James Lee Mansell, RIP

James was Floyd Mansell’s oldest son, with the woodsman’s heritage and ability one might expect. Perhaps even in extra measure; he was one of the best woodsmen and elk and turkey hunters I ever knew in his youth. I believe he was also a Golden Gloves boxer, as many of Floyd’s kids and proteges were. But he had a problem. Before such things were diagnosed properly, at least in rural districts, he was utterly dyslexic and never did learn to read. It was no lack of intelligence or dedication; he spoke Spanish, “Burqueno”- accented English , and Navajo; people tended to think he was Spanish, but he was a quarter Navajo, a quarter Choctaw, a quarter Scots- Irish, and a quarter Lebanese; with his handsome vaguely Asian features he would have looked quite at home in Almaty or any of the Stans…

James worked hard, played hard, and walked more than anyone I knew (he once broke his back in an accident, and was walking three days later!), and he drank. It finally killed him. He was nothing if not realistic about it, and made jokes about it until his last days. I would ask him why he had done something uncharacteristically dumb, and he would look at me and say “Steve… I was drunk!” It reached its peak of heartbreak and hilarity when he insisted on narrating, in a loud voice, in the supermarket at 10 AM, how he had managed to get bitten two times by a big diamondback, which he normally could have controlled with ease, as he was a serious snake collector. In each stage of the narration — anaphylactic shock from the antivenin, and getting bit again when he released it; I would say “I know James, I know”. He kept on going “You know WHY?” I said “Yes, James” in a quiet voice. “PUTA, I was drunk!!”

He remained incorrigibly cheerful, even as his horizons narrowed. After being lost in the Gila Wilderness for three days,he stopped going on extended hunts. Breaking his back, though he walked through the pain, made it still harder than it was. He still came by almost daily, pointing out birds and other creatures he had seen on his walks. Toward the end, his wife Bernice was trying to get me to write about him, saying “You don’t know him — he’s Floyd Mansell’s son!” James, sitting at a table a few feet away, kept saying “Bernice, he’s my friend Steve. I saw him this morning! Leave him alone!”

He left behind an enormous amount of good will and love, many brothers and sisters, his mother Wanda, and a grieving wife, and a wonderful bunch of children and grandchildren, some of them already accomplished naturalists and outdoors people. Although he lived his life on the margins, he’ll be missed by many,including me.

James and grandchildren.

Gordon Hall Wasley Austin RIP

When my old friend and editor at Gray’s, Reed Austin, wrote a piece on how he met his wife, Gordon Hall Wasley, on a business fishing trip in which he ended up getting a treble hook bass plug stuck in his butt, and Gordon had to remove it, I thought it was hilarious and wrote him to tell him so. (Link TK; Anglers Journal Vol 2 no 4)). It wasn’t until last week that I learned that he had written it originally as a love letter to Gordon to celebrate their 30th anniversary, never imagining it would serve as the centerpiece to her eulogy four years later at her funeral.

It was inexplicable. For me they are the very image of WASP golden youth, forever young. That they were happy grandparents is hard for me to get my head around. I remember all the years that Reed and I spent doing crazy versions of fishing and hunting. Once he jokingly asked me not to tell Bill Sisson, our editor at Anglers about our high times. (What he actually said was “Buy anything he writes, and don’t believe a word about anything we ever did.”)

I remember Gordon’s aureole of golden hair around her face when we were jumps- hooting ducks on Duxbury Marsh.(Duxbury Marsh was so much native habitat for Reed; his grandfather Francis (Frannie) was one of the three young men hunting Duxbury Marsh in van Campen Heilner’s canonical duck hunting book; another was Reed’s then landlord, Parker).

But mostly what I remember of Gordon Hall Wasley was her genuine interest in everyone else’s passions. A brash and somewhat insecure kid from what was very much the other side of the tracks in those days at first could not believe this exotic creature was asking questions about my passions, with interest. By the time they were married I was with Betsy Huntington, and another interesting virtue was added to the Austin repertoire: utter loyalty. Betsy was of a haut-Boston background and was much older than me; this made us a little too odd for some of the more conventional gatherings we were invited to. Somehow,inevitably, Reed and Gordon would end up at our table where they would spend the rest of the evening. No fuss was made — they just came and sat with us and had fun. As I said to Reed this week, “Do you think we never noticed?”

I last saw Reed at Betsy’s funeral. He had gotten out of his hospital bed, and slashed the leg of his Brooks Brothers suit to fit it over his cast. It was a typical gesture. Through the years we stayed lightly in touch but were involved very much in our own pursuits. It took Gordon’s death to bring us together. I told him “We all loved her, and she loved you.”

Now he has his own battles to fight, alone. I hope the children and grandchildren are of comfort. Meanwhile, I grieve with you, old buddy — she was glorious. Keep writing, and hang in there.

Gordon fishing the Battenkill

Old Days

The piece on the girlss playing somehow reminded me of an older incarnation.This would be the late Lashyn and a much younger Ataika, in the spring woods with us the day we discovered the remains of a very large old bear who evidently starved before he could den up . I still have his huge skull with its worn- down teeth, And I still carry a 1911 and 7 X 42 Ziess Dialyts., though I don’t know which is more reactionary. This would be 2005 I think…

UPDATE; Found more pics (bottom):

The Girls Play

Once again we have a Girls’ Act. Bobo has regressed her great aunt to about 18 months old (from 14 years).  They play and pop and flirt as long as anyone stays awake.

This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows Turcoman tazis.
Ataika’s mother was 14 when she had her and 21 when she died, Her
grandmother attained 19, If she were at “home” she would probably sill
be jumping off the backs of camels.

Almaty- Taik on left just two months younger than Bo            

Be patient — real content is coming.

By the way — does anyone have any trouble seeing the usual background for this blog? At this point we’re just seeing white space down here…

John takes off

Our favorite gun geek John Besse left for his summer home on a tributary of the Snake in Idaho in the middle of the night so nobody  would make a fuss. I wasn’t too surprised.

Here he is with his latest project, a restored M99 Savage in the uncommon  “250- 3000” caliber.

He is partial to my favorite retriever, the ever – quirky Chesapeake, and has two: grumpy middle- aged Willie and young goofy Andy.

This M 92 isn’t quite done yet. It had a surface as pitted as the moon’s .

 Now look-as smooth as velvet, but with all its edges…