Friday, December 26, 2008

big thoughts + a connection

Orkney-- orcs -- the school of sleeping whales,
To those who glimpsed it first,
Hills half-sunk in the sea.

This haiku is from a chapbook of Haiku for the Holy Places by the late, and fabulous, Orkney poet, George Mackay Brown, that I was given as a Christmas present. I honestly can't really say enough about GMB. He was one of very few authors who could write across genres, meaning that as beautiful as his poems are, his short-stories are arguably better. To my mind, his novels got better as he got older --perhaps because he'd learned how to pace himself from the delicate intensity of the poem to the short story and on to the novel. As a crossing place for languages, civilizations, religions, wars, and myths, Orkney was a powerful catalyst for his talent and imagination -- and a place that has become home to me. And I have always loved haiku -- I think it's the lyric efficiency of the genre, of a world in seventeen syllables. And bearing in mind its dedication to the natural world, I have always enjoyed my trips over to Hunting Haiku Daily.

Maybe it's because with winter here, folks are getting suitably reflective on their hunting seasons and on hunting in general. At the beginning of this month, Matt at Sometimes Far Afield put up a great piece on 'if hunting is not necessary to obtain food then why is hunting allowed?'; Holly at NorCal Cazadora also has a thoughtful piece on the paradox of hunting, on what feels like to have hunted successfully, and to have ended a beautiful life; and Mike at Living with Bird Dogs has a succinct observation or two about why reducing the experience of hunting to a numbers game is to do injustice to both the game you are hunting and to hunting itself. Hopefully this pic is as convincing an argument that 'hunting' is as much if not all about the relationship you have with your fierce, rugged hunting dog.

The most recent copy of Sporting Classics magazine (Jan/Feb 2009) arrived at work yesterday. I'll admit that Sporting Classics isn't my normal cup of tea -- too many ads for guns I'll never afford, to shoot at resorts or plantations that probably wouldn't let me run my own dogs, or shoot at game that makes a better rug than it does a sandwich -- but I came across Todd Tanner's 'Wild Heritage' column describing a three-day media event he attended this fall. The highlight of the column, though, was his being party to 'a reunion' -- of Rick Ridegway's reunion with hunting after 45years. Rick Ridgeway is, frankly, a man of mythic proportions in the mountaineering community -- after being the first to climb K2, arguably the world's most dangerous mountain, without supplemental oxygen in 1978. What clicked in my memory, though, was that Rick Ridgeway is the Vice President of Environmental Initiatives for leading outdoor clothing company, Patagonia, and one of the prime-movers behind their Freedom to Roam initiative to restore and maintain wildlife migration corridors.

I love Patagonia. I love their clothes and I love the majority of their politics. But as I became a hunter, I no longer saw myself in their catalogs... that might simply be because whatever chemicals are used to create 'Hunter's Orange' are in fact highly toxic and known to cause cancer in California (who knows!)... but it seemed as though the company had discretely filed away the fact that the reason its founder, Yvon Chouinard, had gone to high, rocky aeries as a teenager and become obsessed with scaling them was because he was first and foremost a falconer -- a hunter. I don't mean to imply deception on their part, just that for them to openly acknowledge the place of hunting in their corporate legacy is perhaps too messy.

Their stance seems like the inverse corollary to something Christina Larson in Washington Monthly wrote back in 2006 about 'an emerging environmental majority': "Americans like green, but they are less fond of greens. And that has been doubly true for outdoorsmen." To me, at least, Patagonia seemed to have forgotten that its environmental sensitivity had first and foremost stemmed from the attuned senses of a man who understood the majesty and beauty and tragedy that comes from a successful hunt, especially one that is the product of a relationship between man and a bird (or dog). And while they have embraced fishing, perhaps other kinds of hunting are simply too bloody or politically complicated.

Nevertheless seeing Rick Ridgeway in Sporting Classics (along with Bill Klyn, Patagonia's fishing marketing manager and coordinator of the World Trout Initiative) is, I hope, an omen for the kinds of productive alliance that Mike, Finspot, Labrat and Matt Mullenix and others discussed in the comments section of his original post. Importantly, though, Todd Tanner also captured Rick's contemplative moment at the end of the day as he held two of the sharp-tails that had been shot that day. (I apologize for the lengthy quote, but I haven't been able to find Tanner's column on-line.)

"On the one side of this peak there's pride and satisfaction and happiness -- all emotions we feel when we're successful in the field. On the other side, a full 180 degrees removed, is the sadness of taking a life, of killing an animal we share a deep connection with; an animal we both respect and admire. It's the contradiction of the hunt, and if we lose our balance, if we stray too far from the point where we can see both directions, we risk losing an important part of ourselves...

In any case, a handful of us had the distinct pleasure of watching a good man reconnect with the landscape, and with himself, on a beautiful Montana afternoon. It was a blessing, pure and simple."

Having said all that, however distant Patagonia has become from those of us who enjoy hunting, we would probably all still benefit from reading Yvon Chouinard's revolutionary essay in the very first Chouinard Equipment catalog from 1974. As he wrote: "Thus, it is the style of the climb, not the attainment of the summit, which is the measure of personal success. Traditionally stated, each of us must consider whether the end is more important than the means."

Our two red-dog ruffians enjoyed a Christmas dinner of grilled quail we hunted back in November. I think it made them antsy to chase birds again. Thanks, too, to Jen for sending on these two pics of their respective majesties.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

musical highlights of 2008

The 'experts' at All Songs Considered have been compiling their own highlights of the year in music, while their listeners' poll has both confirmed many of their opinions in addition to adding a few other recommendations of their own.

In general, while I enjoy the opinions at All Songs Considered, I find a lot of the bands they love to be all rather samey. I haven't been a real alternative music addict since graduate school -- and regard one of my luckier moments of my previous life to book the Arcade Fire to play shortly before they went really huge and started touring with U2. And while I don't know that I necessarily adore their music, I do think that they had an original, interesting sound that it sounds to me like so many of the newer All Songs favorite bands aspire to. My biggest divergence of opinion with the folks at All Songs is that I really don't care for much of what Carrie Brownstein (formerly of the awesome Sleater-Kinney and now of the Monitor Mix blog) has nicely categorized as 'beard rock' -- music by sensitive, hirsute men featuring lavish mixes of ocarinas/acoustic guitars/concertina that they found in their grandparents' attic/a forest cabin/therapy (pick whichever combination works).

Nevertheless, inspired by listening to my All Songs Considered podcasts on my commute to work, I decided to make a shortlist of my own top-4.

Hail of Bullets, Of Frost and War. I think this is a great death metal album. It has a classic feel to it -- nice and chunky and doesn't rely on too many odd time-signature changes to keep it from feeling repetitious. I happen to think that Martin Van Drunen's vocals are perfect -- and it sounds as great as it does because it's produced by Dan Swanö (of Edge of Sanity and Bloodbath fame). Sort of Bolt Thrower meets Medal of Honor.

Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider, Silent City. This one starts a little slow, but just picks up and picks up. Kayhan Kalhor is a virtuoso kemençe fiddle player who has already played with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project, helping audiences around the world unpack the threads of musical translation along the great trade route that united east and west. Brooklyn Rider is a string-quartet based in, surprisingly, Brooklyn dedicated to using "the rich medium of the string quartet as a vehicle for borderless communication." Unlike some fusion albums, this seems to let both parties actually remain distinct.

School of Seven Bells, Alpinisms. I believe this album may actually have been released in 2007, but I didn't find it till this fall. And it's my poll. You can check out several songs from the album at their MySpace page -- although I would say that neither of my favorite songs is here. I won't tell you what they are because the album is that complete -- it's not an album you rush to fiddle with your iPod scroll wheel to get to the tracks you prefer. And each tune has its own character without sounding like a pale imitation of its neighbors.

Portishead, Third. I'm surprised I like this as much as I do. Some of my other favorite albums -- like those from Scott Tuma or Amiina -- are great to listen to because they are a wonderful briccolage of sounds, some prominent, some submerged. While Portishead is often credited as one of the originators of trip-hop (and this album has the trademark qualities of electronically-induced ethereality), Third seems stripped down to the most basic elements with little clutter.

One of the All Songs critics (and I apologize for not remembering who) on one of my podcasts made the interesting observation that perhaps we were entering a different aural epoch, insofar as the boombox has been displaced by the iPod, speakers displaced by headphones, and the elaborate studio replaced by the digital home recorder. In that regard, the music too has become perhaps more intimate, more layered, and arguably cleaner.

If I'm feeling more Grinch-like, maybe I'll share my biggest music disappointments of 2008. In the meantime, have fun, stay warm, and love the ones you're with. Especially if they're red-dogs.

Monday, December 8, 2008

hallelujah... that's over... when does the spring season start?

I just wrote a post for Living with Bird-dogs reflecting on our first fall trialing season, but wanted to dedicate this post to my own Derby lunatic: Mr. Enthusiasm, Mr. 200mph. He is a possessed dog who I have been told by judges places as well as he does because he also handles really nicely. He's a dog that wants to work with you.

I figured that I'd enter him in both Amateur and Open Derby to see, as much as anything if a) he had the jets (YES), and b) if running the second stake would make him a little calmer (NO). His Amateur stake went out around 9:30am and he was off to the races. He had a total of three finds and a stop-to-flush – and was forgiven grabbing another running bird that the other dog chased in front of him. His final point was a thing of beauty – especially because the light was catching his fluorescent flash collar – and because we had to come through a small break of trees into a pine glade and there he was, standing tall, pointing a brushpile with a quail underneath. (This picture is from last Thursday; we had gone up to Flaherty to see if we could hunt a couple of extant quail for Momo and to try and do some training drills with Jozsi in the wide-open spaces.)

His second stake went out around 3:30pm – and he left us for dust. Again, he knows to come around and check-in, but maybe because the start of the Open course was the same as the Amateur course, he knew which direction he was headed in. He still patterned nicely across the main path, but he was off. He pulled up in his first point almost as soon as he turned into the main part of the course and I had to call the judge up just in time to witness the bird flush wild; within two minutes, he had pointed his second bird and stood miraculously still while a quail, literally, ran under his nose. He was looking calmer till… I collared and heeled him over to the other side of the course and turned him loose, literally on top of a quail I hadn't seen. He grabbed it, mouthed it a couple of times, but gave it up without bolting. But I knew I'd just probably given up the reins. He ran like a madman and found another bird in the same copse of pines that he'd found his final bird from the day before. He held almost perfectly, but marked the bird down and despite being cast off in a very different direction took a long, looping arc back around towards it, only to stop-to-flush it. I managed to get him away from it once more and sent him off into the hinterlands to hopefully (fruitlessly) search and not find any more birds to drive him crazier. It is a roller-coaster with him.

After reading a bunch of opinions, I had also been experimenting with how much to feed him, when, in what ratios, and settled on the following:

  • on a single-stake day, and assuming he's running before lunchtime, I have been getting him out loose for 15-20mins to clear his intestines first thing in the morning and then feeding him a half-batch of food with a half-batch of Glycocharge;
  • on this two-stake day, I did the same thing first thing in the morning, and then immediately after he'd finished his first stake fed him the same combination of solid food and Glycocharge again.

My rationale was to give him enough calories to run and not have to stop to poop the whole time he was running – and without the solid food mass that might give him stomach torsion, bloat, or anything exercise-related like that. (Over the last month or so, I have also been slowly increasing the amount of Glycocharge I've been giving him to minimize any digestion issues he might have from a new food source.)

And we came out well, all the same. He won Amateur Derby beating out 11 other dogs – and took second in Open Derby, which was an 11-dog stake. We've had a very fortunate fall of trialing: 2 Amateur Derby wins, one 2nd and one 3rd in two Open Derby stakes – and he ran beautifully but birdlessly in his first and only horseback stake.


All of his successes are in no small part due to the 'silent partner' in his family -- my wife, Meg, who diligently takes both boys out to run first thing in the morning and is most often the one running them in the afternoons. Both boys stay in great shape because of all the exercise (and love) she gives them.


He's my first dog that makes me not able to sleep because I'm thinking about how he runs and how he desperately wants to find birds. But as one of his judges from this weekend, Ken Kohles, told me, a fellow who actually judged him in both Amateur and Open Derby, he is also a dog "that wants to be broke." Ken judged him in two stakes in which, in my estimation, he ran much hotter and much bolder than he'd run before – in part because he now knows the game, knows when and how to test his independence, but nevertheless still keeps coming around to check in before his next search-and-locate mission. I am officially hooked. And Jozsi can't believe his luck.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

good memories + good dogs

We took part in the CVVC Walking Field Trial today and while I will say more about Mr. Enthusiasm in a later post, I want to salute a few other good dogs. This was also the first trial the CVVC had held since Patrick Cooke's recent passing and so he kept floating in and out of people's conversation -- which seemed only appropriate. (And as Michelle of Broad Run Vizslas was keen to point out in the comments to last week's post, he was the kind of guy you only needed to meet once or twice to know where his heart lay.)

(I should also say that I've seen some of Michelle's dogs handled by Bob Seelye and they looked really nice.)

Dennis, Jen + Sally had decided to check out trialing as well and managed to get a last-minute entry in Amateur Gun Dog (AGD) -- and Kim of ForestKing Vizslas had also decided to enter Kyler in AGD as well, having (I believe) trialed her once before when she was much younger and before she started having litters. So, it was nice to see even more familiar folks down there and having fun with their dogs.

The first pic is from Sally's run -- and shows her first bird in flight while she stands proud for her dad. I may be wrong, but I think Sally ended up with four finds in her brace and handled beautifully for Dennis (as she does). She certainly did well enough to be one of the top-4 dogs called back for a retrieve. I didn't get to see her retrieve because I was getting Mr. 200mph ready for his afternoon run -- but from what I gather, a dog couldn't have done more. Her bird took four shots to be hit, landed on a section of frozen pond, Sally went through the ice getting the bird and then clambered back to deliver it to hand without batting an eyelid. And WON Amateur Gun Dog! As numerous folks said this evening at the awards dinner, it just takes that first blue ribbon to get you addicted.

"How much is that dualie (with two-horse, three-dog trailer in tow) in the window?"

Sally beat out some great dogs, including both Kyler and Joan Heimbach's Octane. The second pic is of him boogeying through the grass on the way to his third or fourth find. He is a big, strong-running dog with a sweet, sweet disposition. During the majority of the trial season, he is also normally handled by Bob Seelye -- but did a really nice job with Joan in the driving seat this time around. Octane ended up being called back and finished second; Joan also ran her Geena who took fourth).

If Jozsi settles down in the bird-field and works as definitively as Octane, I will be really really pleased. Which would be fitting seeing as Ocky and Jozsi share a common pairing on their mothers' side: CH Obertakt Downeast Jacky Blue JH and CH Sippican Upwind Gold Batea JH VC ROM.

Good ancestors should produce good dogs -- and being a 1/2 sibling to Jozsi, Kim's Kyler shares that pairing, too. I wanted to write about Kyler because while she did not get a call-back, I can't imagine that there was a huge gap between fourth and Kyler. Octane was clearly the better dog of their brace, but Kyler ran big, had two great finds (including a point she held for at least four or five minutes because the judges couldn't get their horses in close enough to see her bird-work), and... and... spontaneously honored Ocky when she came across him on-point on the edge of a tree line. Looks like all that SH training wasn't in vain! The picture is of Kim handling Kyler away after her first find. And I guess that's one way that trialing is different -- Kyler ran great and just got beat. But she ran great nonetheless. Nice job, K+K.

Two other things are worthy of mention: for those in the northeast interested in checking out a hunt test or field-trial, I would strongly recommend a CVVC event. They are generally at Flaherty Field (which works well for both kinds of events) and they are generally very well organized. I joined the CVVC because of the string of their events we went to and just felt welcome and never had to worry about what was going on where. Their Field Trial committee managed to successfully pull off running 60 dogs in 5 different stakes on two courses in 9 hrs of daylight. And organize a great dinner.

In a fitting tribute, Patrick Cooke's Yogurt won the Open Gun Dog stake. (After some research, it turns out that Yogurt also has Batea back in her line, but her mother Upwind Shake 'N' Bake also produced Jozsi's father, Rebel Rouser Smokey.) Patrick would have been proud -- of her and all the dogs that came to compete.