though their discoveries sometimes predated the ones at Olduvai (Oldupai). Looking at these tools, it doesn’t appear to me that they are really any different than those that have previously been classified as Oldowan. It doesn’t appear that the discoverers have advanced any real evidence that the Lomekwi tools are qualitatively or quantitatively different from Oldowan.

Usage by archaeologists over time will tell the tale, but somehow I doubt Lomekwian will catch on. I look forward to reading what other archaeologists have to say about this.


Catherine and Jean Louis Lassez are back in the states, and Catherine is back at Muleshoe Ranch, after being right in the middle of the Himalayan earthquake. Much to be said, much of it serious and some harrowing, but the trip was not without its whimsical moments…

UPDATE: English bird and nature writer Conor Jameson, friend of the blog and author of Looking for the Goshawk, now available at English Amazon in pb, was over there for four weeks before the quake, working for the RSPB. He has written a guest post on their blog, suggesting ways to help and ending with these original thoughts, which I think both the Lassez and Libby, who has been going there even longer, would agree on:

“We can also help, in the longer term, by considering a visit to the
country, when it is back on its feet. I hope if you do that you find
time to get a little bit off the beaten tourist track and visit projects
like ours, working with communities to sustain the sublime natural
environment of this brave, spirited country, embodied in the reputation
of its religious figures, mountain guides and Gurkha regiments which
have done so much for us. Nepal and its people hold a deserved place in
the world’s affections

McGuane at the Strand

As promised. These have generated a lot of email (personal, off blog, though I would encourage them here) enough that I might start looking for such interviews. I will put some thoughts in reaction below (above?),  probably tomorrow…

OK, in-stream commentary to friends edited only for a minimum of sense and coherence:

“Living in the west, natives, newcomers, “Stickers”. He conspicuously left out New Mexico, often an exception to easy rules. Given the ancient ethnes here– well, just OLD for Navajos and Apaches, who just beat the Spanish- the old populations here, which I think still are more than half of our population– any newcomer/ Anglo (includes, specifically, Italian here in Magdalena) has a chance at acceptance if he is what Stegner called a “sticker”. Oldest ranch here is the Italian one, Sis Olney’s (Pound ranch), and her great grandfather Joe Gianera came from the Swiss border about 18 miles from my gparents in 1859! John Davila considers his Davila ancestors parvenus becauise they married “UP into the Guttierez family” in 1820! Whereas the Guttierezes “… came up the river with Onate and took the place BACK!” after the Pueblo revolt. Gotta love that back… but it also means our church (big parish, San Miguel, Socorro) has a not always friendly rivalry going with Santa Fe as to who has the oldest church. Ours has the oldest wall, but had to incorporate it into a new one after the rebellion, because the Indians burned the old one…

“But despite (because of?), I surely am considered an old timer in this town, with pics, mostly hunting ones, on the bar wall, not because I am “famous” but because I live here and have hung out there for three incarnations of the bar and a couple of generations of humans. As I said to my (75 year old!) friend Lawrence Aragon last year when he lamented the dearth of old- timers: WE, los borrachos perdidos– the surviving ones anyway– are the old timers!

“So, Stegner’s “Stickers”. A good concept- though are we ones entirely by choice, or does economics play a part? The Stickers are often poor enough they might not do as well in richer placers, though McGuane and some others are exceptions. I wonder that any distance he feels from his neighbors might be because he is wealthy rather than an incomer– it puts up barriers. Certainly he has a good rep as a man who knows horses, all the way down  here.

(Jackson and Eli both were born in Santa Fe, and they can make a case for Eli being a 4th Gen Gringo SANTA FEAN, not just NMexican– pretty rare and cool…)

“With my crappy typing these days this feels like a dissertation, but a few more thoughts. Stegner fellowships at Stanford: did he like ANYBODY? McGuane, Robert Stone, Kesey, Shetzline– all were told they were lazy, beatniks, hippies, drug addicts- being selected seems to have meant success of sorts, but not from him. Back in MT it was as bad– Bud Guthrie AFAIK disliked without exception every incomer, and once told someone I know that anyone who moved there and bought a horse or rodeo’d was a poseur and a phony and he didn’t have to read them. Harsh, and ridiculous…

“McGuane’s lament for a more playful and less minimalist fiction rang true to me- his old stuff had more sheer FUN in it, prosodically anyway. I blame the influence– baneful influence, however he is regarded, of Raymond Carver. Luckily the South has somewhat escaped this– read Barry Hannah, much mentioned, and Brad Watson , two good examples. (Both Tom and Brad have written affectionate memories of THAT wild man).  And then there are crazy Catholic memoirists and poets like Mary Karr..

“Tom gave a shout- out to not just Helen but Helen’s friend Olivia Laing and her great book on drunkenness in writers, The Trip to Echo Spring. What can I say- that it is an ENJOYABLE book on drunkenness, celebrating the writers if not their excesses; that it is utterly free of cant or twelve step religion; that it is  a road book, by a naturalist, about Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Carver, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, and John Cheever, that got me reading at least one (Cheever) again? That I once got an email from her in New Hampshire with an attached photo of my Good Guns Again, Blogger ” Doctor Hypercube’s” Arrieta, and the remains of bacon and eggs on the table?  Read her!

“Last: I enjoy his short stories but if he is really working on a novel about his family I am excited, hope it is BIG, and also hope it will go back to the “Irish Riviera”, South Shore of Boston all the way around to Providence, where his roots (always acknowledged) are. Of course he has told me to do the same, just from bits in my pigeon book…

“I wish he would write more about bird dogs and guns and horses, at least as much as fish. (did you see him call to Nick Lyons in the audience?)”

Tom McGuane on writing and reading

The always intelligent McGuane on what made him a writer. “I read like a son- of- a – bitch” was an early statement of his that helped confirm my vocation– in my youth I wrote at best in spasms, but read everything. That includes books he mentions he read but alludes to as as “non- literary”, like Beebe’s Arcturus Adventure, but I respectfully disagree- everything was more… not literary but readerly;  literate, then, if only because there were fewer ways to transmit information…

I have another, newer interview to watch– if it adds much I will put it here too, so check back…


Micaela’s Lublub from Finland, one of my favorite dogs, reminding us that at 13 she can be elegant as well as comic; the third, used here before, reminds us of the comedy. She did that herself with no human help…

Coming Attractions

Back from almost a week in Boston, where I went to see and hear Tom Russell’s debut of his new Ballad of the West, The Rose of Roscrae; also to see my 90 year- old mother, whose birthday I had missed, my siblings– 4 of out of 8 of them still live there, as well as any number of splendid nephews and nieces: and to eat sea creatures, as well as have any other adventures possible for an impoverished 65 year old writer badly in need of brain surgery.

It was a success, from music to family encounters to food, and paid what may well be an unexpected dividend; my brother in law George Graham, avocational naturalist- localist and photographer,introduced me to his town’s restored herring (alewife) run, and our mutual fascination with it became my unexpected second theme for the visit- who knows what may come?

Tonight, a preview and glimpses; I have an assignment to write on Tom, and many herring photos too, all to come.

 Coffee house nostalgia– I went to the predecessor of Passim, Club 47, (47 Palmer Street in Harvard Square) from about 1966 or 7 on. I saw Ian Tyson, who is now 82 and who I met when he played with Tom in Santa Fe, with his then wife Sylvia there, before 1970 anyway…

On the subway with K:

Sideman Thad Beckman; later, local singer Barrence Whitfield, who recorded more than a few songs with Tom back when… Cuban Sandwich!

My mother: “You look OLD”, she said to me. “And I am NOT convinced I’m 90, either!”

Sisters Alicia, Anita, Karen…

The blurred one below is, I believe, my sisters (and niece Stella) expressing solidarity with their geographically wayward brother, or something equally hilarious. Beware the Sister Posse…. (sorry for blur), and me with Wendy, closest in age to me.

The run- got an article’s worth, but some highlights– restored urban anadromous fish spawning, with predators! (Comorant by Lisa Erwin, Weymouth MA)

Black Marmots

This dark marmot lives in Grand Teton National Park, and the more typical colored one below lives 100 miles north in Yellowstone National Park. A melanistic population of yellow-bellied marmots have persisted in the Tetons for more than 80 years, with 15-23% of the population consisting of these “black marmots.”