Monday, February 23, 2009

Blogger Meet-up

One of the Moodys of Moody Ranch Outfitters met us with a smile and a handshake, then led us inside to sign our "Dick Cheney papers" (his words). Fortunately, our hunting party held no lawyers nor vice presidents.

I'm back today from a weekend with friends Gregg and Soo Barrow of Covenant Kennel, in Montgomery, Texas, and the writer Henry Chappell down from Plano. Gregg surprised us with a guided half-day squirrel hunt on Saturday, an unexpected gift that gave the three of us (plus Cate and Rina) a lovely spot to walk in the woods, talk dogs and get acquainted.

I've known Gregg since Rina was a pup, but it was my first chance to meet Henry, the author of numerous good books and articles on dogs, hunting and rural life. Querencia readers will be familiar with Henry's blog, Home Range. And I wrote up a short review of his novel The Callings, here. We've been swapping books and emails for a year and trying to schedule a free weekend to meet.

Henry's association with Steve goes back to the Vermont Wildbranch Writing Workshop, which Steve once taught. The Workshop was founded by Annie Proux and dedicated, as Steve has described it, "to the idea that nature writing, outdoor writing -- writing 'with trees in it,' to use the phrase of the editor who first rejected A River Runs Through It -- is not a minor subgenre but a stream of literature with subjects and attitudes that are vital, even essential, to a healthy understanding of our world."

Henry's writing falls squarely in that category, and he credits Steve's encouragement and instruction with launching his career.

(Incidentally, current Wildbranch instructor Janisse Ray is a former Florida Fish & Game employee and friend from my Tallahassee days. Her Ecology of a Cracker Childhood is a great read.)

After a relaxing evening at Gregg's place, walking our dogs and beers around the pond, we set out early Saturday for the Moody Ranch.

Set in the hill country just north of Navasota, the Moody place covers 6,000 acres of hardwood creek bottom, floodplain and rolling pasture. It's a well-maintained hunting ranch and lodge, providing its clients a range of packages, including wild hog and duck hunts. Although the staff squirrel expert had recently moved upcountry, Edward (a moonlighting Houston fireman) guided us capably through several miles of gorgeous old oaks in a stringer along a creek bed.

Our dogs, acquainted the night before, set off like old friends and got to work.

Here's a little glen in the woods where we found the remains of a wood duck, caught likely by a fox or bobcat, judging from the crude clumps of pulled breast feathers. Both predators are common on the property.

Although the weather was perfect (cool, damp, overcast) and the woods made right, it was half an hour or so before the dogs got excited.

A little further on, a ground-feeding grey squirrel flushed almost at our feet and barely beat the gamut of dogs to the nearest tree.

At the risk of sensationalizing the last exciting moments of a squirrel's life, you can find a short video here, complete with confused hunters yelling, dogs yodelling, squirrels suddenly timbering in twos and threes and many shots fired. Or you can just view the result, Edward holding Henry's next squirrel stew in raw form.

Many thanks to Gregg and Soo for their astounding hospitality, both in setting up this hunt and hosting our visit. Henry will agree that neither of us is accustomed to such catering on a hunting trip. ...Soo, yes, another cup would be great. Oh, and some more sausage?


Rachel Dickinson said...

Hi Matt,

Just wanted to say that I also loved Ecology of a Cracker Childhood.

Rachel Dickinson

Steve Bodio said...

You know theSWAMP WITCH???

She was one of our best-- and give her my best. We lost touch.

Matt Mullenix said...

Hi Rachel, it is a favorite of mine too. Having lived in North Florida and South Georgia both, I read it as one of the truest accounts of the region.

Steve, Janisse was writing features (and probably PR) at FGFC headquaters when I was there. We traded poems and had good talks about writing. I had a bit of a crush on her, even though she was kind of "out there" (in a good way).

Gregg Barrow said...


Soo and I had a wonderful time!
You judge the great weekends by how quickly you mourn the sad fact that their over.

You guys hadn’t made it to the county line.

Rina’s growth is more subtle now (which is exactly what you expect and want), and she continues to improve at an exponential rate.
Cate has a rock solid foundation and a wonderful work ethic. She is going to be a source of pride, as well as inspiration for Henry’s wonderful articles, for years to come!

You notice I didn’t have a dog in the game.
I need to get to work, and maybe next year I can do my fair share and add a contribution to good Brunswick stew.

The falconry seminar was invaluable and I really appreciate you taking the time. I hope you will look at “my falconry” in the future and consider it time well spent.

The door is always open for Cate and Rina.
The simple fact that they can’t reach the pedals or see over the steering wheel guarantees a bed for Henry and yourself.

Big Smiles

Cat Urbigkit said...

What great country, great company ... sigh ... I am envious.

Matt Mullenix said...

Gregg, next year more dogs and more hawks.

Cat---living where you do, you don't get to be envious! :-)

Chas S. Clifton said...


I logged into YouTube but still could not see the video. Did you take it down? All I got was the "This is a private video" banner.

Matt Mullenix said...

Chas I'll check it out. I made that private but thought it only meant that it wouldn't be Googled.

Henry Chappell said...

Cat, my intitial response to your comment was the same as Matt's: "She lives out there in that great, wild, country, and she's envious of our little hardwood creek bottoms?" But I know what you mean. Good country is good country. And I did consider myself in great company.

Yep, Gregg, you definitely need a dog in the game. But I'm glad you were able to keep an eye on Cate. She and I have some homework to do before our next get-together.