Creeps and Don Roberto

This painting is by Joseph Crawhall, a British artist who lived in Spain (in a brothel), stayed drunk, and died at 34. Nevertheless, he seemed to be a happy man.

Of him, Don Roberto wrote :

Although he spoke to no one, it was evident that he had seen not only every person in the room, but every object in it. For a considerable time he sat, turning over listlessly the pages of The Field, and drinking several stiff whiskies and sodas, that had no effect upon him, except to seem to seal his lips more firmly, not that it seemed a voluntary act, but something born with him, as were his lustrous eyes or his sleek head. His slightly bandy legs he had acquired through early riding, for he was seldom off a horse, holding that Providence would have bestowed four legs on man had he intended him to go afoot. The man was Joseph Crawhall, known to his friends as “Creeps” — why, no one seemed to know.

Unknown all his life to the general public, and even now only appreciated by his fellow artists, he certainly was a man of genius, if any painter ever merited the term. Genius, I take it, is the power of doing anything in such a way that no one else can do it. That (and fifty other things) separates it from talent, for talent merely does in a superior way what other men can do. Thus talent does not excite enmity, as is so often the fate of genius, for we all dislike that a mere man such as ourselves possesses something we can never hope to compass, even by years of unremitting toil.

Those who like myself are quite profane to the pictorial art, holding it as a miracle — but the mind of man is the greatest of all miracles, a miracle of miracles — that by some few strokes on a flat surface of canvas or of paper, a vase looks round and solid, a horse or stag is made to gallop. or a familiar face is reproduced, could see that there was something wonderful in Crawhall’s art. Something there was as I see art — but then my vision may be more limited than I suspect- that linked him by pictorial succession to the art of the great draughtsmen of the caves of Altamira.

“Crawhall, as they did, left out everything not essential, not as some leave out most that is essential, in their search after originality. Whether the prehistoric artists studied, as I think they must have, for I believe no miracles except that cited above, we do not know. Certainly Crawhall had been kept hard to learn the ribs and trucks of his profession (as Joseph Conrad might have said) in his youth, by his father, a book illustrator of repute in Newcastle-on-Tyne. Thus drawing became like thinking to him, and I think just as subconsciously. It was his speech. His pencil was to him what the tongue is to other men. He talked with it, for no sachem of the Iroquois could have been more silent in ordinary life. Lavery used to call him the Great Silence, and no one ever better merited the name. Whether he would have produced more if he had drunk less is a moot question.”

They Had Feathers, Damnit!

…was what I wanted to call my last article for Cornell’s Living Bird

A new team at the magazine, all under forty as all such people are, had decided that they could eliminate some of the magazine’s perpetual debt by firing all the nature writers. Nature writers do not make enough to relieve any excess debt. That nature writing was the original reason that such magazines existed was not even on their radar screens

“People want APPS, not nature writing!”, one said to me. Words fail. i knew LB was no longer my home.

But before I left I decided I was in a good place to take a whack at something that has bothered me for years. Why do otherwise intelligent people insist on seeing dinosaurs as reptiles, when anyone who knows anything knows that a T rex is closer to a chicken than, say, an iguana.

This Eutyrannus, from China, helped legitimize the case for feathers on the T rex, as jt was found with a patch of kiwi like feathers. Note also the snowy background and
the pack of scavenging rsptors.

A particular annoy annoyance to dino buffs were the lizardy “Velociraptors ‘”(actually they were about twice the size of that coyote- sized creature) with their slithery tails and scaly skin . Raptors are in the group of dinos that most resembles modern birds, and were certainly feathered.; if Archaopteryx is a bird, then a raptor is.

Some of us had hoped that the second Jurassic Park would rectify these errors, especially those raptors. But get real; you do not make billions by messing with a gold mine.

New T rex at the AMNH!

Who was the first person to depict dinosaurs as feathered? Certainly John Ostrom at Yale and the mad cowboy Robert Bakker out in the Rockies laid the foundation. But my vote is for John McLoughlin, artist, paleontologist and utterly independent scholar, who is affiliated with no institution and lives in a half restored stable ca 1750 in Talpa, NM, who introduced the theme in this early novel The Helix and The The Sword, which takes place in the asteroid belt. The evil emperor Lothar IV, the villain of the story has (1981) the “sisters” of the Genetic Society “build” him two Deinonychids, eagle-like raptors, which he )ses to tyrannize and kill his subjects. here is his scene:

“As a young man, of course, Lothar IV had been required to read the Annals of the Hand of Man. In the Seconds Codex of the Annals, he once read a quote: “Washington and Moscow are come to blows at last, and with them all of Earth must die; by fire, by knives and by venom airborne are we doomed, for the talons of these beasts are steel, and their breath Death itself.”

“Whatever manner of animals — or weapons — Washington and Moscow might have been, the then Rising Regent had found this reference to them oddly appealing. When, on the death of his father, Lothar became Regent, he desired to adopt some new trappings to fit his position. Having the Semerling flair for the unusual, the new Pantocrator of the Path of Jove decided that a pair of matched synes-companions, named — of course — Washington and Moscow, would be to his liking.

“Applying to the Sisterhood of the Nucleotides, he expressed his desire thus: his companions must understand (though not speak) the speech of men. They must answer to the Okumura link of the First Security Maniple. They must be lethally armed and defend the person of their Regent with their lives, if necessary; and, even in repose, they must be of an aspect which alone would strike fear into the hearts of men.

“And so, according to their ancient custom, the Sisters grew Washington and Moscow, exacting in exchange two megatons of carbon, two megaliters of oxygen, and certain promises. Delving into their records, the Sisters found the tale of the Dinosauria, a lost race of birdlike beings that inhabited dread Earth long before the advent of human beings. They learned of the Deinonychid, a beast that walked on two legs like a bird but that possessed, in place of wings, terrible three-fingered taloned hands. The Deinonychid, it was said, could traverse seventy kilometers in a single hour on its long legs, each of which sported two running-toes and a scythelike inner talon with which the monster kicked its prey to death.

“The Deinonychid and its fearsome kind inhabited the Earth in a time when all mammals were but shrewlike midgets, insect eaters. Within the inmost recesses of the mammalian mind, therefore, survives an ancient racial memory, a black fear of the bird-beast dinosauria. Knowing this, the Sisterhood grew for Lothar IV two twin Deinonychids, or copies of their supposed form (none of their nucleotide sequences, after all, having survived the demise of the Dinosauria some sixty-five million years ago).

“Man-high, smooth-coated in short blackly iridescent feathers, red of eye and each wearing a diamond-studded Regency orange collar, Washington and Moscow were delivered to Lothar IV by theSisterhood. Thenceforth, they accompanied Lothar IV everywhere he went, standing outside his chambers when he slept, beside him as he ate. They became his trademarks, and his joys, and the agents of his Regental wrath as well.”

Here is John , writer of many books of fiction and nonfiction, the sage and hermit of Talpa, where it is rumored that not only is he the only Anglo to join in las Posadas; he is without a doubt he only atheist! .

Four Books

There of my friends have written good new books about the southwest recently. I hope to have more to say about them later; I thought you should at least know they existed.

From Dennis Michael McCarthy, a novelist, biologist, and lawyer, comes the best treatment of Billy the Kid I’ve known in a long time. It is lean, understated, and written from the heart of a New Mexican.

But there’s more. Dennis Michael reminded me our books share almost more than coincidence can explain. We are roughly same age, wrote our books , which have about the same number of ;pages, at the same time, have outlaws, killer grizzlies, dead dogs, mysterious priests, and perhaps a bit of Catholic sensibility. And we never talked about the books, which seems amazing now!

Boh of us are deeply rooted in New Mexico, without which you really can’t understand the Kid. I believe that Dennis Michael and his wife used to attend Mass at the Penitente church in Santa Fe,which suggests they know a little more about their New Mexico than the usual immigrants.

I think we two old Catholic schoolboys should have a signing together and do a standup comedy routine. Come to think of it, this whole group consists of old Catholic schoolboys!

Jonathan Hanson’s book , Trail of the Jaguar, is completely different. Our scholarly naturalist gives us a balls-to-the-wall thriller, with likable strong characters up against real evil, chasing a drug lord who employs, among other things, man-eating jaguars. Despite its breakneck pace, the whole thing is informed by his knowledge of the Sonoran desert ecosystem where he grew up and has spent his whole life, apart from forays to places like Africa with his wife and life partner Roseann., who is every bit as adventurous and accomplished as he is .When such creatures as western diomondbacks play parts in the plot, it is reassuring to know they are acting like snakes rather than plot devices.

We do kid him about his attention to detail sometimes. Yes, “Shoptalk is lyrical” [McGuane]. But sometimes I fear Jonathan might give me the genus of every mouse on an island his hero was escaping to.

Tom Russell has also written a novel, Against the Blood. In this case it’s a gritty but good -hearted ramble through the bars and clubs of the legendary Southwest in the company of an old movie cowboy and his friend, an old movie Indian. (Nobody can do old movie stuff quite like Tom, who grew up in Venice, CA, virtually on the set of Welles” “Touch of Evil)) . At the end you lwill have earned the origins of every old ballad you ever knew, from “Frankie and Johnnie to “Streets of Laredo”.

Tom has another book out, The Ballad of Western Expressionism. It shows how far the artist has developed from his roots into a unique and wonderful western painter. I would own any number of these, from his “Raven Coyote”, a quintessentially New Mexican “roots”” piece , io portraits of Beckett and Roger Bacon. I particularly like that raven, his portrait of my late hero Warren Zevon and his picture of Townes van Zandt (w)ho still looks like John Davila.)

Andrew Haslen

That I have Parkinson’s disease is infuriating, depressing, and sometimes impossible.

That Andrew Haslen, the liveliest and most original portrayer of birds of prey in England, has it is a crime against nature. Here’s a sample of his work for a new edition of Game Hawk.

Teddy gets cancelled

One too many and you suddenly snap..

I have always considered the statue of TR outside the American Museum in New York to be part and parcel of the total Museum experience at my all time favorite museum- I mean , Teddy was among other things such a NEW YORKER.

Even when I was a child I considered the statues a tribute to the nobility of his companions, a fairly unusual and even unlikely one in its time. (The African is armed, BTW!)

A scholar wrote: “As an early champion of civil rights and equality for black and Native Americans during the early 20th century, many feel the statue depicts Roosevelt as leading minority persons in the U.S. forward towards the promises made to all under the U.S. constitution. Roosevelt’s relationship with Booker T. Washington and his appointment of Minnie Cox as the first black regional postmaster in the United States (Indianola, MS) is seen as further cementing this view. Roosevelt’s own comments regarding race indicated that he believed all the races were equal, but some cultures were superior due to their greater technological advances over time. The sculptor of the statue, James Earle Fraser, stated the intent with these words: “The two figures at [Roosevelt’s] side are guides symbolizing the continents of Africa and America, and if you choose may stand for Roosevelt’s friendliness to all races.”


Even at ten— even back then, I knew there was a certain condescension in its design. But I also sensed that Roosevelt considered his unusual companions to be utterly noble, an unusual lesson when they were made and a valuable one for me in the fifties.

Banning these beautiful statues makes no sense; if a sensitive ten year old could understand their complex, not entirely conscious message then, he or she could now.

TR, with our friend Kirk Hogan

Valerius Geist, RIP

Yesterday Alex Sharif emailed me news of the death of Valerius Geist. I had heard he was not well; but one’s own illness often blinds you to the troubles of others. His is a great loss. Nobody ever dominated the science of the great mammals like Val, especially on this continent, where a teen -aged immigrant German boy in flight from both his nation’s Nazi past and its dreary gray East German Marxist present, escaped to Canada, the Wild American land he had dreamed about.

He ended up relating lo the new land in a most unusual almost neolithic way: in effect, by hunting and eating it. With the possible exception of his friend Dale Guthrie,who wrote a book about eating a frozen prehistoric oxx, has anyone ever done it so thoroughly? He would be remembered for his magisterial Deer of the World alone , but he published so much more, both scholarly and popular, including one on the evolutionary nature of humans I have yet to find and read.

He was not afraid to think boldly about things other than his direct subject of work. I think I first approached him on a hunting question, introduced by Tommy Mac, but soon moved to my own unique niche. I think I first wrote to him on wolves but soon switched over to the subject of the Pleistocene and human evolution, where we stayed more or less constant (Neither of us are known for our sticking to one subject or for writing only one digression!

I thank him particularly for his thoughts about the gorges and the great rivers of Asia all have their origins. He believed that 30,000 years ago all the surviving species of hominims – early Moderns, Denisovans, perhaps some Neanderthals, even some late lingering Erectus, all lived in the same habitat together. Did they consider their neighbors to be human or were they mere things, monstrous automatons out of Descartes’ nightmares who at walked at night? Such experiences could color our attitudes toward the “Other” to this day. Val also debunked the idea that the German expedition of 1939 to that area was about Nazis and flying saucers. Sorry, neither.

He did not give a damn for “boundaries”. As a young and rather solemn archaeologist we know came back from a trans-Atlantic complaining about the passenger behind her who spent most of his time describing how Neanderthals perhaps bulldogged large game animals the way cowboys bulldog calves. After all, they have extremely strong front limbs. “Not only is there no evidence — he was a ZOOLOGIST!” It did not seem a politic time to suggest she had encountered my friend Val and might have learned something if she had listened.

Whether he was taking on wolves, confounding his new found anti-wolf friends, who agreed with him about wolves in settled country, but were confounded by his cheerful suggestion to give about 85 % of Canada back to them, or human evolutionists who thought credentials more important than imagination, Val gave a living rebuke. To others he was an inspiration. He was in love with Canada, his adopted country, especially its wild north, and with his wife Renate. He, and his letters, will be missed.

Val ,Geist

Separated at birth

Townes Van Zant and John Davila look like twins. I have thought so since I saw the “Pancho and Lefty” video, where the late songwriter makes a cameo appearance as a young federale


The Gutierrez side of John’s family have been running around in this country since at LEAST 1692, when “we came up the River with Vargas and took the place BACK.” After the Pueblo revolt, of course. This is always said without a hint of irony, and if there is any arrogance it is buried too deep to show on the surface.

(It transcends all modern politics, too. I have a friend in town, a scholar whose politics lean decidedly Left, even Marxist. When I told her about John’s story she said that her people were riding right beside John’s. She was dead serious. Sure is funny having a military aristocracy living among you in this century.

Anyway, they’ve been here long enough to have some tracks in the Texas hill country. John says that Davilas were no’count Mexicans who married up into the Gutierrezes in the 1600s. Pretty long time…

Update: Tom McIntyre suggests we add Sam Waterston…


For most people he’s best known as McCoy, but for some of us he will always be “Cecil Coulson, American Indian.”