Artists and Time Passing

Tom Quinn RACED through with wife Jeri today en route from her aunt’s old house in Tularosa (no quail this year) over the subzero divide toward rainy Point Reyes.

The snapshot though hardly great connects a lot of dots. (As always right or double click to see bigger). Upper left is a Vadim Gorbatov original of Seton’s Lobo, about a 19th century cattle killing wolf in New Mexico, done before he visited us here from our models. I know Vadim partly because he and Tom were on the original “team” of the Artists for Nature Foundation together, and I wrote about that late Cold War friendship for Tom’s book. Below that is a little oil of a New Mexico horse by Jeri. The old Chinese poster is of a style that influenced Tom. (OK, the de Chirico has nothing to do with him– it was Betsy’s!)

Funny thing was that just the day before I had found this old snap of Tom’s lifetime friend Russell Chatham (who also introduced me to Libby), with two less famous artists, Mary and Joe Bodio, in Boston a gazillion years ago– 1992 I think. (My father and mother met when he was at the Museum School and she at Mass Art– the legend says at the Tutankhamen exhibit; he abandoned art, at least professionally, after the war; she went on to fashion and advertising and eventually to watercolors).

Russ is back in the Bay Area, allegedly fallen on hard times. Vadim is in the hospital in Moscow, prepping for a serious operation. My father is gone, my mother cheerful but not wholly with us. Tom is battered but still standing, and y’all know more about me than you need. Still staggering!

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….

Michael’s fly; more connections…

As promised, the “Goshawk & Claret”, on its cover letter from Michael Simon back in 2000 [I had put 1990, meant to type 1999, and it was actually 2000!]

The reason for the Khyber Pass falconer- with- Gos in “Teaser”, below, is that Michael spent a good bit of his youth in Afghanistan before war tore its ancient and (if perilously) balanced society apart, as did several of my friends from the west and one long distance falconry mentor, Sirdar M Osman.

John Lockwood Kipling, Rudyard’s father and the model for the old curator of the “Treasure House” in Kim, wrote about Punjabi and”Border” Goshawk falconry in Man and Beast in India, here, with Pakistani bell and Afghan snuffbox of Lapis:


So once again shared interests and the mysteries of the Intarwebz connect old friends; unbelievably, an incoming message from him crossed mine to him in the same ten- minute period. Michael at 65 in VA, in the style of Picasso; his “Art” side? He also has a self- portrait in his other persona, as Edwardian fly fishing giant and “father of nymph fishing” G E M Skues; if he sends it I’ll post…

Battle Rugs & Endless Connections

I have posted a pic of my Soviet- war era Afghan battle rug before. It is a prized possession, drenched in haunted history and metaphorical blood. I got it from fellow fly fisher and double gun nut (and fine artist and rug fancier) Michael Simon, then of Livingston Montana.

Daniela, who, like many of us who are saluki and hawk people, also likes textiles, recently found this site devoted to “war rugs” and their sometimes sinister history.

This prompted me to go in search of Michael, and I was gratified to see that he is doing very well indeed. LL Bean Covers!

Back in the day, he took photos of the local literati to adorn the walls of the local bar in Livingston, and tied flies for each. Some were outrageous, but ours, the “Goshawk & Claret”, was elegant. Will photo soon. But here we were, in 1999:

Some “Country” Music Videos: Nostalgia and Chills…

Not all “country” music is unsophisticated or even American. Here I give you a bunch of stuff I have been working through and following. Let us start with Tom Russell’s classic “US Steel”— a straight- up traditional country lament complete with sweet pedal steel, but set in Pennsylvania rather than on the border or even Appalachia, full of sad images of decaying industry. I sent it to Marty Stupich, who worked in and documented that mill in the 80’s and now is photographing the abandoned smelter in El Paso, and to Retrieverman in West Virginia, who has been musing on such things. (I also suggested he look at a pre- doctrinaire Steve Earle in the stirring if slightly sinister “Copperhead Road” — a mini- movie with echoes of Thunder Road. Rednecks strike back…)

Which suggested in turn Show of Hands’ poignant “Country Life”. No jobs… no pubs… even in the American west, are we following England down?

The next jump almost leaves the tradition– Show of Hands provides the soundtrack to a traditional, rhyming poem turned strange, a very dark contemporary Christmas tale by Charles Causley, but the images in this version are adopted from Anime! I think it works. Causley changed Herod, the archetype of an arbitrary wicked king, into a more contemporary bogeyman, a sort of supernatural child molester, and put him in the English countryside. SOH gave him a soundtrack that stands at least MY hair on end. And the animator covered all this and added an apocalyptic edge– look at the sky and feel the wind over the line “…melt in a million suns”.

Enough doom! End your tour with “Longdog”, a merry tale of a merry poacher and his lurcher, also by Show of Hands; a hunter- gatherer, a “Municipal Paleolithic Man” in action. If dogs are outlawed only outlaws will have dogs…

More Thoughts on Prof. McMahan’s Essay

Reading yesterday’s NYT (online) essay, The Meat Eaters, by Rutgers University professor of philosophy Jeff McMahan (forwarded by reader Daniela and shared below by Steve), I’m almost more puzzled by my own need to comment on the piece than I am amazed by it.

It’s tempting to lump this man’s essay in with the tiresome mass of animal rights propaganda, but I think it’s only superficially similar. This goes deeper, is arguably crazier, and may belong to another tradition entirely.

Professor McMahan’s work is principally atheist, by my reading, secondarily misanthropic, and only for the sake of example concerned with the welfare of animals.

His ignorance of animals and “nature” is obvious (Does he know some deer eat baby birds? Does he know ducks rape and kill each other?) and his ignorance of the human animal (his own animal self!) can be inferred. But I think the misanthropic bent of his argument hints that maybe he knows just enough about himself to be scared and disgusted by what he sees.

This is a very old theme, indeed. Man’s fear and loathing of himself long predates any “animal rights” movement (though it certainly seems to inform it.)

I can’t help but, as a parent of two children, recognize in this line of thinking a child’s deep-seated (and profoundly self-centered) sense of injustice.

Faced with the world’s certain measures of pain, bewilderment and abandonment, reasonable children seek comfort—and if denied that comfort, predictably lash out in self defense. They give hell to their parents, to their siblings, teachers, and tragically often to themselves.

To such a child, it is better to be alone than in the company of fellow sufferers. It is better, some will conclude, even to be dead.

For all the professor’s elaborate argument and educated language, he writes essentially from the perspective of a hurt child, ironically selfish in his lashing out against the “cruelty” of others.

This argument has been taken farther than the professor has yet come. Every religion and entire civilizations (spawning literatures and philosophies he must certainly know) have been created in the attempt to see past the problem of pain.

Although we still argue (obviously) and wonder about this problem, there is at least a shared understanding that the problem is sewn into the system and somehow essential to it.

Whether you chose to see this as life in a Fallen world or simply acknowledge, in the secular sense, that we’re all fucked, every adult must advance from that basic understanding to whatever conclusions can be drawn.

Only a child will chose to sit in a corner, hungry and hurt, while everyone sits at the table and eats what’s given.

Update: Chas’s thoughts here.

Worst NYT piece EVER?

Unfortunately the Times is not up to Jeff Lockwood’s standard today, at least outside of their science pages. Last night Daniela sent me this essay by a philosophy professor at Rutgers who is also a visiting one at Princeton (which at least balances him and Peter Singer with Freeman Dyson, who outweighs them both together intellectually), suggesting that we must totally eliminate all carnivores in order to stop suffering on the planet. That anyone this immune to reason, or innocent of any knowledge of anything outside his abstract field, gets paid handsomely for using his brain at any college is a damning comment on our society, education, and of academia as a whole today. This should only have been printed in The Onion. I won’t dignify it by quoting further, but am considering a letter to the paper– think about writing one too (they have already closed comments).

And the other depressing fact is that, if you wade through those comments, the most common reaction after the sensible variants on “what a fool!” and “what was the Times THINKING?” is the one that humans should be eliminated, voluntarily or involuntarily. This hatred of humanity among our elite classes is almost as scary as Professor McMahan’s hatred of reality and incomprehension of what life is. Both are utterly fascist, even beyond Naziism in their implications.

Matt exclaims: “What a troubling, sad piece—this man teaches!”

Lighter reaction– Daniela accompanied the link with the following note: “Well, I’m just about to see whether I have any reasonable carne to indulge my heathen self in!”

And one last point– what must excellent science writers like the Times’ Nicholas Wade think about sharing space and money with such invincibly ignorant idiots?

Update: Daniela comments in an email: “I like Jeff Lockwood’s take on ethics! That would make Prof. McMahan a philosophiopath, for being too ignorant to know how to pose a philosophical question. In the Hebrew Hagada the one who doesn’t know what to ask is called “Tam” – “an innocent”…The text suggests you help him”.

I am not sure I know how…

Military Rifles and the LATE Great Game

To continue the series on guns I have & like, humble & noble…

I don’t have a military Mauser because I already have a first rate example built as sporting one.

I don’t have a Springfield because with a gun of similar action and caliber (Mauser) it seems a bit redundant.

I don’t have a Mosin Nagant and given my Russophilia “might should”. I tell people I am holding out for a rare lever action model 95 Winchester made in Mosin’s caliber for the Czarist army (it would probably have to be a gift!– money isn’t getting better!)

I DO have two very different very utilitarian military rifles with a long history in Asia. Lots of cheap ammo is still available for both, from corrosive primer Pakistani army ANCIENT .303 British (clean with lots of Windex) to that steel case Russian 7.62 X 39 James McMurtry sings about– Russian bubba ammo. (Though remember its role in Vaillant’s Tiger).

The English bolt rifle is a late SMLE (Short Magazine Lee Enfield)in .303, Great Britain’s Empire gun for most of the 20th century, for years the most popular caliber in Canada, and a modest caliber that has taken every big game animal in Africa. It is still used by park rangers in Nepal and India. An old guide friend in BC once dropped a moose dead in its tracks at 400 yards using the elevated military sights– I prefer its excellent “ghost ring” peep, still good for my old eyes at 100 yards or so.

It is my favorite military action. Before they switched to (mostly– I have seen pix of some uncanny sporting Rigby Mauser clones) AK47 variants, the infamous weapons shops of Peshawar built many Enfields, complete with English proof marks. I wonder whether the gun toted by the Afghan hunter in this Kenworthy sculpture, photo’d by Sir Terence Clark, is one of those? It is certainly an SMLE.

Here are the two guns, the English bolt (older ones were used in WW I) and the late WWII Russian (actually this one is Yugoslav) semiauto that fires a similar bullet from a MUCH smaller case, and is because of its cheapness and ruggedness and the availability of ammo the choice of poor hunters from the Ozarks to Kamchatka. (Its bayonet is useful but generally as a “stand”– you extend it and stick it into the ground so your rifle remains high and dry and vertical). I like having one around for it Asian history, its utter utility, its cheap ammo, and because it pisses off some who love Gentleman’s Guns like my Grant, for I am a socially equivocal creature who rather likes both– lifestyles as well as guns…

The SKS is more accurate than the popular “pray & spray” AK47 of the same caliber, but I would admit (Arthur?) the long barrel and the good peep make me shoot the Enfield better.

(I should add that they are on a Kazakh wall hanging that might have seen either in a previous life).

While I am on the unlikely intersection of guns in Asia and Asian textiles I must show off a gorgeous Uzbek embroidered gunslip made specifically for the short version of the SMLE, the “Jungle Carbine”, obtained for me by old friend, falconer, and textile scholar Eric Wilcox. Nothing else fits its length and bolt hole. I’ll never get rid of it– anybody have a Jungle carbine that needs a home?


Reid has been after me to do this one for ages.

Let’s see: here is a slice of bookcase (yes, Carel, you are in there too). Take out that black one in the center.

There it is:

See the bookplate?

Let’s zoom in. Can you read it?

When I found it in a store in Berkeley over a decade ago, I couldn’t believe the price, even for a nice Norman Douglas without a bookplate– about as much as a modern novel today. I asked her if it could possibly be correct and she replied “It’s been here for years and you are the only one who ever noticed!” She gave me this clipping which charted the course of the book’s progress:

Douglas was a rather disreputable old travel writer and novelist who was a friend of Lawrence, though I cannot imagine two more different temperaments. This book, a novel is his best known work, but this travel book is a better book. He was also a mentor to the wonderful (and dazzlingly beautiful) English food writer Elizabeth David, who introduced English readers to the glories of French and Mediterranean cooking after WW II (Betsy Huntington said David’s books taught her what food was). And he did the only funny indexes (indices?) I have ever seen– more on that some other time.

She and Douglas (and Graham Greene and Harold Acton and other notables) are all characters in this novel, Lunch with Elizabeth David. There is also an excellent biography of David by Artemis Cooper, who also edited this collection of pieces by Querencia favorite Patrick Leigh Fermor.