Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Read The Whole Thing

Steve's funny catchphrase makes a good title for this one.

Reid, trawling the LA Times again for good tidbits, pulled up this story by Naomi S. Baron, professor of linguistics at American University in Washington. She begins:

"A FEW YEARS BACK, I asked my undergraduates to read Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone. The class was discussing the effects of the Internet on social interaction, and Putnam's carefully documented analysis of the breakdown of Americans' connections to one another offered a good frame of reference.

The students balked.

Was I aware that the book was 541 pages long? Didn't I know Putnam had written a précis of his argument a couple of years earlier, which they easily found on the Web? Why did they have to slog through so many examples of the same point?"

I work for the libraries of a state university, so have frequent opportunity to see students and books in the same room. It should surprise no one that these groups don't often mingle. As Baron points out, "Many of this generation are aliterate — they know how to read but don't choose to."

Yet opinions as to the import (or portent, or danger) of this trend differ, even among the library staff. I'm not a librarian—I manage websites (as do many who work in libraries today, regardless of their training or position). And this constant contact with the Web, and the digital world generally, complicates an issue for we who would otherwise make the reading habits of students a frequent gripe. In fact, most of us do most of our reading (and writing!) on the Web; it's so easy.

Baron again:

"Much as automobiles discourage walking, with undeniable consequences for our health and girth, textual snippets-on-demand threaten our need for the larger works from which they are extracted. Why read Bowling Alone — or even the shorter article upon which it builds — when you can lift a page that contains some key words?"
Yes, I'm toggling back and forth between open browser windows, cutting and pasting right now.

But I think the issue here is broader than the Internet's ease of use. The refusal to read full length texts—whole books—indicates our whole lives are different. It takes another kind of lifestyle to read "the whole thing." Today you have to choose to read in analog; you even have to call it "analog" for the sake of this discussion. That reading in this way is a learned skill might have previously have been overlooked, since it was a necessary skill: Even I finished college without access to the Internet. Now that reading books (for pleasure or otherwise) is an "option," most seem not to be learning the necessary skills.

Baron's point is maybe a bit narrow, but good: "Reading successive pages and chapters teaches us how to follow a sustained line of reasoning." One has to assume, in defense of books, that some authors still provide one. Thankfully, many do.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

One More for Meng

Robinson Jeffers - "The House Dog's Grave"

I've changed my ways a little; I cannot now
Run with you in the evenings along the shore,
Except in a kind of dream; and you, if you dream a moment,
You see me there.

So leave awhile the paw-marks on the front door
Where I used to scratch to go out or in,
And you'd soon open; leave on the kitchen floor
The marks of my drinking-pan.

I cannot lie by your fire as I used to do
On the warm stone,
Nor at the foot of your bed; no, all the night through
I lie alone.

But your kind thought has laid me less than six feet
Outside your window where firelight so often plays,
And where you sit to read--and I fear often grieving for me--
Every night your lamplight lies on my place.

You, man and woman, live so long, it is hard
To think of you ever dying
A little dog would get tired, living so long.
I hope than when you are lying

Under the ground like me your lives will appear
As good and joyful as mine.
No, dear, that's too much hope: you are not so well cared for
As I have been.

And never have known the passionate undivided
Fidelities that I knew.
Your minds are perhaps too active, too many-sided. . . .
But to me you were true.

You were never masters, but friends. I was your friend.
I loved you well, and was loved. Deep love endures
To the end and far past the end. If this is my end,
I am not lonely. I am not afraid. I am still yours.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Meng the Whippet (1992-2005)

Thank you, Steve, for taking the time to share Kipling's poem. Exactly right; but of course you (and he and probably everyone else here) know why in Heaven we keep dogs, despite the high cost.

Meng gave us everything he had for thirteen years. He chased (and caught!) and flushed game for me and several of my hawks. He was good company on trips away from home; a champion bed-warmer; patient (mostly) with my kids, and devoted to my wife and myself. To everyone else he was a friend...and like whippets generally, a fast friend!

Meng, in his prime, understood and delighted in his own speed. He gave larger dogs the Devil by teasing them and then running just out of range, grinning. He did the same to me from the time he knew he could until about six months of age: That was a trying summer. But thereafter he was a model dog, did a number of neat tricks and came when called, even in mid-pursuit. He flushed like a spaniel and obeyed hand signals like a Lab until his eyes went bad. At that point, he retired to our couch and to Shelly's lap.

Because I was away on a hunting trip last week, Shelly had to take him to the vet's without me. I feel terrible about that and won't forgive myself for it, though I know Meng would. He was nearly gone when they arrived and died quietly with Shelly holding his head, kissing him.

With your permission I'll add a little bit from my journal of two years ago. It was December 7th, the day that would be Meng's last hunt:

"...By ten o’clock the frost was gone and the day warming toward a high of sixty-five degrees. I had until two o’clock to hunt. I'd rather leave for the field at that hour, but after a week in the pen Charlie [my Harris' hawk] seemed eager to go anytime.

On a whim (rare in my hawking), I decided to bring my dog, Meng. He knew this maybe before I did. At nearly twelve, the whippet’s famous eyes are clouded with cataracts, but he must see me well enough. I looked down at him, considering, and he began to shake.

If you add Meng's total days in the field, they would probably fall short of half a season. His career as a hunting dog has been halting and eclectic: one week chasing jackrabbits in Kansas; one summer slipping from the car at evening squirrels; occasional assistant to Eric's red-tails and my catch dog on backyard varmint safaris. Meng nosed up sparrows for three of my kestrels and for Charlie, too, but not on more than half a dozen hunts in as many years.

Most days Meng spends curled like a cat on the couch or running laps in the living room. Mostly he belongs to Shelly.

How a whippet hunts sparrows would be familiar to any fox. Meng leaps on them with ears forward, front feet and nose downward. He works close, sometimes clipping my heels in high cover but usually bounding ahead like a porpoise in a bow wake.

His nose, when he chooses to use it, seems not to work very well. But he sees the flush, a tiny brown bird in a field of brown grass, and gives chase. Probably there are better dogs for this but none happier to do it.

Charlie caught two sparrows in long flights and two more in the space between Meng and me. The air felt warm by noon. The dog's tongue hung loose, and Charlie's crop shifted beneath his chin, full of little birds. We three rode home in strange comfort, wrapped in nostalgia for a time that never really was."

Meng the Whippet

In Memoriam: Matt's Dog "Meng"

Kipling's "The Power of the Dog":

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie -
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And t he vet's unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find - it's your own affair -'ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is still (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone - wherever it goes - for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We've sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying the Christian clay,
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not alwatys the case I believe,
That the longer we've kept 'em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long -
So why in-Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

Friday, November 25, 2005

ID Humor

Scientist, writer, and artist John McLoughlin (who should be better known-- I am a great fan of his science fiction novel The Helix and the Sword, as are Odious and Peculiar) has sent me two irreverent little pieces on Intelligent Design. The first I reprint in full:

"from the Institute for Science and Stork Research:

Two different theories exist concerning the
origin of children: the theory of
Sexual Reproduction, and the theory of the Stork.
Many people believe in the theory of
sexual reproduction because they have been
taught this theory at school.
In reality, however, many of the world's
leading scientists are in favor of the
theory of the stork.

If the theory of sexual reproduction is
taught in schools, it must only be taught
as a theory and not as the truth.
Alternative theories, such as the theory of
the stork, must also be taught.

Evidence supporting the theory of the stork
includes the following:

1. It is a scientifically established fact that
the stork does exist. This can be confirmed by
any ornithologist.

2. The theory of sexual reproduction contains
several features that it is unable to explain.

3. The theory of sexual reproduction implies that
a child is approximately nine months old at birth.
This is an absurd claim. Everyone knows that
a newborn child is newborn.

4. According to the theory of sexual reproduction,
children are a result of sexual intercourse.
There are, however, several well-documented
cases where sexual intercourse has not led to
the birth of a child.

5. Statistical studies in the Netherlands
indicate a positive correlation between
the human birth rate and the number of storks.
Both are decreasing.

6. The theory of the stork can be investigated by
rigorous scientific methods. The only assumption
involved is that children are delivered by the stork.

The second is by Paul Rudnick from the New Yorker, and features a veritable patheon of the gods, squabbling like interior designers over the esthetics of Earth. It is too long to reprint , but this will give you the flavor:

"It's wet, it's deep, yet it's frothy; it's design without dogma," said Buddha, approvingly.

"Now, there's movement," agreed Allah. "It's not just 'Hi, I'm a planet-no splashing.' "

"But are those ice caps?" inquired Thor. "Is this a coherent vision, or a highball?"


Please be indulgent of spacing, double and missing letters etc for the present--it's my #$%^&* keyboard, which is almost unmanageable (only on my posts). Reid tried to fix one of my posts below and lost half of it. So did I, and had to rewrite it THREE TIMES.

This too shall pass...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Why Do People Do This?

After last winter's record rainfall here in California, lots of wood and other flotsam has washed out of the hills and into the ocean and wound up on our beaches. I have been fascinated, in an anthropological sense, as to why people feel compelled to use this material to make little structures on the beach.

Like this one. Last week while returning from a client meeting in Los Angeles, I stopped at Solimar and Faria Beaches to take these pictures. Here are several more of these "hootches."

And this one was the most elaborate I saw, with an attached dry-laid stone fire pit.

This is very well done and really took several hours of work for someone. I see little impromtu buildings like these all over the beaches here.

I suppose part of the reason that these fascinate me is that I have absolutely NO compulsion to do this myself. Depending on your theory as to what determines human behavior, I either wasn't enculturated by the construction people or inherited the lazy gene. I would like to invite others opinions on what the root of this behavior pattern may be.

I will close with this beach view on a beautiful day west along The Rincon - Libby Bodio's old stomping grounds. For those of you in areas where the weather is gray and cold, enjoy, think warm, and have a nice Thanksgiving weekend.

As Others See Us...

Writer- Falconer- Blogger Rebecca O'Connor of Operation Desert Duck visited last week, and wrote these impressions of our Querencia.

One for Fun

Courtesy of the Alpha E, a test of whether you can shoot locks open the way they do in the movies.

Hint: it ain't easy.

Some folks have ENTIRELY too much time on their hands..

Thanksgiving Dinner

Instead of turkey-- broken-down vehicles preclude a trip to Albuquerque for a good one-- we are having two ducks done according to our grease-spattered copy of Julia Childs' The Way to Cook. The birds are lightly roasted; then the breasts are sliced and sauteed in wine and butter until they are just barely cooked. Meanwhile, the legs have been roasting in the oven, coated in mustard and breadcrumbs...

Also on the menu: Libby's squash soup with ginger and chile, and (inspired by a mention by Roseann in Three Martini Lunch) creamy, cheesy polenta with wilted greens on top, cooked in olive oil and garlic.

Will post there later if this machine keeps working.

Fear of Turkeys

The natives of Canton Massachusetts, where I actually used to hunt, are being terroriized by turkeys.

" "Those turkeys terrify me," Canton resident Judy Klein told the local newspaper, the Patriot Ledger.

" "The turkeys have become a public safety problem," Canton Animal Control officer Ellen Barnett said.

"Saturday's Patriot Ledger revealed that, during the summer, Canton residents frequently called Animal Control to report "aggressive turkeys chasing joggers… and scaring mothers wheeling strollers with babies." Pedestrians took to carrying sticks and umbrellas for protection. To combat the growing bantam menace, the town hired a hunter to kill the flock's two alpha males with a bow and arrow. Alas, he bagged only one, so the threat level remains elevated."

Read the whole thing--it gets worse!!!

The ASPCA...

...wants the feds to tell you how many dogs you can have.

Naps and Novels

I am not sure how "Michael Blowhard" at 2Blowhards ever manages to blog so much and still have a life-- not just links, but full-blown essays.

Here is one on naps (can't live without one after lunch). And here is one on-- more or less against-- the modern "literary", more than genre, novel. To my shock , I find myself agreeing with him more than not. I have two novels mapped out, but they will be thrillers--literate and well written, I hope, but with no haut- lit aspirations. I can still read classics, but only one of the twelve books currently stacked by my bed is a literary novel-- and it's about Afghanistan. Why are so many our serious writers so boring? Conversely, why are so many science fiction writers, thriller writers, and science writers (to name three congenial genres) so good? Or, for that matter, "Essay Bloggers"?

It was not always so..


A nice quote (from Terry Teachout's About Last Night):

"Bigotry does not mean believing that people who differ from you are wrong, it means assuming that they are either knaves or fools. To think them so is an immediate convenience, since it saves us the trouble of analyzing either their views or our own. ‘Christians are right, pagans are wrong,’ says the Song of Roland. If we have to answer the other people and find that we can’t, then our bigotry grows more intense. It can turn to hatred: and one can reach the lowest point of all—measuring our loyalty to our own cause by our hatred of theirs.”

Frank Sheed, The Church and I

Our Guns and Theirs..

Steve Sailer has two interesting columns here and here on the guns of both sides in Iraq. I find it interesting that a Marine in Iraq seems to agree with me rather than The Alpha Environmentalist on a long- running controversy over the M16 vs the Kalashnikov-- mainly over reliability, but also over small rather than large(r) bullets.

Actually,as the second entry makes clear, the controversy is less of one once you examine it in detail. If you have a high- quality M16 clone like Jonathan's Bushmaster, and keep it as clean as he does, you will have no problem. If you were in really nasty battlefield conditions, you'd probably be better off with the (less accurate) AK. The situation with bullet size is similar-- would you rather have more ammo or more knockdown power?

We'd both agree on .45 over 9mm!

Fun fact: Mikhail Kalashnikov is a Life Member of the NRA.

Derb, Doom, and Gloom

Anyone familiar with this blog will know that (A) I am a big fan of the writing of John Derbyshire and that, (B) despite the general cheerfulness of this blog, I run a regular feature called "Doom and Gloom'. For the life of me, I can't see why one cannot see that while we are all doomed in the end, and that even civilizations-- all of them-- eventually fall, we must both be as happy as we are able, and do our work cheerfully, sometimes stoically, and well. As Yeats wrote, "All things fall and are built again,/ And all who build them again are gay."

So when his fellow journalists at NRO and its Corner give John grief for his pessimism, it irritates me. One of the most childish things about the "new" conservatism is that it has the same air of triumphalism, of "Immanentizing the Eschaton" (William F. Buckley himself- look it up) that utopian socialism (and for that matter some libertarianism) has. When young NR writer James Robbins, in a Candidean- Pollyanna- ish essay actually entitled "The Best of Times" (he means it !) says that "Conservatives tend to approach things with a sense of optimism and faith in human potential", I wonder exactly what kind of "conservative" believes in unconstrained human goodness and endless progress. That's not conservatism- it's Republican, Walt Disney boosterism. Perhaps Robbins should read Bill Buckley's recently- reprinted tribute to Whittaker Chambers, a man of Dostoevskian gloom lightened by a twinkle, a refusal to despair. But there are no links-- perhaps it doesn't fit the zietgeist.

For an antidote, try some triple- proof Derb here and here.

Here is an interview with Derbyshire at the Science blog Gene Expression. My favorite quote: "Having a well- thought- out world view can make a person narrow and arrogant." Maybe that is why I can't bring myself to join/ trust parties and movements of any kind?

And for something completely different, check out this link, where he reads poetry aloud, an activity to be commended and indulged in at every opportunity. How about some Kipling, John? McDonagh's Song? The Song of the Dead? The Road Through the Woods? In the Neolithic Age? A Pict Song?


I am still awaiting DSL, still using my antique IMac with an incredibly slow modem (added on-- this one also fried its own), a mimiscule keyboard that jumps and puts in multiple exclamation points--!!!--and no ability to access my photos or put in new ones. But an encounter with a fan -- a writer we will hear from-- in, of all places, the Golden Spur Bar in Magdalena-- reminded me that I not only have a backlog, I have readers. Besides, Odious and Peculiar have already scooped me on such things as venomous monitor lizards.

So: though running slow, let me at least provide you all with some good links to some of the usual obsessions. I cannot promise that I will be fully up and running before I can return from Kurdistan, but I'm sure Reid and Matt (Matt? Where are you?) will keep you all entertained.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

A Third Ghost

Steve and I both posted examples of two "ghosts of evolution" - plants that have evolved with animal "partners" to disperse their seeds, who have since gone extinct. These were the osage orange and the devils claw, both plants mentioned in Connie Barlow's book, Ghosts of Evolution. Earlier this week I thought that it would be great to do another post if I could find another example when I had one of those "Oh, duh" moments and realized that there were thousands of them around me. This is an avocado tree (Persea americana) located in a vacant lot around the corner from my house. You don't see any avocados in this picture as all of us that route our dog walks under this tree pick anything that is ripe within reach. You've got to go 8 or 9 feet up before you see any fruit. But there are many of these in this region as this picture proves.

Unlike the osage orange, the fruits fall around the tree but there are many animals and insects who will eat them. However, none of them is big enough to carry the large avocado seed away.

According to Barlow, there are no animals left in Central America where this plant evolved, who can swallow an avocado whole, digest it, and carry it away from the parent tree. It seems clear that an elephant-like animal, a mastodon or gomphothere, extinct for 12,000 years, was the intended consumer of avocados.

This tree is very fortunate in that its fruit is favored by humans, who have extended its range around the world.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Mayan War Crimes

Yesterday's LA Times and NY Times each had pieces on a spectacular archaeological find in the Classic Mayan site of Cancuen in Guatemala. Arthur Demarest, an archaeologist from Vanderbilt University, and his team are excavating there and found evidence of a great battle for the city around the year AD 800. Cancuen was taken by invaders and Demarest found evidence that the ruling elite of the city were all murdered. He found the king and queen in a shallow grave and the remains of another 31 members of the royal family smashed and dismembered and thrown into a cistern.

This picture from the LA Times shows weapons, mutilated long bones, and two pieced-together smashed crania from the cistern. The article states that this massacre was a pivotal event in the Classic Maya Collapse. This is one of the Great Questions in Archaeology - why were numerous Mayan cities abandoned in the early Ninth Century AD - that researchers have been chewing on for generations. It remains to be seen if the sack and abandonment of Cancuen is a pivotal event in this much larger phenomenon, but it is an exciting and significant find in any event.

In the course of our work we occasionaly find horrific epsiodes like this "frozen in time" as the LA Times article says. I found evidence of a minor one in my thesis research, three bodies dumped in a kiva ventilator shaft in an Anasazi site that I posted about here last month. After reading about this discovery yesterday, two other North American examples immediately came to mind.

The first was a find at another Anasazi site, the Salmon Ruin, located near Bloomfield, NM. Cynthia Irwin-Williams and her team found the remains of 35 small children and two adults in the burned roof-fall of a tower kiva excavated there. I visited the Salmon Ruin during a conference that was held in the area shortly after the find was made and saw the burned tower kiva. The fire was so hot that some of the adobe had glazed like ceramics. There was plenty of other evidence that the pueblo had been attacked and sacked sometime in the AD 1260s, and the interpretation was that the children and two baby-sitters had been sent to the roof as a place of refuge and they had burned to death in the fires that accompanied the attack.

While doing a little research to refresh my memory on this I found that Christy Turner had reanalyzed the collection and reported on it in his book Man Corn that I posted on here. The results of his work are even more chilling than the original theory. Turner found that the two adults had been dismembered, butchered, and the remains were widely spread. The childrens' remains showed no sign of this and were clustered together. So after the adults were butchered and cannibalized, they were strewn on the roof. Then the children, dead or alive we do not know, were put there in a group and the roof torched. A horrid story.

The second example comes from a site in South Dakota that I originally heard reported in a presentation at the Plains Conference. The Crow Creek site is a Middle Missouri village located on the Missouri River in the central part of the state. Villages of this type and time period (Fourteenth Century AD) were composed of large earthlodges surrounded by a palisade and moat. The excavations at Crow Creek showed that the village had been burned and sacked around the year AD 1325.

Apparently everyone in the village was killed and thrown into the moat where they were covered and preserved by natural burial. Almost 500 people of both sexes and all ages were heaped there as you can see in this image from a University of South Dakota website where you can read more about it. This horrifying example of ethnic cleansing was a scientific bonanza, as it gave the entire contemporaneous population of the village to the physical anthropologists who studied it. Plains archaeologists are accustomed to digging bone beds, but they are usually bison and not human.

Arthur Demarest and I were undergraduate classmates at Tulane. Arthur was always very sharp, and has gone on to a stellar career with lots of solid contributions like this one. I saw him a couple of months ago on a show on the History Channel, and it was evident that he has certainly gained lots of skills as a showman since we took Mayan Archaeology together from Bob Wauchope.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Art and Science

Steve's blog brings together three people with, among other things in common, keen interest in their surroundings. Each of us might agree that keen interest is warranted and required by our home places if they are to be even partially understood.

Toward this understanding we bring our three perspectives: We have in Steve an experienced and accomplished writer, and a capable amateur scientist; in Reid an accomplished scientist and capable writer; and in Matt an aspiring writer and scientist of the least possible credential (B.A., Sociology).

I believe each of us belongs to other, separate groups of friends and colleagues with whom we speculate and argue on the Nature of Things. To date, we three have done little of that here, and maybe that's a good thing.

But never one to resist spoiling a good thing, I'd like to ask Reid and Steve to comment, as they are able and so moved, on the following passage from Wendell Berry's book-length essay, Life is A Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition (2000).

I've just finished this book, and to do it a terrible injustice, can sum it up as an argument against a scientific march toward universal reductionism to the exclusion of universal mystery. At last, it proposes a possible model whereby science and art might become allies, even essential partners. And at that point I began thinking of us.

On page 113, within a section entitled "Reduction and Art," Berry asks:

"What can be explained? Experiments, ideas, patterns, cause-effect relationships and connections within defined limits, anything that can be calculated, graphed, diagrammed. And yet explanation changes whatever is explained into something explainable. Explanation is reductive, not comprehensive; most of the time, when
you have explained something, you discover leftovers. An explanation is a bucket, not a well.

What can't be explained? I don't think creatures can be explained. I don't think lives can be explained. What we know about creatures and lives must be pictured or told or sung or danced. And I don't think pictures or stories or songs or dances can be explained. The arts are indispensable precisely because they are so nearly antithetical to explanation."

Boys? At your leisure...

Monday, November 14, 2005

Technical Difficulties - Slow Blogging from Steve

Steve has asked me to pass on to everyone that he is having technical problems with his computer which will probably keep him from blogging until later in the week. It is also limiting his ability to read and answer e-mail, so don't worry, he isn't ignoring you!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Zuni Rock Art Blogging 3

The Kachina Cult (also spelled katsina or katchina) is the keystone of Zuni religion. This cult appears in all the Pueblos, but is most evident and best known from the western Pueblos of Hopi, Zuni, and Acoma. Kachinas are spirits, in some cases those of ancestors, who carry prayers from the people to the gods. They appear in ceremonials, usually dances, at critical times of the year. Individual kachinas are associated with particular clans within the Pueblo. Members of those clans don masks that represent the kachinas, and in wearing the mask the spirit of the kachina takes over the person. They then participate in the ceremonials.

Chuck Adams, a graduate school colleague, has an excellent discussion of the Kachina Cult and its time depth in this book. Kachinas have very regular iconography that identifies them, and they can represent animals, ogres, imaginary spiritual characters, and even members of other ethnic groups. The rock art shown in the following images is from Zuni and represents kachinas. A detailed narrative on these is this book by M. Jane Young that I have linked to before.

These pictographs apparently date from late Nineteenth to early Twentieth century and have been continuously renewed. There is a lot of overpainting and faded paint on the exposure. Young's book has a series of historic photographs of this exposure that shows images appearing, fading over time and there replaced by others.This overhang is located near a prehistoric archaeological site known as Village of the Great Kivas.

This is the mask of Sayatasha, the Long Horn kachina. The drawing below, from Matilda Coxe Stevenson's work on the Zuni from the Bureau of American Ethnography's 23rd Annual Report, shows him in full dress: white buckskin suit, turquoise plaque pendant on silver necklace, with a bow in his left hand and deer scapula rattles in his right.

Sayatasha is attended by two Yamuhaktos (with cross-stick masks) and Hututu (also in the white buckskin suit). I have been fortunate enough to attend four kachina dances at Zuni, and have seen Sayatasha and a number of other kachinas depicted here. They are powerful and awe-inspiring performances.

This is another very important character in these ceremonials, a Shalako. Shalakos are couriers from the rain gods who visit the village in an important rite held in late November or early December each year. They are large bird-like creatures with clacking bills. The impersonator stands in a teepee-like structure holding a pole that supports the head. The pictograph even shows the cloth grill that the impersonator peers through to see where he is going.Here is a Coxe drawing of one.
Four to six of these Shalakos appear for the ceremonials on an evening. Each has his own purpose-built house with a sunken floor where he dances through the night. Sayatasha and his attendants visit each house, as do a string of other kachinas. At dawn the next day, the Shalakos assemble on the banks of the Zuni River and race one another.

This is Atoshle, a male "scare" kachina, an ogre. Ogre kachinas of various types lend some elements of social control. They are particularly liable to visit incorrigible children.

The kachina on the left is Wo'latana, the Bear. As I said earlier, kachinas can also represent other ethnic groups, like Wilatsukwe on the right, who is Apache.

This is another ethnic kachina, Kumance, a Comanche. I was fortunate enough to see a group of ten or so Kumance at a Shalako dance. They wore full white buckskin suits, like Sayatasha and Hututu, and held rattles. Their apperance is quite rare and we were told that they appeared that year to counteract bad luck from the previous year's ceremonial where one of the Shalakos had toppled over.

This is Hehe'a, the Blunderer kachina, a clown. The most famous clowns from Zuni, the Koyemshi, or Mudheads, do not appear in any images here.

I close with this kachina, who shows the adaptability of Zuni religion. He is Wakashi, the Cow kachina. Wakashi is obviously a post-European contact development, and his name comes from vaca, the Spanish word for cow.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Great Basin Rabbit Hunting

We know from the ethnographic literature that rabbit hunting was a major communal activity practiced by Native American groups in the Great Basin. Julian Steward's classic Basin-Plateau Aboriginal Sociopolitical Groups describes these and the equipment used in some detail.

The major quarry was jackrabbits (Lepus californicus). Communal hunts were held in the Fall and accounts say that groups would congregate over a radius of 60 or 70 miles. For many of them this was the only occasion when the entire macro-band would gather together. The rabbits were driven into nets, as Steward describes: "In the drives they used one or two nets, each about 2 feet high and 100 or more feet long, propped up at intervals with sticks. Eight or ten men beat the brush, driving the rabbits into the nets, while the owners remained behind their nets to dispatch the ensnared animals with clubs."

Here is an example of one of these nets. Many similar prehistoric examples have been found in dry caves in the Great Basin. The rabbit drive boss was a position of great prestige as he had to hold the confidence of the members of a number of different bands.

The major reason for these hunts was not so much for the meat as for the hides that were made into robes and blankets. The meat was consumed at once, as dried rabbit meat wouldn't keep for more than a couple of weeks.

Cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus audubonii) were also taken though not usually in drives. These were taken using snares, bow and arrow, or dragged out of burrows using hooks.
These hooks were also used to drag out chuckwallas and smaller rodents that were also eaten. I saw petroglyph representations of a set of these hooks at Little Petroglyph Canyon last week-end.

These practices have great time depth. Examples of it have been seen in sites that date back as far as the early Holocene.

We saw examples of it at this site that we excavated last year in the western Mojave Desert. We are completing our analysis of the material recovered, and the faunal remains from this site are dominated by jackrabbit with some cottontail and other small rodents.

This shot of the lab table shows an assortment of jackrabbit and cottontail mandibles and scapulae. You can see more bags of material awaiting analysis at the top of the picture. There is a lot of it! Their processing and cooking techniques must have been something heavy-handed as most of the bone looks like this.

It is likely that after the meat was eaten, the bones were smashed and boiled in water to render out as much fat as possible. The residue skimmed off the top of the water is often called bone grease. Projectile point styles seem to indicate that this is a Late Prehistoric Period occupation (AD 1000 - Historic Contact) and we will know for sure when the radiocarbon dates come back later this month and the obsidian hydration dates next month. Ceramics were known from this period though none were found at the site. The boiling could have been done in pots or in pitch-sealed baskets using stone-boiling techniques: hot rocks placed in the basket to heat the water.

We found a variety of chipped stone tools and waste flakes (debitage) from manufacturing and maintaining the tools. The presence of ground stone tools usually indicates that plant food processing was being done. We found virtually no ground stone here which would seem to indicate that this site was dedicated to hunting.

We excavated two firepits at the site. We sent the ashy fill of the firepits to a laboratory for specialty analysis. The lab used a flotation technique to recover the remains of charred seeds and wood fragments. Their report showed that no seeds were present at all, just pieces of saltbush and creosote bush used to fuel the fire. This reinforces the interpretation that no plant foods were being processed or cooked here.

There is no reliable water within miles of the site except when Fall and Winter rains fill pans in the blowouts between dunes as you see in this picture. I've seen this water stand for a week or two.

Based of on all this data I'd say this site fits the profile of a Fall seasonal rabbit drive camp. What do you think?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Little Petroglyph Canyon - Coso Rock Art District

In conjunction with the Society for California Archaeology Data-Sharing meeting in Ridgecrest, CA last week-end, a tour was arranged for us at the nearby Coso Rock Art District, a National Historic Landmark. This is a world-class archaeological resource that is located on the China Lake - Naval Air Warfare Center. The fact that this important resource is located near a bombing range has limited access and saved it from destruction.

I want to thank the SCA and Russ Kaldenberg, Base Archaeologist at China Lake, for allowing us to have this rare opportunity.

I had been reading about this area for years, but the sheer impact of the tens of thousands of petroglyphs was just astounding. Our tour went through Little Petroglyph Canyon, only one of several areas within the District. This rock art was made by prehistoric hunter-gatherers who lived here on the western edge of the Great Basin starting (apparently) at the end of the Pleistocene up until the time of European contact. Most of it appears to be oriented toward hunting magic, with an emphasis on bighorn sheep. There are thousands of images of sheep on the canyon walls.

This one is of ewes and lambs climbing a hill which the artist has cleverly represented by a crack in the rock face. There are also many images of hunting weapons: spears, atlatls, and bows.

There are also elements and implements of magic like the medicine bags that look like purses in the image above. A number of books and many, many journal articles have been written describing this rock art and positing theories on its age, style, and function. There is much too much for me to cover in one post. This is a preliminary to let you know that I will be covering a number of aspects of Coso rock art in the future. In those I will link to and reference the wide literature on the subject, lots of it very accessible to amateur and professional alike.

As you should be able to tell from this picture, I was pretty much a kid in a candy store for the five hours we were there. Between my colleague Christine Hacking and me, we took about 400 shots of the area. We could have stayed another day or two and not seen it all. Look for the shamans on the rocks on the skyline behind me.

I'll close with this image of two shamans wearing ceremonial garb and headdresses. One current theory posits that this area was where a shaman would hold his vision quest and then commemorate it with rock art images. But more about that later.

Lives of Pronghorns

This article in the LA Times yesterday by Deborah Sullivan Brennan, laments the decline of pronghorn antelope herds in California from populations estimated at 500,000 at European contact to something in the range of 5-6,000 today. We all lament that. You should look at her piece, but Brennan says that there are too few open spaces left in the state for them, too many fences, too many cattle on the range that compete with them, and too few animals available to relocate into suitable open habitat. More on those points later.

After that, she contrasts the plight of the California pronghorn with the Rewilding proposal for Pleistocene megafauna we have talked about here so often. To quote Brennan:

"In a recent edition of the journal Nature, a group of scientists propose to introduce African elephants and even cheetahs and lions to American Great Plains. Their plan would create a wide-open landscape of roving megafauna that the journal editor fondly dubs "Pleistocene Park."Meanwhile, pronghorn, once stalked by prehistoric predecessors of these big cats, lapse into obscurity. Perhaps it's more tempting to start fresh with exotic game in America's heartland than to revive the relics of our own natural history. But it belies a theme park sentimentality toward nature..."

I think she goes off the rails here. Steve and I discussed this and as he says:

"Several thoughts.
1) As anyone who has bothered to read Paul Martin would know, pronghorn are part of the solution. What is this theme park bullshit?
2) Journalists are scientifically illiterate and probably don't read much generally.
3) Stop grazing? Well, maybe California is "special". But my friend Lee's ranch, where we hunt, runs cattle (on pretty "desert" range), is amazingly full of antelope, and has kit fox, badger etc. It is hunted for antelope. As are all of Montana and Wyoming, the big antelope habitat states."

I am inclined to agree. I will let Steve's thoughts 1 and 2 stand on their own. As for 3, I live in California and spent five years here in an area immediately adjacent to pronghorn habitat. I have also spent extensive amounts of time (years) in antelope country in Wyoming and Colorado and spent lots of time around the critters. It has always seemed very strange to me driving through wide-open areas of the high desert and San Joaquin Valley why antelope have such a hard time here. It does not appear different to me than areas of Wyoming and Colorado that swarm with antelope - to Steve's point about his friend's ranch.

I will admit I have not spent a great amount of time researching the situation here, but I do not believe the constraints Brennan lists are much worse here than on the High Plains that Steve and I know. As far as her opinion of the Rewilding proposal goes, it is just wrong.

That said, I really would love to see more pronghorn here. I saw a herd last year in the western Antelope Valley where they are supposed to be extinct (near Quail Lake off SR138 for those who know) and it was a thrill.

Trona Pinnacles

While in Ridgecrest, CA over the weekend for an archaeology society meeting, I made a side trip to the Trona Pinnacles National Natural Landmark. Ridgecrest and the Pinnacles are located in the high desert, east of the Sierra Nevada.

During the Pleistocene and early Holocene, the Pinnacles area was at the bottom of Searles Lake, one of a series of lakes filled with water from retreating Sierra glaciers. The region slopes from north to south so that when Owens Lake (the northernmost) filled it drained to China Lake which in turn drained to Searles. When Searles Lake filled it drained into Death Valley.

The Pinnacles are formed of calcium carbonate or tufa. This formed underwater through the interaction of blue-green algae and local chemical and geothermal conditions. As the regional climate warmed and the glaciers disappeared, the trapped water of Searles Lake became rich in carbonate brine. Calcium-rich underground hot springs welled up through fault line fractures on the lake bottom, forming calcium carbonate deposits. Colonies of blue-green algae then bonded to these deposits and, over several thousand years, formed tufa reefs. When Searles Lake dried up completely, the Trona Pinnacles remained.

As my colleague, Christine Hacking said when she picked up a chunk, "It looks like coral." See above.

There are about 500 pinnacles and the tallest is about 140 feet tall. A typical spire is shown here.

A sign near the base of this one says that it was 640 feet under water when Searles Lake was at its highest. The area looks like a moonscape and has been used as a set for many TV series and movies: Planet of the Apes, Lost in Space, Star Trek, etc. I have seen it in a number of car ads both print and film in recent years - in fact I think it appears in a Ford commerical running now.

The Landmark is administered by the BLM and their website with information on the place and how to get there is here. A family was setting up camp when we were there on Saturday evening.

We just went to sight-see, but Searles Lake figured in a couple of presentations at the Society for California Archaeology Data-Sharing meeting we attended. For the late Pleistocene and early Holocene when the lakes were full, relatively few archaeological sites have been found in the area around Searles Lake relative to Owens and China Lakes to the north. The Searles Lake sites tend to be lithic procurement locations where chippable stone was gathered from lag gravel lying on the desert pavement. There are hardly any habitation sites there, whereas Owens and China Lakes have many large village sites and camps.

The lack of evidence of permanent occupation at Searles was attributed to the poor water quality there - it was half-jokingly referred to as the "poison water theory." This seems to make sense when you understand how the Pinnacles were formed. This was reinforced by paleontological data on the Pleistocene fish populations in the three lakes. Owens has many salmonids and other species requiring cool, oxygenated water whereas China and Searles have only chub and pupfish that can withstand warm water with little dissolved oxygen.

Archaeologists being who they are, this was immediately questioned on a number of grounds. Searles has not had the field survey coverage that the other two lakes have had so this contrast may be due to sampling error. Additionally, the depositional situation on the lake margins at Searles is different and this may mean that there are more buried sites that cannot be found in field survey. All very interesting and productive discussion - but it was interesting how the data seemed to hang together for the "poison water theory." The Data-Sharing meetings are fairly informal gatherings where ideas can be kicked around. It will be interesting to see if this one progresses.

Security, as it is practiced

From the Arizona Daily Star via the Alpha Environmentalist.

"On her way to a recent meeting at the Superior Court building Downtown, an Arizona Daily Star reporter put her purse on the conveyor belt to be scanned for potential weapons.

"After staring at the monitor a good long time, the security guard asked if she had a tape measure in her bag. She pulled out the tape measure that had sat, forgotten, in the bottom of her purse after a weekend excursion to the hardware store, and gave it to the man for inspection.

"The security guard said he was confiscating the tape measure and the reporter could pick it up when she left the building.

"Joking, the reporter asked: "What do you think I'm going to do, use it as a garrote?"

" "No," the guard said, "but you might strangle someone with it." "

For Dog Lovers

For all of us who think dogs superior to pigs or goats (a little in- joke-- Patrick will understand) a quote from Matt, when we were talking about his old dog Meng. I said: "Loving dogs will break your heart-- but how could we do anything else?'

And he replied: "There is nothing else to do but love them. They're the best things we've ever made."

Condor Feeding Habits

This article from the NYT suggests that California Condors have changed their diet in the past (megafauna to beached sea mammals, then to beef) and maybe should change again.

The hypothesis dovetails well with the theories of the grand old man of ReWilding, Paul Martin, in his book Twilight of the Mammoths. He notes that Condors disappeared from the Grand Canyon when the megafauna vanished, but hung on in California.

Three Martini Lunch!!

Roseann Hanson, who to his great good fortune is the wife of the Alpha Environmentalist, has decied to start her own blog, Three Martini Lunch. I want to quote at length from her absolutely delightful Credo, but for the moment I don't seem to be able to cut and paste, and there is too much good stuff to quote selectively. Suffice to say that it does indeed celebrate martinis, good (organic) steaks, Julia Childs, guns, butter, and style. This photo, of her mother in 1954, might symbolize the whole thing.

Or maybe this one:

Don't forget the Alpha either, who is up and running with new software.

Of "Save" the Falcons: Big Lies

This meme probably should have been swatted long ago-- in fact, I thought it had been-- but it has reared its head in a new place.

The political site Frontpage , in an unexceptionable (and as far as I know mostly correct) but heated article on Saudi money's use in funding terrorism, cited the Arab's "macho" devotion to falconry and referred readers to the site "Save the Falcons", run by the so- called "Union for Conservation of Raptors"..

There's just one trouble: the site is somewhere between evil (in the sense of character assassination) and barking mad, and, I suspect, exists mainly to further the personal agendas of one or two people, one of whom is genuinely creepy.

"Union for Conservation of Raptors" sounds mainstream, doesn't it? Certainly the Peregrine Fund, the World Wildlife Fund, the World Conservation Union, and CITES are, right?

Well, Save the Falcons alleges, in its "Ten Most wanted " bar (which has a lot more than ten individuals-- they count about as well as they tell the truth about anything) that all of the above, plus the president of Kazakhstan, the head of CITES USA, the US ambassador to Mongolia, Tom Cade of the Peregrine Fund (who single- handedly spearheaded the successful drive to restore the Peregrine, a rare success which took it off the Endangered Species list), most of the world's best bird of prey biologists (Dr. Nick Fox in the UK, Vladimir Flint * and Sasha Sorokin of Russia, Eugene Potapov**, who now resides in the USA) AND the Russian Mafia, are parts of a "cartel" to profit off Saudi money at the expense of falcons. They say that CITES is run by "falcon warlords"!

"Save the Falcons" is essentially the creation of two men, biologist David Ellis and Alan "Hari Har Singh Khalsa" Parrott, a Texas- born "Sikh" who himself has been alleged to have ties to Saudi Arabia, who attempted to monopolize the Mongolian falcon trade to the Arabs (quite publicly-- I don't have time to Google it all now but I'm sure the most cursory search will find more, including a slightly credulous but interesting WSJ article)) and who was subsequently declared persona non grata in that country. He has also been accused of falcon smuggling himself.

I don't know what Ellis's motives are, but Parrott's seem clear.

For some sane refutation of their claims go to Nick Fox's "Save the SAKER". (Sakers are in fact the only bird that would be affected by Arab falconry and the only bird used in falconry that is currently under pressure). Yes, some Arabs are falconers. Yes, Nick's foundation takes Arab--Emirate, not Saudi-- money. Yes, he works with Mongolian biologists, and Russians and the P- Fund. What all those people above have in common is love of raptors. Period.

Full disclosure. I have ties to many of these people, and have for years. Which is why I respect their integrity.

*Author of the Russian "Peterson's", Birds of the Soviet Union, who is DEAD.

**Author of the splendid new monograph The Gyrfalcon.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Early Falconry

A topic perfectly--perhaps uniquely--suited to the particular mix of interests here: Who were the first falconers?

In a flurry of emails between us, Steve pulling in the expert testimony of his friend John Burchard and adding his own considerable insight; Reid, the ever-sober archeologist, providing lines of evidence from peer-reviewed literature and I wildly speculating as usual; together we had a grand time and came up with no firm answers.

But we established to our own satisfaction that the clock could be set well back from the 2000 BC estimate so often cited. How far back? Reid:

"All your discussion about people being capable of falconry 6000 BP or more leads me to repeat what has turned into a platitude that I repeat when people discuss archaeological cultures and 'primitive' societies. Always remember, the earliest H. sapiens had an IQ just as high as yours or mine. Things like the sophisticated artistic vision of 50K year old cave paintings in Europe shows that. All that sets us apart technologically is the accumulation of experience of the hundreds of generations of people messing around with stuff and occasional learning something new. So the ability and imagination to invent falconry goes WAY back."

Consider the "Ice Man," that Bronze Age blast from the past found mummified on the slopes of the Italian Alps. Reid's listing of the man's sophisticated toolkit, weaponry, well-constructed clothing and shoes led Steve and I to note that these traits could qualify any culture for the necessary know-how and industry of falconry. People with a comparably spare yet serviceable material culture practiced good falconry into modern times, some of them without the benefit of written language. Sir Richard F. Burton, Col. E. Delme-Radcliffe, John Cox, Sirdar Mohamed Osman and others have described serious hawking undertaken by traditional herding and agricultural cultures identical to those of ten thousand years ago. Steve's friends among the eaglers of Mongolia, minus the Internet hook-ups and Mercedes Benzes, are essentially a Bronze Age people doing practical falconry.

And before that, why not? Why not go WAY back? Riffing on Reid's note that so long as humans have been human--just as smart and generally more aware of their natural world--we might as well start sifting the fossil evidence. Matt from our email exchange:

"'Falconry as we know it' doesn't begin to cover what sort of working relationships might be possible between hawks and people. You wouldn't have to find bells and swivels in the boneyard to imagine falconry taking place. Some hawks (the small accipiters come to mind) are very much 'hardwired' and capable as hunters, yet for a considerable period of time (until about October of the their first year) they are extremely tame and manageable. Just about anyone--even children--with a reliable source of suitable food, could raise a small accipiter from a couple weeks of age and be essentially hunting with it in eight weeks. All the while it would be an interesting pet and rewarding on that basis alone, as any Darien rainforest native will tell you.....Something like this would be very easy for me to imagine developing anywhere small hawks, curious people and their prey coexist."

Reid asks, "What about pre-Columbian falconry?" Steve replies:

"None known. Aztecs kept 'em, including Harpies, but in zoos. I wonder what they fed them? (Actually I don't!) Some falconry recorded from post-Conquest in South America, and one unique Latin American bird, the Aplomado falcon, enjoyed a vogue in southern Europe until the 1700's"
So Reid hits the Archeo-lit databases, looking to Europe, and turns up some most interesting stuff:

Of falconry, foraging and farming: thoughts on the
significance of raptor remains recovered from proto- and early Neolithic sites
in the Middle East

Keith Dobney (EAU, University of York)

ABSTRACT: The origin of falconry, both geographically and chronologically, is still hidden in darkness, and it seems doubtful whether we shall ever discover the cradle of this ancient sport.Â? (Epstein) The remarkably consistent presence of raptor remains at many proto- and early Neolithic sites in the Middle East, and the bias in favour of specific elements, have previously been noted by numerous workers. Where the presence of raptor remains at these various sites has been discussed, they have either been used to provide detailed palaeobiogeographical information, or presented as indicating the presence of complex totemic or symbolic activities. However, the raptor (and other vertebrate) data from many of these sites could also support another hypothesis which has, as yet, not been fully explored, i.e that living birds of prey were tamed, managed and perhaps trained in the first faltering steps towards falconry. "

But for my money, Reid's own fieldwork provides some of the best evidence to date for the possibility that early people took up hawks and made allies of them. In this Querencia-exclusive image, just released, we clearly see a representation of some early falconer scaling a perilous cliff and gesturing to others below that the eagle's eyerie is accessible....

Monday, November 07, 2005

Note From The Web-Geek

Regular readers (if such people exist) might notice "surprise posts" sometimes popping up beneath bits they've already read. Let me explain: Steve's machine won't let him post images (I'm sure that's not personal, but Steve seems skeptical). So I post them but usually after a day's delay. When they move from edit mode to prime-time, they appear beneath more recent material.

Two up just now, in fact!

So: Please scroll down from time to time, and enjoy!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Montana Bison Hunt

There is an article in today's Wall Street Journal by Brendan Miniter about a plan by the State of Montana to allow limited hunting of bison who have wandered out of Yellowstone National Park. The bison carry brucellosis, a disease that kills domestic cattle, and they can't be allowed to mingle with cattle herds in the area. Montana has issued hunting licenses and tags for its first bison hunt in 15 years.

Some opponents of the hunt say that the bison have no fear of humans and hunters will be able to approach too close to kill the animals and that it is not sporting. Anti-hunting groups have ran ads and say that it is as sporting as "... shooting a parked truck." So far this has not deterred the State that is concerned for its cattle industry.

Miniter points out that the anti-hunters paint an edenic picture of Indians on horseback with bows, killing bison in a "sporting" hunt - an image that he identifies as a myth. Miniter uses the example of an archaeological site, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in Canada, where "sporting" Indians regularly stampeded bison over a cliff as their mode of hunting.

Miniter has a point. Bison jumps are a common type of archaeological site on the Plains.

This "river of bone" is from the Olsen-Chubbuck site in Eastern Colorado. Evidence here shows that in a single episode on a day 10,150 years ago, a herd of an extinct form of bison, Bison occidentalis, was stampeded by Indians across an arroyo, killing 193 of them. The Indians obviously had good feasting for a time after that, but about 40 of the carcasses were never touched, left to rot. "Sporting" doesn't always mean much to hunters with primitive technology and families to feed.


I wish to revise and extend my remarks based on Larissa and Mary's comments. I believe that the State of Montana is doing the right thing under the circumstances. The only other rational alternative is to have Montana officials shoot them. The State should spare the expense and gain the revenue by allowing the hunt. I believe that the assertion that the hunt should be stopped because it is not sporting is an ahistorical canard brought to you by the crowd that says, "Hunting won't be sporting until the animals are armed."

In prehistory, Native Americans killed bison any way that they could, with drives, jumps, traps, corrals, just as they did with pronghorn and deer. Renowned archaeologist George Frison gives you a good rundown here and here of the techniques, their history, and their effectiveness. After the reintroduction of the horse to North America by Europeans, there was a brief period of time, perhaps 200 years out of the 14,000 or so they have been here, when mounted Native Americans could actually pursue bison in an effective manner. They could run bison in a "sporting" manner if they chose. Usually they didn't when they got firearms. This manifestation of what we think of as typical Plains Indian culture is anything but typical when viewed in context of their entire occupation of North America.

Mary is exactly right about the hide hunters of the 1870s and 1880s. Francis Haines has a good rundown of their technique here. The bison had such strong herd instinct and were so near-sighted that hunters could easily approach within 40 to 50 yards of them. They soon learned that shooting from that range was a mistake because the sound of the gunshot would scare the other animals away. The hide hunter set up a stand 300 yards or so away where he could pick off several animals who would be oblivious to the sound of the gun. In this manner they annihilated millions of animals.

Frankly, the description of how contemporary hunters will hunt bison sounds pretty much like the Nineteenth century version to me. And what are you going to do unless you want to have say, mounted bow-hunting of bison (I bet there'd be lots of takers!) and then the objectors would just object on other grounds.

Mary is also right about the logistics of bison butchering - it's a big chore. Haines talks about that as well. A vivid and accurate description of how the hunters and skinners worked is in Michael Gear's novel Long Ride Home. Mike does a good job telling you things that wouldn't have occurred to you: like how the skinners were perpetually plagued with fleas, ticks, and other vermin that came out of the bison hair.

More on the Airman in the Glacier

A couple of weeks ago, I posted this about the body of a WW II era airman found in a glacier in the California Sierras. The LA Times this week had more about the shipment of the body to a DoD forensics lab in Hawaii for identification, and the known names of the crew of the 1942 aircrash. In those pre-DNA test days, the bodies recovered were so mangled that individuals couldn't be identified and all the remains were put in a common grave.

This picture of the excavation was taken from a series posted by a Fresno TV station who was allowed to send a crew to the glacier. Apparently there is a video as well.

Looks cold up there doesn't it?

Father Ayala against "Intelligent" Design

This is a good link (via John Derbyshire and The Corner), to Dominican priest and biologist Francisco Ayala's latest demolition of "Intelligent" Design. I particularly like this:

"But American folk-Catholicism has absorbed an anti-evolution flavor from the surrounding evangelical Protestant culture. When he taught introductory biology at UCI, Ayala had Catholic students as well as Protestants coming to him to say, "I'll write the answer you want on the exam, but my faith forbids me to believe what you teach." To the Catholics, Ayala would simply say, "Ask your parish priest," with consistently satisfactory results."

In The Corner (no permalinks), Derb, English by birth, notes that ID is almost entirely an American heresy. Perhaps this is why.

Jeanne d'Arc

I am by no means a sensitive new- age male, so occasionally I get hit with "How come you are always surrounded by strong women?" To me, it's obvious. But there may be a second reason, or one that precedes rational analysis.

My very small, very odd, private Catholic grammar school had a copy of this statue in every room.

We won't even talk about the nun who did welded metal sculpture and then went on to be a missionary in Dahomey, or the one who had charge of the altar boys and who climbed ropes in sandpits, in full habit, pre- Vatican II.

And for naturalists: shortly before Fran Hamerstrom, eagler, student of Aldo Leopold, and major character (when I lamented David Letterman's condescenscion when she butchered a pigeon on his show, she tartly replied that all publicity was good), died, we found out that her childhood estate was my school-- a square mile of woods surrounding a half- timbered mansion. Here is a pic, in her day.

The ballroom, to the right of the door, became the chapel, but kept the immense chandelier.

She probably didn't entirely approve-- she was rather anti-religious-- but it must have amused her that we both collected specimens there in our childhoods.

Pretty Guns-- the Continuing Series

This one is a high- quality modern version of the classic Colt 1911 by Kimber . It has some useful modifications like Tritium night sights and a better magazine, but the reason I have photographed it is the wonderful custom scrimshaw handles by Eagle Grips. The design is a composite-- my drawing-- of several Tokugawa-era-- think ca. 1620-- Japanese screens.

Writing-- the Continuing Series

I have been reading RobertKaplan's good Mediterranean Winter and came upon this good advice given him by Patrick Leigh Fermor, the still- living greatest travel writer of the Twentieth Century (and if he completes the third volume of his trilogy before he dies, an early contender for the title in the Twenty- first).

Fermor's advice, which he claimed he was given by Evelyn Waugh, was that good writing requires "euphony, clarity, and concision".

The first is particularly hard in a culture that no longer recites poetry. Read your drafts aloud!

In her other blog, The Merry Scribbler, PrairieMary has some good things to say about the "architectonics" of writing-- and it is NOT pretentious. I may have more on this later.

"We were dreamers, dreaming greatly...

... in the man- stifled town;
We yearned beyond the sky-line where the strange roads go down."

Kipling, of course.

I become blue, even depressed, when unable to get away to somewhere strange, cold, and unhospitable but for people, who may stuff you with sheep or drown you in vodka. Or maybe to a hot place that smells of the sea, and rotting fish. Or maybe..

Then this offer of a quick trip to the mountains of southern Turkey came-- more soon-- and suddenly all was right again. What's a little discomfort to see strange old places and things?

The night after i got the news, the often- cantankerous Fred Reed published a column about the life of writers, or at least a certain kind of writer, that I found both moving and funny. Some excerpts:

"We are not always a happy lot, being restless, easily bored, and unable to bear routine. We have our good days when we sense the rightness of things on a sunny morning in God knows where—for that is where we have spent much of our time. We have passed days without end in roadside diners, atop boxcars late at night on the seaboard rails, in honky-tonks in Austin. We have heard the Greezy Wheels. We knew BC Street in Koza, the street of the snake butchers in Wan Wha, in Taipei where the workers brothels were. We have hobnobbed with hookers, drunks, geniuses, psychopaths, mercenaries, transvestites, and the men of the fishing fleets. We have seen fresh squid draped like glistening pink gloves on fish carts.

"Some will say that our lives constitute a sordid cohabitation with the ungodly. I hope so. Detritus we are, and detritus we will be. It suits us. The world, the part worth knowing, lives in the alleys. We have known the smoke and dimness of a thousand Asian bars, known them till they run together in the mind, and found the hookers morally preferable to the expensively suited criminals of good society, more engaging than the liars of the press conferences. There is more of life and humanity in the driver of a battered Ford who picks up a hitchhiker in the darkling valleys of Tennessee than in the moral fetor and vanity of Washington.

"It changes you, and starts to be a closed club. We talk to each other because we can’t talk to anyone else. Outside of Washington you can’t say you’re a writer without people saying, “Oh. And have you been published?” Well, yeah, lady, actually. So you shut up. To another scribe, you can speak of the unlikely and distant and not entirely believable, and it is just shop talk."

A Right and a Left!

Strictly speaking, shooting terminology. But two recent online esays from rather left and libertarian right perspectives-- granted, on two different subjects-- seemed to have a lot to say to me.

In an article called "No people Allowed" in Orion, Mark Dowie argues that some westerners and conservation associations, however well- meaning, are decreeing new refuges and emptying them of their old inhabitants, especially hunter- gatherer tribes. Despite the requisite denunciations of eeevil corporations, this seems an important and balanced article that asks serious questions. I was struck by how much of African plains diversity is outside the so- called "refuges"-- my impression is that can be so here in the Southwest as well.

And at (small "l") libertarian Tech Central Station, in an article titled "American Eden", Tim Worstall ends his argument for ReWilding, capitalism,and technology with this bold statement:

"That some 5% of the world's population creates 25% of the world's wealth and yet has the land left over to recreate an Edenic pre-human environment seems to indicate that there's something to be said for the American model. Perhaps we should try exporting the idea as well?"

Granting I might better like to see modest smallholders and public land rancher- hunters (game ranchers!) on the "New Serengeti" than Ted Turner or Draka -style overlords, both ideas seem provocative and worth reading. Discuss among yourselves....

A Serious China Essay

This rather dark and soberly analytical piece suggests that we may not prevail over an ascendant China either by trade or by military might. Must reading both for hubristic foreign- policy types and WSJ- type optimists.. Recommended, as they say.

Senior Trip

A tart guest post by Libby, who also has been known to have strong opinions (are you surprised?) on the senior trip in our small town. Remember, most of our roads are not even paved!

"Out here is seems to be customary for the graduation senior class to take a trip during the last week or so of school. Until recently, the seniors all worked at various things to gather together enough money to go somewhere more or less local (western local, i.e. within a six or eight hour drive) -- Denver or Tucson, traveling on school buses. The past few years the entire thing has gotten completely out of hand, to the point of being offensive. Last year's senior class, or part of it anyway, flew to Orlando for two days, and then went on to spend five days in the Bahamas!! Whether or not one was included depended on how many "points" one had earned in various fund raisers. Of course the parents of the better off kids themselves bought all the chocolates and worked at all the car washes, and on and on to earn points for their little darlings. The poorer parents, themselves working two or three jobs to pay the bills and put food on the table, weren't able to contribute money or time, nor were their children who most likely were also working as well as trying to keep their grades up. So the end result was that about half the class got to go on this trip, while the others, unable to earns enough "points" i.e. Money -- were excluded. The entire thing was an ostentatious display of those who had versus those who didn't. No sense of working as a whole. And my big question all along the way was "where are the teachers and administrators who should be directing all this so that everyone in the class in included?" there are only about 30 kids that graduate here every year -- this trip was totally depressing for about half of them, those who couldn't go. And the other didn't care as they were going.

'As my Kansas raised brother-in-law says "They should be hitched to a plow."

'It offended much of the community who thought the entire thing excessive and indulgent...especially considering that all you have to do to graduate from high school here is maintain your body temperature to a moderate degree, and appear sentient on occasion".

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

I am just as surprised as you...

... but it appears that I am soon going to Kurdistan. Dogs, of course. More when I know more...

Another Ghost

A little late for Halloween, I present to you another of Connie Barlow's Ghosts of Evolution, the devil's claw. This one does better than some of the other survivors, like Osage orange and honey locust, because horses and other equids are "back" on their old home ground, and because humans and cows make pretty good substitutes. This specimen wrapped around my ankle in the Sevilleta Wildlife Refuge. They do pretty well in the less disturbed parts of the Rio Grande Valley.

I have always thought that their genus name, Proboscidea, is much more appropriate than "devil's claw". Not only did they grow alongside the mammoths; doesn't this twin specimen look a bit like two mammoth heads?

Crowley's Ridge Nature Center

While in Arkansas last month I visited the Forrest L. Wood Crowley's Ridge Nature Center just south of Jonesboro. Their website is here. My father had been telling me about it since it opened last year, knew I'd enjoy it, and got us out to see it right away.

Based on his description and with my California-honed sensibilities, I expected a natural history museum - pretty much as you see in this view of the main gallery above. But there was more!

On further review it was evident that I was in a state with a strong and popular hunting tradition and in a facility run by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. The view above shows exhibits of waterfowl decoys and duck calls. The camo clothing and waders on the clothes rack are there for children to try on and wear in the simulated duck blind that is set up just around the corner. There was also a big exhibit on turkey calls. No one here is the least bit worried about educating children on the benefits of hunting in the context of the natural history of the area.

One more thing showed me I wasn't in California anymore. A rack of free literature on the wall was composed mostly of wild game recipes. If the picture above isn't clear enough sample titles are: Recipes for Rabbits, Cooking Doves, Cooking Venison, Recipes for Bear, and my favorite, Marsh Bird Medley - Cooking Snipe, Woodcock, Coot, Rail and Moorhen. I knew Steve and Matt would approve!

But it wasn't all about hunting. People in the area are very excited about the rediscovery of the believed extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the Cache River bottoms south and west of here. These fliers show how to tell the Ivory-billed apart from the common Pileated Woodpecker. My grandfather used to take me fishing on the Cache when I was a little boy and I like to think that I heard or saw one on one of those trips.

Crowley's Ridge itself is a very interesting geomorphic feature and you can see it on the map above that I borrowed from Morse and Morse's Archaeology of the Central Mississippi Valley. It is a loess ridge approximately 200 miles long, stretching from Cape Girardeau, MO in the north to Helena, AR in the south. It varies from a half-mile to 15 miles in width and stands from 120 to 220 feet higher than the river floodplains that surround it. Crowley's Ridge is the only natural high ground between the Mississippi River and the Ozark Plateau.

The loess that composes it is silty soil derived from "glacial flour" dropped by the retreating continental ice sheets of the last glaciation. It is a distinctive red-orange color totally different from the dark alluvially-deposited soils that surround it. Until 16,000 years ago, the Mississippi actually flowed west of Crowley's Ridge, in the lowlands drained by the White River today. The confluence with the Ohio was at the south end of the Ridge, near present-day Helena. The Mississippi broke through the highlands at a place called Thebes Gap in a flood event to take its present course (see Cairo Lowland area on the map) and capture the Ohio River channel. The Mississippi was a very different river in those days - a braided stream, choked with sediment load from the melting glaciers.


To honor Odious' request for a coot recipe (see comment below) I put up the recipe I obtained for "Whitebill Stroganoff." Results not guaranteed!