Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Back from hunting

Emma casting; Jack checking the birds; Jack steals a wing

We're back on the ranch after our annual Thanksgiving hunting expedition. All went well. The dogs had a great time, but, like me, were glad to get back home. Like humans they are creatures of comfort and habit and like the old, familiar places best of all.

I was pleased with Jack. He worked well with the other dogs, watching them and following along as if he were trying to learn. He needs discipline, of course, but he just turned six months so that's to be expected. He had a tendency to run ahead too much and several times bounced birds when they were too far out. For a while I kept him on a lead and just let him watch. Surprisingly, he was very mannerly on the lead. Birds in the air got his undivided attention and volleys of 12-gauges didn't phase him. Once I worked him alone in a little triangle of field and he cast well and stayed close. No birds there, but gratifying nevertheless that he seemed to "fake it" so well.

Em was her usual, business-like self: focused, busy, organized. When she's hunting she does not like to fraternize with other hunters or other dogs. She has work to do and she does it. You can also see the joy she takes in her chosen profession. Her age is starting to show. Some mornings she was creaky and slow for a while. But she was always eager and ready. One afternoon we drove into town to get some stuff and I left her in our camp trailer. She thought we were going without her and I could hear her howling inconsolably as we pulled out.

I can do a day or two of unrestricted walking and then the hip starts to hurt. So I did a bit of blocking and some delivery/pick-up of my hunt mates. Emma will go with another hunter if I tell her to and she will work with them just like she does with me. But Jack wouldn't go with anyone but me, and once refused to leave the truck with them when I had been dropped as a blocker. They had to leave him.

Mags of course stayed at the ranch house, up on the couch, watching television. She always gets spoiled there as the wife really likes her. Mags would go along for morning chores and then happily return for some couch-time.

A good trip, but glad to be home with no place to go for quite a while, save for routine errands and the like.

Home is good.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Róisín & Emma (at 9-months); Róisín Dubh

Despite the bitter cold and the heavy overcast, the bird-dogs and I took a nice, long walk this afternoon. (Mags wanted no part of it.)

As I walked behind Emma and Jack I had a flashback to similar outings with Emma and her mentor, Róisín (roe-SHEEN). Róisín was that dog you hope will come along at least once in your life-time. I think she taught me much more than I taught her. She was a natural hunter, endowed with tremendous stamina, matchless drive, and a will to do the thing she was meant to do like I have never experienced in any other living critter.

When Emma came along she recognized Róisín as "the boss" from the get-go. And as Emma learned the ropes they made a formidable pair. There was no need to take a gun along on an outing with those two: just being with them afield was reward enough. However, in season they wouldn't have it any other way. They lived for the "rush of the flush and the sound of the guns" and if nothing was rising in our sectors they would go to where the shooting was if I didn't keep an eye on them. Just the sight of a shotgun coming out of its case made Róisín's eyes flash and her flanks quiver with anticipation.

Today as I watched Jack following along behind Emma, eyeing up her every move, I thought about the passion and drive that Róisín Dubh brought to her days afield, and that Emma has emulated, and found myself wishing the same for Jack. So far, at just shy of six months, I think he shows great promise and I see no signs that he won't come close to that mark. The mark that no dog, ever, will really touch and certainly never exceed. Or maybe my memories of the great Dark Rosaleen have prejudiced me forever.

"I'm gonna tell!"

Jack is a very active lad. That's the polite way to say that he is into, well, everything. He plays very well with stuff from the dog's toy box, but he also cannot resist stuff that he's not supposed to mess with. Like dish towels, paper napkins, my socks, a cap, newspapers, clothespins.

Mags has taken on the task of monitoring her little brother. When she comes into the office, sits down, and stares at me, I know that all is not well in one of the other rooms. Sure enough I'll check it out to find Jack enjoying something that is supposed to be off limits. Mags is infallible. Never misses, and no false alarms either.

I've never known a dog to do that. It may be a facet of her own reliability. It's absolutely unthinkable that Mags would take liberties with something of mine. Or raid a trash can. Or do anything annoying like that. I'm sure she is very unusual in that regard. And she also gives me a good laugh when she does it. Lately I've been getting four or five good laughs a day. At least.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Emma and the woodpile

A neighbor just brought me two big pick-up loads of firewood, which we stacked neatly close to the porch for my convenience. Emma now has it in her head that "something" is living in the woodpile and she aims to have it. She is steadily "de-constructing" the nice job of stacking we did and she is having so much fun that I haven't the heart to stop her. I am, however, hoping the visitor is not a skunk. I doubt it. It's most likely mice, with which she maintains a mafia-style vendetta of great intensity.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More proof...

...that we do have trees. A couple anyway.

There are actually small pockets of trees scattered around. I believe I posted about one of these a year or so ago. The Indians valued these little oases for the shelter they provided, and I have no doubt they also had spiritual significance. Many of them have "council" in their names. Later, settlers planted trees on their homesteads. In many places nowadays the trees remain but there isn't the slightest trace of any of the homestead buildings.

The Indians used to say "Only earth and sky last forever." Let us hope.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Emma & Jack

Emma and Jack this morning in the back pen. I need to make some pictures that better show the great difference in their heads. Emma has the "gaze-hound" head and Jack is just plain hound-dog. He is, in fact, the houndiest Shorthair I have ever owned— in temperament and comportment as well as looks. Voice, too. He's a very vocal lad.

(I might have gotten a better shot if I hadn't had to take it though a window.)

GHO— and not a Buick!

This fellow [Bubo virginianus] has been hanging around the place for several weeks now. I see him (actually I think it's probably a her) in the trees, on the old barn roof, and occasionally on the ground.

They are remarkable critters. I might feel a lot different about them if I had wee-tiny dogs. Even so, I keep a close eye on Miss Mags, who at 18 pounds is safe from a carry-off, but who knows what a hungry predator might do? People who claim to know infallibly what wild critters will do are simply wrong-headed.

They're welcome here, within limits, and as long as they behave themselves. They always look so magisterial, so serious and imperial. It's hard to imagine Rodney Dangerfield or Jerry Lewis coming back as a Great Horned Owl. Boswell's Dr. Johnson perhaps.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A long-term dream

I've spent a goodly chunk of my life in Ireland, either enjoying myself privately or leading small-group cultural experiences in the Gaeltachts (Irish-speaking areas).

But one thing I have not done, yet, but always wanted to was spend some time on a narrowboat. Ireland has many canals, and the entire Shannon waterway is riddled with them. You could spend months put-putting over the whole country, stopping at little villages, visiting pubs and doing some shopping and all the while soaking in the country in a manner available no other way. Some people even live on these things full-time.

In a way I have been doing my apprenticeship with my little fiberglass travel trailer that is, in fact, built more like a boat than a traditional trailer.

But the urge is getting stronger. I suspect it may not be denied much longer.

[The picture is not mine. It is from a boat rental site.]

More prickly things

Sandburrs. I really hate these things. They get in the dogs' feet and I don't like that. When Em is out on the prairie and gets one she will just stand, raise her foot, and look around for me to come to the rescue. I always carry the proper tools (Kelly forceps are good) in the Rhino so I can perform the operation when called for.

Yesterday in the back pen attached to the shop building, Jack limped over to me and raised his left front paw. At first I couldn't find anything, but then found a burr deep down in his pad. It was "old and tired" and easy to remove and Jack was off again on his endless search for adventure. Didn't even say thanks.

Those little green "starbursts" get hard as they age and the spikes are amazingly sharp. Barbed, too, so they stick to whatever picks them up. They also seem to have something on them that causes the stuck place to sting and burn for a long time after they are extracted.

I've just about eradicated these things inside the compound. Shortly after being spotted this one, growing up through the auto-gate, got a nice dose of Round-Up.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Windpump at dusk

I've photographed this old windpump so often, under so many different conditions, that I feel it's almost a member of the family. It's a natural subject since it sits right out in front of the house.

I love these old Aermotors and I hate to see the new trend of replacing them with solar-powered pumps. Progress, I guess. That's what they call it anyway.

This was taken just before our present snowfall, right as dusk was lengthening the shadows and giving that last burst of pure, concentrated light.

The silent promise

The snow is still with us.

As Ol' Man Winter slowly tightens his grip on the High Plains it's reassuring to reflect that there will always be spring on the agenda. The prairie may brown-down and even look dead and desolate, but there is abundant life here just waiting to be awakened. I guess you could call it the infinite promise of the seasons.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

First snow

We're getting our first "real" snow of the season today. Woke up with snow on the ground the last couple of mornings but it was gone in a few hours. It's been falling most of the day, sometimes right briskly. This one will stick, at least for tonight, as the temp is now 33° and falling quickly.

This might mark the end of our unseasonably mild late autumn.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Some piece of mind

I have to thank Carol for reminding me that not every dog owner knows about the comparatively new rattlesnake vaccine for dogs I mentioned earlier. I thought it might be useful to say something about it for those who might be interested.

An outfit called Red Rock Biologics has developed a snakebite protection inoculation for our four-legged friends. You need two shots, a month apart, to get the dog started. My vet charges $25 for each shot. After that you need to get them a booster every year, also $25. I call that cheap piece-of-mind if you live in snake country. Mags and Emma have had their two shots and Jack will get his second in about three weeks. That's $150 to get my dogs onto the program and then $75 a year thereafter. My dogs are worth a lot more than that to me.

My vet wanted me to stay fairly close for a couple of hours after the first shots, in case the dog developed an allergic reaction to the shot. None of my three showed any signs of a reaction of any kind. Something else to keep in mind: If your dog is ever bitten by a snake, you should get him to a vet as soon as possible, vaccine or no vaccine. Dogs that are inoculated are unlikely to suffer the horrible and painful swelling that results from a bite, nor the fatal consequences so often suffered by unprotected dogs.

The fact that my dogs are "protected" will not make me careless about where we go or what I let them do, but I feel I have provided them with an edge and that makes me feel good. We're lucky in that we have no rattlers in our immediate area. This is because the prairie dog has been been pretty much extirpated from right around here, plus we have no rocks for dens and hiding places. (We are nothing but sand and you couldn't find so much as a pebble if your life depended on it.)

Though the vaccine is advertised as for rattlesnakes, Red Rock says it also protects against copperheads.

[The photograph was made on a friend's ranch about 100 miles south of me. I hope to never be able to make such a picture close by!]

Gettin' careless

This poor excuse for a photograph is the result of not checking the camera settings. Sloppy! I had been doing some copy work and plumb forgot I had the aperture set pretty high. The camera sought the shutter it needed and the result was the dread camera shake. A tyro mistake if ever there was one. I have to keep reminding to look at the SCREEN and not rely on a quick glance down at the dials, like in the Old Days.

Poor picture but a nice buck.

This fellow was with a bunch of smaller bucks. The rut hasn't started yet and the bucks are still banded up from summer. They'll split off pretty soon to go their separate ways except for the really young ones who might stay together most of the winter.

Just been lazy

Hard to believe I haven't done any posting here for as long as it's been. No real reason for it, just been involved in other stuff. Nice though to get a jog from someone saying that I've been missed. Real nice.

We're having a strange fall. The days are warm and sunny (85° two days ago) and the nights are cool but not real cool. I think 27° is the lowest so far. This morning we had snow on the ground, our first of the season. Just enough to cover the ground and since it was 31° at 6AM it's not going to last.

I took Jack to the vet last week for his first rattlesnake shot and he weighed 44 pounds. He's getting to be quite a lunk.

I'll have to post a few pics here and try to keep up a little better. No promises, though. They just get in the way of otherwise good intentions.