Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Family Sighthounds

Happy New Year, y'all! I'm home in Georgia this week, firming up family ties and rediscovering my accent (pronounce it: ax-sant).

Eight days under one roof with my parents and own children offer plenty opportunities to ponder genetic determinism. There have been few surprises along those lines this week, but one of them was Mom's choice in a new puppy: a borzoi she calls "Barrie," after the celebrated author of Peter Pan. (The dog's given name is Russian, Nevskyi Barhat Chernyi, for which perhaps Steve or another reader can provide a good translation?)

Mom and Dad have often expressed an appreciation for the shape and demeandor of my whippets, but they've never owned a sighthound. Their last dog (a yellow lab) died six years ago, and I wasn't even aware they were in the market for a puppy. In their so-called retiring years, I expected maybe they'd get a lap dog of some kind and tote it around with them between the distant homes of their two sons. A giant sighthound seemed unlikely...but maybe running dogs run in the family.

Here's Barrie (not much of a runner just yet):

And here's a picture of my own hound Rina (no longer a puppy):

And one I found online, a postcard from 1776, Russia, maybe a distant relative of Mom's:

"Australian" Funeral hoax

I usually stay out of the journalistic mainstream in favor of things that interest me. But given all the noise about blogs vs Mainstream media lately, this is utterly irresistible.

This morning, Libby, wandering around the web in search of news, came upon this story in the Australian. It begins:

"WASHINGTON: George W. Bush sent his apologies - he was too busy cutting wood and riding his bike - and almost 500 of the 535 members of Congress also had more pressing engagements, as the state funeral for Gerald Ford, the 38th president of the US, was held in Washington yesterday."

But guess what? His funeral isn't until Tuesday, and hundreds have already paid their respect!

Sure, Mr Rago (who said that blogs are "Written By Fools To Be Read By Imbeciles"). The Mainstream Media are ALWAYS more accurate than blogs.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

New Year's Bleg

(That is, a Blogger's beg)..

Do any of my readers have or know of a "Baby Bretton" French over- and- under shotgun that I could borrow, shoot, and photograph for a series of articles on French shotgun design?

They are rare in the States and I have never even seen one. Like many French inventions they are unique-- they have a sliding opening system, and are the lightest in the world.

All shipping and insurance to be paid by me, of course.

New Mexico is snowed in today-- pics later perhaps. We have a foot-- at Peculiar's in Santa Fe, three hours north, they got THREE last night. We were intending to go there for New Year's and Mr. P's birthday, but the highway between is closed in at least two places, so I suspect we are housebound.

Update: so are the P's. Go here for pics.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christmas Ornaments

Here's a picture of the Christmas tree that we have up this year. Connie despairs of me sometimes because I don't get as excited about Christmas as she does. She does such a superb job decorating the tree and inside the house.

But I didn't really want to write about the tree so much as the ornaments that we use.

I've inherited them from my grandmother. These were all handmade by her and my mother nearly 45 years ago. As I recall they got the idea from a women's magazine. They bought fabric-covered styrofoam balls at craft stores and went to work. They never had designs to copy but made up their own as they went. For a couple of years in the early 1960s, I remember my mother and grandmother working on these as we watched television as a family. They had big plastic bins of pins, ribbon, lace, sequins and beads they would pull material from. They would buy cheap costume jewelry at yard sales and use their components as well.

They lived 60 miles apart so they mostly worked separately. They would make multiples of designs they liked and trade back and forth. There's no way I can tell now who made what. My sister has my mother's collection.

My mother died in 1984 and my grandmother died last year. When I see these ornaments now it is a great reminder of them and their ability and creativity.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Programming Note

Due to delays in getting photos loaded to Blogger, three new posts by Steve - Pupdate, One Purely Silly One, and Working Wolf Dogs - came up today "under" his post 'The Goshawk' Redux - that appeared Saturday.

Just want to make sure you don't miss anything!

Christmas Day Sunset

Hendry's Beach, Santa Barbara.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

'The Goshawk' Redux

Poet and all- round brilliant writer Pluvialis has been given a Finnish Goshawk. She is thinking of retreating somewhere and writing a book on its training, a meditation, a look at T. H. White, who wrote the original book of that title during another dark and chaotic time. As White said: "These efforts might have some value because they were continually faced with those dificulties that the mind has to circumvent, because falconry was an historic but dying sport [perhaps more in the Thirties than today-- SB], because the faculties exercised were those that throve among trees rather than houses, and because the whole thing was inexpressibly difficult".

I think we need Pluvialis' reaction to this book, and to that of crusty old Edmund Bert, who wrote the best Goshawk training manual ever in 1619.

Why? Here is Pluvi on a wild Gos in Uzbekistan:

"...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."

More, please.


Just a couple of pics of the dogs now known collectively as the BabyGirls-- fuzzy Larissa, who looks a bit Afghani in her winter coat, and big shy Roza, with her brindle forehead.

One Purely Silly One..

Just before I got ill we were shopping in Albuquerque. We were in the checkout line at the Asian market when I spotted this can:

That's right: a soft drink made from the nest of Asian swiftlets.

I don't know if you can read the list of ingredients below:

But they include, in order: "Water, Jelly, Granulated sugar, BIRD'S NEST FLAVOUR [emphasis mine], Ginseng flavouring, Genuine Bird's nest, No preservatives".

It tasted of tart fruit, and was full of a substance like rice noodles (Libby says translucent worms)-- I assume the fragments of bird's nest. It did not taste of ginseng.

Working Wolf Dogs

It is the common wisdom that wolf- dog hybrids are spooky creatures, alternately shy and aggressive, that do not make good working dogs. So it is with fascination that I bring you this report from a friend, cynologist Vladimir Beregovoy, about a correspondent of his in Russia.

"I wanted to share with you a few pictures which I just received from my Internet friend Mikhail Ovcharenko. He lives near Ulyanowsk, on the Volga River. He was involved in a wolf control job and became fascinated with this animal. Now, his obsession is keeping wolves and West Siberian Laikas, interbreeding them and hunting with Wolf/Laika mixes. He does not keep them locked up for life, but really hunts them like he would hunt dogs, and he is very happy with his results.... Here are some pics of his mixes of the second through third generations. They really hunt well, like good dogs. They retrieve ducks from water and track and bay wild boar for him."

I'm Baaaack! (2)

Coughing, hacking, but a hell of a lot better than a week ago, I return. I saved a lot-- way too many-- links for you despite the fact I couldn't spend much time in my Blogger seat-- physical visitors may recall it is a long way from the woodstove or the bedroom. So I think I'll just do a few of the best, post some silly pics of a soft drink and a "pupdate", and wish you all a Merry Christmas, a happy Hanukah if appropriate, and a happy New Year (it is too late for the Solstice-- sorry Chas) If I hear the @#$%^&* word 'holiday' one more time I am reaching for the red- hot tongs...

This story about bedbugs in the Village Voice seems to show us that our civilization, at least its urban variety, has finally reached terminal wimpiness. The reporter interviews people who have totally given up their lives, possessions, marriages, and even contact with other humans, because they MAY have been bitten by bedbugs. On one level, hilarious; on another, end- of- the- world- as- we- know- it scary. I find it hard to believe that such people exist and demand to be taken seriously.

Michael Blowhard delivers some advice to aspiring writers. I completely agree on the realities of publishing but would add two things: (1) One should write because one must write, not for any of the (common) reasons he gives; and (2) Anyone discouraged by his admonitions shouldn't be writing anyway.

For those of us a bit nostalgic for the glory days of Victoria's Empire: Tam shows us Pooh with a Martini (no, NOT a drink!) HT Chas.

Sorry, Ted: darting is not hunting. "One does not hunt in order to kill, but one kills in order to hunt", as Ortega said. (And to eat, as Bodio says). Of course I also think most catch and release fly fishing-- that is, the kind where eating is never contemplated, not the kind used as a conservation tool) is politically- correct fish torture. How much worse p.c. elephant torture?

Virgin Komodo dragons can give birth! Apparently a different process is involved than in the Cnemodiphorus lizards down here, whole species of which are virgin females who give birth to female clones. The big monitors young are all male-- in dragons, males are homozygous "ZZ", and according to the article, "all surviving offspring created by doubling up half of the female's genes must be males". Nature-- "What it cannot do?"
(Special blog notice to anyone-- Sorry, Peculiar, you can't play-- who gets this citation).

Patrick NAILS dog show culture. Read, laugh, weep for the dogs.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Steve's Books and Kiran Over Mongolia Make ESPN

Last month we spotted ESPN outdoor correspondent James Swan recommending Steve's books in his column here. Today our falconer friend in Japan, Isaac Nichols, forwarded another of Swan's pieces; this one describes falconry as the "ultimate interspecies cooperation" and features the movie Kiran Over Mongolia (reviewed first at Querencia!).

Once again, Swan takes the opportunity to talk up Steve's books Eagle Dreams and A Rage for Falcons. Let's hope a couple million sports fans can read!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bird flu?

Probably not. But Steve's got something of a nasty respiratory thing to deal with. He sends his apologies for not posting and asked that I spread this to everyone.

Um, maybe that is not the best way to put it. Convey the news, I mean.


Big Snakes

A news item I found earlier this week, describing how a man in Cincinnati had been strangled by his 13-foot pet boa constrictor, elicited some comments and reminiscences from the crew here.

A thirteen- footer can kill you and it doesn't even have to be aggressive.When I was at the zoo we didn't let people-- keepers-- handle anything above ten feet alone. You could get them over your shoulders like a yoke and then if anything startled them... not long before the pressure on the arteries inyour neck renders you unconscious

My old acquaintance Danny McCarron's 15- foot Burmese python would STALK people when it was hungry, especially at night. It had reinforced glass inits huge custom tank so it wouldn't come out through the front at you. Of course a mature 15- footer weighs a lot more than two tenners. Just because it couldn't eat you doesn't mean it wouldn't try. Scary.

Our animal trainer friend, Steve, used to keep a 9-foot burmese that was a very nice snake but scary for all the obvious reasons. One of the many nights I ferried Steve around to various shows (animal trainers are paid less well than writers), I woke in the hotel to find the snake in bed with me. It had worked its way out of the custom carry bag (handles for 4 people to carry) and slipped beneath the covers. I don't even want to think about what I might have dreamed before waking.

The same snake got loose again and ate another friend's two baby great horned owls. Ooops!

I just stay away from big snakes

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Paleontology Christmas Cards

I would urge you all to see Darren Naish's post on paleontology-oriented Christmas cards. I must admit these paleontologists are more creative than us archaeologists.

Andean Bats

More bats! The NY Times brings us the story of this nectar-eating bat from Ecuador. The 2-inch long bat has a tongue 3.3 inches long! This is proportionally the longest tongue of any mammal and the second-longest (behind the chameleon) of any vertebrate. This bat keeps the tongue in its chest - it is anchored between the heart and the sternum. RTWT

New Orleans Writers

A friend from Idaho asked me this week, "What's the deal with New Orleans? We get conflicting reports up here."

I told him what I could, which isn't much, since we get conflicting reports down here in Baton Rouge, just an hour away.

I posted earlier on some of the Crescent City's musicians here and here, and a little about the fate of St. Bernard Parish, where I used to hunt and suffer from hangovers. But I haven't written about New Orleans lately, and I haven't been there in a while.

New Orleans, of course, never needed bloggers from Baton Rouge to tell its story. Some of the best and most original writing ("regional" or otherwise) was created there or inspired by the city in some way. The question asked in this recent piece by Reuters' Jeffrey Jones is whether New Orleans will continue to attract and nurture its writers.
"Quirky characters, raucous music, jazz funerals, a warm climate and plenty of service-industry jobs made New Orleans an ideal base for writers and a rich backdrop for their work.

"But, 16 months after Hurricane Katrina, the southern city that inspired Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, John Kennedy Toole and Anne Rice risks losing its unique place on the literary landscape. The city's recovery is plodding and many writers remain in exile around the United States."

One writer who stuck around for the worst of it was Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose, who shipped his family out of state and set up a bunker-style newsroom to report on what remained of his city. A collection of those reports (funny, sad, conversational essays) was recently published under the title "1 Dead in Attic," a reference to messages spraypainted on the sides of houses by emergency workers.

I received this small paperback as a gift from friends who lost their home in the storm. I read it in the marble-lined lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Little Rock during a conference I attended in October. I recommend this book if you want to know "what the deal is" with New Orleans and all the people who used to live there. Just don't read it when you're homesick in a strange city.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Reid is Moving

I wanted to make a public announcement about something I've told a few privately. Connie and I have accepted transfers from our current employer and will be moving to work at their Denver, Colorado office. Our move will most likely take place in January, but timing will be conditioned by the move-in date of the house we buy there. We're still looking, so that's still up in the air.

We'll miss Santa Barbara and our friends here, but Colorado is a kind of second home to us. I went to graduate school at the University of Colorado - Boulder, and worked at the University of Northern Colorado for a while after graduating. Connie and I lived in the Denver area the first seven years of our marriage and both children were born there. Connie also has family living in town. We haven't lived there for almost 20 years, but we have visited often and Denver has a familiar homey feel for us.

So there won't be as many posts from me on beach subjects, but lots more on the Southern Rockies and the High Plains.

Whale Vomit

I had to post this one just so I could use the title. It's actually an interesting story from the NY Times on what is thought to be a piece of ambergris found on a beach in the eastern US. With the general demise of whaling, this story points out that it is difficult to find anyone now who can reliably identify ambergris. Striking picture!


Despite environmental gloom and doom, sometimes things do get better. The LA Times brings us the story of habitat restoration resulting in the rebound of endangered Gnatcatcher populations in the affluent LA suburbs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Yet More Neanderthal News

We've had quite a few posts on the explosion of new findings on Neaderthals lately, and I thought I'd bring these two to your attention. One claims to have proof that Neanderthals engaged in cannibalism. The other presents the theory that Neanderthal women and children took part in hunting, and that there perhaps was not a gender-based division of labor as seen in most modern human populations. Recent chemical studies have demonstrated that Neanderthals subsisted on an almost total meat diet, so we know their females weren't out gathering plant foods. But it is a very indirect argument, as the researchers admit.

Airport Bats

Connie and I were trudging through the Phoenix airport week before last, when I was amazed at this sight on the wall of one of the concourse stores.

A whole roost of bat sculptures. These fruit bats are made of rusted steel and I was told the artist is a gentleman named Henri Dupree who lives in New Mexico. Here's a close-up to show more detail.

They have a rather ingenious hanger and the use of ball-bearings for eyes is very effective. Look how they reflect the light and appear to glow. The bats come in 14- and 18-inch sizes and also with wings open or folded across their chests.

As you may recall I find bats quite interesting, and was very charmed by these. After finding the gate for our next flight, I came back to take these pictures and decided I just had to have one. I got a 14-inch fellow with his wings folded who was my bubble-wrapped "carry-on bat" for our flight. He currently occupies a place of honor on the wall in my office.

These fruit bats also reminded me of a children's book titled Stellaluna that my children enjoyed. The title is the name of a baby fruit bat who accidently falls into a bird nest. The mother bird tries to raise Stellaluna along with her new bird "siblings" and all sorts of strange miscommunications ensue. Stellaluna can't understand why the mother bird keeps bringing her nasty bugs to eat and she teaches her new siblings how to hang by their feet off the edge of the nest, causing parental panic. All is put right in the end of course, but it is a fun entertaining read for small children. We often buy it for gifts these days - we certainly recommend it.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Podcast with Darren Naish

Fans of Dr. Darren Naish and his frequently-highlighted blog Tetrapod Zoology will enjoy hearing him "in person," in a podcast interview by George Kenny of Electric Politics.

Beyond the nature of the topics discussed (origin of dogs, Bigfoot, being a "famous scientist"), I was fascinated simply to experience the podcast itself. Here blogging and broadcasting meet in a very professional, polished way; a sort of personalized NPR, if you'll permit my leftist analogy. One can't help but to see this as the shape of things to come.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Once more around the web

Still busy, but reading...

Terrierman shows us that despite hysteria, Lyme disease is hard to catch.

Gun Nut Dave Petzal reminds us that "outmoded" equipment often-- isn't. Good firearms and optics should outlive their owner-- I shoot one shotgun made in the (18)70's.

Has Hell frozen over? Peter Singer gives support to animal medical experimentation!

has a link to this interesting link to predator prey conceptions in Medieval European culture. He and Pluvialis have recently taught me that fascinating information can lurk behind a scrim of academic terminology.

Referencing the wonderful Colin Tudge on farmers, Neanderthals and bandits, Prairie Mary argues that we should be lazier.

Carel remembers the greatest artist of underwater life ever, Stanley Meltzoff.

I had been slow linking to Carl Buell, the wonderful artist who calls himself 'Olduvai George', because he wasn't posting much, but now he is. Here is his take on Ambulocetus. Matt, another for the Blogroll!

I hope Darren, who sounds as though he is as broke as we are, isn't commiting professional suicide by rationally analyzing the Patterson sasquatch film.

True story from Libby: in 1972, in her Himalayan guiding days, she and her late husband Harry came upon a set of striding tracks across an impassable roaring river on the hillside, above the timber line near the village of Pangboche. When they asked their Sherpa friend Ang Zambu what made them he said 'yeti'. When asked how he knew he grinned and said 'Nothing else would go over there'.

Terrierman on Condors

Patrick Burns gives us his thoughts on California condor conservation and species loss. This post sort of got kicked off by an e-mail discussion that he, Steve, and I had about a lawsuit in California that seeks a ban on lead bullets. The plaintiffs maintain that many condors die after feeding on the carcasses of deer and other wildlife killed with lead bullets or buckshot.

In another post, Patrick congratulates Matt and his whippet Rina on her success in her first season hunting.

Finally, I had thought of doing a post entitled "Terrierman Gets Skunked." Though it sounded good, that wouldn't have been technically correct as it wasn't Patrick, but terriers Moxie, Mountain, and Pearl who got sprayed. I have to say I was very impressed at how matter-of-fact Patrick was in dealing with three skunked dogs.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Post-Card From Above

Rebecca O'Connor's
essay "Post-card From Above" was in today's issue of West, the LA Times Sunday magazine. It gives her perspective as a falconer on the expansion of suburban development in the area of Southern California where she lives. Also take a look at West's editor, Rick Wartzman's, comments on Rebecca's work. Congratulations, Rebecca!