Thursday, February 28, 2008

the spirit of radio

While we were here in Ulaan Baatar, we learned from the Redgirls of the passing of one of the blogosphere's favorite vizslas, Radio. Radio died from the complications associated with myositis, a degenerative muscle disorder -- which, sadly, appears to be becoming more common in vizslas. As your parents said, Rocket, we hope you're causing havoc somewhere fun.

We had said we would say prayers for him at the major Buddhist temple in Ulaan Baatar, the Gandantegchinleng Khiid, or Gandan for short, because we both remembered a beautiful dog statue in one of the alcoves in the main temple. I can only imagine that Radio's playful vizsla spirit was playing havoc with our memories because while we did say prayers at Gandan, we never found the statue!

By a process of deduction we realised we must have seen the statue at the Choijin Lama Museum. The short version of the story is that we found the statue -- the longer version is that we discovered that in the past three years they have put up a lot more labels. The 'dog' is in fact a 'wolf'! We hope that this final piece of mischievousness was also a sign of Radio's spirit playing tricks.

The Choijin Lama Museum is a treat for many reasons -- the incredible richness of the artistry in the painting, woodwork, and ceramics. It is also a shame that it seems on the verge of dilapidation, that little or no restoration work has been done perhaps ever, let alone in the three years since we were last there. The temple is relatively modern and so it would be a shame to see the city swallow it whole. This picture shows the walkway up to the main temple hall with the looming frame of another new, futuristic building behind it.

One of the positive signs was that it seems to be a place of interest to young Mongolians, and especially the new generation of monks. While Gandan was virtually untouched by the Communist government and left as a figurehead of socialist tolerance (despite the purges of some 30,000 intellectuals, government officials and monks by Choibalsan), Choijin was converted into a museum. We felt lucky to witness the excitement of this group of young monks as they did their own whistle-stop tour of the temple complex.

We were also very pleased to see that in order to protect the public health, the city of Ulaan Baatar has apparently outlawed trumpet playing. Hallelujah. Imminently sensible.

This is our final day in Mongolia. We fly out tomorrow in the early morning, back through Moscow, and then to New York after what is supposed to be just a short two-hour layover. With all the time changes, we actually get in only six hours after we left Mongolia.

With work schedules and training schedules, I will go pick up our two boys the following week -- but will speak to Bob well before then. In the meantime, love the vizslas you're with.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

how cold is cold

After our friend, Eric, at Quixotic Cycles sent one of his characteristic smarty-pants comments about 'cold', I decided to post a couple of the better clips from our time up in Khovsgol. The first is 17secs of relatively typical turbulence in the forgon -- and shows us coming up over the last pass (complete with ovoo) between Rinchinlumbe and Lake Hovsgol. When the clip ends you can just make out the frozen white band of the lake behind Baagi's head.

video

I can't imagine that the road between Tsaagan Nuur and Rinchinlumbe and then to Lake Khovsgol is open during the summer because we seemed to be driving largely on or in broad, rocky river beds... sometimes bouncing over channel bars, othertimes on sections of deep, blue-green undulating ice. (Annie, incidentally, has the much more humorous version of our trip and some nice pictures of Rinchinlumbe up on her blog. While I have no idea how bad the insects are in summer, Rinchinlumbe struck me as just one of the lovely spots on earth.)

Once we got down to the lake, itself ringed by high mountains to the north and west sides, we were on the ice. Now I still regard flight as a miracle, and driving on ice definitely skeeves me out a little. As this pic shows: the ice is wicked thick and so besides skidding and possibly flipping, the likelihood of actually breaking through was minimal. Nevertheless, passing a Mongol family on their motorbike-and-sidecar rig at what I'm guessing was only 50mph had a certain sensation of scarey about it.


video

As to actual tempertures: happily it was warmer than we had packed for. Happily, too, this meant that Andrew didn't need his big, black down jacket quite as much -- especially since, in the process of going for a 3:00am pee-break and grabbing more firewood, he brushed its nice nylon shell against the stovepipe thereby opening a nice 6" hole in one of the baffles and acquiring the nickname Galbaatar ('Fire Hero'). It was warm enough in the ortz that the duct-tape we had stuck to the coat to cover the hole, but cold enough outside that it sadly lost its adhesive abilities and rendered my repair useless.

Rinchinlumbe is the closest actual weather station and being in the Darkhad basin seems to come fairly close in temperature. The three days or so we were up in the taiga, the daytime high averaged around 0degsF and the nighttime low temperature averaged close to -25degsF. Not evil cold, but cold enough that even with a wood fire going all night in the stove, a water bottle left uncovered between your body and the canvas wall of the ortz would freeze. By the time we got to the lake, the actual temperatures were about 10degsF warmer, but the wind blew straight up the lake. So definitely a little frosty, especially for our sled ride! (You can see that on Annie's blog.)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

some thoughts on culture

We are genuinely lucky to be able to visit Mongolia, to have friends and/or family here, to be of sound enough body (if not questionable mind) to come in the winter and not have to share Mongolia with too many other foreigners. Nevertheless, and especially after visiting the Tsaatan, it does make me think about what 'culture' is -- and how it can, could, or should adapt.

Now, as far as I know, tourism is still the largest industry in Scotland, so I am under no illusions about what ersatz or even kitsch culture can be. But to give several examples, we traveled 11hrs in a minivan on roads that could barely be called tracks to visit a group of indigenous herders who are fairly close to dying out - for example, there are so few of their deer that they can't either successfully reproduce or be a consistent food source for their human counterparts. Annie spent an hour or so helping a nineteen-year old Tsaatan woman with her English who hadn't even been as far as Mörön, her district (aimag) capital -- and so where or for whom was she likely to use it besides for foreigners coming to visit? I spent some time with a snotty-nosed five-year old boy who knew exactly how my digital camera worked despite not having one of his own. And while we were given an ortz to ourselves, we were hardly acknowledged as different. Even all my very un-Mongolian playing-with-dogs barely registered as being anything but the goofiness of a foreigner. Having said all that, and possibly sounded grimly cynical, children still appreciate gifts -- especially when they're whole sheets of stickers.

Do I feel disappointed that we didn't get a 'human zoo' experience up in the taiga? meaning that we went to see a rare ethnic group but they, for their part, didn't turn out to see the weird-looking foreigners? No. We definitely got the 'zoo' experience in eastern Mongolia, where my full beard of 2004 literally stopped conversation in the bazaar in Choibalsan -- and which a herder tugged on when we visited him and his family in the hoodoo. When differences like that are negotiated with curiosity and respect, even the relatively low-impact tourism that we've been lucky to enjoy here in Mongolia seems equitable somehow. I certainly don't want to sound ungrateful... to the Tsaatan who made room for us, for Rinchen and Baagi who got us there... but there was something quite banal about the whole experience.

Nevertheless, for as conventional as 'foreigner' seemed to be to the Tsaatan (and they have had visitors steadily coming to visit, aid, or study them for well over a decade), it was still refreshing to meet five-year old Uyenga (and eight-week old Simba, the puppy) however ironically at the relatively high-traffic Hovsgol Travel tourist camp on the lake. She had no idea how to work a digital camera, spoke no English, but was every bit as generous and engaging as the overwhelming majority of Mongolians have been to us.

This is not to say that in order to have a genuine, or jenkin experience, native peoples should somehow stay or act 'native' in some weird pre-contact state, but that what feels genuinely interesting about going to a country like Mongolia is about figuring out what you have in common. Or seeing how little bits of one culture have seeped into the other, or just sit on the surface like the oddities they are and should be... like cans of Heinz salsa verde or monster jugs of Mrs. Butterworths.

********

I shall quickly point out that Lael + Neil have a blog, too. They adopted Momo's mother, Makin, from Chris + Wendy after she had her last litter (of which Momo was one). It's really great to see Makin, who in some peculiar way stole my heart to make me want a pup of hers, having a great time training for agility competition. If you are looking for great ways besides hunting to keep your vizsla occupied, mentally and physically, then agility is a great way to go.

planes, deer, and dogs

My horoscope in the UB Post says that I should "Seek rest; take frequent naps... 'deep rest' is called for Monday to Wednesday." Hallelujah.

This is good because after saying that we had no near-death experiences on our trip, I read that someone had fired "a missile-like object from the ground" 'at' an EZnis airlines domestic flight from UB to Khanbogd. I say 'at' because it came within 10km of the aircraft. That seems like a pretty good distance to miss an aircraft by. We have two theories. It was either an ex-Soviet missile someone fired off for the heck of it (because it is still Tsaagan Sar, or the white month of the new year) or someone not quite paying attention at the nearest military establishment. Now, as you may have read here, this couldn't have been a Russian missile because it missed -- and the UB Post article mentions that "Last year, students at the Tavan Tolgoi peacekeeping training area accidentally fired a military-use rocket... as a helicopter flew by..." Hmmm.

Incidentally, EZnis is the newest domestic airline in Mongolia, and supported by a grant from the US Trade Development Agency. If you check travel advisories issued by the State Department, you'll see that US government personnel are currently "prohibited" from flying MIAT (and apparently Air Mongolia did not pass its safety inspection in October and is grounded for now). If you fly in and out of Chinggis Khan airport, you'll see the plane graveyard on the south end of the runway. There are some cool Soviet helicopters and a bunch of wooden-framed biplanes out there, too.

Having said that, these were new Saab airplanes, the staff was polite and bi-lingual, and there was food and beverage service on our 75min flight. Shame our own airlines have forgotten customer service like that.

But now: back to the taiga...

video

This is just a short clip of one of our favorite camp deer, Whitey. As you can see, he/she isn't particularly phased by our being here. As you can also see, most of the deer have a simple bridle that passes under their jaw, splits, and passes either side of the antlers. A fair number of the deer had one or other antler trimmed to prevent them from being overly dominant in the herd. When select deer are harnessed, they are saddled in (what Vitebsky identifies as) the Sayan-style with the saddle behind the shoulders and using stirrups.

And here's a gratuitous picture of me wrastling one of the camp dogs. There were at least a half-dozen either tethered out as watch dogs or just wandering loose. And while I am always cautious about approaching strange dogs, all three of the dogs I really played with clearly knew what play was -- and so we'd have a great time each time they came over. Stay tuned for more.

Friday, February 22, 2008

the places you'll go...

Well, we got back into Ulaan Baatar last night after six days in the frozen north. And there was definitely an air of the Dr. Seuss to it all -- on the one hand a little surreal, but on the other, just so different to be mind-boggling. Two things did become immediately apparent:

* There is no camera lens wide enough to capture Mongolia.
* Words can come close, but only if you take scene by scene apart and try to treat each one on its own. I am going to have to attempt a few sketches rather than try to sum it all up -- in part because the experience in part and whole has an element of magical realism to it.

I will say this first: we were blessed with a great driver, Rinchen, and a great cook, Baagi, all courtesy of the folks at Hovsgol Travel. It sounds a little schwanky to say we booked through a travel company and had a driver and cook, but we might seriously have stood a good chance of dying if we hadn't. This is not to say we had near-death experiences or that these guys insulated us from hardship, but it is to say that visiting the Tsaatan is not something you just decide to do by yourself. If anyone is contemplating a trip to Mongolia, all three of us would heartily recommend contacting these folks and seeing what they can do for you.

Exhibit A: When we were told it would probably be an 12-hr cross-country trip to get to the Tsaatan winter grazing grounds, they were only exaggerating slightly. It took 11-hrs of what can only be likened to an 11-hr rugby or hockey game. I will post video once we get back to the US because Annie's internet connection can be finicky uploading big video files. This first pic was taken at our first pee-stop -- and this is a great stretch of road. We are actually in the middle of a herd of yak, who seemed entirely diffident to our being there. And yes, you can tell this is a 'main road' because there's a power line alongside it. The first part of the trip took us up to Ulaan-Uul -- which as the Wikipedia entry tells you is "the southern part of the Darkhad valley, a basin that is considered remote even by Mongolian standards." As that entry also tells you, we did pass over the Öliin davaa pass -- and this second pic is of the ovoo there, the totemistic cairns that mark almost every significant pass in Mongolia.

Exhibit B: One of the interesting things we all noticed as we drove north was that while there were still plenty of gers to be seen, town (som) architecture was now primarily wooden. As we drove north from Ulan-Uul, we passed through the village of Tsaagan-Nuur where we checked in at the local military checkpoint. As I had mentioned before, we needed a special permit to be this far north and so close to the Russian border. We wondered at the landscape everywhere we went, but couldn't also help imagining how beautiful it must be in summer once the rivers had melted and green had returned to the countryside.

Rinchen's genius as a driver quickly became obvious once we left the town to get to the grazing grounds some 30km away. (I don't know the actual distance, and speculate that '30km' is the generic distance used in Mongolia to describe symbolically how far away from civilization you are and that you are now in the hoodoo, the countryside.) I realized having driven some 'rough' timber roads in Maine in the winter that his genius was not just getting there but getting there so you could get back. There is no tow truck that will come get you if you break a leaf-spring or blow your transmission. And once we had left Tsaagan-Nuur, we were on tracks that were primarily intended for use by horses not forgons. While it was relatively rodeo-like, watching him thread this 4x4 van through the trees was pretty impressive.

We stayed in a family's ortz, for which the closest analogy would be to a Native American tepee. There are probably many analogies that could be made between the Tsaatan and the indigenous groups of North America -- and interestingly, one of the Tsaatan men had said that he had seen pictures of Colorado in a magazine and wondered if where we were was actually similar. And in many ways it is.

Exhibit C: We knew there were reindeer around as several would come up to you as you stepped out the ortz and follow you, wanting to eat the now-salty snow where you had been to the bathroom. But when we woke up the next morning, it had clouded over and as we wandered from the trees out into the taiga it was like being in a Rick Bass short story (as Annie said) and a Russell Chatham painting. The light and cloud cover put a veil over everything, muting the whites, greys, buffs, and browns of the landscape and the deer, the tsaa. Just as you would focus on a feature, an ortz, a tree, the shamanistic khadag tied to a tree for good fortune, a shape would move and you'd realise it was a deer.

Here's me with a handsome looking deer. It seemed they would turn them out at night and then bring them in and tether most of them during the day. I'm not sure if this was to give them better predator protection during the night (they could at least try to out-run a wolf, a chon, in the dark) and to keep them relatively domesticated during the day. On a side note, I would heartily recommend Pier's Vitebsky's The Reindeer People if you are interested in reindeer herding culture.

This is a nice picture of Meg reading inside the ortz, but more importantly a nice pic of Annie-bagsh helping one of the young women in camp, Saren, with her English. As it was the last time, it was incredible having Annie with us to translate. While Mongolians are generally highly literate and multi-lingual -- it's a safe bet to say that, as a percentage, more Mongols know more English than Americans do Mongolian -- we could not have done the things we did without her there. (Generally, the folks at Hovsgol Travel will also send you out with a translator, as well as a driver/cook.) But it was fantastic to see her help this young woman work through her English -- and also remark on how relatively useless the English she was learning might be to her life. This is no different from most foreign-language learning programs -- I remember the useless things I learned while learning French and German. Meg used to teach ESL and has some experience trying to help non-native speakers learn what will actually be useful to them -- as opposed to what will merely stigmatise them further.

Enough for now. I need breakfast. There will be a lot more.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

update from Fungolia

We arrived in Mongolia this morning at the relatively newly re-named Chinggis Xhaan airport to the usual mob of aspiring taxi drivers and the heavy smell of coal dust. Happily for me, at least, I always associate the smell of coal with my mother's parents -- both of their final two houses had coal fire places -- and so it was nice to have that memory even if the smog from Power Station #3 occluded the genuinely lovely sensation of driving into Ulaan Baatar as the sun rose.

We came through Moscow this time, through the lovely Sheremetyevo Airport. I doubt it has changed since my parents visited the Soviet Union in the early 1980s. While being closeted in the Transit Zone for seven hours like some poor Victor Navorksi, in an endless line of duty-free luxury goods shops, was hardly fun, there are restaurants and kiosks -- and random smoking stations whose perimeters got increasingly flexible as the sun went down. I will post a few pics I took on my phone once we get back to the US, but the kitsch highlight du jour was this lovely bottle-shaped-like-an-assault-rifle and filled with vodka available at several of the duty-frees.

This morning's highlight was definitely seeing Annie again. Somehow having her meet us in the UB airport lobby feels perfectly natural. As you can see from this lovely family pic, today was a beautiful day, bright and sunny, about -15degsF when we got here rising to a lovely 16degsF around 4pm. Meg and Annie are making like sneguroshkii in front of the newly remodeled Parliament building with the Great Xhan himself now looking over Sukhbaatar Square.

Looking south, especially, you can see how quickly the capital is expanding. And while it is nice to see more than just post-Soviet boxes claiming the horizon, somehow some of the echoes of the Gherkins and Burj al-Arabs seem slightly out of place.

Tomorrow afternoon, we fly to Mörön, spend the night at a ger camp, and then go for a (probably 12hr) jeep ride up to Tsaagan Nuur. Apparently the ride should be quicker than in the summer because we don't need to ford rivers, we can just drive over them. Oh good. Just twelve hours.

It should be a week before I can post again. So, in the meantime, think warm thoughts everyone!

************
Our friends, Emily + Tom, had their first child, an 8lb 13oz son, Samuel Theodore, on Valentine's Day. I know Em was holding out for a different day, but hey! it'll be easy to remember. Initial sightings indicate that he is as handsome as his parents. Congratulations!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

performance highlights

As skeptical as many of us are about the AKC encouraging the breeding of working dogs for looks rather than aptitude, I was curious to see whether any of the winning vizslas at the Westminster Dog Show had hunt test titles.

I wanted to post a picture of Ch Russet Leather Boulder's Wild Tok SH -- because while Tok did take Best of the Opposite Sex for vizslas, his Westminster Show is effectively over. And I wanted to at least recognize that his owners hadn't neglected his genetic predisposition and taken him out successfully for his Senior Hunter.

Incidentally, I met my first vizsla, Daisy, in Boulder -- but I have no idea if she was a Boulder Vizsla like Tok. In any case, well done, beautiful golden boy!

*******

For those of you looking for more cycling coverage, I came across Podium Cafe. At least Chris has pulled together some resources to help those of us trying to pull together fantasy cycling teams for the Tour of California. My picks are Levi, George, and an outside chance from Tommy D. with Team Slipstream. (As of today, it looks like he IS now riding the Tour of California!)

For those of looking for a different kind of cycling coverage, I just found an old friend from Ann Arbor (and then from Portland, OR) who appears to have started his own wool cycling clothing company, Wabi Woolens. Harth always had a thing for fine woolen cycling gear. Buy some. You won't regret it.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

unusual tastes in the mouth

I had the opportunity to try a few new comestibles over the last few days -- and thought I would share them with you all.

Firstly, while no-one really thinks that pork is the other white meat anymore, I did have the pleasure of trying some Vosges bacon chocolate. Yes, you heard it here. And, you know what, as odd as it sounds, and as unusual a sequence of tastes as you might expect from a chocolate bar, it was actually pretty tasty. It starts off just like wonderful creamy chocolate, there's a nice salty tang in the middle, and then it ends with the subtle aftertaste of smokey bacon.

Porkslap Pale Ale from the folks at Butternuts Beer & Ale in upstate NY. I won't claim to any of the scientific rigor of Eric and Brad at their Brew Log -- will admit to purchasing a six-pack because of the name, the logo, and that it was a pale ale. Their website is a hoot -- but the beer, while perfectly palatable, was really nothing more than the B- it has received at BeerAdvocate.com

I did also finally get to try Lagunitas Maximus, one of the extreme-hopped beers now in vogue. I didn't expect to enjoy this quite as much, but in addition to packing a nice 7.5% alcohol whollop, it has plenty of taste and that nice, grapefruity taste I like in my IPAs. Beeradvocate gives it a B+, but I'd certainly award it an A-.

Training update: Momo has also been trying new tastes in his mouth. I got an unexpected e-mail from Bob to say that Momo had been successfully retrieving pheasant in his driveway and so he was going to start shooting birds over His Senior Majesty this coming week. I'm definitely proud of him.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

a few notes on cycling

Before we leave the country, I thought I should post a few summary observations about the state of performance-enhancing substances in cycling -- or rather, now that cycling has crossed its Rubicon, how the Inquisition is going to go about saving every other professional sport that once scoffed at skinny Europeans in spandex.

Murray Chass at the NYT wrote this piece last week on how the new, 'vegetarian' (ie. Meat-free) WADA is going to save Major League Baseball. Jim at the Unholy Rouleur has a very nice rant of his own -- about why the WADA should get its behaviour around professional cycling in order before it invades another sport, why it survives by manufacturing catastrophe, and why these two strange bed-fellows are as arguably financially disinterested as the AKC is about puppy mills.

Jim is a very pragmatic cynic. And I like that.

(Oddly, in mid-December, Meat was proclaiming that the Mitchell Report's recommendations are "based largely on the model developed by the WADA and universally approved and implemented by Sport and Governments around the world." As blogserved by the Ontario Emperor, Dan Patrick at ESPN promptly came up with his Holy Trinity of Acronyms: CSI MLB WADA. And yet, as of mid-January, WADA had published a statement proclaiming that MLB had a "blatant disregard for the truth.")

As ever, all the news of drugs in cycling and other performance-related sports can be found at Trust But Verify.

*************

In fantasy cycling land (where either everyone or no-one uses performance-enhancing drugs), Team Chinggis had a good season opening at the Tour Down Under. The next major race on the Cobblestone Fantasy League schedule is the Tour of California. If all the Aussies came out for the TDU, all the Yanks will be coming out for Cali: Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner are now both riding for the-team-mostly-known-as-Discovery-but-now-funded-by-Kazakhstan; George Hincapie is now riding for the-team-formerly-known-as-a-German-cellphone-provider but is now much cooler as Team High Road; Tom Danielson is riding for the new Team Slipstream (but it doesn't look he's riding the Tour after all... ed.)

Have fun in Solvang!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

off to meet Rudolf

This time next week we will be nervously packing, seeing if we can get all our super-warm gear + all the random stuff we promised to bring for Meg's sister, Annie, into our carry-on sized backpacks. I don't mind checking bags on the way back, but I'm definitely not going to be missing my warm stuff when we land in Ulaan Baatar.

We flew through Seoul last time (which actually worked out great) -- and if you ever need a hotel near the airport, we loved staying here at the Hyatt Regency. This time around we're flying through Moscow, but with just a six-hour layover on the way out.

While it will be fun to see UB again, to see how much it has changed, to try and breathe in the coal-fired, coal-dust air, to eat great Indian food (!), the highlight of our trip is to head up to the frozen north to hook up with the folks from the Tsaatan Community & Visitors Center. It seems strangely appropriate that in the heart of Mongolian winter, leaving the amenities of the capital, we would fly into the town of Moron. (Admittedly, it is pronounced more like Mörön.)

Having now arrived in Mongolia's northernmost aimag (or district), Khövsgöl, we then jump in a forgon, formally known as a UAZ-452, or the Russian equivalent of a 4x4 VW bus, huddle for warmth, and head north to Tsaagan-Nuur (although it's also known as Dood-nuur). At this point, we'll be roughly 45miles from the Russian border to the north and west. (We actually needed to get special border proximity permits for this trip.) At this point, too, we'll hopefully rendezvous with a group of reindeer herders for a few days -- and do our best not to freeze. Daytime highs will be something like -30degsF.

The picture was borrowed from Dave Edwards, one of whose photographs of Kazakh eagle hunters in western Mongolia made National Geographic's 100 Best Photographs. He has a great little gallery in Flagstaff -- and was very generous to Denise + Steve after Steve's accident. He also deserves credit as one of the founding members of the Flagstaff International Relief Effort (FIRE) which helps to provide resources for Mongolian orphans and homeless children.

I have been reading a few books in an effort to figure out a little more about the folks we're going to meet up with. (And in many ways, the inspiration for heading out to see them is from seeing Dave's pictures of the Tsaatan.) In a wonderful, serendipitous way, I knew something about Kazakh eagle hunters before we met them in 2004 after reading Stephen Bodio's Eagle Dreams in Olgii -- and Steve recommended reading Piers Vitebsky's The Reindeer People for this trip. Haven't started that one yet.

But I have read Roger Took's Running with Reindeer (which, to be honest, is a great book about life on the post-Soviet Kola Peninsula, but is barely about reindeer). I am also most of the way through Rane Willerslev's Soul Hunters. (Soul Hunters is definitely an anthropology dissertation, but if you wade through the critical theory, there are a number of very interesting observations.) Looking for books on the Tsaatan is an exercise in futility, and so I'm hoping that there's some transferable knowledge to be gleaned by reading about the Saami peoples of northern Scandinavia, and the Yukaghir and Eveny peoples of northern and northeastern Siberia.

All in all, it's a little hard to wrap my mind around -- that we'll be sleeping in the Tsaatan equivalent of a tepee in -40degsF in about two weeks time. Hope the cameras don't freeze. Or any of our appendages. And while the lovely folks at SmartDogs had a nice post on winter up in Red Wing, MN, they're not even close this time.

Here's a nice winter picture of Momo and his girlfriend, Lida, the German Shorthair, out on a frozen Mooselookmeguntic Lake in western Maine taken by our friend Susan.

**************

Training update: it was good to talk to Bob this evening. He was sounding upbeat and excited -- and pleased with Momo's progress. He has Momo making 30-40 retrieves a session using still-warm chukar in his driveway; tomorrow, he was going to try him on a 10lb pheasant. I remember Jozsi's face when he first realized how big a bird he'd just pointed and his dad had brought down. It was the first time I saw him look a little intimidated. Bob has Jozsi out in the fields and is shooting birds over him, which he retrieves to hand about 50% of the time. At this point in his career as a bird-dog, it's all about fun -- and so he's only getting minimal structure.

I'm looking forward to a busy April taking our two clowns to some hunt tests.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

birds of different feathers

Just got back from another morning of skeet shooting. I'm finally beginning to get some consistency in my game, shooting my nice little 20ga SxS. And now we're just sitting around enjoying a beautiful sunny day and eagerly awaiting the Superbowl.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, this craziness is going on. Annie went to an eagle festival in Terelj National Park just outside Ulaan Baatar. You can read the details here, but her caption for this picture is "Even though he's hooded, he can still smell my fear." We got that close to eagles in western Mongolia last time we were there and, yes, I didn't didn't feel like the top of the food chain.

We head out for Mongolia in ten days. We have been acquiring down parkas, super-mitts, even thicker long underwear etc. We'll be in Ulaan Baatar for a few days, then out to Lake Khovsgol for roughly a week, and then back to Ulaan Baatar for a few days on the way back. Once I finish a few more books, I'll post something about what we're hoping to do up around Khovsgol.

Mike, whose website you can find in the blogroll of 'Vizslas we love (even though they can't type),' sent me an update on his younger dog, the fabulous Annian's Upland Double, a.k.a. Piqua, a.k.a. Pickles. He just put together a webpage for Piqua's breeder, Sue Cox, and her Annian Kennels. You can find out the details of Piqua's particular successes right here. (Incidentally, we figured out that Pickles and Jozsi have a common great-grandfather, the great Riverbend Deacon Dandy, a.k.a. Danny. Here's a pic of Danny.)

Mike also sent some recent pictures of his older dog, Onpoint's Wild Dare, a.k.a.Tecumseh, taking on ditch-chickens at a local preserve yesterday. You can see the pheasant about to take a flier in the bottom right corner. And that Tec is every bit the Onpoint vizsla.

Training update: as of Thursday, Momo was making retrieves of still-warm chukar tossed down Bob's driveway. Bob is going to work him up to pheasant and then start shooting birds over him. We're still very proud.