Sunday, December 28, 2008

Back from my Christmas trip

Visited friends over the holidays. Had a good visit, but caught some kinda low-grade bug and have been under the weather for a couple days. There's nothing like your own place and your own bed when you're feelin' po'ly.

Went to Fort Laramie on Friday. Interesting place, but jehosaphat that parade ground is a cold, cold place. The temp was only about 25° but a constant frigid NW wind at about 25-30 MPH made the place almost unbearable. 

Saw the John "Portugee" Phillips monument. Immediately following the Fetterman "massacre" Phillips (a civilian scout) volunteered to ride to Ft. Laramie for help since Fort Phil Kearney didn't have enough troops to even hold the wall in the event of a major Indian attack which was expected at any moment. He made the 235 mile ride in two days, on 24, 25 December 1866, in a blizzard and sub-zero temperatures. Not surprisingly, his horse (a fast Kentucky thoroughbred belonging to the post commander) died soon after he arrived. Standing there on that wind-swept and icy cold parade ground I had a small inkling of what man and horse suffered. They made men back then! 

The horse's name was "Dandy." It deserves to be remembered.

Go here for a really good account...

So I'm back on the home ranch and all seems to be well. Except for me.

Hope everyone had the best Christmas ever! Thanks to all for the good wishes.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Being Sorely Tempted

Added on 12/22... A portion of the 'Gang of Twelve' that have been hanging out on the place. That's the 10-point in front with the mom of triplets against my target backer. The 8-point is off to the right and out of the frame. He appears to be slightly bigger than the 10-point. No sign of the 6-point when this was take...

Well, not really so 'sorely,' since I have pretty much made up my mind.

But the Great Spirit is giving me a bad time of it. I can't figure out if I am being tested on my resolve, or being offered a largesse that it would be blasphemy not to accept. I choose to think it's the former.

That ten-point has been back, several times. And today, out back, I saw him again. Distance, 40 yards. 

Then a couple of fat does came across the front yard and when I looked to the right, there was a nice six-point. Distance, 8 yards. 

A little later I went to the back window and scoped the field behind me. Another buck. This time an eight-point, working his way in behind the house and shop. Distance, 25 yards.

When I went out to go to the shop the eight-point was at the edge of the fence that encloses the house and shop, looking straight at me. Distance, 10 yards.

About fifteen minutes later he was prancing across the front, a few yards from the front porch, along with four doe and three pie-faced fawns. I went out onto the porch and spoke to them. He stared at me and then pronked off across the meadow to the east, evidently not appreciating my dulcet tones.

I choose to think I am merely being tempted. It is cold, not going above 10° today. I put corn out for them, not to lure them in but to help them to survive and thrive. My three freezers are full, and despite having two more deer on my tag I have been provided for quite well.

Tomorrow I will put out some more corn for them.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Visitors. Again.

From earlier today, but Blogger was being 'difficult' and wouldn't take my post...

Not even dusk yet and it's -3° and plunging fast. Supposed to be -15 to -20 tonight with wind chills in the -40 area.

Two mulies, a buck and a doe, came onto the place around midday and have been here all afternoon. They are grazing on the high grass around the old mule-barn next to my nearest target butt. The buck is a ten-point. He stood at 25-yards and munched away for almost an hour. I cracked the front door, and the storm door, just enough to stick a rifle barrel out and he never moved. Completely unaware that I was there. I still have two deer on my muzzleloader permit, but just didn't have the heart to shoot him— and from my porch of all places. Might be a different story if I were hungry, but I'm not and they appear to be.

Sorry for the poor pic quality. It was taken through window glass and screen. Best I could do without running them off.

Friday, December 12, 2008

An Amazing Moon

On my way out to the shop to get some dog-broth from the freezer for my pups' supper I was confronted by the most dramatic moon I think I have ever seen. Bright, brilliant, huge, and with all features crisp and clear to the naked eye. Absolutely stunning. I suppose the clear, cold air was acting as a magnifying lens.

Due to exposure differentials between the landscape and the moon's brightness I had to do some regularizing in PhotoShop. But even that bit of mild manipulation does not begin to do the real thing justice.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Good Day

Emma and I hunted pheasant today, with a rancher friend. We hunted two different areas of varying terrain and cover. The first place had thick shelter belts and long, dense meadows along the river. Great country. We saw many birds and vast herds of deer. Unfortunately the birds were not holding. They would rise ahead of us at ranges of 100 to 200 yards in huge coveys and then scatter into the breaks. It was driving Emma crazy. The birds were just not playing her game today.

Next we went to our friend's home place and into some of the best bird country I have hunted in years. And today, Emma and I had one of those sometime-experiences that every bird hunter relives over and over. In thick weed-cover, two early-breaker cocks rose ahead of us about thirty to thirty-five yards out. Emma bounced up and down to watch their flight as they angled away from us, crossing our path, on their separate paths. I was in position and my partner was not. Swing-BANG, swing-BANG, and both birds went down. Good kills both as neither one ever heard the gun. Emma was beside herself with joy. I hunt with an over-under and a double with a double in tough  pheasant country is an "event." Like they say, "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometime!"

It was a good day for us and we will sleep well tonight.

(Just as an aside, on that mini-butte to the left of the frame, Crazy Horse once watched white-eye troop movements.)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sunset Meringues

Cherry, orange, and lemon. Delicious layered sunset skies the last few days. 

Comments from me would be superfluous. 

Friday, December 5, 2008

Wimping Out

Twice now, tonight and last night, a big doe and assorted progeny have been up close to the house and seem unperturbed by noises, lights, or my presence. Tonight, just before dusk, the Shorthair told me there were interlopers and when I went out to check there she was: a doe with three big fawns. I have a muzzleloader permit for two more deer, but couldn't bring myself to haul out the frontstuffer. It's cold here, and there is shelter on my place, to which they are welcome.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Hunting Behind Dogs

For me, there isn't much in life that can match the pleasure of hunting behind a really good dog in pheasant country. Put that together with a fine double, good company, and dogs that work well together and you have described my vision of an earthly nirvana.

Most of the time on this last trip there were three of us hunting with five dogs, but for one day there were four of us with seven dogs, five Labs, a vizsla, and my German Shorthair. Every bird hunter will tell you that his dog is the finest of them all, a nonpareil. In my case it happens to be true. Ahem. (Well, this is, after all, my blog.)

It wasn't always true. For the first four years of her life, Emma was the Dog from Hell and a mediocre field worker. But then something happened. One day she just decided to shine, and has ever since.

One aspect of a good Shorthair that I really appreciate is its ability to glide across a field in a beautiful, long-legged, level-backed, "Lippizaner lope." (top picture) Emma works back and forth in front of me, about thirty yards out, casting the field from one side to the other, her head down but not nose-to-ground. She checks for my position every few seconds and will change course on a silent hand signal. A short whistle and she flips around and starts back to me unless I point to where I want her to go. Her points are steady and rock-solid. She will hold a bird as long as it takes for me to get there. What a pleasure she is. Her only flaw is that she is only a so-so retriever. She prefers to take me to the bird and let me do that, unless the bird has gone into heavy cover. Perhaps she is union.

The other dogs worked well, but in the characteristic style of their breeds. The Labs were happy galumphers, charging around in their rocking-horse gait with their heads up, tongues lolling, smiles abounding. The vizsla moved at top speed, head up like a show dog, her thin legs flashing like tawny rods through the weeds. One thing I can say for the Labs: they were excellent retrievers, even trying to take birds out of my hands and take them to their hunter!

Emma had the benefit of growing up with Róisín Dubh (roe-SHEEN doov, "dark Rosaleen") as her mentor. (lower picture) Róisín was my first Shorthair and she was my "Baby Girl" until the day she died at a blessedly advanced age. I thought Róisín was the best of them all: a great heart, a sweet disposition, a tireless and passionate hunter, and a beautiful mover. To the best of my knowledge she never missed a pheasant in a field that we worked together, and she often found birds that earlier dogs had overlooked. She would also bring me other hunters' cripples, which was not her most endearing trait as far as I was concerned.

Watching a good dog at work is sheer joy for someone who appreciates that sort of thing. I don't need a gun to enjoy a day afield with Emma, but she insists on it. She also insists that I don't miss more than a bird or two in a day of hunting. If I come into a bad patch of shooting she will cast a withering eye of disdain on me and go about her business, muttering about the "help." Her life is made complete by a good run of casting, a solid point, a noisy flush, and a stone-dead bird or birds falling in front of her. She is, like so many Shorthairs, a connoisseur. Lucky for me on this trip I was into a spell of good shooting and failed to earn any demerits from her on that score. Such has not always been the case.

We're back now, after gathering four days of excellent memories and putting some lovely birds in the freezers. She wanted to go again this morning and I had to explain to her that she would have to wait a few days for Dad to recover a bit. Later, we can go into the wilderness area for sharptails, or over to a neighbor's wetland for pheasant, but right now I need some rest. She was kind enough to pretend to understand, and decided to catch up on her own sleep and refamiliarize herself with a deer leg from last week.

But how do I explain to her that according to PETA I am abusing her, making her hunt her fellow creatures and do all those nasty things that are foreign to her real nature? O, how?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Nil aon tintean!

The Irish have a saying: Nil aon tintean, mar do thintean fein. "There is no hearth like your own hearth." Fittingly enough, in honor of the great truth it represents, I have this motto hanging in a small frame over my own poor hearth.

We are back from a wonderful five-day sojourn at some good friends' ranch in another state. Matchless fellowship, excellent bird hunting, and groaning boards the whole stay. As memorable as the whole holiday was, it's good for me and my pupz to be back at our hermits' lair where all seems to have fared well in our absence.

Tired tonight, but will try to post tomorrow with some thoughts about "time behind the hounds." I hope everyone had a good holiday.

It's good to be home.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Even the easy stuff isn't easy!

Heading out tomorrow for a holiday plus a few days of hunting and good fellowship. But what a hassle!

Stop the mail. Vault all the guns. Gather and sort ammo. Pack clothes, boots, toiletries. Find dog vests. Set light timers. Box up gifts. Mail out final bills.  Clean and sack guns. Yadda-yaddo-doo.

Yowee. I'm tired already. And I'm not even taking my little travel trailer, illustrated above. I'd need an extra day of prep for that.

Oh, well. I'm going hunting, for pete's sake. And will have good company, good times, and good food for a few days. As my pub owner friend says "Kwitcher complainin'!"

Monday, November 24, 2008


I spent all day boning out my deer and packaging up the meat. It's always taken me longer to do that chore than anybody else I know, but it's done now and the freezer has about sixty pounds of nice, lean mule deer for the days ahead.

The dawgz have been delighted by the whole process and most attentive, too. Since Wednesday night they have been enjoying a stew made of tasty trimmings served over their dry food. Today they each got leg bones with plenty of meat remnants left on them. Mags was especially proud of hers and every time Emma got too close she gave her the evil eye and Emma backed off.

For Thanksgiving I am driving out of state to a good friend's ranch for the holiday and am taking the ribs and some meat-on-the-bone to be bbq'd. We'll also be hunting pheasant and quail. It's a guaranteed good time for all. Emma saw me clean the Citori yesterday and her eyes lit up like spotlights. She knows!

Nature's Bounty is indeed a wonderful gift to us poor forkéd beings. I don't think I'll ever take its generosity and grandeur for granted.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Trees & Sky

Yesterday I helped a neighbor move his cattle from a leased pasture to the home range. It was an all-day job, even though it wasn't supposed to be. Seems like everything takes longer than it's supposed to, especially where critters are concerned.

We have a lot of sky here, but we don't have many trees. When you do see 'em you are probably looking at an old homestead or a defunct ranch headquarters. On my way home after a day in the corrals I saw this scene, against a nicely-developing sunset. It's an old homestead. Nothing still standing there, but remnants of an old barn and some old foundations. Even the trees are dying now. Cottonwoods are not what you'd call long-lived vegetables.

Whenever I see a place like this I think of the lives that were lived out there; the hopes that blossomed, and sometimes died; the children who learned about life there and then, probably, went somewhere else to try out what they had learned.

The Lakota and Cheyenne who lived here before we came onto the land had a saying: "Only earth and sky last forever." Change is relentless and pitiless, as we have learned from our recent election. But change isn't always good or admirable or to be desired. I'm not a Luddite, or even a fogey (I don't think!), but when I pass an old homestead I can almost hear the joyous cries of children as they share rides on the pony, or chase or are chased happily by the family dog. If you listen closely you can almost hear Mom calling them in to supper, or see the lights come on in the windows as the sun goes to sleep for the day and the cold wind rises out of the northwest.

A New Arrival

Well, I said I wasn't going to be buying any guns for a while and I am as good as my word. But I did just buy a Kimber .22 Conversion Kit for my CDP .45. It arrived yesterday from Midway.

Of course, even though it was getting dark when I opened the package I had to go out and try it out. I was expecting to have to sort out some ammo problems (especially with Federal HPs as I had been told), but the first five magazines through it functioned flawlessly. As an added bonus the adjusties were almost dead on. Within the first two mags I could tell that it was going to be an accurate piece.

Today I shot it a little more. Adjusted the sights a bit, too. I haven't done any systematic testing yet, but did unload a mag on the 7" diameter end of a piece of firewood in the woodpile. Surprised myself with a 3" six shot group two-handed at a paced 32 yards. Three of them could be covered with a dime. I can live with that. Looks like the thing might be even more accurate than my Ruger Gov't Model.

It's a straight blowback action, in an aluminum slide, which makes the whole loaded rig weigh 25-ounces, quite a bit less than the CDP with the .45 slide and barrel. The lighter weight encourages sloppy holding and today I got the first FTFs as a result of a light hold. Now I know better. Changing over from one slide to another is an easy 15-second job.

I had originally thought I would get one of the 4" Ruger 22/45s with adjustable sights as a 1911 practice gun. But then I handled one and didn't like it. It didn't feel like a 1911 to me, and the one I handled also had a poor trigger. My Kimber lets off at 3.6# (with a Wilson Bulletproof sear spring) and I figured why compromise. Besides, I got out cheaper with the Kit than I would have with the 22/45.

I didn't get it for this purpose, but what a great trail-gun it would make, with one slide on the frame and the other in your backpack.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Gift

Nice gift today from the Great Spirit, for which I am grateful.

It's been a while since I've done a belly-crawl stalk, but this one seemed to work. I'm also pleased that it was an excellent, clean kill. He was lying on a south-facing hillside and when the bullet struck he simply dropped his head and then rolled onto his side. Nine points and about 170 field dressed. Not a trophy like the other guys got, but I've never been a trophy hunter. This one has given me the gift of good meat for some time to come and I am grateful to him.

This is very rough country hunting. I had taken the UTV today and am sure glad I did. I was able to run it up the hill to a point just below him and then just tug him aboard. Otherwise I might have had to go for help. There's no way I would have been able to drag him the three miles back to the truck.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Three + Four

For the past four days I have had three hunters camping on my place. They are heading back to their home country tomorrow with three huge bucks and four nice doe. These are good guys and excellent hunters and I don't in any way begrudge them their deer as "outsiders." We've had a lot of fun together.

Six of the seven deer come from the federal wilderness area I can see from my front porch. No vehicular access allowed, so unless you bring a horse you are hoofing it. Fortunately there are many transit areas not too far from my place.

The deer on the left is a 17-point a-typical. The largest buck was the one in the middle. Only 10-points, but his dressed weight was 235 pounds.

I'm still hunting, not being quite as dedicated as these guys are anymore. I'm also hunting several local ranches and having a great time. Taking home game has never been the main criterion in judging the quality of a hunt for me. I do, however, appreciate the meat. The guys gave me a huge pile of backstraps that will hold me for quite a while even if I strike out on my own deer.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

First Day

Today is the first day of rifle deer season here.

For the past couple of weeks I have been knee-deep in deer. Mostly mulies, but with a surprising population of nice bucks. And I'm not talking about the deer just "being around"— I mean they are up close and personal. The inner compound of my place is a two acre homestead plot that contains the house, my shop building, the garden (no access to that for deer!), my close-range shooting areas (out to 100-yards), the storm shelter, and several goodly brush and wood piles. This is where they have been hanging out. There was a 10+ point big-boy, a smaller but still really nice 10-point, and a rangy young 6-point. Sometimes I would wake up and they would be right outside the bedroom window as if trying to look in. They drove the Shorthair nuts, but considering she's a GSP it isn't that lengthy a trip.

I liked having them around, despite the little (and some not-so-little) piles of prairie raisins all over the place. But this morning? Gone. Nary a one in sight. The bucks, and the does, and the littl'uns have all taken a powder. And there hasn't been a shot fired so far as I can tell, at least none heard by me or the dogs. I don't know how they know, but they sure seem to.

Late yesterday afternoon I went up to the annual harvest dinner at a local church. Well, it's forty miles away, but that qualifies for local here. On the first twenty-five miles I saw well over a hundred deer, with easily a dozen nice bucks of 4+ points. At one turn in the little road I saw overhead a huge flock of grouse, easily a hundred, flying directly over the truck. Knowing what that probably meant I slowed way down and sure enough two very large mulie bucks plunged over the fence off my starboard beam, crossed the road, and did it again on the port side. Then they stopped and just stared me down as I eased on up the road.

I have no doubt that all up through the valley they have all gone to ground and will be hard to spot for the next week or so. I'm a hunter and have been for many years, but I wish them well.

This just in, several hours after the above: I thought they were gone, but as dusk approached I noticed the eight-point pussy-footing around behind my shooting butt, and then a little later the six-point appeared. There is an old blow-down just outside my wire and evidently they were holed up there all day.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

You can't count on me any longer!

That's my message to the two major political parties of our great nation. I'm finished forever with being a statistic in the column marked "sure thing."

The Democrats lost my allegiance when the moon-bat brigade took over the helm and it became the party of negativity and self-absorbed whining. The Republicans have now lost my support since they took an election it was theirs to lose and did exactly that. Their days of arrogance and intransigence are over, as is my place on their fund-raising lists.

I am now, officially, what I've actually been all along: an independent— or perhaps Independent better expresses the way I feel. And I'm glad to be part of a movement, if it can be called that, that will break the back of the control that the so-called two-party "system" has had on the country's political life.

I don't think we need a European-style panoply of political parties in this country— fifteen to twenty parties and an ever-shifting array of fragile and short-lived coalitions. But we do need to tell the existing parties, loud and clear, Earn it! 

Show me why I should vote for what you claim to stand for. I won't respond to screaming mobs of "fans." I will respond to reason, logic, courage, and honesty. It would also be nice if you showed genuine respect for, and allegiance to, the Constitution. It's a good document and if you want to run this country I'm going to ask that you support it with more than lip service.

I'm through being a name on a list that's taken for granted. And make no mistake: I am not alone. There are millions like me. We're tired, we're frustrated, and we won't be treated like reliable sheep or useful idiots any longer. We just may be the beginnings of the largest political "party" in the United States.

I don't think that would be a bad thing at all.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Resident Buck

Yesterday I took the UTV and a chainsaw and went to the woodpile behind my shop building to cut some firewood. This fellow was very interested in what I was doing and stayed around for a while to satisfy his curiosity. He's a 4x4 (maybe a 4x5), and stayed on the place most of the day alternating between the shooting range out front and the cedars behind the shop. 

Earlier that same morning a very large buck with his harem had been grazing in the yard around the shooting butts, but I hadn't been able to get good pics because it was too early. Later in the afternoon I took the UTV and found him and his harem less than a mile out on the prairie. I never could get a really good look at his rack because I hadn't brought the binocs, but he's at least a 5x5 and nicely broad-beamed to boot. No doubt this is the guy that made the 4x4 a solitary.

You may have to enbiggify that lower picture to see his rack.

Addendum, 11/10— That smaller buck, who turns out to be a ten-point (5x5) has found himself a girlfriend and has been following her around the place, all pie-faced all day. As I write he is grazing in the front yard about forty yards from the office window.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


A brief red moment of reckoning
laying open
the muscle and sinew
of the day.

Like flesh
before the surgeon's blade
the meat of the day
falls away.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Moment of Panic

This post may be a little over-titled, but it does capture somewhat the initial reaction I had to something that happened just the other day. Back in July I posted about "The Pocketknife," a Camillus Stockman-pattern knife I have carried since I was a young teenager. Well, the other day I lost it, after more than fifty years of daily carry.

These days my "moments of panic" are few and far between. I've learned that they accomplish little or nothing and only cloud clear, action-oriented thinking. Still, the thought of losing such an old friend was bracing and very unpleasant. 

Of course, it wasn't the first time I had lost or misplaced a treasured item. Over the years I have learned that the best thing to do is backtrack step by step and try to re-create the last time you had knowledge of its whereabouts. But despite the cool, calculated approach to solving the mystery I went through the usual ritual of searching the same places several times. Don't we all do that: Rummage through the same drawer or jacket pocket four or five times just in case we "missed it" the first few times? Surely it must be a kind of low-grade OCD.

No joy. It was nowhere. I began to think of outside. Did I drop it out of my pocket when I took the dog for her prairie run in the UTV? When I was chain-sawing some logs out front? I solaced myself with the knowledge that I have never dropped a knife out of a holeless pants pocket before and didn't see why I would start now. Finally, I decided to just chill out, in the almost certain knowledge that the knife would turn up, in its own time, when I would be able to say "Of course!" In the interests of sanity, I would just put it out of my mind.

I had a similar situation last winter when a leather pocket notebook I have carried for many years turned up missing. As in this most recent case, I finally relaxed and put it in the hands of the gods. Sure enough, the notebook turned up and the joy of reunion was pleasant. Things. We're not supposed to value them to such an extent, but the flesh is weak.

I had just finished doing a little shooting at my pistol range yesterday when a blue-whistler of a thought struck me like a falling limb. The day before discovery of The Great Loss I had received some mil-surp clothing in the mail. I had opened the package with my knife, tried on a pair of the trousers, and noticed that it had a paper tag stitched to the pocket. I used the knife to carefully cut the threads and remove the tags. Then I hung the pants in the closet.

In the certainty of knowing exactly what I would feel, I went to the closet and reached into the left front pocket of the new trousers. There she was. Eureka. It was a good feeling. I immediately took the temporary replacement knife back to the drawer it came from and dropped my old chum into its accustomed place. 

All's well that ends well...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The River of Air

Very high winds here all night and all day today. So far they have amounted to a constant 30-40 mph, with sustained gusts to 60 or so. This is supposed to go on until early evening.

The cliché descriptive simile for high winds is "like a freight train," but there is nothing mechanical or artificial about the High Plains wind. It is more like I live on the banks of a wild, cascading river: a river of air.

The wind is a constant presence on the plains; something you are aware of even in its occasional absence. It pokes and probes at the joints of your house and looks for weak spots in your clothing, using dust or snow or merely the nimble fingers of the wind itself to search for weakness. In the winter it is a constant reminder of the puniness of man in the face of a great, unrelenting force.

But even in the face of this display of nature's pre-eminence I can offer an array of artificial aids: a warm fireplace, a pile of split and ready firewood, an R-39 insulated home, satellite radio, the internet. All good, so long as the wind leaves the electric umbilical in place. And if it comes down, as it often does, the fireplace still works and there is always the genny in the shop waiting to be called to duty.

Jolly Oulde Blighty

This is from my clip-file. It perhaps offer a view of what we have to look forward to. It seems very relevant, considering the president-elect's oft-expressed vows to disarm us. (I apologize for the line breaks. This is posted from an on-line copy. Still worth reading, despite the slight annoyance.)

The Wall Street Journal 

"Mad Dogs and Englishmen"

June 17, 2006; Page A11 

With Great Britain now the world's most violent developed country, the 
British government has hit upon a way to reduce the number of cases 
before the courts: Police have been instructed to let off with a 
caution, burglars and those who admit responsibility for some 60 other 
crimes ranging from assault and arson, to sex with an underage girl. 

That is, no jail time, no fine, no community service, no court 
appearance. It's cheap, quick, saves time and money, and best of all the 
offenders won't tax an already overcrowded jail system. 

Not everyone will be treated so leniently. A new surveillance system 
promises to hunt down anyone exceeding the speed limit. Using excessive 
force against a burglar or mugger will earn you a conviction for assault 
or, if you seriously harm him, a long sentence. Tony Martin, the 
Norfolk farmer jailed for killing one burglar and wounding another 
during the seventh break-in at his rural home, was denied parole because 
he posed a threat to burglars. The career burglar whom Mr. Martin 
wounded got out early. 

Using a cap pistol, as an elderly woman did to scare off a gang of 
youths, will bring you to court for putting someone in fear. Recently, 
police tried to stop David Collinson from entering his burning home to 
rescue his asthmatic wife. He refused to obey and, brandishing a toy 
pistol, dashed into the blaze. Minutes later he returned with his wife 
and dog and apologized to the police. Not good enough. In April Mr. 
Collinson was sentenced to a year in prison for being aggressive towards 
the officers and brandishing the toy pistol. Still, at least he won't 
be sharing his cell with an arsonist or thief. 

How did things come to a pass where law-abiding citizens are treated as 
criminals and criminals as victims? A giant step was the 1953 Prevention 
of Crime Act, making it illegal to carry any article for an offensive 
purpose; any item carried for self-defence was automatically an 
offensive weapon and the carrier is guilty until proven innocent. At 
the time a parliamentarian protested that, /"The object of a weapon was 
to assist weakness to cope with strength and it is this ability 
that the bill was framed to destroy."The government countered that 
the public should be discouraged "from going about with offensive 
weapons in their pockets; it is the duty of society to protect them." 

The trouble is that society cannot and does not protect them. Yet 
successive governments have insisted protection be left to the 
professionals, meanwhile banning all sorts of weapons, from firearms to 
chemical sprays. They hope to add toy or replica guns to the list along 
with kitchen knives with points. Other legislation has limited 
self-defence to what seems reasonable to a court much later. 

Although British governments insist upon sole responsibility for 
protecting individuals, for ideological and economic reasons they have 
adopted a lenient approach toward offenders. Because prisons are 
expensive and don't reform their residents, fewer offenders are 
incarcerated. Those who are get sharply reduced sentences, and serve 
just half of these. 

Still, with crime rates rising, prisons are overcrowded and additional 
jail space will not be available anytime soon. The public learned in 
April that among convicts released early to ease overcrowding were 
violent or sex offenders serving mandatory life sentences who were freed 
after as little as 15 months. 

The government's duty to protect the public has been compromised by 
other economies. Police forces are smaller than those of America and 
Europe and have been consolidated, leaving 70% of English villages 
without a police presence. Police are so hard-pressed that the 
Humberside force announced in March they no longer investigate less 
serious crimes unless they are racist or homophobic. Among crimes not 
being investigated: theft, criminal damage, common assault, harassment 
and non-domestic burglary. 

As for more serious crime, the unarmed police are wary of responding to 
an emergency where the offender is armed. The Thames Valley Police 
waited nearly seven hours to enter Julia Pemberton's home after she 
telephoned from the closet where she was hiding from her estranged and 
armed husband. 

They entered once the danger to them had passed, but after those who had 
pleaded for their help were past all help. 

To be fair, under the Blair government a host of actions have been 
initiated to bring about more convictions. At the end of its 2003 
session Parliament repealed the 800-year-old guarantee against double 
jeopardy. Now anyone acquitted of a serious crime can be retried if 
"new and compelling evidence" is brought forward. Parliament tinkered 
with the definition of "new" to make that burden easier to meet. The 
test for "new" in these criminal cases, Lord Neill pointed out, will be 
lower than "is used habitually in civil cases. In a civil case, one 
would have to show that the new evidence was not reasonably available on 
the previous occasion. There is no such requirement here." 
Parliament was so excited by the benefits of chucking the ancient 
prohibition that it extended the repeal of double jeopardy from murder 
to cases of rape, manslaughter, kidnapping, drug-trafficking and some 20 
other serious crimes. For good measure it made the new act retroactive. 
Henceforth, no one who has been, or will be, tried and acquitted of a 
serious crime can feel confident he will not be tried again, and again. 

To make the prosecutor's task still easier, he is now permitted to use 
hearsay evidence -- goodbye to confronting witnesses -- to introduce a 
defendant's prior record, and the number of jury trials is to be 
reduced. Still, the government has helped the homeowner by sponsoring a 
law "to prevent homeowners being sued by intruders who injure themselves 
while breaking in." 

It may be crass to point out that the British people, stripped of their 
ability to protect themselves and of other ancient rights and left to 
the mercy of criminals, have gotten the worst of both worlds. Still, as 
one citizen, referring to the new policy of letting criminals off with a 
caution, suggested: "Perhaps it would be easier and safer for the 
honest citizens of the U.K. to move into the prisons and the criminals 
to be let out."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Exercising the Franchise

My polling place is about forty miles south of my place. I got there at just after four. There were three poll workers manning the tables and that was it. No other voters. We use paper ballots and soft lead pencils. It was a long, two-sided ballot and took me a while. When I finished I was still the only voter in the place.

Now it's all over but the shouting. And there's sure to be some weeping and wailing from somebody.

May the Great Spirit hold us in his hands for the next four years, whoever wins this entertainment lottery.

Tu gosh i na, o shi mi na yo.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Trench Warfare

We have a critter called a pocket gopher out here. He spends about 99% of his time underground, burrowing along, eating the roots of every plant he comes in contact with. He only comes to the surface to clean out his tunnel and give himself room to work. He makes a hole to the surface and then pushes the accumulated loose dirt out of the hole. It makes a little earthwork around the hole and only rare occasions that you actually see him is when he is doing this excavation project. It's really the only window of opportunity for potting the destructive little bastid. (They make an awful mess wherever they go.)

But it's very much sniper work a la the trenches of WWI. His head will appear only briefly, and then only partially. You will have only a half-second or a second to get off a shot at a target barely an inch square. Only by guessing where he will appear behind his earthwork will give you any chance at all of making a hit on one of them. Plus the fact that their appearances are so infrequent and so unpredictable that you could stake out a spot for a whole day and never see one. This is an exercise in futility in which I do not indulge.

They have been very active lately as the season changes, and my office window looks out on a swath of my laughingly called "yard" where they have been at work. When I see one throwing dirt around his parapet I will go out with my Ruger M77/22 and see what work there is to be done. I've got one of those ranging BSA Sweet 22 scopes on mine and it does a good job of accounting for elevation at different ranges. Shots are normally between 30 and 75 yards. 

Success rate? Very low. They are wary, and you usually only get one shot before they go to ground for a long, long time. But it does give me a break from desk work. So far there has been no return fire, although I could swear that the one yesterday was wearing a little helmet.

The photograph is not mine. I found it on the 'net, where it had no attribution. My little friends don't trust me enough to let me make portraits. Very smart of them, too.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Eternal HIlls

The endless velvet drapery of the High Plains. As if a well-worn, flowered coverlet had been dropped from a great height onto the dunes and then settled around them like a new skin. From the top of one of these hills you can see miles and miles of the same thing: hill after hill marching off to the far horizon. Sometimes you can make out a smudge of greenery that would be the trees of an abandoned ranchstead. For every one that is still occupied, there are twenty that are slowly sinking back into the earth as they are reclaimed by the flora and fauna that have always been here. It took them almost a hundred years to do it, but the Big Ranchers have finally won. Well, almost. There are still a few holdouts. In my sometimes flawed optimism I think there will always be a few holdouts.

But when even the Big Ranchers are gone, the hills will still be here.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Well, to me it is. I have simple tastes I guess, but I think a stack of firewood is True Power. Fireplace wood makes you warm thrice: once when you cut it, then when you split it, and finally when you burn it. There is also the intangible, beyond BTUs, that it makes me and the dogs happy to sit in front of the fireplace on a cool evening and just veg-out. Reading in front of a gentle fire of well-cured wood is one of the great pleasures in life. Throw in a cut-crystal glass of single malt, or a nice glass of red, and life, for the moment, is complete.

And please don't tell Al Gore about my big, sloppy carbon footprint. I couldn't bear it if Al didn't like me any more. Or worse, made me register my splitting wedge.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My Ghost Town

I live near a ghost town. In fact, it is my nearest "metropolis." It's been deserted since the early 60s when the last resident died. It was never much. Just a post office, a grocery, a small hardware, and the community hall. The community hall is the only building still standing in its entirety. The hall was the site of parties, weddings, dances, and fist-fights for years. There's a small rodeo grounds out back, too.

I don't think the population was ever much more than about six, since it was less a real town than the gathering place and social center for the ranches in the surrounding four-hundred or so square miles. Delivery of mail to your own box is fairly recent, and even so I only get mail three days a week— when the roads are open, that is.

As people died, sold out, or moved away the larger community began to wither. The last school, just about four miles north of me, was closed only a few years ago when the student population shrank to the two youngsters who came to school on horseback.

As a region and as a nation, we are not richer for the loss.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Thoreau said he liked to have a "broad margin" in his life. By this he meant he liked to have time and space outside of and beyond the daily necessities of his life. 

I have always cherished such a margin. But there have been too many times in my life when I didn't have such a luxury: too many years when there was not only no margin, but a seemingly never-ending calendar of stress and hurry and even confrontation.

No more. I do not take for granted the luxurious margin I now enjoy. I savor it. And I also try to be worthy of it on a day to day basis, whether or not I have "earned" it. Margins are one thing; loafing is another. I try not to loaf. Well, OK— sometimes I loaf. But I still maintain a kind of work ethic. Maybe force of habit, or maybe a sense of obligation— which may or may not be delusional.

Modern American life does not seem to have much room for broad margins in our lives. Even kids seem to have lost that capacity, what with orthodontist's visits, band practice, soccer, church camp, etc., "being a kid" seems to have devolved into having your own appointment book. It's a shame that the idle creativity and aimless fun of childhood has morphed into the lives of little executives.

I've always liked the old saying, "Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits."

Monday, October 27, 2008


Tonight, for the first time in more than a hundred years, there are no cattle on my friend's ranch. No calves, no cows, no heifers, no steers, no bulls. And it'll be like that until the new owner brings in his stock.

The Indians say "Only earth and sky last forever." But we may be pretty far along in figuring ways to screw that up, too.


Yep. Hub deep in the sand. I went over before light this morning to help my friend load cattle for shipment. About halfway there I hit a sand wash going too slow and...sank. You have to really blow through the sand washes and if you don't, you lose. I know better but wasn't paying attention I guess. Trying to get myself out just dug me in deeper.

I was beyond the PONR so hoofed it on in to his place. A lovely five mile hike across the early-morning plains. Saw several groups of antelope. They don't see many people afoot in this country (without rifles at least) and I could almost see the little question marks hanging over their heads.

After the cattle were loaded another neighbor drove me back and dragged me out, barely missing get stuck himself. Such a hike really gives perspective on why horse thieves were hung.

(Sorry about pic quality of the truck photo. It was barely light and the exposure time was handheld at 1 full second wide open.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008


The Indians based their calendars on natural events that impacted their lives. For Plains Indians December was the moon of popping trees. July was the moon of cherries-are-ripe. January was the moon of frost-in-the-teepee. Their system makes more sense than basing your calendric names on Roman divinities and emperors that have no meaning for us any more, and never did on this continent.

My personal system is somewhat erratic, since I seem to go by the actual days that something significant happens and that will vary from year to year. Like the day of the first snow, or the day of the first sunflower. Today was the Day of Falling Leaves. My cottonwoods have been holding on most valiantly, but today they compromised with a strong northwest wind and began the process of stripping themselves out for the winter. Usually we will have a wet spell, followed by a cold snap, then the leaves will begin to fill the air with their flimsy fluttering as they have today. For the Lakota, November was the moon of falling leaves, so according to that calendar it is a bit early this year. In actual fact leaves almost never make it into November here.

As with all seasonal punctuation marks I am sad to see them go, but also full of hope and anticipation for the season to come. And as the Indians know, the leaves will be back and as poor forked beings we can only hope to be here to celebrate them when they return.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The first snow...

...of the season was on the ground when I got up this morning. Enough to whiten the prairie and leave little rills and valleys where the wind has piled and shaped it. No six-foot drifts yet, more like two-inchers, if that.

Can't say I am overjoyed to see it, but it goes with the territory. It's certainly an autumnal punctuation mark. It could be on the menu, if not present in actuality, from now until June.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The River

Yesterday I helped take two truckloads of cattle down to the buyer. It was a nice, mostly clear fall day and good for travel. We crossed the river were it breaks up into multiple channels. The trees and surrounding brush are turning now and the lush browns, tans, golds, and russets are breathtakingly beautiful. The richness of color as far as the eye can see. The Indians followed and lived along this river for many, many centuries before the Invaders came and took it all away from them. In truth, this river has run with blood in many places.

But now it makes its peaceful way along, visited by the ducks and geese, swans and cranes, on their annual pilgrimages in both directions. By deer and elk and all the other four- and two-leggeds that depend on it. I think of it as a sacred place, blessed by the Great Spirit, and endangered only by us, the newcomers. I hope we are worthy of it, but sometimes I have my doubts.


After posting "The Woodpile" I realized that some readers may not be familiar with W. C. Williams' poem "The Red Wheelbarrow" thus my concluding remark would be meaningless. Here is the poem.

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

The Woodpile

Fall progresses slowly toward winter by fits and starts. One day will be warm, sunny, and almost windless. The next will be wet, with  cold, raw wind beating down. Snow is in the forecast for tomorrow and the rest of the week, but probably won't amount to much.

The fireplace has already been inaugurated for the year. Emma is my fireplace dog: she tells me when it should be lit, and when it needs an extra log. She's better than a thermostat.

So much depends on the axe and the splitting wedge.

They'll have to do for now, since I don't own a red wheelbarrow.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Death of Bouncer

Michael Dunegan lived alone on a little hard-scrabble farm high in the mountains of western County Kerry. His only companion and best friend was his dog, Bouncer. But the inevitable came to pass, and in his fourteenth year old Bouncer gave up the ghost, leaving Michael all alone and entirely bereft from grief.

So Michael sets out on the hike to town, to make final arrangements for his friend. He stops into the parsonage to see Father Malone.

"Father" he says, "me dog has died."

"Michael, I'm sorry to hear that. I know he was very special to you," says Father Malone.

"He was that, Father, indeed. And now I am after thinking that I'd like to do something special for him. Do you think you could say a blessing or something like that for Bouncer at mass?"

"Don't be daft, man!" says Father Malone. "A dog, mentioned at mass? Certainly not. Mass is not a place to be blessing a lowly animal! Now be off with you, Michael, and trouble me no more with your nonsense!"

"Yes, Father, certainly," says Michael. "But I'd be wondering if you might know where I might get something like that done for poor old Bouncer?"

"Well," says the priest, "there's those Baptists down at their new chapel. You might try there. God alone knows what foolishness they practice!"

"Thank you, Father," says Michael. "And not to be troubling you still, but what should such a blessing cost do you think? I've been saving for a long time and I have a thousand pounds I'd be willing to give them if you think that would be enough."

"Jesus, Joseph, and Mary!" cries the priest. "Why didn't you tell me the dog was a Catholic?"

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Watcher

Made a supply run yesterday. It's the time of year when you want to have plenty of needfuls on hand in case the weather does a sudden nasty, as has been known to happen. There's a grocerette in the nearest town but their prices are high and the selection is poor to say the least. When I need to shop I head for a larger supply center. My nearest is 100 miles, but I make a semi-festive day out of it, complete with store-boughten lunch. Besides, it's good to get off-ranch once in a while.

On the way out I saw this fellow sitting up on a hill over the road where he could eyeball his domain. I stopped and backed up to get this shot from the window. He never moved. Had he been a whitetail he would have skedaddled as soon as I stopped the truck. He was still up there as I drove off.

While I was out I visited Cabela's. They had sent me one of their discount vouchers, which at the lowest level gives $30 off a $100 purchase. I try to save up what I need 'til I have one of those. While there I handled one of the new 22/45 Rugers, the one with 5.5" barrel and adjustable sights. Nice little gat, but I didn't think the grip frame was a real good match for a 1911-- too small and too thin. For about $10 more I can get the .22 conversion unit for the Kimber and I think that's what I will do.

I bought four pounds of powder and a $40 steel swinging target good for up to .44 Magnums. With the discount and some points I had on my Cabela's Club card I got out for $3.90. I was pleased. Cost me a good bit more for the other supplies, though. But now we won't starve around here if we get snowed in sudden-like.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On the Wing

Saw this vee of geese yesterday. It's the first large group I have seen this season. They were on their way south, of course, and looked to be heading a little west of south toward a lake in a national wilderness area over there a couple of miles. They were flying quietly, as I could hear no calling at all. The sounds of the vocal flight of geese in the cool air of fall is one of the great thrilling sounds of the world. That and the whistling of elk.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Empty Places

On the way over to yesterday's sale, on the antelope trail that masquerades as a county road in that direction, I passed by a ranch, another one, where a family no longer lives. Some of these old places are now lived in by the hired men of the big ranchers that buy them up. That'll be the fate of my friend's place. Some of them are just left to rot away. This is one of the latter. Nobody lives there any more to watch the ruddy dawn come up over the hills to the east.

Sale Day

Yesterday was the sale over at my friend's ranch. There was a pretty good turn-out but maybe not as many as he had hoped. One fellow flew in for it and landed in the pasture. They sold three tractors, a truck, many implements, saddles, household effects, some antiques, lots of tools, and of course a world-class collection of nuts, bolts, nails, screws, and miscellaneous stuph. It took three big flatbeds to hold all the small items.

Despite being his decision, it was a sad day for all. It took six hours to sell the accumulation of four generations of a ranch family's life. How could that not be wrenching? At least they are going to a comfortable retirement life not too far away.

I can't help but feel we have our priorities screwed up in this country. It's hard for farm and ranch people to make it at the best of times. Right now the wealthy and the wannabes -- often the same folks -- are buying up land at two to three times the going rate. Much more if it being sold for hunting. Of course, that immediately becomes the new 'going rate' and the real ranchers, the old timers, are squeezed. The new land values drive up the tax rates which are already high, especially in the light of the relative paucity of services actually received by the taxpayer. We just don't treat our primary ag folks very well.

We'll ship cattle in a week or so, and that will be it. That will be another tough couple of days. Most ranchers, like dairymen, really like their critters. This fellow has always treated his cattle very well, as he has a deep streak of kindness for them. Anyone that shows up to help move them and likes to whoop and holler and poke 'em with prods is asked to desist. He won't put up with that sort of behavior around his stock.

The world is always changing. Sometimes it's hard to see that the change is for the good. And sometimes it's easy to see that it isn't.