Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Doggage/ Impending Litter?

Riss and Aymoon:
If you think Aymoon seems a little goofy, consider this photo of him in action.
We already know that Rissy is a good girl.

Wolf Miscellany

I think there is an unstated human obsession with wolves, perhaps because they contain in essence both the genes of our species' best animal friend, and the age -old simultaneous rep as humankind's most visible enemy. Here are a few recent instances.

I have always heard the some of the big Central Asian flock protection dogs are interbred with wolves. As wolves are among their chief adversaries, and the phenotype is so different, I never took the myth too seriously. I was wrong-- apparently there is a surprising amount of fraternizing. One of the scientists involved puts it just that way: ""The shepherd dogs are free-ranging, largely outside the tight control of their human masters. They guard the herds from wolves, which are common in the areas where they are used, but it appears that they are also consorting with the enemy."

The implications of this, in such areas as nature vs nurture, are enormous. Obviously genes aren't all, or the offspring would not be useful. Training and loyalty must come in somewhere.


John Wilson participated in a "round- up" of some of the breeding Mexican wolves held at the Sevilleta, where they needed to capture a pair to send to Mexico. I was happy to see they are really being kept in isolation these days, having seen evidence of the contrary a few years back-- letting in television news helicopter crews for a shoot is not isolation! Also interesting was how passive and shy the wolves are, offering no resistance. The workers formed a line and swept down the hill to where the den boxes are; the wolves retreated to the boxes; the volunteers then opened the den, pinned the wolves, trussed them, drugged them and carried them out. No one, human or wolf, was injured.




Some notes from John (odd format is from his notes):
Far up a canyon, many pens are separated by many gates and fences. This is where the captive Mexican Gray Wolves live and breed.  It is not an area that visitors get to see.  Only staff and volunteers who are working on specific projects enter this area.  The large deep canyon in which the facility rests is filled with large pens enclosed with high chain link fences.  There are half a dozen of these pens, each about a couple of acres.  The pens are reached by passing through anterooms and doors are closed to ensure no escapes...


--> We all created a line with various tools to make us appear larger. Then we slowly walked toward the wolves wooden box den.  The wolves are immediately panicked by human presence.  They are very afraid of us because their contacts with humans have been kept to an absolute minimum. ...  We caught glimpse of the wolves as they ran back and forth and away from us.  
--> The wolves fear humans and try to get away as they would in the wild. Their only option is to get in their den. With serious coaching from the staff the line advanced toward the plywood box den and very quickly the wolves went inside.  A staff member ran to the den and closed the only door.  In both enclosures the wolf pair quickly took shelter in the den.

--> From the first moment access is possible the wolves (a mated pair) are monitored to ensure their safety.   The dens have hinged roofs and side panels.  The staff check on the wolves constantly through the exercise and are alert to signs of stress and overheating.  Long forked control sticks keep the wolves immobile until they are ready to be moved onto the ground cloths where the work will be done

--> With surprising speed, blood sampling, stool sampling, palpation to determine pregnancy, inoculation, and other procedures take place. A radio tracking collar is put on. Cooling ice packs and alcohol for the feet keep the animal from overheating.   

--> In a few minutes the wolf is lifted gently into the travel kennel.  When lifted from the work area to be placed in the kennel the wolf’s tail was curled under its body and no struggle was made.  Hind end first, the wolf was placed in the kennel.  When the animal was safely inside, the muzzle was removed by pulling on a rope and the door was closed.

--> This pair of wolves with the female pregnant will be driven to Laredo and transferred to the Mexican staff who will release the animal in to reserves on that side of the border.  The other pair will cross the border at El Paso and be a part of the endangered species work there.
And then there is what we might call the decadent-- an L.A.  chef's new avant- garde signature dish, "Wolves in the Snow": venison in the image of a wolf kill .



"To pull of the dish, Thornton uses venison to replicate the sort of meat a wolf might eat; the blood is a beet and blackberry gastrique; and the snow is a creamy cauliflower purée. Something, perhaps, to be made for your next date night?"

Here is the recipe:
Wolves in the Snow
From: Craig Thornton of Wolvesden
Serves: 4-6
Venison:
2 lbs. venison tenderloin, trimmed of silver skin and brought to room temperature
salt to taste
pepper (crack a good amount of pepper onto the venison after cooking)
grape seed or canola oil
basting kit: 2 tablespoons butter; thyme; and 2 garlic cloves crushed with the skin left on
1. Heat oven to 300°F
2. Add a decent amount of oil to a large, hot pan.
3. Season venison with salt and a small amount of black pepper. Add venison to the pan and brown on all sides. Then place the pan in the oven for 7-9 minutes, until rare to medium rare (any more and the meat will taste overly gamey and iron-y).
4. Remove pan from oven, and add basting kit into the pan. Once the butter is melted, spoon it over the meat. Baste for about two minutes.
5. Take venison out of the pan and let rest for 8-10 minutes. Season with black pepper.
Cauliflower purée
1 head cauliflower (with a few pieces reserved and left raw)
salt to taste
milk (to cover)
1 tablespoons lemon juice
small pinch of sugar
1. Cut the head into florets, about 2-inch pieces.
2. Place in a pan, cover with milk, and season with salt and sugar. Cook until soft enough to blend.
3. Remove cauliflower from pan, add to blender, and blend. Add cooking liquid as needed, until you have a slightly thick purée. Adjust seasoning to taste, then set aside along with lemon juice (which will be used for final plating).
Raw cauliflower
reserved raw cauliflower
salt to taste
2 tbs olive oil
1 tbs lemon juice
small pinch of sugar
1. Chop the cauliflower roughly.
2. Combine remaining ingredients, then use them to dress the raw cauliflower. Set aside.
Blackberry beet "gastrique"
1 cup beet juice (preferably from freshly juiced beets)
1 pint blackberries
Banyuls vinegar to taste
salt to taste
sugar to taste
1 sheet gelatin, or ¼ packet powdered gelatin
1. Place beet juice in small pan and reduce over low heat (a higher heat will give you a bitter flavor).
2. Take your blackberries and put them through a food mill, or crush them and force them through a fine strainer. Do not blend the blackberries, as you do not want the flavor of crushed blackberry seeds.
3. Once the beet juice is reduced by half, add the blackberry purée. Season to taste, adjusting the vinegar and sugar for a sweet-and-sour flavor, adding a little salt to sharpen the flavors.
4. Once seasoned, bloom your gelatin sheet, or powdered gelatin, in water.
5. Lightly heat your sauce, keeping below 120°F (you want it just barely heated enough for the gelatin to dissolve, but also to not kill the raw blackberry flavor).
6. Mix in your gelatin. Once dispersed, adjust seasoning again, then store and set aside.
Douglas fir
2 packets of Douglas fir pine needle tea
1 cup water
sugar to taste
1 sheet gelatin or ¼ pkt powdered gelatin
1. Make Douglas fir tea.
2. Strain, then season with sugar.
3. Bloom your gelatin.
4. Mix in gelatin, let cool, then set mixture aside.
Hen of the woods mushroom
2 package hen of the woods mushroom
grape seed or canola oil
salt to taste
butter to taste
1 tablespoons chopped shallot
1. Heat large sauté pan with oil.
2. Add mushrooms, but do not move the pan or touch the mushrooms. Let them sit, and gain color on one side (by seasoning later, the mushrooms will retain more liquid).
3. Add a spoonful of butter and the shallots, then let cook for a few minutes. Season, and set aside until plating.
Final plating
1. Warm the cauliflower purée, add lemon juice, then adjust seasoning.
2. Take Douglas fir sauce, and put about ½ tbs on the plate.
3. Rip venison apart with two forks, which will act as sharp teeth.
4. Place cauliflower purée on the plate.
5. Lay mushrooms, scattered, on the plate.
6. Lay down the venison, then sprinkle the raw cauliflower, letting it fall wherever.
7. Attack the plate with your blackberry beet "blood." If you don't get "agro," then your plate will reflect that, and who will believe that you, or a wolf, killed this thing?

 Actually it sounds pretty good, but it looks more than a little grim. Cat suggests: "... it would be more authentic if the chef would have slid a rumen sac replica onto the plate." Chas adds "No marzipan intestines?" But Jack, who found and sent it, has the final snark: "Of course, if he weren't a complete pussy he'd be opening joints in Pinedale, Salmon and Reserve instead of L.A., where the local critics could offer meaningful feedback on wolf attack verisimilitude." Ouch!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday musing on lines from Yeats

You know it:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer...

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Fools dominate the news. Too many good people in the west support a thuggish blowhard who refuses to accept the law while apparently trying to start a war;, one who even brags he will put women on the front line. As I said to the writer below, this is not a horse you want to hitch your wagon to (he agreed, having just written the same thing to a friend!)

Meanwhile, too many decent urbanites with little sense of western matters seem to yearn for state power to strike him in a way they may come to regret. See here for a frightening look into the militarization of our police forces, a phenomenon that seems to have started with the "war'' on drugs-- do we really need internal wars, like Mexico's? -- and shows no sign of stopping, with supporters on our so- called right AND left. It seems strange to worry about Putin's psychological warfare in Ukraine  before we put our own house in order.

Nor can those with only a vague sense of what the west is understand how passionately those whose families have been living and working the land for generations feel about what is their only home. Complexities of legal ownership abound; but instead of who the land belongs to, think of it differently: who belongs to that land?

So here is a thoughtful guest post, a musing on the situation by a rancher and writer who also worries, and brings both a rancher's perspective and a spiritual dimension that I cannot easily write about. As JP says, it is an appropriate day.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stupid Quote

You are going to have to search hard for worse. Tom McIntyre sends this masterpiece of po- mo ignorance from National Geographic's Explorer- in residence ("Isn't that an oxymoron?"), one Derek Joubert: "Hunting will one day be relegated to the category of awful things we did as humans, alongside apartheid and the Holocaust.”

If you believe as I do that this sets new standards for invincible ignorance please let Mr. Joubert (and the magazine) know.

He is not an intellectual...

...and neither am I. On About last Night, Terry Teachout, possibly the most wide- ranging American critic and cultural writer, explains:

"I incline as a rule to the mode of thought and feeling implied by T.S. Eliot's remark that Henry James had "a mind so fine that no idea could violate it." All history, especially the history of the twentieth century, argues against placing ideas in the saddle and allowing them to ride mankind. Too often they end up riding individual men and women into mass graves. As Irving Babbitt pointed out:

'Robespierre and Saint-Just were ready to eliminate violently whole social strata that seemed to them to be made up of parasites and conspirators, in order that they might adjust this actual France to the Sparta of their dreams; so that the Terror was far more than is commonly realized a bucolic episode. It lends color to the assertion that has been made that the last stage of sentimentalism is homicidal mania.'

That's one of many reasons why I choose not to call myself an intellectual."

Also see, perhaps, Michael Oakeshott.

Eagle Dreamers

I must assume that ALL my readers have seen some version of this:
 I have gotten over 100 emails, and they are still coming in. The one most saw was a BBC article (see David Zincavage's blog), but I like the photographer's, and his background info. It seems that the wild men of central Asia, as pragmatic as can be, have not opposed the few brave young women who have decided to take up this difficult but thrilling way of life (not exactly a"sport" by the way, as some call it, unless at the games at the annual fall "fiestas" there and in the 'Stans).

I was delighted by the photos, and the whole phenomenon. But I thought the real pioneer was being ignored-- Lauren McGough, who contacted us when she was 16, went out to hunt for a month with the late Aralbai, "The Coolest Man in the World" (Google it up), then returned on a Fulbright to spend a year there as an apprentice, then another year back and forth to the 'Stans and Mongolia. She is now in Scotland writing her doctoral thesis, and has continued flying eagles on the plains here and in Scotland.

Lauren is not worried, though she has a sensible distrust of the accuracy of the press: "The photos are just brilliant of course - I recognize in that smile the pure joy of flying an eagle! I always have mixed feelings about media articles of Mongolian eagle culture, though. Its hard not to be possessive of "my" subject!...  If I can find the funds, perhaps visiting the girl myself would be a compelling epilogue. It in a way, it is like coming full-circle, from my own 14-year old self that used to daydream her red-tail was an eagle. Or something!"

After I got her notes I wondered: Olgii Aimag is not too big; could the young Kazakh girl have heard about the strange American berkutchi? Could it have swayed her father?  Could she have seen this not- very tall American with the huge eagle named after the Milky Way?


There is going to be a book, and it will have insights I never dreamed of. Meanwhile, back in the USA, the government is considering shutting down the (at most) 6 eagle annual falconry take, while wind farms and eagle- killing natives are given a pass. Sometimes I think I should go off to live and die in Asia, where eagle dreamers get some respect.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Frustration

I have tons of material-- John Wilson on sending some Mexican wolves to Mexico, with pics; all manner of current events; books to review (Paula Young Lee's delightful Deer Hunting in Paris is way overdue); more poets to quote-- Zarzyski!); foodbloggiing, imminent novels by friends,  gyr coming....

And all I seem to do is catchup work, repairs on me and objects, above all the horrible and apparently necessary struggle to sell myself and my "product", none of which so far has paid off-- no publisher interest in PP's or dog book at least if I have to be PAID for it...
Cue Peter Bowen, novelist, western wit, professional curmudgeon, and stoic: "WHINE, WHINE, WHINE-- all writers do is whine. Nobody asked you to be a writer!"

He's right. Thanks to Beth, old friend and new blog fan, I just got a new laptop which liberates me from the Parkinsonian pain of the desk. Decks are clear. I am going to write The Hounds of Heaven, about my dogs and their roots and our adventures here and there (Beth: splendid phrase re hounds "... flowing fierce animals..!") and walk, and train a new bird. And if things don't sell by fall, I'll sell some guns and go to Szechuan. Or Rome and points south, for Frederic. And publish my own damn books...

High- grade doggage

From Dan Gauss, granddog H1lda (not a typo) after jack.



Q Cover Redux

In the home stretch  on the new  edition of  Q.  For the cover, I still favor some variety of this photo (forgive quality of my amateur efforts; I am sure a designer could do wonders with my template). The publisher favors the old cover. Any last thoughts? Here are the mockups I attempted.


The old one is wonderful but I believe in new covers for new editions. And I should add it is a lot better than this image below-- I have been shifting files and couldn't find a version so got it off Amazon!)


Friday, April 11, 2014

Stupid Science Questions

These sorts of things can be really sappy, but I often find I get sucked in and can't help enjoying them.

Examples:

How did the thesaurus survive the dinosaur extinction?

We've long known the speed of light, but what is the speed of heavy?

My neighbor said he's an "acidic Jew". Are there basic Jews? What happens if you combine one of each?


Poetry

From Larry Gavin's new collection The Initiation of Praise:

My Reader

My reader is part of a small

club like those who fancy

terriers and the taking of game

to ground. My reader stumbled

on this book by accident because

of a mistransposed order

number or an absent minded

librarian that was thinking

about fishing instead of listening

at the time. My reader

holds a glass of something

that has some grief in it,

and folds the book

back on itself breaking the binding

like day breaks in the east

orange and then yellow. My reader

smells of dew and wild mint,

and can keep a secret, and knows

at least two good lawyers.

My reader is sensitive; believes

in Bigfoot and not the Loch Ness

monster. My reader's favorite

north Americabn ungulate

is the Musk Ox. My reader

dreams of flying, dreams of vessels of containment, dreams

of more poems like this one.


--Available from Red Dragonfly Press (www.reddragonflypress.org)

Farming Makes You Weak

I know I've mentioned a number of times here, that as prehistoric peoples moved from a hunting-gathering economy to agriculture, in general their health declined. This was apparently due to a number of factors, including eating a more limited diet, living for long periods in one place increases the spread of disease, etc.

I just came across a link for a new study of human remains from the Danube region of Europe that shows the population's bones became weaker as it transitioned from hunting-gathering to agriculture. The magazine's title was a little more dramatic than mine - From athletes to couch potatoes: Humans through 6,000 years of farming.


More Ivanpah

A few days ago I posted about seeing the Ivanpah solar plant from the air. A commenter mentioned that it was killing lots of birds. I just saw in the Palm Springs newspaper that the US Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a report calling it a "mega-trap" killing birds. This picture is of a fried Northern Rough-winged Swallow found at Ivanpah.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Quote

This one is the only one by Bertholdt Brecht I like, at least outside of his collaborations with Kurt Weill, and one of only two great quotes by diehard Marxists I can remember. Anyone know the other? Hint: it was by the most interesting old Commie ever...

Brecht, though:

"Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?"

Weekend Doggage

The imperturbable Almaty Ataika, Queen of the universe and still looking young, surveys her Brokedown Palace.

Cowboy Humor

Montana writer and third generation  rancher John Moore has a good new novel coming-- which somehow led to this photo by and of his friend, western cartoonist Wally Bagdgett (who is also a thinly disguised character in the book):
I am not sure who wrote the caption...

"Wally Badgett, creator of the “Earl” cartoon, announces his new Roman Riding Act which will debut in pro rodeo this summer featuring the highly-trained Clyde (left) and Pedro. Wally explains that his buddy, John L. Moore, has a new book coming out this Spring that is certain to make him famous, giving him the time and money to do what he has always wanted to do. “I’ve been attracted to Roman Riding because of the costumes,” he explains. “I can’t wait to wear fringe, Spandex, glitter, bling, and sequins. Hopefully in a hot pink and lavender combination.”

Overland Traveller

My sometime neighbor for almost 20 years, Rolf Magener, is sort of a professional traveler (at least when he is not stopping at the apartment of a Swedish countess in Buenos Aires, where I just sent my copy); two years ago he was sailing across the South Pacific, and he sent me my treasured photo of Chini Bagh in Kashgar, but he touches down here periodically. He is now trying to make some money at it by publishing Overland Traveller (Brit spelling), an online travel mag with splendid photos and good advice. I contributed a piece on Malaria, mine and an update on the disease, in his initial issue; in his latest, on Asia and especially Central Asia, I had more fun riffing on the northern Silk Road...

("...  Still another time, we sat in a French restaurant in UB, run by  an African woman from Senegal who had married an American Peace Corps volunteer from Philadelphia who took her to UB and then divorced her; she landed on her feet, teaching African spices and French wine to young Mongolian girls. Passing in the falling snow on the boulevard below, we counted: a herd of sheep, a camel being led by an ancient granny, many Russian motorcycles with sidecars, many Mercedes of various vintages; horsemen, Ladas, Chinese "jeeps", a Suburban with black windows (Mafia, they say). UB is a postmodern cyberpunk city at the heart of Central Asia, with whole suburbs of gers, stretching as far as you can see, with horses and guardian mastiffs chained and threatening, and television antennas and motorcycles...")

Rolf is German, younger than me, and grew up mostly in South Africa and Spain; the only property I know of that belongs to him is in our county, a few acres on the west side of the Magdalenas. But remember this book cover? I put it up as a tease last month.
Our Rolf is the namesake of the author, his uncle, who was one of the German climbers interned in northern India with Heinrich Harrer at the outset of WWII. They broke out and "one went NORTH", to misquote the nursery rhyme-- Harrer, to his seven years in Tibet, fame, and eventually a movie starring Brad Pitt; and one went EAST, Magener, to Burma. But I guess that to many Burma was not as romantic as Tibet. and nobody ever made a movie Still, a good book. Mine is signed by the younger Rolf.

Our editor at Muleshoe Ranch last Christmas
:

Turkmeni Falconry

Some of you know Vadim Gorbatov's painting of a Turcoman falconer waiting out a sandstorm with tazi and saker.
Sir Terence Clarke just sent this excellent little video of hunting there. My Ataika, though born in Kazakhstan, is rather a Turkmeni type. And the falconry is almost just like the kind we practice but for camels. Also, taxonomists might note that the little local sakers resemble prairie falcons, very different from the great Altai type far to the northeast, which is hard to tell from a gyr...
 

Salt Marsh Spring

Sister Karen and brother in law George Graham check in from the Massachusetts coast about their excellent interface with the wild; the sea's edge borders wilderness even near the biggest cities. George says:

"We've been enjoying the wake up in our back yard, Great Esker and the Back River. We've identified at least three nesting pairs of osprey. One osprey seem to be sitting in the marsh, one perches in the nest while the other stands proud in the marsh grass,  part of the mating process?   While surveying the marsh, we did a spring cleanup before the grass stands back up. It took a pounding from the ice flows, lots of mud deposits. We pulled a child's toy, a grill cover which we filled with plastic and glass, and this antique bottle from Freeport Street, Dorchester,  my old backyard. Also saw many black-crowned night herons waiting for the herring to arrive which is any day now. Going to set up a blind to photog them, or maybe use the ghillie suit. Heading off to the Herring Run Clean up in the AM. The interface of urbia meets the wild."




And adds re night herons (which we oddly have here too, on the Rio): "Forgot the black-capped night herons, odd creatures, well built for fishing, rather silly habits of playing peek-a-boo from their coniferous perches, watching us,  they have zero camouflage."



Peter Matthiessen, RIP

Peter Mattthiessen has died at 86. the word had been out that he was not well, but he had been a figure on the horizon for all of us who write about nature  for a lifetime, and like Patrick Leigh Fermor it seemed he might go on forever...

I thought as a writer he could be uneven, led astray by obsessions and politics and, I suspect, a flinty patrician Yankee's sense of noblesse oblige. By all accounts he was warm and even funny in person, but that does not often show in his work. Which does not matter if the quality is high, and when he aimed high, it was.

His views of what was most important in his work and my favorites, at least, were different. I could never get through ANY version of his Florida  trilogy- plus- fourth- volume- condensation, nor most of his pure political stuff. I loved At Play in the Fields of the Lord, and his often ignored book on cranes. Wildlife in America is magnificent but was too pessimistic;  any amount of species that he had given up as lost are more numerous than when he wrote the first version, in 1959.  You should still own it as a yet unmatched history of the post- European continent.

I enjoy The Snow Leopard, which is of course not about the mammal but Buddhism and a bit about George Schaller. The Tree Where Man was Born re-reads well. I would also like to reread Blue Meridian some time, because he was a blue- water man by birth and inclination. Where we unite-- no, where I will go further than he seemed to--- is in thinking that the on- its- face experimental Far Tortuga is a masterpiece, and one that becomes vividly "real" as you enter its universe. I would guardedly call it his best fiction, maybe best book.

It is also safe to say that no contemporary writer during his long career wrote such a various body of lasting work. And let us not slight Paris Review, still readable after all these years, though whether its style owed most to him or to George Plimpton I am not establishment enough to know.

More on his last days here. (Photo from NYT) Thanks to Andy Wilson for links.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Mississippi Flyway

I was back in Arkansas in January visiting my father and it occurred to me it had been years since I had been there during migration season. I thought I'd use this post to put up a few pictures I took.

I was amazed at how Snow Geese have taken over the flyway. If you click to "embiggen" the picture above you'll see some of the thousands of geese I saw covering a 20 acre flooded rice field near Weiner, Arkansas. I drove around the area between Jonesboro and Harrisburg one afternoon and saw 8 fields in much the same condition.

It was interesting watching them take off in large groups. They seemed to go up in a spiral. They really move in monstrous flocks. I suppose there is a reason there isn't a "Geese Unlimited."

I seem to remember that the majority of the migrators were ducks when I was a kid. There's still plenty of those, too.

This time of year it seems like everyone in that part of the state wears camo.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Ivanpah

Back in February, Connie and I flew from Denver to John Wayne Airport in Orange County to visit our kids. Shortly after we crossed the Colorado River into California, we saw flashes of light out our window on the north side of the plane. Knowing solar energy as we do from our work, we quickly identified it as reflections from the mirrors and power tower at BightSource's Ivanpah solar plant. You can read more about the plant here.

It was quite an amazing sight, and there was some talk from other passengers who didn't know what it was and thought it must be a UFO or something.

I cannot take credit for this picture. I did not have my camera to hand and found this picture later in an article written by a person who had the same experience we did. I can say this looks almost exactly like what we saw out our window.

If you find yourself flying in this corridor in the future, look for it.

H/T Power Line

Hot Links

Archaeologists working in Nebraska have excavated sherds of European ceramics in an 18th century Indian site that they believe may be evidence of the ill-fated Villasur Expedition. In the early 1700s, French traders from Louisiana began to expand their activities west across the Plains into what Spain considered to be its territory. In the summer of 1720, the Spanish governor of New Mexico sent an expedition under Lt General Pedro de Villasur northeast from Santa Fe to apprehend the traders or at least to gather intelligence about their activities.

 Villasur's command was quite small, about 40 Spanish soldiers, 60-70 Pueblo Indian allies, and 10 Apache scouts. Villasur made contact with members of the Pawnee and Oto tribes near the confluence of the Loup and Platte Rivers in western Nebraska. He attempted to negotiate with them, but his force was wiped out in a surprise attack by the tribes, apparently aided by French agents. There is a contemporary painting of the battle made on buffalo hides exhibited in the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe. I show a copy of part of it above - I have always found it quite haunting.

No one knows precisely where the site of the battle is located, but these researchers believe these ceramics may represent loot obtained by victors of the fight.

Paleontologists working in the Netherlands have examined skeletons of Late Pleistocene mammoths from the North Sea area and found that many have an extra rib. They interpret this genetic anomaly as a sign of inbreeding and stress on the mammoth population that indicate signs of their eventual path to extinction.

We all learned from history that the great plague of the Black Death in 14th century England was spread by fleas carried by rats, right? Not so fast. Plague DNA extracted from skeletons in graves excavated in London shows that  it was more likely an airborne illness spread through coughs and sneezes.

I have posted here before about the great prehistoric Mississippian capital of Cahokia. Archaeologists working there have used analysis of strontium isotope ratios from burials there, to show that about a third of the people who lived there had grown up somewhere else. This provides more confirmation of the theory that the site was a regional "melting pot" pulling in population from all over the south and midwest.

Monday, March 31, 2014

More Trilobites

Another museum stop in San Francisco was at The California Academy of Sciences, also located in Golden Gate Park. While there, I saw these wonderful trilobite fossils.

You might recall a post I did early in the month, that linked to a New York Times article on trilobites that had a rather amazing picture of a fossil from Morocco. I was pleased to see this specimen of Drotops armatus, also from Morocco. I boggled at how big it was - about the size of my hand. As we discussed in my earlier post, you have to wonder how they prepared it.

This is Phacops rana, from Ohio. It (and the specimen in the picture below) are more the size I had expected, maybe half again the size of a cockroach.

This is Reedops deckeri, specimen collected in Oklahoma.

Gottardo Piazzoni and a Friend

Earlier in the month, Connie and I took a trip to the Bay Area. Connie was taking a training course in San Francisco on Thursday and Friday of that week, and while she was in school, I played hookey and hit a couple of museums. On the weekend, we drove up to Sonoma County and toured wineries, etc.

One of my visits was to the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and its excellent art collections. When I got there, I was surprised and pleased to see this sign, advertising works by Gottardo Piazzoni (1872-1945) a Swiss-born California artist, who I had read about, but whose work I had never seen.

The room houses two murals:

The Sea (1931)...


and The Land (1932). Please click to "embiggen" these. The angled shots were the best I could do with the size of the room and my 18mm lens. Each mural is done in five panels and they were meant to give the impression that the viewer is looking out through a colonnade, west to a seascape and east to a landscape. They were originally painted for and installed in the San Francisco Public Library. They were moved to the de Young after the library was repurposed as a museum for oriental art.

Piazzoni was the grandfather of contemporary artist Russell Chatham, who you may know, did the painting on the cover of this book. In the short memoir he wrote for his book, One Hundred Paintings , Chatham describes how he spent endless hours in his youth copying his grandfather's paintings, which were a great inspiration to him. I believe you can certainly see Piazzoni's influence in his work.

Here is another Piazzoni painting that was in the gallery, Silence (1912).

And in the gallery near Silence, I was able to view this Maynard Dixon painting I had not seen before, November in Nevada (1935). You all know how I feel about Dixon.

Dixon and Piazzoni were contemporaries and friends, part of a group of writers and artists who regularly had dinner together at Coppa's, an Italian restaurant in San Francisco.