Sunday, February 28, 2010

the next generation

Phew wheee! Never got round to writing the second part of our Ukraine travelogue... the part with the mummified monk fingers, belly dancers, and trying not to spontaneously burst into flames for being a heathen. Sorry. You'll just have to extrapolate.

Other folks have been writing some nice things that led me to ponder how on earth I ended up with a pick-up truck full of dogs, guns, and training supplies -- a truck I don't commute in, but somehow still end up putting 12,000miles on a year. This is a small figure to some, but this is the northeast. And so while this post is titled for the folks that get us started in this funny bird-dog game, it should probably be dedicated to my wife who indulges me in my odd obsession (and keeps our dogs fit).

The National Championship for Field-Trialing Bird Dogs is finally over despite (and I quote Brad Harter's official
synopsis) several days of "brutal conditions." And the winner is Carl Bowman's In the Shadow ('Buster'). The New York Times ran a nice story on the Championships which concluded with this absolutely fabulous quote: “I told the old gentleman who started me in this sport 40 years ago that it probably would have been better to give me a gram of cocaine because then I could have done my time in prison,” said Larry Garner, an amateur bird dog field trialer from Dallas. “I could have gone through rehab and become a productive citizen again instead of being addicted to bird dogs and chasing them all over the United States and Canada.” Amen.

As for my own perverse addiction, I'd like to thank Stephanie Gutierrez for awarding Jozsi his first blue ribbon -- and have already been informed that she has no intention of running her new pup in any field trials. So not fair. But I think I will have my revenge before the end of the month: while Steph will get to judge The Mominator once more, I will get to judge her and the lovely Rye at the same hunt test! I should also say that amongst many others, Joan Heimbach has been my particular fairy godmother of field trialing. Thank you.

And while she is primarily talking about horsemanship, Gin at High Mountain Horse has a great post asking those of us in the current generation to 'pass it on' to the next. I couldn't agree more. -- and as you'll read, I'm trying to do my part. Holly at NorCal Cazadora asks another poignant question about the dangers of assuming that those of us who enjoy hunting and fishing (and I would suggest even the not-necessarily-lethal kinds of sporting dog events) will be able to do so in perpetuity. Personally, I hate the idea of legislating to protect the future -- but when faced by the slick, but frankly disingenuous, campaigns of folks like the HSUS, perhaps we need to. As Mike Spies at Living with Birddogs notes, there is a new force in the blogosphere dedicated to tracking these jackasses.

I, on the other hand, have become hairy godfather to a couple of new puppies from our friend, Michelle's most recent litter. How two dogs from Virginia end up in New York City seems a little strange, but they have. We haven't had a chance to get Murphy on birds yet, although that moment will hopefully be soon. But The Mominator and Mr. Enthusiasm did get to meet Ottla today -- and she got to rendezvous with some quail.

Even with first birds, I prefer to have the dog use its nose to find a bird -- rather than merely deposit a bird in front of it in clear view -- and so we dispersed a handful of birds in a feedstrip to see how she managed. The first couple of birds literally either ran away from her (because she was still in potter mode, wondering what was different about this particular walk) or flushed behind her -- and while she never saw them go, she buried her nose intently in the hotspots they'd left clearly trying to make sense of this new, strangely exciting smell. And then launched into a different gear.

As you might imagine, even with a small bird like a quail, having it launch in your face can be a little daunting -- and
so with her next three flushes she sank onto her back legs a little as the bird took off before heading off after it to much praise from the gallery. Besides the focus in her face in chasing the quail in flight, the best part of the picture at the top comes from the understanding that she has watched the bird flush, then land, and then start running through the brambles. In at least two cases, she headed off after the bird, performed a several-yard serpentine ground track and then boosted the bird into the air.

We had initially run the three dogs together before any birdwork -- and put Jozsi in his hauling rig and cables to really wear him out and work on his conditioning. I should mention that at one point Ottla saw Momo standing ahead of her and immediately stopped and didn't start moving till he did. She didn't know he wasn't pointing, but a natural honor is a lovely thing to see.

Then once Ottla was done with her first five birds and had scattered them to the wind, I put down each of my two. The Mominator had a nice run of his own posting three genuinely impressive finds on quail running in deep cover -- and with nice steady feet; Jozsi had four finds of his own, impressive bar the second where he decided to chase a running bird in the open. I realise this is one of Momo's weaknesses, too, so I will need to start proofing for that over the next couple of weeks as well.

Stay posted.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Not just for chicken...

Continuing our tradition of spending Valentine’s Day in a post-Soviet country, Meg and I decided to take a week’s vacation in the Ukraine. As with our recent trips to Mongolia, we are lucky to have family members to visit – this time, Meg’s brother, John. But unlike Mongolia, and while John does speak Russian fluently, my wife also has a working knowledge of the language giving us a little more independence.

We’re also lucky that Kiev appears to be a pretty walkable city, even in the winter, even when clearing the sidewalks seems to be an afterthought. And so we’ve been able to take several good walks to take in some of the sights near John’s apartment. (This first picture is looking from the belltower of Saint Sophia down to Saint Michael's.)

Despite the German bombardment and bloody occupation of the city during WW2, itself sandwiched between a Soviet architectural style never known for its grace, downtown Kiev seems surprisingly pretty. There are certainly points of the city that seem to be in the state of practiced dilapidation that we’ve seen in Mongolia and Kazakhstan – and a similar number of tall, construction cranes on the skyline. However, unlike either of those places, a fair number of these cranes are actually working.

The downtown architecture does have a continental feeling to it – in no small part because a fair amount of the downtown buildings were built by Italian architects. The Cathedral of St. Andrew, for example, seen here was designed and built in an Italian Baroque architectural style by Bartolomeo Rastrelli.

Underneath all of this, literally, lies a much older city. The Cathedral of Saint Andrew, for example, is located on the spot that the Apostle Andrew legendarily predicted as the site for a great Christian city. As soon as you step inside the Saint Sophia Cathedral, you realize that in addition to the various layers of 18th, 19th, and 20thC restoration there are also still sections of 11thC stucco work. Saint Sophia is unusual (like the Gandan monastery in Ulan Bataar) in that in it was preserved during the Soviet era as a museum – left perhaps ostensibly as a monument to pre-communist degeneracy, but sentimentally I imagine because even the most cynical Party member couldn’t quite bring himself to level the incredible beauty of a sanctuary like Saint Sophia.

Where Saint Sophia is a museum, the remainder of the churches we’ve visited are all active as places of devotion. Like Saint Sofia, Saint Michael’s is an entire monastic complex with monks’ cells and a secondary chapel (dedicated to St. John and which seems primitive by contrast with its wooden shingled dome); Saint Andrew and Saint Vladimir are ‘merely’ stand-alone churches. And just incredibly gorgeous.

There is some speculation that the reason the Kievan Rus converted to the Eastern Orthodox church was because of Prince Vladmir's evoys' visit to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul in the 10thC and their proclamation that "we knew not whether we were in heaven or earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss to describe it." Saint Vladimir is the only church we’ve been to that permits photography (albeit for a small fee) and, while I have always been fascinated by Orthodox icons. (I should ask my parents whether we visited Kykkos or another monastery when I was a boy, but I do remember being drawn to the religious painting there.) But, and as Sharon Gerstel noted in an exhibition catalog review, to only see these icons out of context on a gallery wall is to miss a huge amount: "Within a church, the icons would have evoked a different response. There, flickering candles or lamps enliven the holy faces, and the wooden panels on which they are rendered emit the pungent smell of incense. Within the darkened church the figures, set on a gold background, appear to wrench free from the strict confines of their wooden backing." Hopefully these pictures convey some of the glimmering majesty of these places.

On a technical note, all these pictures were taken on our new point-and-shoot. We really liked our old Panasonic Lumix (which simply wore out) and decided to go with another, this time the DMC-FX580. I mention this only because I'm still experimenting with some of the shooting modes (of which there are many). The first interior picture, for example, was taken in a mode called 'Candlelight'. It has a a nice grainy B&W mode, and another called 'Pinhole' which puts an interesting fuzzy frame around the image. Stay posted.