Retiring Old Mama

The last few years, we’ve been working Old Mama into retirement. She’s a fine old dog that has traveled many, many miles accompanying her flocks from the low desert to the high mountains each year. We gradually placed her with flocks following shorter trails, and finally stopped allowing her to trail to winter range a few years ago. She’s adapted beautifully to every change; so long as she’s with sheep, she’s content.

Every day she cheerfully sticks her tail straight up into the air and trots off to lead the flock in the day’s grazing. Her face and body carry many scars of war, proof of her unwillingness to back down from a fight with any predator.

Yesterday was the start of a new stage of retirement, as we placed Old Mama into a large pen with orphan lambs that were born this spring. She’s healed up from her most recent battle with wolves, and is in great physical condition, but her teeth are worn with age so she can no longer defend herself. It’s something that she doesn’t understand, as she regularly sounds the alarm and charges out with the other guardians to face danger.

The last few months we’ve had our hands full with wolf problems, so we’ve been night-penning the sheep, and Old Mama is usually the last to enter the pen, following her flock into safety. But when she entered the pen last night, I slipped a leash over her head and diverted her into an adjacent pen, where she could be with smaller lambs. Old Mama was happy to spend time with these youngsters, but when she watched me let her flock out of the neighboring pen at daylight this morning, she stood expectantly at the gate, waiting for me to let her out. But I didn’t. She would no longer be their leader.

With wolves frequently coming so close to the house, I’m afraid we may be on the verge of a major canid brawl. Predictably, Old Mama would rise to the challenge, and would give her life in the process. We’re trying to lessen the risk of that happening.

We had hoped to stop night-penning the sheep as soon as we start winter feeding, probably around the first of December. Instead of ranging out to graze, our providing lines of alfalfa-grass hay near the house will keep the flock close by. But our discovery of wolf tracks within a quarter-mile of the house has cancelled that plan. We’ll be night penning until we can get these particular problem wolves eliminated.

Perhaps during the day Old Mama and her lambs can rejoin the flock as it feeds on hay near the house, and accompany the flock back into the pens at night. Perhaps my indulging in the desires of an old dog will lead to her demise. While I fear for her, far be it for me to deny an old dog her last wish.

Sort of back…

 I assume that the readers of this blog are lucid enough that they realize things have not  exactly been going well.

 It is no one thing; it is EVERY thing. It is mortality and decay and entropy and luck, and admitting when you CAN’T play today..

It is realism. Look, fans, I have written some good books, but I am unlikely to die rich. I would settle for out of debt. If Querencia and/ or Tiger Country/Only a Mountain haven’t sold to Hollywood I doubt they will quickly enough to pay my bills,  I am unlikely to write another of either.

I have decided that the Gila monster venom isn’t working. It has been an enlightening experience, full of stumbles, pratfalls, and forced humility. God knows if old age isn’t for sissies then sickness isn’t for anyone who doesn’t have a sense of humor. I’ll have some details for those of you with a strong sense or humor and/or Buddho-Christian humility, but I warn you it is pretty coarse.

Re field sports. The big hawk had to go back to Bill Meeker. She was entirely too much bird for me. I had asked Bill for a 12 ounce Barbary tiercel, hand-raised. He generously responded by driving up a 34 ounce Gyr cross female, chamber-raised with an attitude. Not to mention that she was into four mile flights. Bill generously took her back after a few days, driving to pick her up from El Paso, and says that next year he will breed me a proper Barbary male. In the meantime, such falconry companions as Padre Pablo (Paul Moore) and Paul Domski have suggested that I should fly a Kestrel, Matt Mullenix style, out of my truck. As my apprentice, the nearly 80 year old Juan Gutierrez is recovering from multiple cancers, it is probably a good idea.

The Puppy also has many ideas and may be too much for me. Suffice to say for now that while she continues to be sweet and  intelligent, she also continues to destroy every object that catches her fancy, and does not listen to a single thing I say, considering me to have the social status of a wounded puppy. She does listen to Libby.

(Guns: after selling off most of mine and attempting an ill-timed effort to crowdfund a last fine gun, two things happened: David Zincavage GAVE me an utterly Germanic sixteen, and John Besse came back from Idaho with two guns destined for me or my shelves at least — one is an interesting hammer-12 from the 1870s with the exact dimensions of my .410;  the other, a  Parker ten, is probably too heavy for me to carry these days.)

I’m recovering from a double hernia operation plus various falls, and to be honest, I feel a lack of attention from my primary neurologist. I’m making changes in this. It seems time when one receives more information from a consulting clinic in Denver once than in  years of therapy.

The richest veins of humor and humility  lie in the hernia operation. They sort of tell you what will happen. What they don’t tell you is the effect of gravity. That all your male parts will be swollen up to twice their natural size and purple as a grape is not in the information handout. That the condition will last five days and more, only is succeeded by itching is something you can find out for yourself. But the funniest thing is that all the rummaging around in your intestinal region that produces your fluid and makes you swollen and purple also stops peristalsis. When you realize you have not used a bathroom and are becoming inflated…well, let me repeat what I said to my sister Karen, who heartily agreed: “Old age leaves you nothing in the way of dignity except what’s inherent. I used to be modest and reticent. Well, see your dignified older brother at Happy Hour with a vodka lying on his side in his bed, trying to concentrate on his New York Review of Books while a nurse of his acquaintance rummages around in his large intestine looking for a blockage. And failing that, gives him a dose of sodium citrate so strong that he dares not go more than 20 feet from the toilet for 24 hours.”

So here we are. Will the blog continue? If you wish, and as it can. I cannot devote my primary time to it, particularly as I can’t type. Libby is typing this with much physical effort as my voice and her ears are not a good match for dictation, and dictation software has yet to prove itself to Parkinsonians. I have some more work but all work is extremely tiring right now.  This may change as I adapt to my present meds, and may well change after Februrary and a new neurologist. A temporary neighbor has given me an interesting tip on a radical but rooted new therapy. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, FYI. The novel is at Penn and maybe one more place (Malcolm?). The Book of Books is apparently dead in the water at Lyons Press, as the previous Book of Books (Sportsman’s Library) made no money and its one proponent is leaving Lyons. Perhaps Daniel on how to revive it as a crowdfunding project? A memoir of sorts seems unlikely to sell unless one one of the others did, which seems unlikely at the moment. The same thing — sorry, Dutch — for an anthology. Though  I would do the Book of Books for you.

The most maddening prospect is the Passenger Pigeon project. I am more convinced than ever that I have the key to the phenomenon. But I have no agent, and the only people willing to do it are SkyHorse. I trust Jay Cassell there,  as he put Hounds of Heaven right, but they can’t give me enough money. Worse, the president of the company wants a new sample chapter and I haven’t a clue what to say in it. I’ve never been so blocked. except intestinally. The trips I need to make to Wisconsin and Berkeley are both expensive and mildly intimidating but I’ll do them if I can.

This is the point, along with many others, to put put in my inexpressible gratitude to Libby Frishman. She thinks she’s grouchy. I maintain that not only is she not grouchy; her occasional temper means that she is accruing far more virtue by having to work for it than would be demonstrated by a blissed-out ninny.


David’s gun with 410

Bo & Lib

Visions of Helen

“I.m not answering that!”

Radio with Lauren:


With Mary Karr, another absolute favorite:

The new TV show: luminously SANE falconry: