Friday, March 27, 2015

More Helen Rockstar

New York Review of Books Press is now using the H is for Hawk connection in ads for its edition of The Goshawk.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


...The kind of covers you may buy a book to get.

Despite my limited space I have a few. One book below was bought for its cover and illos, the Ibex story; one excellent series, published by Putnam's in Boston in the  early years of the last century, is made up of good natural history books, but I started collecting them only after I bought three separately, and realized that the volumes I nostalgically remembered from my childhood days at the Ames Free Library in Easton, Mass. all had gilt images embossed on their covers.

As you can easily see, they were not limited to fancy or small press books-- popular subjects like big game hunting, children's books, light natural history, and fishing all were decorated with gilt- embosssed figures.  Look at Abel Chapman's Savage Sudan, which I bought for fifty cents in Magdalena (go to abeBooks for more realistic prices), which has a golden warthog; The Tribes on my Frontier, "EHA's" accounts of birds and beasts who were human commensals in Colonial India, and doubtless still are today (those little things are what Kipling called "muskrats" in "Rikki Tikki Tavi", a kind of smelly house shrew), and the Ibex in a slightly sub- Seton but beautifully illustrated biography of that animal. The Rod in India, which I got from the late Datus Proper in Bozeman and which contains one of my favorite chapter titles anywhere, the nearly self- parodic "Circumventing the Mahseer", also has one of my favorite cover emblems, said mahseer hanging from a tree.

The second edition of Patterson's Man Eaters of Tsavo has a splendid but unexplained sabertooth; John Lockwood Kipling, father of Rudyard and the keeper of the "Treasure House" museum in Kim, has a rather more understandable elephant.
Sometimes the bindings, if accurate, convey coded info-- the open double gun from Bogardus shows a breechloader, so it cannot have been published much earlier than 1875; some have more interesting images on their spines than on their covers; sometimes the covers have no figure, merely border designs,  but are still attractive; sometimes the images are more dramatic or cluttered than would be thought seemly today. Look at that smoke coming out of Roosevelt's gun, or the feathers drifting down after the Peregrine's strike on Michell's Art and Practice of Hawking. Though none are as startling as the PAPER dust jacket of  my copy of The Peregrine's Saga.  Despite Williamson's Fascist politics, I think its cheerful ferocity owes more to the fact that the artist, Tunnicliffe, watched plenty of Peregrines!

 And my favorite? Though the English often made better and definitely did more, the best I know is this buck, for American Henry van Dyke's Still Hunting, handsome and virtually 3- D.

New Addition

Connie and I had been threatening to get back into the horse business for some time. Recently we bought a three year-old Warmblood/Holsteiner mare. Above you can see a girl and her horse.

Her official name is South Beach GES, but we've given her the barn name of Sophie. Buckskin Warmbloods are not common. She is a big girl at 16.4 hands, and as Warmbloods are late bloomers she is still growing.

Sophie is currently in California where our daughter Lauren has her in training. Here you can see Lauren taking Sophie over a jump. Sophie will eventually come here once we get facilities in shape for her. She'll probably be ready to start competing in some horse shows this fall.

In other important equestrian news, granddaughter Bella got another blue ribbon in a lead-line class at the big horse show in Thermal, California.

Residues and Residues

It has become increasingly common in archaeology to test the working edges of excavated artifacts for the presence of blood or protein residue. In some cases we can determine the species of animal was impaled or cut by the tool. Several years ago I posted about the Mahaffy Cache, a cache of Clovis tools discovered by a landscaping project in near-by Boulder. Analysis of blood residue from some of the tools showed they had been used on Pleistocene camels and horses. I recently saw a paper presented at the Colorado Council of Professional Archaeologists annual meeting, where projectile points excavated from a high-altitude site in western Colorado proved to have protein residue from bighorn sheep.

Good archaeologists don't wash or handle excavated tools anymore.

I recently came across this article about a research program at Cambridge University to identify another sort of residue on projectile points - poison residue. The use of poison arrows for example is well known from history and ethnology, but it doesn't appear that anyone has systematically looked for it on artifacts. Dr. Valentina Borgia of Cambridge is working with forensic chemists to come up with techniques to identify poison residue on artifacts. The ancient Chinese crossbow bolts pictured above are involved with her testing program.


Homo erectus Shell Engraving

Earlier in the week in that post on Neanderthal jewelry I indulged myself in a little rant on how important discoveries can be made while reanalyzing collections from old excavations. I'd forgotten another recent example.

The Trinil site on the island of Java in Indonesia, was excavated in the early 1890s by Eugene Dubois. The site is best known in world archaeology as the discovery site of the first Homo erectus skeletal remains. The collection from this excavation resides at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. When Dubois was working, Java was part of the Dutch East Indies.

A marine biologist recently decided to re-examine the mussel shell in the collection due to his interest in an extinct species represented there known as Pseudodon vondembuschiansus trinilinsis. While photographing some specimens he noticed what appear to be zig-zag patterns that had been scratched on the exterior of one of the shells. You may need to click on the photo above and enlarge it to see the scratches clearly.

In addition, one shell had a retouched edge that indicated its use as a tool. A number of shells showed holes gouged in them near where the muscle attachment was located to pry the shells open.

Dating of sediment on the shells places them between 540, 000 and 430, 000 years old. Analysis shows they come from the same stratum that contained the Homo erectus remains.  This makes one shell the only known example of artistic expression by Homo erectus and the other the oldest known shell tool.

They sat on the museum shelves for nearly 120 years, waiting to be discovered.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


No one has ever explained this close evolutionary convergence to me; even Jonathan Kingdon thought they looked less alike than they do.

Nearctic Meadow "lark": an icterid ((New Word blackbird), common here and a lovely singer; and African Longclaw, also a bird of savannahs. But HOW? I am sure we will someday figure it out, but I don't have a clue...

The images alternate, starting with a longclaw. And no, they are NOT related- cats and dogs...

Another Quote

Courtesy of Carlos, and probably from his library which makes my good one look rather anemic..

[He was] "... subject to a kind of disease, which at that time they called lack of money."

(Rabelais, chapter 16 of Gargantua).

 Carlos examining interesting books from the family library in his own collection in Laramie; I am holding a first Spanish edition of Linnaeus's  Systema Naturae;  in the other, he holds a less important book...

Schrödinger's Cat at the Vet's

Ht. Jonathan Hanson.

Update: Mark Farrell- Churchill responded with a corollary joke in the comments, too good not to share:

Werner Heisenberg gets pulled over by a traffic cop. Cop walks up to the car and says, "Sir, do you have any idea how fast you were going?" Heisenberg responds, "No..., but I can tell you exactly where I was!" 

Update 2, from Peculiar:

Heisenberg gets stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint. "Sir, the dog alerted, we're going to have to search your vehicle." They open the trunk. "Sir, you have a dead cat in here." "Well sure, NOW I do!"

Monday, March 23, 2015

Neanderthal Jewelry

The more we learn about Neanderthals, the more like us they seem to appear.

Researchers examining artifacts in a museum collection from a cave excavation in Croatia have discovered this 130,000 year-old necklace or bracelet made of eagle talons. The excavations at the cave of Krapina were conducted a hundred years ago, and recovered both Neanderthal skeletal remains and Mosterian stone tools that are typically associated with Neanderthal occupations. These eagle talons, from a White-tailed Eagle, were originally lumped in with the general faunal collection from the site.

During a re-examination of the collection last year, researchers noticed that four of the talons had been cut and that they had polished facets on them consistent with talons rubbing against each other as if worn on a string or worn against hide.

There's a reason we keep these collections in museums. It seems several times a year I come across stories where the review of an old collection comes up with new discoveries like this.   

Prodigal Dog

The last week of last month, Connie in I were in California visiting the kids. Connie's sister Paulette was house sitting/dog sitting for us while we were gone. I have mentioned a number of times before that we have an "invisible fence" system that works pretty effectively to pin them in and lets the dogs roam on their own over a couple of acres.

One morning Paulette let the three dogs out for their early morning potty break and when she was going to let them back in for breakfast, Buck, the male blue merle (see above), was nowhere to be found. She checked the box for the fence system and it was working. She went all over the yard calling and didn't see him, and drove the neighborhood to no avail. We were stuck in California and couldn't really do much of anything to help. We contacted the local vets and shelters and Animal Control with no results.

I don't do Facebook, but Connie does, and she discovered there is a large community of people there who help to look for lost pets. She put up information about Buck on there and told me that there were something like 650 followers to the post. We found out later that several people we don't know otherwise, were driving the neighborhood looking for him and checking Craigslist to see if a dog matching his description was being offered for sale.

He disappeared on a Friday morning and we heard nothing all weekend. I was certain he was a goner. Then Monday morning, Paulette heard a noise at the front door, and there was Buck crying to be let in.

There had been a snow storm over the weekend yet Buck looked dry and clean and none the worse for wear. I find it hard to believe he stayed out in bad weather for three days and came back looking like he did. Also we checked his collar and it was still functioning. Did somebody take him (he's friendly and would go with just about anybody) and then bust him loose after three days? He had our contact information on his collar, but no one ever called.

It's a mystery and he won't tell us what happened. Sure glad to have him back.

Here's the whole crew reassembled.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015


"... the shot of him crawling down the center line on a remote desert highway (his idea, not mine!) may not send the proper parenting messages. Roads are dangerous, children should be rock climbing instead!"

A.  Jackson Frishman, on grandson Eli in a review of the year's photos of the Adventure Kid. Don't know if he will release that one or not...

"No one sleeps on the yellow line, no one's that alone..."- Warren Zevon

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday, March 08, 2015


It is spring in Germany and I have been neglecting Jutta's girls.  But the Nhubia (tazi) and Taalai (taigan) show is revving up with spring energy. I THINK Nhubia is eleven or twelve, and I know she is over ten. You would never know it.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

People - the- magazine

Chad  Love sent a comment that was slighly embarrassed about finding a good review of Helen's H is for Hawk in People. I replied at such length I thought I might put it up here.

Don't worry, Chad. A few thoughts...

1) When Rage for Falcons came out in 84, I got the usual box of free author's copies. The first went to someone I had never met, the late Patricia Ryan-- you can search my obit for her here.

She is probably the reason good sporting literature still exists in the US. In the late sixties, as editor of Sports Illustrated, she published the hunting and fishing journalism of Tom McGuane, Jim Harrison, Russ Chatham, Gatz Hjotsberg, and some others we don't see as much of today. Add the already seasoned Bob Jones, who wrote the stories for the most Time Magazine covers ever but had previously had no outlet for his hunting stories, nature writers like Bil Gilbert, England's Clive Gammon on angling, Dan Gerber on auto racing, and you have the roots of the renaissance of sporting letters that crested in Gray's Sporting Journal and that still sputters on today.

They inspired me, but I had no idea how to approach SI in my early, ever un- credentialed 20's. But when Gray's started up, with offices on Beacon Street in Brookline, I just walked in--a story to be told soon..

People? By the time Rage came out, Pat had been moved over to run the struggling People. Her version was far more intelligent than the present version (maybe her celebrities were slightly less vapid) but it was still People. My friend Eric, who occasionally comments here, had sold some high- end Asian rugs to Pat in Maine, and gave me her address.

I sent her the first copy of Rage, with an inscription saying that it would not have existed without her. She never replied, but in a month or maybe slightly less, a review of a falconry book, with one of Jonathan Wilde's illos and a photo of ME, appeared in People's then rather prominent review section. I suspect Helen and I are the only falconry books ever reviewed there.

2) Around that time, someone from the east was visiting, and began to give me crap about the People on the bedside table. I picked it up to reveal a tattered copy of Montaigne's complete essays under it, dogeared and lined, and said "when you show me this beside your bed, you can give me grief about People."

Eight feet?

The snow around Boston is now deeper than I ever saw it back when. Karen and her dog on the salt marsh near her house. Her driveway and walk have walls well over her head. The dogs are packing up and roaming, as the fences are under the snow. Perhaps she will send more photos showing this...

The Rose of Roscrae

Tom Russell's magnum opus, his "Western Opera" or "Cowboy Musical" will be out in mid-April, debuting at Passim at 47 Palmer Street under Harvard Square, once the home of the legendary Club 47. It was one of the very few venues that kept a sort of vernacular American music alive even as it morphed into something else. Club 47 played "folk music" when I started going there in '65, but it was already showing songwriters, bluegrass, and blues -- Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf. I saw Tom Rush there before he had a mustache. Jim Rooney was a skinny kid with cowboy boots and ran the door as well as playing in a band. Maria Muldaur had just married Jeff Muldaur, and played with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, before Kweskin became part of the odd Fort hill Cult under former musician Mel Lyman. Ian Tyson, the great Canadian cowboy singer, played with his then wife Sylvia, singing "Someday Soon", "Four Strong Winds" and my favorite, "Summer Wages".

I kept going there through the early '70s. The last act I remember seeing there was Jimmy Buffett, who didn't have a band, only a backup singer. His songs were fine, including the number "If We Only Had Saxophones", when Buffett and his backup guitarist made saxophone noises through the breaks.

 Tom's album, two CD's and a book, is almost novelistic AND  thoroughly musical. It is the saga of the West, seen through the memories of a ninety year old outlaw. It starts dramatically as he stands on the gallows in mid- life, waiting to die for stealing horses. He escapes the hangman, then  remembers his youth in Ireland, and takes off to participate in the whole bloody history of the west. As an old man he returns to Ireland, still searching for his lost love.

 The breadth and (and depth) of the music is like nothing else. New songs by Tom and others, an incredible cross-section of living artists including Ian, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Joe Ely, Thad Beckman, Sourdough Slim, Guy Clark (who does a version of Desperadoes waiting for a Train from his home, sounding as ancient as the desert), Gretchen Peters, and Henry Real Bird. There are also posthumous performances by, among others, Johnny Cash, Tex Ritter, and Leadbelly. There is poetry from Walt Whitman and orchestral backing by the Norwegian Wind Ensemble. There are, quoting the libretto,  "Indian voices and chants, old cowboy songs, Mexican corridos, Swiss Yodel Choirs, French ballads"; hymns and Irish folksongs, Gallo de Cielo ("The damn chicken song"); even a ballad based on John Graves' wonderful novella The Last Running.

 Amazingly, it tells a coherent story, and the new material stands proudly with the classics. You also get an 82 page book with the libretto, the lyrics, and the history of each song and performer. You can see why I say that it's something of a new genre. And as big as it is, at one point Tom wished he had ten discs to fill because there is so much more that he wanted to put in.

I will be putting up a lot of material about Rose of Rosecrae in the next few months. Stay tuned!

Below, my sister Karen, Tom, my brother- in- law George Graham, and Nadine, at Passim the last time Tom played there.

Helen Rockstar!

Randy Davis wrote me today to tell me about a signing for Tom McGuane's new book-- I will delay getting it until I can get an inscribed one in Denver. He was at the Strand with Tom Brokaw.

"My oldest son went to see/hear the McGuane - Brokaw show at  Strand  Books in Manhattan.  Late in the session there was the usual question about what are you reading now, McGuane answered  and I'm paraphrasing, a lovely book that I thought had no commercial prospects, but has proven otherwise: H for Hawk."

Otherwise indeed! Two big time British literary awards for a personal memoir with falconry is unusual. But I am not sure anyone I ever knew has had as meteoric a rise as Pluvialis in the US...

Partisan? You bet! But consider: this past week she had TWO NYT rave reviews , one Wall Street Journal, one Atlantic, one "Daily Beast", a long article about her with a photo in the New Yorker, and an NPR interview on Wednesday in which she quoted me-- on my birthday! A fine present for my slightly scary 65th...

So in her honor, from her blog Fretmarks, a 2006 description of a Gos in the riparian forest on the Syrdarya in Uzbekistan. You may want to go out and get H is for Hawk when you finish.

"Just near here, I looked up and thought I saw a man standing in a tree. That’s what my brain told me, momentarily. A man in a long overcoat leaning slightly to one side.

"And then I saw it wasn’t a man, but a goshawk.

"Moments like this are very illuminating. I’d never thought before, much, about the actual phenomenology of human-hawk resemblance, the one that must have brought forth all those mythological hawk-human bonds I've studied for so long.

"I looked at a hawk in a tree, but I saw a man. How curious.

"This goshawk must have been eighty feet away, so dark against the bright morning sun, so I couldn’t see whether he was facing me or the river. His short head and snaky neck craned: he was looking at me.

"I raised my binoculars to my eyes as slowly as I could, half-closing my eyes so my lashes fringed the glare. There. There he was. The glare wasn’t so bad. I could see his edges very clearly. The light was very bright. But I could also faintly see the horizontal barring on his chest feathers. This was an adult male goshawk, and he looked very different from the ones at home. He reminded me of old photographs of goshawks flown by falconers on the northwest frontier. Hell, he was one of these goshawks. He had a dark, dark head with a flaring pale eyebrow, and the bars on his chest were close-set and far from the hazy, broken lines of European birds. Imagine tracing—with a ruler—each horizontal line of a narrow-ruled notebook with a thick, dark-grey felt-tip pen. That’s what his front looked like, through the glare. And he was standing on a bare branch and making up his mind what I was, exactly, and what he should do about it.

"Slowly, he unfolded his wings, as if putting on a coat, and then, rather quietly and leisurely, he took to the air, one long leg and loosely-clenched foot trailing as he went. I was astonished by how long-winged he was, and how much he looked like a big — albeit long-tailed — falcon. His shape was very different from the goshawks at home. He was a migrant gos; he'd travelled down mountains and across the plains to winter here.

"Happy Pluvialis! I wandered back to camp, had a snooze, compared bird notes, smoked a cigarette and had a cup of coffee. Halimjan made soup for lunch; there it was, bubbling in the cast-iron pot over the gas flame and we were sitting around our red plastic table chewing on stale bread waiting for the soup, and all our heads went up at once. A noise like ripping, tearing hessian, like a European Jay, only with real terror in it, was coming towards us right there and we watched — and slow as syrup and fast as a blink all at once, came the male gos trying his damnest to catch a magpie; they flashed right through the trees in front of the table, and gos nearly had a foot to the magpie before he saw us — five humans and a fire and a truck and a Giant Red Table right below him — ack! — wave off! wave off! — and the magpie dove downwards to the fork of a branch, crouching like a man avoiding a blow, and the gos spooled away through the trees. He looked like a coin falling through water, flashing silver and grey. Some kind of metal. A very fierce one. Potassium, Sodium, Goshawk."

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Anglers Journal

Simply this: the best sporting mag since Ed Gray styarted the "real" Grays in the mid- seventies. Real writers known and unknown-- the last interview with Peter Matthiessen-- and superb graphics and art. And despite bonefish and other stars of the flats, NOT just fly fishing-- commercial fishing even (Matthiessen's interview accompanied with a cut from his Mens' Lives, on the last Long Island net fishers); surf casting, offshore fishing...

New and old stuff by Chatham and McGuane and writers you don't know yet, photos that make you gape with awe, two- page spreads of Meltzoff paintings- the real deal. Now if someone would do one on hunting. I am not holding my breath...

Subscribe here; oddly, no home page I can find yet. This should take you to a digital sample. It reminds me of days long past; below, my Dad (left) on Salt Water Sportsman in '57.