Friday, December 25, 2009

A Happy Christmas to All

Sorry. I was fresh out of partridge and there isn't a pear tree within miles. I hope you will settle for a grouse in a cedar tree.

Yesterday, about noon I noticed a large flock of sharptails out by the front fence. I counted twenty before I lost count. They seemed to disappear for a while and then I discovered they were having a caucus in the front dog pen and some were even up in the cedar tree right by the front deck. They occasionally drop by for the cedar berries, which they apparently like very much.

I will confess that I was slightly tempted to pot one or two but decided against it. I have plenty of food and there was no need to interfere with their Christmas Eve conclave, as much as I do love a grilled grouse.

Emma could barely conceal her disappointment.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

That'll teach me!

Or at least it should.

Day before y'day I made a pot of most excellent chili. Lots of ancho, chipotle, garlic, Mexican oregano, cilantro and all the other stuff that makes a good chile totally addictive.

Had a couple of meals off it and continued my "aging" ritual of heat, cool, heat, cool cycles. Today I had lunch from it and then put it on in the snow on the front deck.

Had about twenty sharptails in the yard today (pix later maybe) and Emma wanted at 'em but I wouldn't let her. Let her out later and by the time I realized she had been out there a long time I discovered that somehow she had gotten the lid off the pot and eaten my chili! It was pretty spicy, too. About 3/4 gallon.

When it comes to food, Emma has no super-ego. I told her Santa may not come for her but she didn't believe me. Damn dog.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


In a winter storm warning here, waiting for the main front to hit us. Everything was covered with thick rime ice this morning, like the cedar in the picture. It's beautiful, except when it coats the electric lines. That makes me nervous. Ice, then wind, is a prescription for no electricity.

But I prepped yesterday. Checked out the genny, brought in some more wood, made chili. The essentials!

The snow is supposed to start later today and go until Friday afternoon. Looks like a white Christmas for sure. I was supposed to visit friends out of state for the holiday but I will be staying home now. The dogs and I will have a great snowed-in Christmas. They love to unwrap presents, but they are so messy! Just part of the fun.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Gerber Caping Knife

Here's that Gerber Freeman Caper, out of S30V steel. This is a comparatively new stainless that is all the rage these days, as is the Gerber Freeman series.

This knife comes with either stag or cocobolo grip panels and I wanted the cocobolo. It looks almost black in the pic but is actually a very dark brown with high-quality checkering.

The knife has a 2-1/4" blade, .115" thick at the spine, with a generous finger choil and "file-work" top and bottom for a good grip. The file work is also on the top and bottom of the full-tang within the handle area. It's 6-1/2" overall and a hefty-seeming 2.6 ounces. The sheath is better than it looks and weighs almost as much as the knife. I'd rather have had a full pouch, but maybe I'll just have to cobble one together for myself.

The blade is super sharp and a keen, long-lasting edge is supposedly one of the features of S30V steel. We shall see. The knife feels very good in the hand, with good heft and control, and the fine, deep checkering on the very dark cocobolo handle scales plus the file work make for an extremely secure grip. While the knife may look small, it feels very good and capable in the hand.

I like small knives, finding them more useful than the bigger, more dramatic blades. So far it looks like this one may become a regular companion on days afield.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Larking about...

As our Brit friends might say. I was off-ranch today for the first time since my Thanksgiving bird-hunting expedition. This time of year you want to be sure you have a good weather widow for a trip, as you not only want to reach your destination but you want to be able to return. Today was nice: sunny, mild, little wind, and warmer than it has been in a month or more. The down side of "warm" when there is snow and ice on the dirt portions of the road is... mud. And mud I had on the way home, in spades. But all is well and I made record time, leaving at 7AM and getting back by 3PM.

I didn't really need supplies as I'm pretty well stocked. What I was after primarily was picture frames for gift prints. Not a good selection thereof but I managed to fill the gap. While in town I stopped at the local Cabela's and couldn't resist that new Gerber S30V caping knife. A pretty little thing, it followed me home and now I will have to keep it. The S30V steel is getting rave reviews, as is the Gerber caper. I'll be giving it a good try-out.

The main roads were just fine, but getting to them was a minor chore as the "connectors" were icy and in places still snowed over. (The pictures were taken on the way home when there had been substantial melting.)

But what's the fun in larking about if there's no adventure? None, I'd say.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Practical Utility Knives

A couple of recent acquisitions. I'm a sucker for "working knives" and I just came upon a couple of offerings from Cold Steel: the "Roach Belly" and the "Finn Bear." Cold Steel makes good, utilitarian stuff and I thought I'd give them a try. Especially at the price: $10.29 and $10.49 respectively from PoorFish Outdoors (through Amazon and even cheaper direct and if you sign up for their newsletter you get $10 off your next order— if you buy at least $100 worth of their stuff), with $4.89 for shipping. Here's the URL for the Finn Bear which is currently on sale for $9.99…

The blades are stainless (Krupp 4116) and relatively thin (.09") in the old style for outdoorsmen's blades, pre-Marble's. As they come from the factory they are "scary-sharp." I haven't had the need to sharpen them yet, but they look to me like they will be easy to keep well-honed. Not being able to leave well enough alone, I stropped the Finn Bear and, yes, you can shave with the thing!

It was actually the Finn Bear that first caught my eye. I have long looked for a decently priced puuko-style knife. I like the blade shape for a general purpose knife and the (sometimes) triangular handle as well. But I was unwilling to spend over $100 to get one, and didn't care much for the round birch handles on most of them.

The Roach Belly is what might have been called a "scalping knife" in the old days and is a shape much favored by old-time frontiersmen. It also makes a very good kitchen knife, which is not out of character since the old boys did just about everything with their belt knives. Both knives would be excellent for dressing out game of almost all sizes.

The handles on both knives are lightweight and Zytel glass-reinforced. The Finn Bear's is ridged and the Roach Belly is more or less pebble-grained, and both seem to sit well in the hand and provide a good grip. Both knives weigh 2.8 oz which makes them a good choice for long days afield while hunting, and both would do just about anything you called upon them to do. They come with lightweight, plastic-lined nylon sheaths that are ugly but do the job. Not bad for about ten bucks.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A bit nippy out

-20°F this morning. Pretty chilly. neighbor emailed me that it was -25° at his place. We've been in the icebox for a few days now, and it will hang around 'til Friday according to the weather boffins. It's been colder, and this too shall pass.

Emma and Mags went out to do their doggie bizness this morning and didn't much care for the cold. Emma was trying to lift all four feet at the same time and Mags did the fastest pee-piddle in the history of dogdom.

Right at noon I noticed some activity out back and saw a whole mixed flock of pheasants and sharptail grouse milling around out by the shop building. They seemed to be getting along just fine and I confess I had a quick impulse to grab a rifle and pot one for supper. But I changed my mind. It's mighty cold out there and that's enough for them to worry about. When they worked their way around front they got Emma's full attention. She sat on the couch and watched them out of the windows for a long time. Finally they wandered off into the heavy brush to the west. There's a pretty good sun today and if they can find a south-facing spot out of the wind they can warm up some.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My poor abused little dawg!

I did not stage this photograph, nor in any way rearrange anything. I went into the bedroom to get something, saw her, went back and got a camera, and made the snap. She groggily acknowledged my presence and promptly went back to sleep. So…

Emma, the Shorthair, sleeps in a large kennel-crate draped with blankets in the bedroom. She prefers this and has for years. Mags on the other hand sleeps in the bed with me. In the winter she starts out on top of the covers, sometimes covered with a blanket, but usually around 3AM she bops me on the head a couple of times and I lift up the covers to let her in, where she stays 'til morning. On really cold mornings I sometimes let them have the bed again after they go out into the frigid morning air to do their business. As I did this morning.

Well, she's not dumb, that's for sure.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Another encounter...

Picture from the night before...

This afternoon I remembered that— somewhere!— I had a pair of heavy-duty, insulated Carhartt bib overalls in loden green. Wonder of wonders I went right to the box in the shop that held them. I took them inside to warm up and was going to try them on later.

I got busy and forgot all about them. Then, just as dusk was creeping up on us, I remembered them and changed into them. Mmm. Cushy and warm and a great color. I went out in the living room with the intention of walking out on the porch to try 'em in the frigid air.

But before I could open the door I saw some movement out behind my target butts. That whitetail fork-horn was jumping the wire and coming onto the place from the thick brush to the west. I decided to go out and mix it up up a bit. I grabbed the Seneca, put on a camo jacket, cap, and gloves and sallied forth, waiting until he disappeared behind the old shop building a few yards from the porch.

At first I sat at my shooting bench on the porch, but then decided that I would move out into the yard toward the old shop. Just as I eased down the steps I caught a glimpse of movement to my right. It was another deer, a mulie, but I couldn't tell if it were the buck from yesterday or a doe. I froze and it moved across my line of travel and disappeared behind the shop building.

With no deer in sight I moved slowly and quietly across the grass toward the shop building. As I drew near, suddenly, an antlered head appeared around the corner of the building, looking right at me. We were about twenty feet apart and I froze and closed my eyes. After a few seconds I squinted them open and he was still staring straight at me. I hardly breathed. Then he flagged and stiff-legged up the slope toward the old radio tower and the cedars at the top of the property. I was sure he was gone.

But he stopped about forty yards up the slope and began to nibble at some grass. He would eat and then periodically raise his head and scan all around him, with special attention to me. I decided that I was not going to shoot and wanted to leave the scene without spooking him, if possible. The grass was soft under my feet, having been in the sun earlier. But as I lifted my foot slowly and carefully he snapped his head up and looked straight at me. Had he heard me? He couldn't have, and yet he apparently had.

After about a minute he resumed his feeding and I risked another slow side-step. Once again he snapped his head up. This went on for almost thirty minutes as I eased off to the side and toward the house. There was a big double-boled cottonwood almost between us and I knew if I could get completely behind it I would be able to ease off and onto the porch and then into the house. With him snapping his head up every minute or so it took a while but I was finally out of his sight and eased as quickly and quietly as I could back to the house.

This is a young, relatively inexperienced buck or he would have been gone as soon as he poked his spiky head around the shop building and saw that strange tree stump standing there where it hadn't been before. But I was amazed once more by the acuity of a deer's hearing. Sounds that I could not hear myself caused him to snap to attention at a distance of almost fifty yards. Amazing.

I didn't see the mulie again. By then it was almost full dark. There's always tomorrow.

Friday, December 4, 2009

I've been A.W.O.L

I've been AWOL lately and don't even feel particularly guilty about it. Spent a few days on either side of Thanksgiving on a friend's ranch a stateline away. We hunted birds, much to Emma's delight, and some coyotes. We ate, talked, and generally enjoyed the good fellowship that holidays can bring. While Em and I were out with the guys hunting, Mags was warmly ensconced on a comfy couch in the ranch house watching TV.

Once we got home we faced our one-month-long muzzleloader deer season. This has been an unusual deer season for me so far because my heart just doesn't seem to be in it.

At about 4AM yesterday morning I noticed a dark shape out front through the bedroom window and knew it was a deer. From its bulk and the way it moved I knew it was a buck. I got up and in the dark house I went into the living room and got the glasses. Yes a buck. Looked like a whitetail but in the near-darkness I could not be sure. AFter while another shape materialized. It looked like another buck but neither seemed to have much in the way of antlers.

About noon I dressed for the cold (6° at dawn) and went out with the Seneca. (A long-discontinued T/C .45 caplock of surpassing lightness and slenderness. A collector would call it a modern redaction of a "New England deer rifle.") Sure enough, they were apparently bedded in the cedars at the top NW corner of the property. One went out right away as I sneaked around the NE corner of the shop. Four, maybe five, points and a definite whitetail. The other deer, also a buck, with a very small complement of antlers but looking bigger through the body was less skittish and move slowly to the top of the grade, behind some large trees.

I used the trees to shield my movement and sneaked up to the chicken coop where I could use the sloping roof for a rifle rest. As he moved out from behind the tree trunks I put the Seneca’s sights on him. He paused for a long time looking toward me but not seeing me, I think. Easy shot. About forty yards and a good rest and sight picture. But I didn’t take it. It was only the third day in a 31 day season and, once again, I was not anxious to kill anything. It really wasn’t the puny antlers as I am most interested in a “meat deer.” It was as I say— I just didn’t feel like pulling the trigger on him.

Then, about 3PM, I look out the living room window and there is another one. This one is a big-bodied mulie fork-horn. He’s fifteen yards from the porch and instead of grabbing the rifle I opt for a camera and snap his piccie through the stealthily opened front door. He poses for a couple and then pronks off up to the cedars again and I go back inside.

I'll probably take a deer at some point in this season. I'm running a bit low on venison and could certainly use it. (I'm allowed two on my m/l permit.)But as I said before, for whatever the reason I am just not an enthusiastic deer hunter this season.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Buck rubs by the dozen

Just across the dirt road from the porky-chew, there was a grove of second-growth saplings that have sprung up since the place has been uninhabited. It's obviously a favorite hangout for the local antlered set. I counted at least thirty trees they had worked over.

Pesky porkies

Porcupines seem like such innocuous creatures, unless you've had a dog get a face-full of quills or are an orchardman. On my way to my hunting ground today I passed the old abandoned homestead and saw several cottonwoods that had fallen under the porky tooth. These critters will chew anything: trees, porch railings, canoe paddles, automobile tires, aluminum signs. They are amazingly destructive and that's why ranchers shoot every one they see. Too late for this old (and already ailing) cottonwood though.

A great day afield

I spent a good part of today hunting an outparcel of a friend's ranch. It's only 3500 acres, but I always have it to myself and today was no different. The country reminds me a little of parts of west Texas. No deer today, but no matter: I don't measure the success of a day by whether or not I shoot something. I am long, long over that malady. I logged over ten miles exploring and glassing today and there was still ground I wasn't able to cover. The Rhino will go just about anywhere, but there were places today it looked at and said "Maybe later!" Some folks say I have no business hunting this kind of country alone. Is there any other way? (They are kind to leave out the part about "at your age"!)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Early Results

Deer season opened here on Saturday, and these are the results as of Monday. To date there have been five nice bucks taken, and one more pending. These fellows come out every year and camp on my place for a few days, enjoying the solitude and the good hunting. They are fine, hard-working hunters and deserve their results

I haven't hunted yet. Maybe a little tomorrow. Or I might just wait 'til muzzleloader season which runs the whole month of December.

The campers leave tomorrow and once again the Great Quiet & Solitude will descend on the place.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Video experiment

I haven't posted a video here before, but now that I have this nifty little camera that does a pretty fair job of it I thought I would try one just for fun. This is a portion of the road into my place from a few weeks back. In wet or snowy weather I get off the road and use the "alternate route." (In really wet weather the road becomes more like a canal and my truck doesn't float too well. Fortunately we don't get much of that kind of weather.) Just toward the end you can see the place coming up on the right of the frame.

Friday, November 13, 2009

High plains sunrise

I confess that I am a sucker for the light on the plains. And for sunrises and sunsets. It's not hard to understand how the quality of light here has inspired awe and wonder in successive generations of residents. This is the view straight out of my bedroom window and you can probably see right away why I do not draw my curtains when I retire for the night.

Prairie raisins

No, they aren't chocolate covered. The grassy area in front of my house has a goodly crop of these right now. I'm waiting for the market price to go up a bit before starting to sell them on-line. Advance orders will be accepted, however.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A strange incident

Between my house and the shop building stands the base of an old radio aerial. The original had a top mast that was cantilevered and I removed that portion when I built the shop. But I left the base, which is quite solid and anchored in concrete. It's steel, tubular, about seven inches in diameter at the base and tapering to about four inches at the top. It is about 24' high.

Yesterday afternoon as I stood at the kitchen sink I noticed that the top of the mast was gyrating. I'd never seen this before and went out to see what was going on. The top of the mast was moving back and forth in a more or less circular movement that could not be missed.

Wind? That's what I thought, but there was no wind in the space between the house and the shop and the trees were completely still. I went out front and looked at the windmill out in the pasture. Not revolving at all. It was a dead calm.

I shall ponder on this, but right now have no explanation for it.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Baby Girl

In one of those fortuitous internet things I was recently contacted by a friend of many years ago. As we caught up on the passage of years I shared with him one of my dog friends of the past. I thought it might interest some readers here, and I offer it as such...

I've been blessed with two wonderful Shorthairs. The first, Róisín Dubh (dark Rosaleen-- roe-SHEEN doov) was an amazing bird dog. As most Shorthairs, she lived to hunt, and had more heart and drive than any dog I have ever known. She was poetry in motion and could make you cry when she went on a rock-solid point. When we would hunt with friends she would always outhunt their dogs, whatever they were. She never passed up a bird and would often bring me the cripples that other dogs missed. (I always tried to return them to their proper "owners" as I preferred to shoot my own bag.) She died in 2007, but she will live forever in my heart. She was "Baby Girl" until the day she died— blessedly at 13, of a pampered old age.

More speed-goats

Just the other day Emma and I ventured out of our remote fortress in the hills and drove south of the river to hunt some birds. On the way between coverts I spotted this bunch. There were about two-dozen of them and I couldn't get the whole strung-out bunch in one frame. I was a little surprised to see so many of them together in the wheat fields and cultivated flatland of 'civilization,' but they are always a pretty sight. Emma was uninmpressed: "C'mon, they're not birds! Let's go!"

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Nearby buck rub

There have been a number of good-sized bucks on the place in the past few weeks. I've posted about at least one of them. Just the other day I noticed this rub on a little scrub tree that is exactly fifteen paces from my bedroom window. It's fresh, and I suspect it belongs to a smaller buck that I have seen only once. He has a stub of antler on one side and about four points on the other— but both were still in velvet as of a week ago. Definitely a "late bloomer" and maybe a good candidate for removal from the gene pool.

Emma has a puppy

Emma's very solicitious of her "puppy." She likes to take it up on my bed and groom it. Not exactly the image that an out-front hunting dog might like to promote, but why not? I think she would have probably made a good mother.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A pleasant discovery

When the ammo shortage began I decided that it was time to renew my casting capacity. As a kid I had cast almost everything I shot as it was the only way I could afford to shoot as much as I wanted to. But then I got away from it when I could afford to buy ready-cast bullets. With the uncertainty of where the gun issue was going to fall out I thought it would be wise to fit myself out with what I would need to keep my guns usable in the "worst case."

So I bought a bunch of Lee molds to go with what I already had. Also a furnace. I put it away for "the future."

Today I decided it was time to check out the new gear. I was sighting in a little .45 cap-lock in preparation for the muzzleloader season and decided I wanted to use the .45 R.E.A.L ("rifling engraved at loading") Lee mold I had bought for that rifle. I really didn't expect all that much from the Lee aluminum molds, but figured they would be adequate.

Was I ever surprised. The first two bullets (it's a double cavity mold) were perfect and fell out onto the towel with no fuss at all. A fluke no doubt, as I well remember the many casts that had to be made with iron blocks before good bullets would fall out. No, not a fluke. The first dozen bullets were perfect— and when weighed later they varied no more than a grain. (They're 250-grainers.)I cast about fifty and then got curious and decided to try a couple of different Lee molds from my stash.

Same story with the 250-grain .452 Tumble-Lube bullets. All perfect. Then I tried the 180-grain .308 gas check bullets. Same story over again.

Next up was to try out the .45s in the little T/C Seneca New England deer rifle. I had been using T/C's Maxi-balls, which are almost identical to the Lee R.E.A.Ls. The groups tightened up by almost half with the Lee bullets.

To say I am pleased with my afternoon's experiments would be an understatement. Next on my list will be roundball molds for the .45 and the .36 and .50 flintlocks. Maybe a few more for the cartridge handguns "just in case."

It's been a good day.

Later... I chronoed the .45 R.E.A.L bullets out of the 28" Seneca. They gave me 1460 f.p.s. which will account for 1183 f.p.e at the muzzle and about 520 @ 100 yards. That's a completely adequate deer load, coupled with good placement.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

High Plains Craziness!

That's for sure. We're just a day away from the "storm of the decade" and about 90% of that snow is now gone to the aquifer.

One thing I love about this country: If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes 'cuz something else will be right along!

(That's the temp here at 4PM MDT.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Killer Storm

That's what it was elsewhere, but where I am it more or less fizzled out. Most of it veered off north or south. I've got six or so inches on the flat and higher drifts, but nothing at all like some folks got.

It stirred the birds up, though. They were all over the place looking for shelter and food. Even had a crow visit this morning and I almost never see crows here. When I do see them they are off in the distance and never come into the place.

Some folks dislike starlings. I know they are foreign interlopers and all that (the European starling and the English sparrow are the only birds that are not 'protected' by USFW Service regulations), but having once had one as a pet I can't feel much animosity towards them. They are smart, clean, and very good talkers, too. Same for crows. I once helped rehab one with a broken tail and I don't think I could shoot a crow now. Plenty smart critters.

I guess I need to get some seed for the feathered bipeds and get a few feeders up for the winter. At least I don't have any squirrels to steal it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


My cottonwoods are finally giving up their leaves. Not much color to them this year, due I think to that sudden blizzard and cold snap that caught them flat-footed and still fully green. We're supposed to have a cold rain later in the week and that will finish them off I imagine.

Once the trees are bare I know that winter had finally arrived, whatever the calendar may say.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Spam redux

I've written here before about the gourmet restaurant that was serving Spam, of all things, to its up-scale clientele, and apparently getting rave reviews. I swore way back in the poverty days of grad school that I would never put that stuff in my mouth again, but the article piqued my curiosity.

I tried some and found it quite palatable if it were cut thin and grilled crisp. Makes a good substitute for breakfast bacon and can even be used in a pasta carbonara. It also keeps really well in its spiffy little cans and that's a real plus for me considering my lifestyle.

The other day I discovered a further improvement. Before slicing it into thin pieces for the griddle, I stood a "loaf" of it on end and cut it straight down the middle. Then I slice it into individual pieces about 3mm thick. You should get sixteen or seventeen slices out of each half that way. Four of five of these half-size slices are sufficient for a tasty breakfast, shown above with a salsa omelet and some of the last of my peppers.

OK, I guess I broke my oath.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Speak of the devil

Just a few minutes ago I noticed that little buck standing on a knoll overlooking the place, but not coming closer. I went out with a camera to see if he would come in a bit more. As I went through the door onto the porch I saw a 5x5 right next to one of my pistol butts. About 20 yards. When he saw me he went around behind the old barn. I sneaked around the other way and caught him flat footed looking in the wrong direction for me. I coughed and he squared up to give me the evil eye. After a few seconds I moved and he pronked off west to the old thicket there. Meanwhile the little guy had high-tailed it off south.

Sure seems like it's that time of year again.

Twenty minutes later he was back at the target butt, this time with a slightly smaller friend, maybe a 4x4. I'll try to get pics of him when I have some light.

The outcast

This young gentleman was making his careful way across the prairie just in front of my mailbox late yesterday afternoon. I suspect he has already been given the bum's rush by the Big Boys and was doing his best not to run into one of them as he moved into the thick stuff just west of me. He wasn't too concerned about me or the dog. The rut is coming up and he has no doubt been given the official word that he will be an unwelcome presence once that gets under way. I'll probably be seeing more of him as the weeks roll on.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Road hogs

If you calculated the relatively uninhabited land on both sides of the road all the way down to my post office it would amount to more than a million acres. And where do they like to hang out?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

And while I'm on the subject...

Here's my other Ambassador of Progress & Plenty. My mailman, or 'postie' as they would call him in Ireland. I get mail MWF when the weather and road conditions allow. He arrives almost like clockwork and always has a cheerful word and the latest gossip. He's also offered to bring me supplies if I need them. Although appreciated, I haven't taken him up on his offer. Might be better to save that one for a time of genuine need.

Last time we gabbed I twitted him about the condition of his truck, with about an inch thickness of prairie mud from stem to stern due to the snow-melt we had a week or so ago. I said it gave a bad impression of the federal gummint. He replied that considering the state of gummint the cosmetics of his truck was the least of the problem!

I've never asked him the length of his route, but I figure there are about a dozen ranches on it. If he came directly to me and then went directly back to the post office it would be an eighty-mile roundtrip. But he makes a big circle, and I estimate his total mileage at something like 250 per delivery day. I'll have to remember to ask him about that next time we chat.

Believe me, I do not take him for granted.

Civilization's outreach

Civilization's mighty outstretched hand, rolling in over the auto-gate. UPS and FedEx put me, quite literally, in touch with the world. With the internet and a credit card I have the world at my fingers.

Of the two services I much prefer UPS. FedEx often calls from town wanting to know if they can leave a package for me at the barber shop. Wimps. UPS, on the other hand, seldom misses a projected delivery date and then only when the weather or the road conditions don't allow them to make it up here.

I'm lucky to have a good UPS driver who never whines about the trip. But he does know all the ranchers' vehicles and watches for them when he comes through town. Twice I have had him bring me a package to the barber shop while I was there, and once to the café where I sometimes have a store-boughten lunch. Sometimes even on the road he'll flash his lights and we'll both stop and make the transfer. If he doesn't have any other deliveries up my way it saves him about 70 miles. I'm all for that, as I don't want to see any "hardship address" fees appearing on my S&H itemization.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

That cast of light

Yesterday, having seen two of them pretty near the house, I was out on "coyote interdiction patrol" when there was an instance of "that cast of light" that I like so much. It can happen at any time of year: a mostly overcast day gives way to bright, near-dusk sunshine. It's especially dramatic when there is a dark sky in the background, as there frequently is in those circumstances. I can't resist it.

I fear we won't have a colorful fall this year. That early snow and the accompanying low temps caused the leaves, still green for the most part, to wilt. They have now passed into a mostly olive drab phase and that's probably the best we are going to get. Too bad, as I was looking forward to some autumn colors. Maybe next year.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bird corn

I didn't get much out of my corn this year. It came along really slowly and by the time I got back from Ireland it was past its prime.

I noticed that the birds were clinging to the stalks and eating the kernels they could get at, but were not having much luck with it. I stripped the ears off the stalks, shucked them, and fastened the ears along my garden fence. The blackbirds in particular seemed to really like that arrangement.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fall reprieve

And a pretty big one, too. Last week at this time we had a foot of snow on the ground and temps of 10°. Today it was 84° and bright and sunny.

So far a very strange autumn, with most of the leaves still on the trees as well.

This being the high plains, the question of the day is: What will tomorrow bring?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Frosted Prairie

This morning the prairie was arrayed in a coating of rime-ice. Fences, plants, weeds, spider webs— all were coated with a delicate tracery of frosty filigree. It didn't last long, of course, but for a while just after dawn it made the plains a foggy wonderland.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"Skillet Grouse"

I'm really fond of cooking up a nice, plump sharp-tailed grouse. Grouse is a blood red meat of great flavor and surpassing tenderness: a true gourmet treat. The best place to rustle up a brace of them around here is in the federal wilderness area that abuts my place. But since it is a huge area, and no vehicles allowed, there's getting to be too much luck-of-the-draw walking involved.

But I have found a reasonably satisfying counterfeit, which I call "skillet grouse." Here's how you can make it yourself.

Cut one half of a boned, skinless chicken breast into 'medallions' approximately half an inch thick. (I buy my chicken in the large 'economy' trays and then wrap the individual breasts in cling-film and freeze them. Then I simply semi-thaw them, still wrapped, in the microwave for one minute. They are still firm and cut very nicely this way.)

Put the medallions in a bowl and drizzle them with lots of balsamic vinegar. I understand that the really first-rate balsamic can go for $400 an ounce or more. I get along very well with Star brand from WalMart— in the little bulbous bottle. It's cheap and very good. Let them soak in the vinegar for an hour or so. Less will work if you are in a hurry, but more is better.

Heat a cast iron skillet after spraying it lightly with Pam or equivalent, or spreading a thin layer of olive oil. Fork the medallions onto the skillet directly from the vinegar bowl and cook to taste, turning as required.

Serve it up hot! Goes great with a glass of red, too.

This is an easy, quick meal, that is both healthy and mighty tasty. Will it fool a grouse connoisseur? Probably not. But he's not going to leave any of it on his plate either.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rio's Most Excellent Telephone Adventure

Here's a little tale about my latest telephone adventure.

(As background: I'm not too fond of telephones anyway. Idle chitchat on one annoys me. This is probably because I am what is politely referred to as "hearing impaired." So impaired in fact that my state department for such things is now sending me a special telephone system that will enable me to communicate with the rest of the species as if I were fully human myself.)

So— I have a Tracfone instead of a "real cellphone" because I don't have cellphone reception where I live, nor for 30-or-so miles in any direction. Doesn't pay to have a phone that carries a monthly contract under those circumstances so I bought a Tracfone for those times when I travel or even just when I go to town.

I've had several problems with it, such as lately when it "broke into" an Alltel network and they apparently disabled the phone. Half an hour on the phone to Bombay (!) cured that. But lately there was more.

My service for the phone was due to run out on Monday unless I upped the time on it and on Saturday and Sunday we had a storm that more or less snowed me in and made it impossible to get to town. I would not only lose my service but the 700 minutes already on the phone. (Told you I don't use it much.)What to do?

I discovered that I could add minutes on the internet! So I did. But there was a note on the add-minutes page saying that I was now to turn on my phone and leave it on for 24 hours so the time could be added. To be sure I didn't lose my service I emailed the "Support" desk and told of my situation, emphasizing that I didn't have reception at the present time.

Within three or four hours I got a response back.

"Dear Mr. Arriba: Thank you for your interest in Tracfone. We are happy to resolve your problem. Please turn on your cellphone...etc..."

I wrote back and explained that they had evidently missed the part about my having no reception and that I only wanted to be sure that I had my service and my new minutes when I did finally make it to a place that had reception. They sent back a response in a few hours.

"Dear Mr. Arriba: Thank you for your interest in Tracfone. We are happy to resolve your problem. Please turn on your cellphone...etc..."

This time I was a little more direct, questioning why they had a "Customer Support" function if they didn't bother to read their customers' emails. They got right back to me.

"Dear Mr. Arriba: Thank you for your interest in Tracfone. We are happy to resolve your problem. Please turn on your cellphone...etc..."

OK. Gloves off now. I responded with some vigor, including comments about their language skills and how I was very disappointed in the whole line of Tracfone BS. I tactfully avoided commentary about their dubious ancestry, but closed by saying I didn't want anymore pointless chats with brick walls and all I wanted was to have my phone work when I got to town and to have on it all the minutes I had paid for. No response this time. All this was Sunday and yesterday.

This morning I got a phone call. Obviously international and poor connection to boot. Heavy accent. I explained that I was hearing impaired and the nice gentleman would have to speak more distinctly.


He did, however, ask me several times about whether I was able to get reception where I was. I patiently (and politely!) explained to the Nice Man with an Accent that there were indeed places in the world that did not receive the many benefits of cellphone coverage. He changed the subject.

At any rate, he was very apologetic blahblahblah but was unable to tell me why the "customer service reps" were not able to read plain, simple English sentences.

So after some nimble coding by my new friend I supposedly have a fully operative Tracfone with 840 minutes on it just quivering in electronic anticipation of me turning it on in a reception area and jabbering my fool head off.

We'll see.

I love our new international business climate. I love the New Responsiveness of corporations that the New Improved Communication Tools have made possible.

I love the Brave New World!

Thus endeth my saga, thus endeth my tale.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Quick update...

Had 4" more Saturday night and another 4" last night. Pretty well snowed in at this point. Icy rain maybe later this week, so I fired up the genny to check it out. All is well.

There is a calm beauty to being snowed in out here. The world is far, far away. Things become elemental, simple, honest: keep warm, keep fed, keep stuff working. That's pretty much what matters.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Not to be left out...

Tired of her sister's showboating, Mags (A/K/A "Piglet") strikes a pose of her own in an effort to get a little attention for herself. Actually, she couldn't care less about posing and doesn't really like the camera much at all. But she does love to act crazy in fresh snow, running those silly circles that dogs do in fresh powder.

Mags doesn't really care if Emma gets the lion's share of lens-time, as long as the dumb bird-dog acknowledges her as the Boss.

Emma finds a birdie

Ignoring the snow that has fallen onto her back, intrepid bird-dog strikes a flashy point and holds a trophy upland game bird for her dead-eye hunter.

Well, not perzactly. Emma is hot to have me walk along with her on these crisp days, and apparently anxious to show me how much fun it is to go with her. This noble point was devoted to a small bird that had embedded itself into an old stump. She enjoys doing this now, but when the real season starts she will ignore all the little birds and go solely for the "real thing." She's a fun dog and really enjoys her work, even when it's only play.

I can almost hear her say "But don't I look good?" What a ham.

Yes, the end of the peppers

No more peppers this year I reckon. I'm not complaining. I had a good crop, more than I could harvest and use, as the picture above amply shows. And I still have a big bin of them in the pantry that are holding up pretty well. Made an excellent huevos rancheros con biftek jalisco this morning for breakfast with fresh chips of jalopeño and New Mexico chils in the salsa. Pretty passable.

White on green

A bit strange to see the snow on green leaves (that haven't really begun to drop yet), and on grass that still looks fresh and nourishing. This is a portent, I think. We will still have some lovely fall weather, even warm and balmy days. But we have been warned.

More of the white stuff

After the skimpy snow-fall we had just the other day it wasn't much of a surprise to wake up to about seven inches on the ground this morning. The temp was 15° and has been holding under freezing all day, so it may stay around for a bit. Down by the river they got 12" or more.

One nice side-effect of the snow is that the reflection of the sun fills the house with light, and that is very pleasant.

All indications are that we are in for a real winter this year.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A poor picture, but...

...he sure is a nice, big boy. Saw him at about 500 yards yesterday, just east of the house on my way out. Didn't have a long lens so had to enlarge a little chunk of a file to even get this much detail. I suspect he was coming out of the federal wilderness area just to the south of my place. He looks to be in very good shape, all set for the rut.

First of the season

Yesterday it was in the 60s but this morning I woke up to snow. It came down pretty hard throughout the morning but never amounted to anything on the ground as it stayed in the high 30s and low 40s all day. But we have forecasts for more of the stuff for the next few days and temps reaching toward 10°. Looks like it's getting to be time to break out all those winter-time inside projects.