Friday, January 08, 2016

New Dutch

Dutch Salmon has a new collection of outdoor tales: Country Sports II: More Rabid Pursuits of a Redneck Environmentalist.  (Available from High Lonesome Books, PO Box 878, Silver City NM 88062).  I think it is his best and most varied yet. I don't think I can "review" it any better than to use my introduction, which I volunteered- for free, for the record.

It sounds funny to say so, because I’m sixty-five, but sometimes I think I’d like to be Dutch Salmon when I grow up. It is not so odd, really. M. H. Salmon is not only the model of the modern sporting writer, but I have been following his tracks for well  over thirty years now.

Dutch was born in the northeast, in the Hudson River valley of New York. He left there as a young adult, and went to southern Texas and northwestern Minnesota, and finally New Mexico, chasing jackrabbits and coyotes and dreams. I first encountered him around 1979 or 80 when I was an editor at Gray’s Sporting Journal, and a publisher came to me with a remarkable manuscript. Titled “Home With the Hounds” it was an account of hunting with coursing longdogs of various breeds. I was a falconer, and it seems to be that this was a kind of falconry on the ground.

Ed thought the material was a little too esoteric for Gray’s, but I became a correspondent with Dutch. Soon, I found myself in southwestern New Mexico, where he was a close neighbor, about a hundred miles away  (understanding  a new home where 100  miles could be "close",  with only one tiny town and two roads, one dirt,  between us was another thing he showed me). I soon acquired a couple of hounds from him, and longdog crosses and salukis became a permanent part of my life.

If longdogs and the State of New Mexico had been the only things that I had gotten from Dutch, I would be in his debt forever. But they weren’t. The unspoiled Gila Wilderness, chile as a natural part of one’s diet, Aldo Leopold’s legacy, and fishing for catfish are four rather random things that I took from our friendship, and there are doubtless a lot more ideas and attitudes I have picked up unconsciously.

Eventually, Dutch, frustrated with mainstream publishing, decided that if you can’t get them to publish your work, you might as well start your own press and book business. Since that day High Lonesome Books has become the premier house for Southwestern classics and environmentally conscious new books about hunting and fishing and the wilderness. He has published several stirring novels, including Home is the River, Signal to Depart, and Forty Freedoms; a couple of books on the Gila; the definitive American coursing dog manual, now in what I believe is its second iteration; and a literary book on catfish. The last made my eccentric list of 100 best sporting books in A Sportsman’s Library.

He has also written various magazine pieces on every aspect of fieldsport and conservation, of which this is the second collection. And I do mean various. The latest volume includes a portrait of mutual  friend, an Anglican priest who is a falconer, a tale of his son’s first big wilderness buck, an elegy for the old cockfighters, of New Mexico,  the tale  of  a favorite dog fathered by one of my Kazakh hounds,  and a nuanced appreciation of feral pigs.

Not content to defend wilderness, especially his beloved Gila, Dutch eventually made it to the New Mexico Game Commission, where he became one of its most outspoken, individual, non- partisan, and occasionally contrary voices. He had the respect of everyone I know, including some that disagreed with him on one matter or another. And I am among those who think that his utterly political firing was a disgrace. He never complained, but went back calmly to the field and his work of portraying it and defending it.

Lately, I have followed Dutch down some more difficult roads. Several years ago he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. One would not know it, considering that he never left the field behind. But one of the weirdest coincidences on earth I, another writer and longdogger born in the east, was diagnosed a year later. I have a pretty funny picture of us in a field of thirty-somethings, all holding a very various pack of sighthounds on leashes three years ago. On it is my note bragging that two sixty-somethings with Parkinson’s (and one woman of the same age, my wife Libby) elected to keep going, chasing the dogs, when the kids all called a halt for mid-day lunch break.

Parkinson’s won’t kill you,  say the humorous – it will only make you wish you were dead. There is even a godawful New-Agey whine: “ Parkinson’s isn’t a death sentence; it is a life sentence.” Gack! With time, unfortunately, it does get worse. But now there’s a promising alternative, a surgery called Deep Brain Stimulation. Once again Dutch became my mentor, going under the knife a year ago at UNM Hospital. His dramatic improvement convinced me to do it too. And I’m very glad I did.

Dutch would doubtless blush at this and change the subject to flyfishing, or the Desert Hare Classic, the annual gathering of the sighthound clans in southern New Mexico. He continues to hunt and fish and write, most recently this book you are holding in your hands. Finally, I salute him as not only a friend who has been a pioneer in so many of my own pursuits, but as a pioneer conservationist, and a  defender of all the Old Ways and things that we must hold on to, lest our civilization become too artificial to live. I’m going to toast him with the punchline of a shaggy dog story about drinking toasts on two sides of the Mexican border, which he told me when I first knew him and several time since. Dutch: “DOWN THE RATHOLE!” May you live to be 100!

The two of us and Libby among  the youngsters (photo by Dan Gauss);  two Western old- timers* who were  born in the East, in the Owl Bar.

*TomMcGuane in the story "Crow Fair ", from the  collection of the same name: "Lately
I've been riding a carriage in the annual Bucking Horse Sale, waving to everyone like an old-timer, which I guess is what I'm getting to be."


Teddy said...

Very nice tribute to a real sportsman. I got lurchers in the early 80's and Dutch's sighthound book was an inspiration. Running dogs can be used in the East as well as any other spot, and Dutch helped prove it in the midwest. I once used a whippet with my dachshunds and Harris's Hawk and boy, did we have sport. Best to both of you!

Anonymous said...

Awright! Another Dutch Salmon book! I have most of them--novels and "how-to" books, and I love them all! I think his coursing dogs book is probably one of the BEST all-around ones out there(although I'm looking VERY forward to YOURS coming out this year, Steve!). And for many years I enjoyed about my ONLY source of good outdoor-oriented books ordered from his "High Lonesome" book catalog! And even better, by sheer chance, I had some close dog-nut friends like myself get some sighthound pups from Dutch in New Mexico, brought them back to N. C.(I didn't myself because it is near impossible for me to travel anywhere that costs money, and will be more than one night away, with all my own animal responsibilities at home!), from which I bought a pup! My greyhound/staghound/saluki(etc.!) brindled longdog "Hawkeye" was one of the BEST dog personalities I've ever known, and QUITE the effective hunter--yes--even here in thick Eastern Woodlands! The ripples of Dutch Salmon's influence has spread far and wide far more than even he imagines, I'm sure!.....L.B.

Dennis said...

I got a copy of Dutch's new book. It sure makes me want to move back to New Mexico.