Obscure Objects of Desire

Nobody NEEDS any of these, and my chances of getting any range from possible to slim to no way on earth, but as an over- the- top wish list…

From Aero Art, who do remarkable military miniatures (I have a Mongol drummer on a Bactrian camel and a Mogul warrior with a monitor lizard), comes one I love even better, but it ain’t cheap; Saladin with tazis. The level of research is amazing– these look like they have the “Khalag tasy” coat, borne by intermediate types between tazis and taigans, in the high Asian foothills from Afghanistan to Kyrgizstan. The only fitting sequel would be his equally noble rival and contemporary, Frederic II, with a gyrfalcon.

The classic shotgun I consider to be the most beautiful gun in the world, more subtle than any sidelock: a bar- in- wood round action triggerplate  lock late 19th century Edinborough- built James McNaughton, the first I have ever seen in 20 bore, for the — really– astonishingly low price of just under $15,000; restored subtly, with in- proof Damascus 28- inch barrels. I’d be tempted to sell all my guns and get it, but Libby would murder me, knowing I would just begin re- acquiring them. She knows I can live with a small battery– see link to Old Gunkie below– but not ONE.

A painting (owned by the International Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Wyoming) by Raymond Harris Ching, of a Lanner falcon, that is my favorite painting of a falcon ever, period.

A “horned” matchlock rifle from Afghanistan,  being demonstrated by its owner, a Hazara tribesman, in the 1870’s, ht Jess:

A sculpture by Edouard Martinet.  (Recommended by Annie D)

Old- Fashioned Ornithology

Before there was Birding, there was Collecting, with a shotgun. Many people don’t realize that type specimens still must be collected to be valid; even a blood sample for DNA is not considered sufficient. And skins of common birds that die are useful for education, and as beautiful as a kind of mortal art. The great bird painter Ray Harris Ching has had surreal fun showing living birds with taxonomic labels.

Blog friend Stacia Novy, falconer and biologist, has been making skins for her prof, Dr. Rick Essner, at grad school in Illinois. She writes:

“My professor has a “salvage permit” and is allowed to collect birds that have died naturally in the wild:  hit by a car, starvation, disease, etc.  We save the skins for study specimens.  It takes 2 hours to prepare each one, so this is 40 hours worth of work, not including the drying time which takes about 2-3 weeks.  They are pretty to look at, even in death.”

I agree. And look, Reid: an Indigo bunting for you too see up close! Right click…

That there are still hunderds of Passenger pigeon skins in collections means that we can still find out things we don’t know. And now there is plausible “Jurassic Park”scenario too– a lot more DNA remains after 100 years than 65 million…

Art, Science, Insect Hunting, and Nabokov

John Wilson’s butterfly photos remind me of one of the great neglected stories of 20th century intellectual life; that Vladimir Nabokov was not just a writer and teacher but a great taxonomist, this despite being denigrated as a dilettante in his time.

Joseph Conrad is legitimately revered for becoming a great English novelist in his second language but the prickly and egotistical Nabokov is not always grated the same status. Yet he wrote as well in English as he did in Russian (and French) and will be remembered for everything from Lolita (one of the three great fifties “Road” books– search earlier posts) to, at a minimum, the poignantly funny Pnin, the pioneeringly PoMo but accessible Pale Fire, The Gift (first written in Russian, with butterflies, unlike the others) and the autobiographical Speak, Memory. His sometimes perverse but minutely analytical lectures on writers Russian and not are IMAO priceless for other writers and students of literature. Not bad for a repeatedly exiled refugee…

He also collected and studied butterflies all his life. His studies of the widespread little “Blues”, which he carried on at Harvard, were often dismissed during his lifetime. Using traditional taxonomic methods of close observation and measurement (he was particularly fascinated by the “lock and key” variations in butterfly genitalia*), he developed a theory suggesting that the Blues came over the Bering Straits to Alaska from Asia and spread south to the Andes, branching and diversifying as they went.

He was right, as recent DNA studies have shown. And here is a more “literary” treatment.

Two good books cover the whole background, though both came out before his vindication: Nabokov’s Blues, which tells of his years of study, and the omnibus Nabokov’s Butterflies.

And here are a couple of local blues from John Wilson, who started the ball rolling… the western pygmy blue, Brephidium exile, and the Acmon blue, Plebejus acmon

*This is not as unusual as one might think. A few summers ago I had a contract to collect hundreds of micro bees at the Sevilleta refuge and mount each one with extracted but attached genitalia displayed. I think it is safe to add this was BEFORE Parkinson’s! Got many geek points for discussing such at parties with my boss, the lovely Karen (Wetherill) Wright, below in two guises after sample bee box and me as bee wrangler….

Two old (or old- fashioned) naturalists, and new photo series

Two old farts in the bar courtyard. John Wilson is an old style bug catching (or photographing) “stamp collector” naturalist like me, an Ohioan who retired from an Audubon sanctuary there to a remote homestead in the Mags– somebody I can talk bugs, birds, and taxonomy with! Luckily he likes beer too. I am starting a local insect of the week photo with him though I expect as it gets colder it will become feeder bird or plant or…?

Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui, at 7000 feet in November:

Lawrence’s bookplate

…. free- associating here, for Pluvi: my almost accidentally acquired rebound copy of Norman Douglas’s Together, from T.E.L.’s library. I picked it up in Berkeley 20 years ago for nothing; when I pointed at the plate and asked why so cheap, the clerk replied that I was the first person in five years to notice… in Berkeley! But then I also picked up a Leigh Fermor first with a dj there for $20, an early Voyage of the Beagle, and the only Linsenmaeier Insects I have ever seen for sale, all the same day…