Two young Magdaleneans of our acquaintance attended a”steampunk” wedding in Denver, and from what I could see caught the Mechano- Victorian essence of that subculture better than anyone. Although the style is often credited to this book (and Lord Byron’s daughter is always a founding character) it is really a VISUAL style and came into its own in graphic novels like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I think that Torie and Adrienne embody it perfectly!
A friend in Alberta snapped this photo of Tom Russell and Ian Tyson in fine form at a concert up there.
My informant said that he told a story of bringing his Swiss Father-in-law over the Continental Divide at night to visit us and our hounds and hawks. It could have been a fraught scene — “Poppi” says that his only English was “Fuck you, cowboy”, which as Tom said “went over real big with a bunch of drunk cowboys demanding encores of “Tonight We Ride”, but our French wine, our posole, and our animals disarmed him, not to mention my ability to speak French, and he now sends us German articles on falconry.
This story and many others are in Tom’s wonderful new collection of essays Ceremonies of the Horsemen. There are portraits of Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins, of Hemingway and Ian Tyson, Charles Portis and John Graves, and a piece on J P S Brown, a hard old man we both know who may be the best unknown cowboy novelist around. There is also that story about me and falconry, one about Gallo del Cielo (the “damn chicken song”) and the only English cockfight corrida I know, which will teach you all you need to know about cockfighting (and I don’t mean that sarcastically). It is a tragedy with laughs around the edges, although Tom has been known to claim that he wrote a version with a happy ending in which the rooster buys the Golden Spur Bar.
In the weirdest of these stories Tom ends up in the Swiss castle of Balthus’ widow, discussing their mutual admiration for Tex Ritter’s “Blood on the Saddle”. Buy this book! Nobody but Tom could ever have written it.
I am as vain as the next guy, and I had come to hate the way I looked in some recent pics, like this one at Helen’s signing:
I looked so frail compared to Helen that somebody who did not know me asked if I were taking chemo! I HATE that- PD is bad enough.
Luckily some good photos have appeared recently. Stefan Wachs, a Swiss photographer based in Santa Fe, did some fine ones for a forthcoming article on me in New Mexico magazine- he took many, but here are a few good ones. I don’t look young, but (I have to admit) I’m NOT.
Then we decided to do our own sort of hipster- gunfigher set, maybe Keith Richards meets Sam Shepherd (embrace your decrepitude!)*, with a big influence from Jay Dusard’s more urban portraits of Tom Russell. Actually the idea came about sitting on our “stoop”, an old couch that once belonged to Anne Proulx which we put out for trash but that became such an afternoon social center that we have bought it a waterproof cover. The Edwardian high tech of the 1896 Mauser Broomie adds a Steampunk touch…
*Jay McInerney once wrote that Tom McGuane was the idol of those who wanted to be Hemingway AND Keith Richards…
People from cities who hunt once a year think they must have he latest flat- shooting magnum to achieve success. So, often they miss because of an unexpected flinch, or end up destroying meat. Third gen ranchers like Miles City’s John L Moore (well, that is the nearest TOWN) know better:
“My dad was a phenomenal shot with the old .30-30 that was in the Krutt shack when he bought this place. My Uncle Dan told me he could shoot the heads of ducks swimming out in the middle of a reservoir. When I was 10-years-old I got an Ithaca Model 49 saddle gun, a single-shot .22 falling block with a scabbard. I thought it was the greatest present ever. Joe and Jeff Peila were at that birthday present and wow, was Jeff ever mad and jealous about that! Now, more than 54 years later, grandkids David and Selah gave it a try. Don’t miss the classic photo of my dad with an antelope…”
Here it is, John:
And the kids:
John is also a lay preacher with a sense of humor- a rare breed in my neighborhoods.He once sent me this:
UPDATE: John reminds me that Midnight, the fine horse documentary he was involved with, is available on Amazon here. It is getting five stars from everyone…
BEST quality Coggswell & Harrison London – made non- ejector back- action sidelock, 16 gauge, six pounds even with 29″ barrels choked very lightly (near cylinder and SK 1 by today’s standards; probably a “lady’s gun” with its 14″ stock as it is too ornate for a young person’s. Despite the length it fits very well with the Connecticut Arms detachable leather pad I use with my old LC. It is a “dark” gun and my photos fail to do it justice; unlike some later boxlocks by the maker I have owned, with fine finishes but a dubious ejector system that eventually weakened and affected the trigger(s) it is a London Best in every way. As a matt er of fact it is less the maker (which affects fit and esthetics, and more practically price) but the time: it is a Seventies pattern and patent non- ejector back- action hammergun. Before Diggory Haddoke bestowed his imprimatur on them in his new book on hammer guns , John Besse, as always, said it best and first, speaking particularly of Daniel Riviera’s Purdey,
but meaning a whole class of London guns:”That is the pinnacle of gun development; they don’t get any better. They’re completely hand made to the highest standards- you never even see a tool mark anywhere- but they are completely practical. With one of those you could wander around, shoot a pheasant or a duck or a hare; or even a fox. After that, after the Beasley Patent Purdey” [what everyone thinks of as THE Purdey- 1874 I think, though most London makers would build you an old fashioned gun at LEAST until the Great War] “all the innovation was just gimmicks to impress rich people, needless complications. Who needs ejectors or easy openers except for driven birds? RICH people’s sport!” It’s an echo of my statement in the Book o’ Books (a new one is in the works!) that the Victorians spread the vices of driven shooting and respectability along with enclosures and industrial capitalism- but read Colonel Thornton for that, or at least wait until I can quote the last of the wild squires at length.
Anyway, the gun; what do y’all think?
My long- time Canadian hunting correspondent, Alex Sharif, who I met through Valerius Geist, is primarily a sheep hunter and a mountaineer. But when he sent me a few photos from his cousin Afshin in Idaho,I was intrigued. Afshin is a Goshawker, and he hunts Chukar in the kind of country they have always inhabited, in Central Asia, where everything is vertical He put us in touch, and Afshin sent me this exciting portfolio,as well as a couple of short YouTubes that show his young Elhew pointer and the difficulties of hunting that terrain- watch the bird plunge into the abysss.
The proud falconer (technicaly of course, “austringer”) with Tooran- two hawk’s profiles!
The fine writer Jonathan Rosen (The Life of the Skies) did me the great favor of reviewing Hounds of Heaven for the WSJ Review Supplement’s Christmas Books issue. What is more, he showed that he understood the theme of all of my work. If you don’t subscribe, the review is behind a paywall, but here is a version cut from my sister Karen’s Facebook page.
Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Rosen picked my brothers book as a Christmas gift!
— “Years ago I stumbled on a book by Stephen Bodio called “A Rage for Falcons: An Alliance Between Man and Bird.” Like the kestrel on the first page that “turned on his back in terror and ‘footed’ me with a handful of hot needles,” the author sent an electric charge through every sentence. In “The Hounds of Heaven” (Skyhorse, 180 pages, $22.99) he combines his love of falconry with his passion for the Asian sight hound, an ancient breed from Central Asia, where men have hunted with falcons and dogs for thousands of years. A writer who gives ideas as well as dogs their warm-blooded due, Mr. Bodio explores one of his great themes: the way we evolved alongside animal companions, a savage symbiosis that helped make us human.”
– Wall Street Journal Nov 19
He also reviewed my friend Julie Zickefoose’s wonderful book on nestling birds,Baby Birds and showed that he understood it too. Put that on your Christmas list as well.
I’ve written extensively about our relationship with our working livestock guardian dogs and have written very little about life with our herding dogs. The difference between the two types of dogs is remarkable.
None of our guardian dogs over the age of about two months old has ever been willing to play with a store-bought toy. Sure, they will fling a dead prairie dog through the air repeatedly, but never an actual dog toy.
Our guardian dogs do not retrieve anything you throw for them in attempt to get them to play. Instead, they tend to look at you like you’re an idiot, and watch while you retrieve it yourself.
We had the exciting experience of teaching a few of our guardian dogs to do funny tricks. But they only did the tricks once (as if to prove it could be done), and reverted back to the typical “this-human-is-a-complete-idiot” look of contempt.
Unlike any herding dog I know, our guardian dogs are nearly incapable of catching treats that are tossed directly at them. It’s a rare event that one of our guardians will open its mouth to catch a piece of meat that is gently launched at them. The meat will hit the dog on the nose, or in the middle of the forehead, before bouncing off and landing on the ground from where it is retrieved and consumed.
With the exception of the “go to the sheep” command, our guardian dogs fail to take more than the most rudimentary instructions from us. Even if they are fully aware of what we want them to do, they will comply only if it was their idea in the first place.
Try pointing something out in the distance, and the guardian dog will look at your hand, unlike our herding dogs, which use both verbal requests and hand signals. I can point out a specific lamb to Hud the herding dog, and tell him to “Get that lamb.” Hud will them chase the lamb through the flock, knocking it down with his chest and holding it to the ground until I get there. (Hud’s the dark dog in the photos, while the guardians are the all-white dogs.)
These behavioral differences are easily explained by the differences in the type of work the dogs specialize in. Guardian dogs are by their very nature independent decision-makers. They assess threats to their herds, and react accordingly. They do not wait for human guidance.
The only exception to this is exhibited by Rena, a guardian dog now suffering from arthritis as the result of a battle with wolves. There is a pesky coyote that she can’t catch, so when it comes around teasing her, Rena will bark and wait until Jim or I follow her out with a gun. All she wants is that coyote dead, so she’s willing to cooperate with us to make that happen.
In contrast, herding dogs are human companions, bred to be pliable in taking instruction, and seem to have a desire to please their humans. Guardian dogs generally don’t care about what humans think, but herding dogs do.
Since most of our dogs were raised together, the guardian dogs are all amazingly tolerant of the much smaller herding dogs. The guard dogs don’t like to have their sheep messed with, but allow the herding dogs to do their jobs so long as no sheep are injured in the process. Shearing day is fun for herding dogs, which enjoy the excitement and the work of keeping the sheep bunched and moving forward, while the guardian dogs sulk around outside the corral, fuming about the disturbance to their flock.
Our adult guardian dogs tend to weigh between 90 and 130 pounds, and our smallest adult herding dog was Abe, weighing in about 25 pounds when soaking wet. Yet honest old Abe was treated as top dog, with a pack of guardian dogs patiently waiting for him to walk away from the food bowl before the ravenous pack would move in.
Abe was a bearded collie/border collie cross, while Hud is a bearded
collie/Aussie cross. Both dogs had the soft-mouth characteristic that we
shepherds find so endearing. Both dogs prefer to simply poke the sheep
with their noses rather than bite. Content just to be in the presence of
their sheep, both dogs could be left alone with the sheep without
feeling the need to “work” them.
All the dogs tend to be well
aware of their surroundings, and often it’s a herding dog that detects
the presence of a coyote. The herding dog will raise the alarm and start
running in the direction of the problem, but will always glance behind
to make sure the guardian dogs will arrive at the point of danger long
before the herding dog. The herding dogs then happily return to their
leisure while the big dogs do the work.
One of Hud’s jobs is to “guard” four goat guardian dogs every morning while they eat. Hud keeps the goats from getting to the dogs and competing with them for their food. Yesterday his job got a little more complicated when a baby goat decided she liked the looks of Hud and came to him. Hud adores baby animals and got excited by the tiny goat since this was only the second time he’d been able to thoroughly investigate a member of this species. Hud towered over the kid, running his nose over her back and putting his nose to her tail. The kid decided that was too close for comfort and raced for me to save her. I told Hud, “Easy, easy,” and tried to convince him to move her back to her herd. But every time she tried to go back to her bunch, Hud cut off her exit by licking her nose and turning her back to me. It was pretty funny, but I eventually told Hud to knock it off, so he let her go, following her back to her herd before returning to the work he was supposed to be doing. The guardian dogs didn’t even look up from their food.
Hud is a prime example of the concept that like their human companions, dogs are creatures of habit. Hud has a few store-bought toys to play with, but there is one special toy that is our bedtime entertainment. When I make the bed each morning, I place the decorative pillows on the bed and place his stuffed Lambchop toy on top. Every evening while Jim and I are on computers or watching television in the living room, Hud quietly goes back to our bedroom to retrieve Lambchop, and then slowly walks into the living room to present it to us, gently pushing it into a lap. The suggestion is clear: It’s bedtime. We usually agree, jumping up to shut off the lights, and following him down the hall to bed. Hud and Lambchop wait patiently in the middle of the bed while his humans brush their teeth and crawl under the covers.
But sometimes Hud tries to put us to bed far too early, and we have to convince him that no, going to bed at 5 p.m. is not a good idea.
This nighttime routine is such a staple of our lives that when I’m away from home, Hud sulks. He refuses to retrieve Lambchop to put Jim to bed, and usually sleeps outside on those nights. His sulking starts the minute he sees me get out my luggage. That’s why I usually try to pack my bag while its deep in the dark recess of my closet.
While Hud would prefer to spend nearly every minute in my presence, our guardian dogs aren’t nearly so devoted. The guardians act happy to see me every day, but usually grow bored with me within a few minutes, dismissing me and returning to their flock. Their devotion lies elsewhere.