Tim Murphy

In a just world, North Dakota’s Tim Murphy would be not just the Poet Laureate of his beautiful Siberian state, our truest North; he would be the Poet Laureate of the USA. Good (but lesser) honored real poets, like Dana Gioia, know and say this,..

But like any cradle Catholic, even one lapsed or “relapsed”, he knows this is not a just world. Nevertheless, he sings his songs…

Besides, says the academy, he writes poems about HUNTING DOGS. Says I, so did the Greeks.

Tim has honored me by giving me some of his yet unpublished longer poems, and one for Easter Week. But I thought I would start with these four, from his Hunter’s Log, one of my “Book of Books” 100. Resist if you can…

And NO, I am not going to TYPE them!

I will put the third on Ataika’s grave if I live long enough.

More to come..

Petroglyphs– and an eagle– in Chalfant Valley

And some comparable rock art from other places. It wasn’t all disasters on our trip.Jackson  took us to the most remarkable petroglyph site I have seen since Tamgaly, north of Almaty in Kazakhstan, and quite different in subjects and execution. This sampling should give you an idea..

Jackson gives it scale. Many of the figures here are so-called shamanic designs, circles and spirals, though many doubt this interpretation including Guthrie in The Nature of Paleolithic Art. Many of the figures represent mythological animals rather than real ones.

In Tamgaly, about six different cultures form a palimpsest; here, time is represented by this figure of a miner, probably from the 1800s. The oldest figures in Tamgaly are older than anything here; the “Archaic”, realistic animals, like this figure from my forthcoming book, showing the old hunting team of birds, dog, and horse, may be as old as 6000 years.

Shadow self portrait
The 3D “feather “effect is nothing I ever saw before, either in New Mexico or in Asia.

My favorite rock animal other than Tamgaly’s is this one, found north of town by Mike Parker of the Forest Service, who is also the grandson my old Comanche mentor Leonard, himself a grandson of Quanah.We think it is a stylized bat…

Of course we saw and “bumped” a Golden eagle.We always do….

Old Mama

She’s not much to look at, some cross between livestock guardian dog breeds. Born on the range to working guardians, she’s lived all her 10+ years of life there, migrating with the flocks from the sagebrush-covered low country in winter, to the high country of the Wind River Mountains as the flocks move for summer grazing. Her hard pawpads carried her over more than 200 miles of trail each year, moving slowly with the seasons.

She’s a typical range dog, gentle and attentive to her ewes and lambs, while fiercely protective of canine intruders to her range. I’d crossed paths with her for years, as we sorted the range herds for shipping the lambs to market each fall, and as I visited the herds along the trail throughout the seasons.

Reserved with strangers, Old Mama slowly approaches her shepherds, standing quietly for attention for a few minutes before departing back to the job. The scars on her face reveal her persistent character – she’s not one to back down from a fight with a predator.

About four years ago, after lambing season, the flocks were on the move north, preparing to enter the wilderness, but Old Mama was swollen in pregnancy. One of the herders took her to the ranch where she had a selection of places to den to give birth to her pups. Our family’s flock was about seven miles north of the ranch, still within Old Mama’s home range. Old Mama stayed at the ranch a few days, but there were plenty of other guardian dogs already attending to the small flocks of sheep there, so she moved across the range, seeking that perfect isolated spot to give birth to her pups. She selected a rock outcrop high above a rugged canyon, five miles north of the ranch, but only two miles from our flock.

She appeared one morning near my flock, greeted by our guardians as one of their own. We could see she’d recently given birth, so Jim and I put out food for her, watched while she ate and then departed, headed back to the south. We’d had bears trying to get into our sheep flock nearly every night, but our guardians were persistent, keeping the bears at bay. One night, a bear moved to the cattle herd in the adjacent pasture, and the bawling of the cattle drew the attention of two of our guardians, which rushed to the rescue. I sat in the dark listening to the voices of our dogs as they were joined by a third, as Old Mama arrived on the scene. The three dogs worked as a team as they set to harassing the bear. The sounds of the night told the story: the cattle bawling, the bear roaring and bawling, with sharp barks of the dogs as they moved the bear away from the cattle and back into the forest. The night grew quiet, and my dogs returned, bouncing with excitement and adrenalin. Her work done for the night, Old Mama returned to her pups.

She made regular visits to my camp for food, and we eventually followed her back to her den, much to her outrage. We dug her growling pups from their rocky hiding place, and moved them to my camp, sticking the pups in a stock trailer with softened food and water. When Jim went to check the pups before daylight, he found Old Mama waiting to tend her litter.

We sheep producers often disagree with our guardian dogs about where they should have their pups, but we usually let the bitches have their way during that time they seek seclusion to give birth, waiting a few days before we retrieve the new families for closer supervision. This is nothing new to traditional shepherd cultures – guardian dogs give birth in primitive dens on the range across the world. Some shepherds put bells on the collars of pregnant females so they can follow the sounds of the bells to find the natal den.

I was glad Old Mama’s den hadn’t been found by anyone else. Someone might have thought this dog family needed “rescued” and taken them to a vet clinic or animal rescue in town, far from their rangeland home and away from livestock.

We and our rangeland neighbors have had various guardian dogs “rescued” on numerous occasions over the years – even within a half-mile of our house when the dogs were in the pasture with their flock, as well as a four-month old pup taken from its mother’s side while with its flock.

I used to be somewhat sympathetic to the good-hearted souls who thought they were doing the right thing. But I’ve grown weary of it. Just because a dog is not within sight distance of a house or herd doesn’t mean it’s been left behind or abandoned. Others see range dogs they feel are too skinny, expecting these athletic and hard-working dogs to be as fat as the dogs that live in their houses.

Granted, sometimes the predator situation gets so intense on our range that we have to rotate the dogs to force each dog to get some rest because the dogs will work themselves into the ground. When predators won’t flee, the dogs engage in fights, and getting their ears torn or bites on their front legs is rather common. The dogs will limp around for a few days – as would a human with a temporary but not serious injury. A few tablespoons of blood scattered down the legs of a bright white dog is a shocking sight to those who are not familiar with the lives of working dogs. Most of the injuries to the dogs are minor, and if they do require treatment, we can take care of it ourselves. Livestock producers routinely practice vet care on all our animals, and we have the medicine and the equipment to do so. Many times we administer care in the field, but sometimes the animals are moved back to ranch headquarters. More severe injuries, like those inflicted on our guardian Rena when she fought with wolves, are rare, and do require emergency vet care.

Old Mama rejoined us on the range last year as our flock grazed the sagebrush steppe along the foothills of the western front of the Wind River Range. When we gathered our animals to leave that range in late fall, we brought Old Mama with us to spend the winter months with our flock on a much smaller range. Cool as ever, she’s adjusted to the new experience, relaxing with the reduced workload that comes with the winter season, and leading her flock from their hilltop bedground to the haystack to wait for the sheep to be fed every morning.

In need of correction…

From a recent Guardian, as reported in the PLF blog. These children can’t be serious– I have see better reporting by high school students in rural New Mexico… 

A review of David Astor: A Life in Print,
a biography of the former editor of the Observer, contained a number of
errors (20 February, page 7, Review). In the article we suggested that
William Waldorf Astor was named after a hotel, when in fact his name
referred to the family’s native Rhineland village. He didn’t build
Cliveden, as we suggested, but bought it, and he didn’t sack the editor
of the Observer for spiking his contributions (although he did sack the
editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, another Astor acquisition, for spiking
his contributions). We said Katharine Whitehorn was women’s editor of
the Observer when in fact she was a columnist. We said Patrick Leigh
Fermor compared David Astor to Disney’s Pluto; Fermor actually compared
the writer Philip Toynbee to that cartoon character. Terence Kilmartin
replaced Jim Rose as Observer literary editor, not JC Trewin. During the
war, David Astor didn’t merely suffer “a mild attack of dysentery” as
suggested in the review. In fact he was wounded in action during a
German ambush in the Ardennes. Terence Kilmartin is believed to have
been involved in his rescue, and Astor was awarded the Croix de Guerre.


Tomorrow my favorite brother-in-law George goes under the knife for his cancer. He has responded very well to the chemo and radiation; one of his tumors has disappeared, and the other has shrunk. He’s done so well that they made the operation earlier rather than later, and they give him very good prospects for total remission. That said, it’s always a scary time.  I know that only too well. Here are a couple of funny pictures. He’s wearing a Mohawk because his hair was falling out, and his sons thought it would be funny. In the first, kissing my 92 year old mother, who last year thought she was 84, and this year thinks she is 91 because “91 is 16 turned upside-down”. May I never be that mad. The other two are self-explanatory.

Found Book

Once or twice, like any person who buys and occasionally sells books, I have  found a book on my shelves that I did not know I had.

But only once have I found a really valuable one that I had no recollection of buying, and still don’t. It happened about two “book culls” past, when I literally had books stacked two deep on some shelves. In the densely- packed Asia section, I saw the spine of this book:

It is Charles Vaurie’s Birds of the Himalayas. Now this is not an unnatural book for us to have: I have some other good regional ornithologies, and the Himalayas were Libby’s stomping grounds in her youthful Guiding days. She even had that slender pb bird guide published in Nepal in the seventies that many trekkers had back then– I think I threw it out in a fit of critical thinking, because the illos were so dreadful, every damn species  sort of blue and black and  crested and about the same size. Now I’d be likely to keep it, just for that reason.

But Vaurie was something else. First, it was a beautiful book, with plates of various Himalayan pheasants and such, including my favorite non- raptorial bird, the Satyr tragopan, But the book is better  than that. Although it was published in 1972 it has the  air and feel of something like Beebe’s Pheasants,Their Lives and Homes, published in 1926 in two volumes, or one of Meinerzhagen’s expensive productions. But it is not an arty or coffee table book , like some “collectors'” editions published today; it is a sort of Golden Age standard ornithology.

My interest grew as I looked through it. A page illustrating the mythical Garuda bird was marked by a hand- painted card of the creature, a much better illo…

And then I see the bookplate, of the former owner, and the letter, and I am even more amazed, for I know who both of them are. Despite their aristocratic European names, they, like Will Beebe and Roy Chapman Andrews, worked for the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the institution that has done more to shape my view of the world than any other, from when I was reading Beebe and Andrews at the Ames Free Library in Easton or at Jeanne d’Arc Academy in Milton (which happened also to be the childhood mansion of another old influence and in that case a friend as well, Frances Hamerstrom, who was Aldo Leopld’s only female student and who started her relationship with me by damning me for writing Rage for Falcons , fearing my “tough Sportswriter’s style”- HER words, in the Auk no less, would end up with falcons being commercially exploited, and ended up drinking brandy with me and the cowboys in the Golden Spur, in a near- ghost town where, in 1914, her mentor gave a talk on conservation to a crowd bigger than the entire population of the town today.

That thread will wind through collecting specimens and the Peregrine Fund and widowhood the Congo pygmies and even the David Letterman show, but it is a western one mostly and not the one here, which leads to Asia and Father Anderson Bakewell and the Explorers Club; to Libby and three trips to Mongolia and Kazakhstan and three books so far; and who knows what else to come?

None of this would have happened without the AMNH, and Libby knows this so I assumed she, the seasoned Himlayan guide,  had bought it for me.

But she had never seen it either…

Charles Schwartz RIP

Bruce Haak emailed me last night that my old friend Charles Schwartz had died, from a fast-acting brain tumor. I hadn’t even known he was sick.

Charlie was a great falconer, and a perfectionist. He ended up flying passage Gyrfalcons and Sage grouse, in the high deserts of Idaho; this high-end grouse hawking is still one of the most amazing and demanding forms of falconry.

I first met Charlie with Betsy, on our long tour of the West that ended up with our moving to Magdalena; but not before we had swung up through Idaho and Nevada. Later, he worked for the Gulf Sheiks breeding falcons for seven years. They paid very well, and they gave him a grubstake for life, but he came back screaming “No more Insh’Allah!!” *

He visited Magdalena soon after his return and brought the first two Barbary falcons I had ever seen with him, tiny compared to their Peregrine near- relatives but elegant and wedge- shaped, almost triangular,  with the colors of iron and rust (I believe they were haggards trapped on migration). We took one out in the grassy valley between the San Mateos and the Magdalenas where she mounted up to an astonishing height.

Later we visited Floyd Mansell, my natural history and hunting mentor in Magdalena. Charlie vehemently denounced Floyd’s cockfighting. Finally, Floyd took us out to his backyard, and armed two roosters with “sparring muffs”; basically, little boxing gloves that fit over their spurs. We put the roosters down as if for a fight, drawing a line in the dirt with our bootheels, and let the cocks see each other over our arms. Finally we put them on the ground, and they began to display at each other standing broadside to make themselves look bigger and fluffing up their necks. When they started to grapple, we picked them up. Charlie was apparently astonished because the behavior was so obviously hard-wired. “That’s ANIMAL BEHAVIOR!”

Charlie attended the first Wildbranch Writing Workshop, when Annie Proulx, the founder, was still there. We “old folks” (two of us in our 40s and two in our 50s)  retreated into our own little group in the summer evenings — Annie, Charlie, me and the late J. B. Stearns (a Vermont writer who resembled a huge Santa Claus and was directly descended from one of the Green Mountain Boys, who never achieved the status he deserved), would ride around in JB’s ’62 Cadillac convertible, drinking beer and singing doo-wop songs. We had a lot of fun, but in the workshop Charlie brought his obsessive perfectionism toward everything to the fore. He wrote for a week on a story about a falconer trying to train Merlins who was so obsessive in his pursuit of perfection that he would barely let his bird fly. An advisor in the story tried to get the guy to lighten up, and eventually succeeded. Charlie seemed blind to the fact that the metaphor in the story extended into his life. He polished the story all week long and absolutely refused to send it out for appraisal, ever, saying it was crap compared the work of other writers he admired.

I think the last time I actually saw Charlie was at the Sun Valley Library writer’s event, which Libby catered for. We never did see each other that often but we  kept in touch, and we were always happy to share strong opinions. He will be missed by all of us, and especially by his long-time wife, Marty Brown.

If I hear any more anecdotes of Charlie, I’ll put them in here.

* For a glimpse of the cultural baggage that drove Charlie crazy, see veterinarian  David Remple’s Footprints on the Toilet Seat. Been there…

I’m back

I hope you didn’t think I would announce the impending 4000th post and then quit on you! I am just  coming back from an extraordinarily hard couple of weeks, starting when I tried,  rather arbitrarily, to quit one of my PD drugs without checking in with my neurologist. She might have advised me that it was as addictive as an opiate, with more severe withdrawal than that from cocaine, and that it was not advisable to go cold turkey from five pills a day to none, especially if one had simultaneously stopped taking Gabapentin, a  drug that makes it less  likely to have seizures when you stop other drugs.

At any rate, I found out, even before Libby found a paper on its addictiveness on a Cornell medical website. Five hellish days… thank God for innovative country medical personnel, and for friends who trust you with heir meds.

We had already decided to go to Deep Springs via Death Valley, to see, among other things, a 25 year bloom of flowers, so we just went, with me still detoxing. Which would have been ok, but for the fact that we stopped in Flagstaff to see Dave Edwards, the old Nat Geo photographer who was my first Mongolian contact.  Why a restaurant would put a stool at a table four inches from a ledge 18 inches high is beyond me, but I then I sat in it– for at least a minute, before I toppled off the ledge.

Then, already in pain, and unsteady, I  fell down  a  flight of stairs at a motel. The resulting bruising was the worst I have ever seen, never mind had. I could not sleep, nor even lie on my back, and was so worried about my getting blood clots that I took a nearly toxic dose of Aspirin for several days…

But I’m back, and rested, and re- calibrated, and, if I can manage to get enough rest, have LOTS to blog about, including many photos of petroglyphs.