Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Go see!"

I'm trying to teach Emma to be a "responsive" watch-dog. It's not going very well.

But fortunately it's mostly just a game, and not of any real significance since she's already an excellent, alert watch-dog that lets almost nothing get by her here on the place.

But even though she's a good warner, she hasn't the instinct for the whole job that my Rotties did. Murphy, my last one, is a good example. Wherever I happened to be in the house, if I told Murph to "Go see!" he would go briskly to the front door, or the front window if the door was closed. If all was well and nothing in sight he would come back and let me know.

"Who is it?" was also a phrase that jolted him into action, inspiring a similar response wherever we were. If we were outside, it got a slow and careful 360° scan before he would stand down. I never taught any of the Rotties these phrases. They just seemed to know what was expected, especially Murphy who was the smartest critter I have ever known.

None of my Rottweilers (I've owned three males) were really what would be termed aggressive, but they all took the profession seriously. Their profession, as they saw it, was to oversee and protect their domain and, more specifically, me. They were good at their work, too. Yes, yes, I know all the media baloney about these vicious, ravening beasts. And baloney it is. None of the three ever bit anybody or ate any children, but all three were into their "work" 24/7. I may tell stories about that at some later point.

Emma, on the other hand is more of a generalist when it comes to being security director. Her drives and her specific intelligence just don't go in that direction. I'm not complaining. If we're afield and I say "Where's the bird?" she's off in search and there's no mistaking what she's after. When she looks at me at fifty yards, as if awaiting instructions, all I have to do is point at where she should go and she is there and working almost instantly. Despite the "Go see!" game, I am more than happy with that.

Like people, dogs have their mind-sets and their foibles. Mags, for instance, believes that security is somebody else's job. If Emma barks she will jump up on the couch and look out the front window, but she herself never barks. Unless Emma steps on her or otherwise transgresses.

I guess these differences are part of why I find dogs so satisfyingly interesting. And why I don't really care if Emma never gets "Go see!"

Saturday, January 30, 2010

End of January

We have snow here only on the north side of hills and in shady spots. Strange to be so "winter-free" at this time of year. But I say that as I knock on wood. It's always good and sensible to be suspicious of Ol' Man Winter's intentions, which are seldom benevolent out here. Our false spring appears to be over, however, as the cold weather has returned. But today is lovely: sun, mid-30s, and very little wind.

We have had three "killer storms" so far this winter. Two of them went to the north, and one to south. We've had snow, and blizzard conditions, but nothing like the folks north and south of me. Still plenty of time, though, and I'm reluctant to tempt fate.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Year-old post

This is a post from a year ago, inauguration day.

There are some truths, in politics as well as the world at large, that never change

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I worry about our susceptibility to enthusiasms in our country. Particularly political ones. Scott Brown is all the rage now, and I saw where he was asked about his "presidential ambitions" immediately after he won the senate election in MA. I was gratified that he all but called it a silly question.

Remember Palin? I mean in 2008. The enthusiasm for her was like a prairie fire. Plenty of folks still like her, of course. Heck, I like her, too, but I don't think she belongs in the White House.

Lots of people outright worshipped John Edwards and look at what a sorry spectacle he has become.

There are just too many examples of this tendency to embrace a quickly rising star with too little reason. Sadly, our own president is a case in point. There's no denying that he was an "enthusiasm." He still is for many, but I think the bloom is off the rose now and the inevitable fate of such rabid, quickly-formed enthusiasms has set in. How low he will ultimately fall remains to be seen, but at this point it doesn't look good for him.

If I had my druthers I'd rather that we all became grumpy old skeptics where our politics are concerned. Put aside the desire for a savior or a quick-fix and really look these people over. Get behind the smiles and the rhetoric. Apparently to do that well we need to fire the so-called mainstream media, as they are very poor at this job. They'd be a lot better, maybe, if they just disliked them all and went from there.

But it's funny when you think about it: In 2012 Scott Brown will have had more experience than Obama did when he ran. It's a funny business this American politics. And not always funny-ha-ha.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A trip to town

Needed a haircut and had some business at the courthouse so I drove into town this morning. The best part about going to town is that I get to see a lot of my "neighbors" on the way in and on the way back.

These two gents were the first sighting, just a bit off my place. They crossed the road ahead of me and then just kind of moseyed away as if they knew damn well that hunting season was over.

Next was a group of a dozen or so mulies clustered about a hundred yards off the road, some standing and some lying down. Then a huge golden eagle sitting on a fence post and gliding off when the truck got too close. Finally, a big pod of antelope, maybe twenty.

On the way home I saw lots of antelope, some close to the road and some quite a ways off. Maybe fifty or sixty in about three groups. Then, quite close to the road, I saw a gaggle of seven young bucks, all with small antler sets— spikes, two-by-twos, and a couple of small 3x3s. As I drove by them I saw that there was another group, maybe fifty yards further out, but I couldn't see whether they were does or more young bucks.

So I now have newly lowered ears, fresh paperwork from the CH, and some nice sightings going and coming. Plus a store-boughten lunch. Can't forget that. All in all, not a bad day.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Enjoying our false spring

The dogs and I are enjoying a very pleasant "false spring" here on the High Plains. We were supposed to get 50°+ today, and since it's already 55° just before noon I think we will break 60 easily.

The dogs go out and just stand in the sun, like little zombies, with pleasure radiating from their faces. They make no effort to do anything but soak it in. Just a few days ago we had -22° and winds so fierce that you could feel the frostbite setting in within a minute or so of exposure. I would let them out to tend to their bizness but wouldn't let them stay out more than a few minutes. No problem with the Boston: for her it was out and back in in record time. The Shorthair wanted to explore but wasn't really all that disappointed when I made her come back in.

This weather is supposed to hang on for about a week more. No complaints from us, that's for sure.

I note that with the worldwide severe winter the AGW people are starting to revise their vocabulary. "Climate change" seems to be replacing "global warming." Some of them are even saying that there is a recess in the GW process and we may have "global cooling" for a while. I never could understand why highly educated scientists seemed uncomfortable with the concept that the earth's climate is always changing and has always been that way. Seems like a no-brainer to me, but what do I know?

What I do know, however, is that it is a very fine day out there and I am going out to my shooting bench and work up some loads for a couple of muzzleloading rifles. So there.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A minor discovery

Yesterday I made a tray of oven-barbecued chicken. I put a whole "family pack" of skinless, boneless chicken breasts in a large Corningware oven tray, covered them with my home-made BBQ sauce, and cooked them in the oven at about 250° for three hours. This is a regular for me.

As I removed and drained them, I had an idea. I was on the tail-end of a nice top round roast, so I cut the remainder of the roast into strips about 1/3" thick and immersed them in the left-over sauce. They went in the oven for about two hours, maybe a little less, at the same temp.

My goodness, but they were good. The chicken, too— but that is old hat around here.

I make my sauce in a blender, starting with a good quality bottled store-bought and then adding whatever is handy. Never any recipe! Yesterday I added ground chipotle pepper, lots of ground ancho pepper, Penzey's granulated garlic, and some apple cider vinegar. The chicken breast were well covered by about two cups of this mixture. Same for the beef strips in the left-over sauce.

That's the first time I've "duplexed" an oven BBQ, but I'll be doing it again.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

More rime ice

Many of my mornings in this Al Gore Winter have been characterized by heavy accumulations of rime-ice (hoar frost). It covers the cedars, the cottonwoods, fences, sunflower skeletons— everything. Some of the "spikes" these mornings are almost an inch long. I can't remember so much rime-ice before this winter.

No juice

Yesterday we had a power failure. I was working on the computer and the desk light went off. The indicator light on the UPS was red instead of green, indicating that the computer was now operating on battery alone. I finished what I was doing and shut the computer down.

It was a cold morning. Just a few degrees above zero, with about a five knot wind out of the north east. There was hoar-frost on the trees and on the prairie grass but I doubted that ice and wind had shut me down. It was too relatively calm out there.

I keep an old fashioned, line-powered phone handy for occasions like this. But when I reached the emergency number for my REA power company I got the "heavy call volume" recording instead of the friendly voice that is the norm. Figuring the outage was wide-spread and well-known I gave up on that and turned to more immediate matters.

My house is very well insulated and even at zero holds its heat very well. A friend has joked that you could heat my place with a candle but that overstates the case by a good deal. I can, however, heat it with the fireplace. There was a fire ready to go and awaiting nought but a match, but I decided to wait a while before lighting it.

The generator is always ready in the shop building behind the house. The drill is… throw the main breaker in the house; throw the cut-off switch at the pole isolating my circuits from the line; start the generator and let it warm up; plug the genny into the main box in the shop and throw the genny breaker. Let there be light! And heat. And a whole bunch of other things.

It's usually quite a while before I go through the generator ritual. Most power failures here are quickly corrected and I never take those great line crews with their big four-wheel-drive repair trucks for granted. If it's been off for three or four hours I may fire up the genny and get a big dollop of heat into the house, do what I need to do with power to the house or shop, and then shut it down for a while. My generator burns about a gallon per hour, so I don't run it non-stop when there is a long outage. It can also be powered by propane but I haven't been sufficiently inspired to make the connection yet.

Sure enough, the power bounced back on after less than three hours. Despite the cold outside the house temp had only fallen to 66°.

But so ingrained is our reliance on The Mighty Spark that while it was off I found myself automatically reaching for the light switch in the pantry and being momentarily surprised when the light in the refrigerator didn't come on when I opened the door.

But then it did come on. And the light switches worked. And the furnace hummed back to life. And all was right with the world once more.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Mail and the hunting instinct

Mail has always been a Big Thing on the Plains. We can be as independent as all get-out and we still love to get mail from the outside world. I get mail delivered right to the place three days a week, although that can be considerably reduced in the winter. So far I think the longest I have gone without mail is almost two weeks.

Where I live the folks used to have to go to the little settlement about five miles south of here and pick it up at the post office there. Some of the old folks tell about the "trip to town"— although it was never much a town at all: a little store with the tiny post office cubicle in the back was all there was. Well, that and quite a few trees. Usually they'd go on horseback, or send one of the kids on Old Joe along with a nickel for a bottle of soda. That place became a ghost-town fifty years ago, but a few of the buildings still stand. I pass it on the "new road" every time I go out for supplies.

An outing, that trip to the post office. And of course the anticipation that there might be something really good in the mail. I think it's that anticipation that makes going to the mail box and hunting distant cousins.

We call it "hunting" instead of "finding" because one is not always successful— if you define success in hunting as bringing home something for the larder. But the anticipation is a big part of the allure. The suspense of it. The patience it requires. And the dedication if the weather isn't cooperating. Anyone who has sat on a deer stand on a frosty 10° morning knows what I mean.

There's always that sense of "just around the corner"— or over the next rise, across the next piece of woods, in the next ravine, or… whatever and wherever you happen to be hunting. That anticipatory thrill seems built into the human species, intertwined with our genes in some complex and indivisible way. And I guess since we are descended from hunter-gatherers it would also apply to finding a truffle under that next big oak root.

I always get a pretty big bundle of mail. (I save the rubber bands and send them back to the post office when they get to be too much for the possibles drawer in the kitchen.) A lot of what I get is the usual dreck from the Lords of Commerce reaching out to me to seduce me into sending them money for something I don't need. O, the trees!

But usually, in every packet I retrieve from my mailbox (an old nail keg with a home-crafted lid) there will be something worth walking out there to get. It might be a catalog I was vaguely hoping for, a magazine I enjoy and look forward to, a package maybe, or sometimes a note or card from a friend. Email hasn't replaced all forms of communication! Not yet at least.

It's Saturday. Yesterday was a holiday, so I will get my mail today. Maybe. Maybe not. We've had some more snow. He should make it. But there's a long way on poor roads between me and the post office. Will he, or won't he?


Friday, January 1, 2010

Greeting the New Year

I can think of no better New Year's wish than that 2010 bring us all the sweet renewal of a mountain stream, in all its freshness, with the cleansing balm of sweet, swift-moving water.

2009 has been a hard year. We've had a whole panoply of financial and spiritual reversals, and have had to confront some hard truths about the future of our country and the dangers it faces on so many fronts.

I hope that the New Year gives us all the strengthened resolve we need to celebrate what is right and fix what is wrong. And maybe a big dollop of wisdom to tell the difference.

Happy New Year, friends.