Sunday, December 11, 2011

When the cord snaps

Last night I was once again impressed with how easily the thin cord of civilization can be severed. So much depends on those wispy little power lines snaking in from the outside world. Last night, about 1800, they failed.

This is not an unusual thing out here, but I have gotten in the habit of calling it in immediately, since the phone company's line batteries tend to go out very quickly. I keep a little old-fashioned line-powered 'phone handy for just such occasions, even though I can hardly hear the other party. My power coop is aces, and no matter the problem they hustle to get it solved.

About an hour after the juice stopped flowing I fired up the fireplace, since the temp was dropping rapidly from about 28°. I lit the oil lamps, unplugged computers, the VCR and the TV, and settled into a rocker with the iPad for some reading. This was the first time I had the iPad during a power failure and glad I was to have it. The backlight makes reading a delight— reading with oil lamps is not what it's cracked up to be in books about the Good Old Days— and the 10+ hour battery is a comfort. (If you just listen to music on it it will last a lot longer. Sixteen days by one test.) I read from Richard Harding Davis's war correspondent writings until about midnight when I pulled out the couch-bed in front of the f/p and the dogs and I sacked out.

The power popped back on at 0230 this morning and I restarted the furnace. The temp was 15° outside but the house temp had only dropped to 66°, even though I had let the fire go out after we went to bed, thanks to all that good insulation.

I never started the genny. Didn't see the need.

There's nothing like a power failure to bring home how much we depend on that wired-in juice. Just about everything comes to a screeching halt when it fails, especially if it's after dark. It's probably a Good Thing that it happens from time to time to keep us humble. And to remind us to know where the flashlights are and to keep plenty of lamp oil on hand. We live on a thin crust wherever we happen to be.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Prairie raisins

Lots of these around the place. They are essentially everywhere, in various sizes and consistencies. The dogs are connoisseurs, unfortunately, but they are dogs, after all. Some they just sniff at; others they savor. Sheep leave similar gifts and in Ireland I know them as "Kerry raisins."

The deer are still around.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Boy-dogs and "tools"...

All of my males have been fascinated by tools and their use. Murphy, my Rottie, was the tool-champ. If I (or anyone else) was using a tool of almost any type he would be right there, watching. Sometimes when I finished with the tool he would sneak off with it. He did that with hammers, pliers, crescent wrenches, etc. Once he even tried to make away with a small electric drill. Jack is much the same. NONE of my girl-dogs have had any interest whatsoever in tools or "tool process." I find this very interesting.

I found this surprise on my game cam when I checked it y'day...

Yes, Jack, it's another tool.

My daily chuckle

Not a day goes by that my dogs don't give me a good laugh. Usually it's either Mags or Jack, and sometimes both together. This morning there was a mad chase around the place for a few minutes followed by a tug-of-war after Jack found one of their favorite toys in the grass. This struggle went on for a good five minutes with neither competitor giving an inch. Jack is strong enough that he can lift her off the ground and whirl her around. (She likes that apparently.) He's also strong enough to get it away from her with a couple of vicious, neck-wrenching snaps. But he doesn't. It's surprising how careful he is and how much he veils his strength advantage.

It's great fun to watch them enjoying each other.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Come and gone...

The regular firearm deer season is over now, ending at sundown yesterday, and I didn't "harvest" a deer during it. I had many opportunities, as they were literally all over the place at all hours.

But if I change my mind we have a month-long muzzleloader season for me to remedy my malfeasance.

I think one of the problems is that I still have venison in the freezers from last year and I don't like even the appearance of being greedy or unappreciative. I also hunt very much by the feelings of the moment. Is it "right," or not. And so far it hasn't felt "right."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Been Gone

I've been "off-duty" for a while. Hard to believe it has been that long.

Our little house on the prairie is sailing into the teeth of winter now, which comes on apace. It continues to be a strange fall— one day being a balmy 60° with lovely sun and little wind and the next morning it will be 10° at sun-up. It certainly keeps things interesting.

Jack is back. Same ol' lovable Jack but a sharper dude in the field, and stylish too. He's been used to daily exertion and bugs me no end when he doesn't get his ration of run-and-search. I was a bit concerned about him when I got him home as he was very thin. "Skin and bones" would not have been un-apt. But when I weighed him I found that he had lost just a single pound. I would have sworn at least ten. Everything had been turned to hard muscle and it all showed when he moved.

I'm a firm believer in lean dogs, but he was a bit too lean for my taste so I have been building him up a bit with special fatty beef stews over his kibble and that sort of thing. He's already looking better to my eyes. I never want him to be fat, but I do want him to have a bit of reserve.

The regular firearm deer season here ends tomorrow. I have had at least twenty opportunities to take one and have yet to do so. I'm just not as keen on it as I once was, and I guess I am waiting for a sign that "this is the one"— which hasn't come yet.

I can't believe the holiday season is once more upon us. And soon it will be over and we can say Another one down!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Jack goes back to skool

Yesterday my boy Jack went away for his last semester at Burd Dawg Skool. I'm already missing him, a lot. So is Mags, as they are great buddies and playmates. Jack's constantly happy approach to life, his merry pranks, and his gentle good-heartedness have become an essential part of the household and I'm already thinking about how nice it will be to have him back. But he won't be coming home 'til November and we just have to deal with it.

Real estate transfers

Quite a lot of that going on yesterday, with my county contributing to the land mass of the county northwest of us and the county southeast of us giving us a good bit of their ground in return. Sandstorm of major proportions, with winds in excess on 50MPH. Whole lot of dirt in the air, giving the sky an eerie, almost otherworldly look. A kind of amber haze that seemed like "High Plains smog." Would have been quite a sight from the air if you could have seen anything at all.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Rain, rain, glad to see ya, but...

We wanna come in now!

Our second day of rain, and dreary overcast skies. It was 37° this morning at 630AM and only 39° at noon. The roads to the wee towns south of me will be impassable by now. They become a morass with extended rain, defying even 4WD vehicles and experienced back-country drivers.

The dogs don't even want to stay outside very long. Just to tend to bizness and come right back in for some more couch time. A day of this is OK with Jack; two days become marginal; on the third day he becomes extremely anxious to get outside for some serious exercise. So far he is being very good. And patient. Emma is always good about this sort of thing and Mags, of course, being a little homebody, doesn't much care one or the other.

It's supposed to taper off tonight and give us a drying wind for the next few days. If that happens, then by Sunday or Monday the roads should be navigable once again.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jack and the Gophers

This has been a bad year for the Northern Pocket Gopher (Thomomys talpoides). Perhaps I should rephrase that. It has been a good year for them, and a bad year for me where they are concerned. Last year they pretty much gave us a pass. This year they were everywhere, making their wandering semi-circles of pock-holes all over my front yard, in the garden, everywhere. I've managed to pot a few, from the deck, with a rested scoped rimfire off a bag, but it's inefficient work. They only pop their heads up for a second or two at a time while they are cleaning the loose dirt out of their burrow. And they only do that for a few minutes of the day.

Jack thinks they are fun. He's a digger and loves to throw a spume of sand and dirt behind him. And can he ever dig! It takes him no time at all to dig a tank trap in the yard that I could drop the mower into. I try to discourage that, since he never catches one and also never fills in his holes.

But if he finds a fresh hole he can be shoulder deep in it in about thirty seconds, so I have to watch him pretty carefully. If he ever actually catches one with his excavations I am afraid the fever will be upon him and I can kiss my yard goodbye.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tired of weeding!

If weeds were edible (and I guess some are) there would be no world food problem. I could probably feed all of Bangladesh out of my little garden plot, at least this year I might've as they seemed especially vigorous and fast-growing.

I know there are many schemes to avoid or defeat weeds, but next year I am going to try a containerized garden. I have quite a few of those heavy-duty "lick tubs" that ranchers use to feed specialized nutrients to their cattle. One of my neighbors has a huge stockpile of the really good ones (heavy resin or plastic construction— almost indestructible) and said I could have all I want.

So Jack and I took a ride today. Only about 25 miles round trip, but we ended up with some nice containers for next year, and the promise of more if we want them.

The Little Man

Anyone who has visited this blog more than once or twice knows that dogs are, and have been, a very important part of my life. I have been enormously privileged to have lived with some really fine dogs. By fine I do not breeding, pedigrees, and the like. I mean character, intelligence, and spirit.

In the last couple of decades I have been unusually lucky to know six such very special friends. Casting no aspersions on my present house-mates, the finest of them all was Murphy, who died in 2007, prematurely from a particularly vicious form of cancer.

The other day I was going through some boxes of stuff and found this little portrait I did of him right after he came to live with me in 1999. He's eight or nine weeks here and I believe I can already see the keen intelligence and sensitivity that would characterize his life. He was by far the smartest, most savvy four-legged I have ever known and his instincts, particularly about people, were always spot-on. He also had the most wonderful, complex sense of humor. He very quickly earned the nickname "The Little Man." I used to joke that he was not really a dog, but a pure soul on his journey to his next level. Well, I say I was joking anyway.

It's been four years since he went on ahead, I hope to find a shady spot for us under some trees next to a mountain stream. I miss him terribly.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The gentle rain that falleth

We haven't had any rain for quite a while. But this morning a gentle drizzle began to fall. The birds lined up on all the fences and flapped their wings happily. The dogs, usually not fond of getting their feet wet, went out and played for a while in the cool air. When Emma and Mags came in, Jack wanted to stay on the front deck. He's out there now sniffing the air and enjoying the cool breeze and the moisture in the air after our blistering hot, dry days.

I had a bowl of tomatoes and squash out on the shooting bench, partially under cover, and the rain bedewed it. After a long spell of dry and hot weather, a gentle rain is a blessing to all things.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

It doesn't take much

We humans are pretty jaded critters. It's hard for us to get too excited about "fun activities" unless they are expensive extravaganzas, often involving lots of alcohol and other added "entertainment" magnifiers. Dogs don't have that problem. They still know how to have 110% fun with the simplest things. A 49¢ tennis ball. A bone stuffed with peanut butter. A short walk with the boss. Or a ride in the Rhino on a hot afternoon. All get the smiles, the enthusiasm, the sheer unadulterated happiness of the moment.

The Rhino was in the shop all last week with a fuel feed problem. I brought it home just the other day in the van trailer. When I let the ramp down and the dogs saw it they went ape, as we used to say. Even thought the tailgate was up Jack and Emma were in it before I got it unloaded. They were so happy to see "their" Rhino again. Of course, I didn't have the heart to deny them a quick couple of turns around the pasture, for which I was rewarded by their sheer unfeigned delight.

In the picture above, taken today on our road, Mags is occupying her usual place in the right hand seat. Just couldn't get her in the frame as we were moving (only about 15 MPH) and I was holding the camera out the side. But you can bet she was there and in the moment!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A family group

Bison are for the most part very companionable creatures. They are group-oriented in the extreme. While you will occasionally encounter a solitary old bull, they are the exception rather than the rule.

When bison roamed the American plains the male-female ratio was much closer to 1:1 than it is now in controlled herds. Nowadays the ratio tends to be 15 or 20:1. Even so, there seems to be quite a bit of family cohesion within a herd, and you will see the same cow/bull combination frequently together.

Calves are ear-tagged as they are born and one rancher noted that consecutively numbered ear tags will go through a sorting chute together for years. These are not siblings, just "group buddies."

Training collars

Someone recently wrote me about the collar that appears often on pictures of Jack. I answered then and later thought that I should post that answer here. Here it is...

Thanks. My dogs are happy. A genuinely happy bunch. Jack's tail almost never stops wagging— except when he's after birds or something else he can point.

I'm going to answer your question about collars at some length because I have some very strong opinions about them. I do not "train my dogs with a collar." I use a collar to augment training but it is only a peripheral aid. I estimate that 80% of the people that buy them don't know what they are doing and thus misuse them, even to the extent of abusing the dog. The collar is not punishment; it is a tool to help the dog understand what you want from him. Overuse of collars is common, and dogs can be completely ruined by it. A collar is not a cure-all or a panacea. It's an aid and needs to be used with discretion. Here are some "rules" based on my experience and methods of use.

RULE 1. If you are not willing to try the collar on yourself, at all power levels, you are not entitled to buy or use one. You don't have to use it around your neck. Strap it on your leg and see what it feels like, at ALL levels. Don't use it on the dog until you know what he's going to be experiencing.

RULE 2. The collar should not be activated until the dog has worn it for several hours a day, every day, for at least two weeks. I prefer a month. Make a big deal of putting it on. It's fun! Give him a cookie-biscuit and take him outside and play with him. Don't even bother to turn it on. Strapping a collar on a dog and then immediately "training" him with it is cruel, counterproductive, and, well, stupid. (When Jack sees me pick up the collar he gets excited, comes over to me, sits, and extends his neck so I can put it on. We've dispensed with the cookie long ago. He doesn't need it anymore. He does not see the collar as a threat. I have seen dogs cower and whimper when they see the boss pick up the collar. A sure sign that it's the boss who ought to be wearing it!)

RULE 3. If the collar is to be used to correct objectionable behavior (after the familiarization period) like fence-climbing, digging, or chasing stock, do not let the dog associate the correction with you. Preferably be out of sight when you apply the correction and say nothing to him. He shouldn't even know you are there. YOU didn't do it, the fence (hole, sheep, whatever) did it. If he associates the correction with you, he will behave in your presence and when you go inside he'll go after that ewe with renewed vigor. Also, do not wave the controller around or call attention to it. You don't want him to start associating the controller with the correction he receives.

RULE 4. When you use the collar along with a verbal command or signal be sure the dog knows what he is being corrected for. He should know precisely what you expect of him first and only then can you correct him when he balks at the command. Timing is important. The correction should be brisk and immediate.

RULE 5. Think long and hard before you use the collar more than two or three times in a busy day of working with him. If you feel the need to use it frequently, something is wrong and should be corrected. Again, the collar is not a cure-all.

RULE 6. Never let anyone else use the collar with your dog.

These are some of my thoughts on the use of the training collar. The collar has been an aspect of training six or seven of my dogs. None of them were ever "ruined" or "abused." It's a good tool if used with care, restraint, and knowledge. Otherwise, it's a no-go in my opinion.

I hope these notes have been helpful.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In among 'em

I swore to myself I'd never again stand behind a commercial mo'om pitcher camera. But I am weak, and at the request of the ranch foreman I have been doing some filming of his critters lately. He wanted some footage of moving them between "pastures." The word pasture does not really convey the meaning of what these grazing grounds are. This morning they were moving them out of a rough, canyon-smeared pasture that is five miles long, into one that is about fifteen miles long. Poor folks only have about 90,000 acres so they have to make do.

This was my third session and it was the most up-front-and-personal yet. They had split the herd into two 2,500-head components and today's shoot was the last of these two. That many buffalo, moving at speed, up close, cause an unbelievable amount of dust. I joked that I was going to have to put the camera in the dishwasher tonight. Maybe along with myself.

Monday, August 22, 2011


Today is the 89th anniversary of the death of Michael Collins.

Who knows how the history of Ireland would have been shaped had Collins lived. Would he have been the savior of his country, or would he have slowly morphed into a military dictator? Both, I think, are overstated positions. What cannot be disputed is that he was a principal player in wrenching the initiative from the British and setting Ireland on the road of freedom and independence.

The circumstances of the death of the Big Fella have spawned a publishing industry in Ireland, much as the assassination of JFK did for us here. Did DeValera have him killed? Did a member of his own command murder him? Or, more likely, was his death the result of his own rash act coupled with a lucky shot from a young man who didn't even know who it was that he had killed— or even if he had killed rather than merely wounded him.

We'll never know. Nevertheless, the date of 22 August 1922 will continue to be observed by those who think about such things. And I will fly my tricolor on this date, as always.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Threesome

Pictures of my three all together are few and far between. They're most often tearing around doing their own thing and trying to get them together, quiet, and attentive is almost impossible. But last month, for a split second, it all came together. They were playing together in the cool of dusk, I called them, they looked, *SNAP*. And they immediately went back to their fun.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Los Olmos

That's the tentative name anyway. The new place is quite a bit more "southwesty" than my present digs, even though it's at the same altitude although further south. As I mentioned earlier, the dogs and I spent last weekend on it, getting the feel of it, and with me digging out prickly pear of which there is much. Interestingly, the dogs avoided it very skillfully and I don't think anybody got stuck all weekend.

There's no electricity or water on the site right now and I'll be putting those in in the spring. There is too much land for my own needs, so I'll build on my five acres and lease the rest back to the ranch for grazing. Whether I use it myself or not it's a heckuva nice buffer, not that there's much danger of encroachment.

Note the small prairie dog village to the right of the ranch trail in the picture.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Jack gets porkied

The other evening I noticed Jack out on the lawn nibbling away at a forepaw. I went out to find he had some quills in it, as well as a couple in his nose. I got the pliers and pulled them. He didn't care much for the process at all, but was a very good boy and let me pull 'em. I put the dogs inside, got a rifle, and walked the place looking for the culprit, thinking that from the quill size it must be a young one. Couldn't find it. Finding a porky in tall, fully leafed trees is almost impossible,

The next morning Jack found another quill in that same paw and we did the deed again. He was even less happy about this one as it seemed very sore and tender. But we got it out and he forgives me.

Later in the day I took a walk with the dogs and the 77/22, figuring it was pretty futile but worth a try. Lo and behold there it was high in a cottonwood, clinging to a limb. A big one. Not wanting a porky falling into or on my dogs I took them back to the house and came back to do the sanction. (My "official" porky gun is the fine little CZ 527 in .223. But this time I took the Ruger 77/22— the one I just put a Leupold 4x on.) I wanted a head shot so there wouldn't be any thrashing around and dropping quills. Porkies are easy to kill and with an eye shot this one was dead before hitting the ground.

I hate to kill 'em but it has to be done. The damage they can do to a dog is just too much to put up with. This was a very big female, maybe the biggest I've seen here. 25-30 pounds and fat and healthy with pretty well-worn teeth. I checked around for young ones but couldn't see any— which doesn't mean they weren't there.

Jack is fine. I just hope he learned something.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mea culpa, mea culpa...

I apologize for not paying much attention to this blog of late. I was really touched by the several kind souls that emailed to see if I was still among the living. Kind indeed, and somewhat guilt-inducing (but nothing I can't handle). Thanks, friends.

Truth is I have been pretty busy of late with not much time for anything else. I was in the process of acquiring a piece of an existing ranch in another state. That's done now. Sometime next year, starting in the spring, I will be building on and then moving onto the new location. The dawgz and I spent this last weekend on the place surveying the building site. Jack and Emma were pretty happy to find that there were plenty of pheasant and quail on the place, and Jack was over the moon to discover that there were many little lizards and toads to pursue and harass.

Mags, on the other hand, bored to tears with that kind of childishness, was just pleased to stake out her very own place in the shade.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Come outta there!

Yesterday Emma and Jack found a turtle in the yard. Jack got bored real quick since he couldn't see any sign of feathers. But Emma thought it was very interesting and since it would peek out from time to time she knew somebody was living inside. I was afraid she'd flip it onto its back or start chewing its carapace so I took it away and put it somewhere safe. She forgave me. After a while.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Emma gets bitten

Late in the afternoon yesterday as I was putting equipment back in the shop I noticed a large bull snake lying on the apron in front of one of the overhead doors. I tried to shoo him OUT but of course he decided to go IN. Rather than search for him I decided to leave him for the night and deal with him the next day. Besides, a night in the shop was sure to result in a reduction in the mouse demographic.

I didn't see him again until I was putting the Rhino away tonight, with dogs aboard. The next thing I knew Jack and Emma were deeply interested in something under one of the downspouts. Emma reached in and pulled out the snake. She shook it and tossed it into the grass in front of the shop and they both went for it. It was medium sized, about four feet, and plenty mad.

I was yelling at both dogs and Jack was mostly paying attention. (All that "Get back!" training had an effect.) Not Em of course, who hates snakes above all things. Jack would do a feint and the snake would strike, missing him, but he would jump back and be reluctant to move in again. Smart boy! Emma dived in and got it by the tail and flung it again, but this time when it hit the ground she was in range and it nailed her on the butt. She jumped and moved away and THEN started to listen to my "EMMA, NO!" I managed to get them away from it and inside. There appeared to be some minor laceration back toward the tail but nothing that looked really serious. I'm hoping he wasn't badly injured.

Emma might have learned something. I dunno. The combination of seeing Jack back off and then getting bitten may have given her something to think about. Not that Em thinks too much when she sees snakes.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Celebrating the Fourth

Went down to the country seat yesterday to help out with a community project and stayed for a while to watch the annual parade. The gentleman on the right of the color guard is no spring chicken, but the fellow on the left is 90 years old. He and that Garand he's toting (or one just like it) did some good work on our behalf a long, long time ago.

As good as it gets

About once a month the county runs the "maintainer" back and forth on my little road. For a day or two it looks pretty spiffy. This shot is on the widest section not too long after it ran through. In two days it will be back to buffalo-wallow condition. Between the turn-off into my place and the next autogate (1 mile) towards the two-track there are 12 "lakes" that form when it rains. Don't like the looks of that puddle? No problem. There's plenty of prairie to drive around it, plus a couple of places where you can get over that high bank. Who says we have a problem with infrastructure in this country?

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Great Spirit's light-show

We've been having regular sky shows out here for the past couple of weeks. Thunderstorms move through, sometimes lighting up the late afternoon sky in spectacular fashion, and then pass on. But last night took the cake. The whole sky, across the entire horizon, was ablaze with other-worldly color, and all moving at impressive speed. Photographs (And these are not Photoshopped! Taken a few minutes apart, one to the north and one to the south.) cannot come close to doing justice to the massive expanse and reach of the spectacle. I've never seen anything quite like it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

That turkey hen... still hanging around, after more than a month. I mentioned before that I have seen her with a couple of wee poults, but I haven't seen them in quite awhile and I fear the worst has happened to them as she appears to be alone now.

The other day I cut grass in front of the shop building and the next morning she spent about an hour pecking through it looking for goodies. Later I went out and spread some cracked corn and mixed birdseed for her.

Then, the very next day, I was watching the dogs run around the front area and suddenly became aware that she was perched on a piece of lumber near the target butt, apparently watching the fun. The dogs seemed oblivious of her presence and I suspect that turkeys do not put down much scent or they would have been on to her. I've also noticed that when Jack watched her from inside he doesn't get very excited about her. I suspect she may be too big for him to associate her with "bird." Emma had a similar ho-hum reaction a couple of years ago when we flushed one out of some tall grass near the house.

I don't want her to get too comfortable here, as that could be dangerous for her. But she's welcome to stay as long as she likes.

(You might have to enlarge the photo to see her perched in the right background. Just click on it to do that.)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Prairie weather— and plenty of it

Shortly after my last post I succumbed to some sort of fast-moving virus (I assume) donated to me by a kind soul who chose to come to the branding while ailing. Thus I have been absent for a while...

Lately, we've been getting our share of "prairie weather" and then some. Every day, in late afternoon or early evening the sky darkens, the winds ramp up, and the clouds begin to rush by. Sometimes it sounds like freight trains are running right by us, throttles wide open, wheels flashing sparks in the wild air. It can be very scary, but it is also exhilarating. It's also instructive to be reminded from time to time just exactly how small and insignificant you really are.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Big doins'

I went to a 25-rider round-up and branding today on a friend's ranch. Ever since I busted myself up five or six years ago being foolish, I no longer do any real work at these things— except for pushing the shutter button. Nevertheless, the noise, the dust, the smoke, and the need to be always watching for careering high-strung horses and excited cattle just plain wears me out.

I missed few round-ups while I was in Ireland and now I'm sorta playing catch-up.

But its great fun to meet the neighbors, see some fine horsemanship and roping, and listen to a lot of lies and then all go back to HQ and have a big feed afterwards. Part work, part social.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

New momma

Turkeys come through here all the time, sometimes in flocks of a dozen or more. But for the past couple of weeks there has been a lone hen here that I've seen a couple of times a day. Lately she has gotten more and more skittish and wild and yesterday I discovered why. I saw her in the grass out by the mailbox and this time she was with two wee poults. Two was all I saw, but there could easily have been more. No pix of the babies yet but I'll keep watching for them.

GSP + barbed wire =

At least I suspect it was wire. Em has been very good (or very lucky) about barbed wire in her life and this is the first real gash she's gotten. Fortunately, it doesn't seem to have gotten into ligament or beneath the first couple of layers and is clean wound. Also, doesn't seem to be bothering her at all, even when I cleaned it.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Birthday Boy

Later this week my lad Beau Jack (Jack for short, sometimes "Hey, you!") turns one year old.

It has been an interesting year with him. I was more than a little leery of adding a third dog to the family, but it was time to bring on an apprentice for Emma as she ages and Jack was "available." The winter with a new pup was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. He learned quickly, was housebroken with relative ease, and seemed to genuinely want to please and do the right thing. These are characteristics not always associated with male GSP puppies.

In retrospect I am so glad that I was foolish enough to take the checkbook when I went "just to look" because all-in-all Jack has been a delight. He got along famously with the girls from day one and continues to be a joy-bringer: his tail going a mile a minute most of the day. I don't think he's had a grumpy day since he came to us. He likes other dogs without any need to be either aggressive or submissive. He's a great watchdog, but if I say they're OK he's accepting of a stranger on the place. He's a good traveler and thinks the Rhino and the truck belong to him and that he lets me use them from time to time.

In addition to all this, he is crazy for birds. Any birds! In the front area he will stalk robins, sparrows, whatever, for hours on end— striking the most stately poses and points and thoroughly enjoying himself. I sit on the deck and watch him, relishing the pleasure he takes in everything. This fall should go down a treat for both of us, as well as Em who lives for those cool mornings and the sight and sound of a Browning sliding out of its case.

Happy birthday, Jack. Many, many more to come, bud.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The old craft

Today I spent a part of a beautiful morning out in the shop molding up some bullets and making some ingots from my raw lead stock. A long, long time ago I used to mold all my bullets because it was the only way I could afford to shoot as much as I wanted to. My dad bought me one of the first Ruger Blackhawk .357s and a couple of bullet molds and I was hooked.

Later, when I had a little money I gave up the molding and bought ready-to-load lead bullets from several suppliers, in bulk. In 2008, with the election of our current anti-gun president, and facing a shortage of store-buyable reloading components I decided to re-institute my bullet-making capability. I bought a bunch of molds to go with the ones I already had, a new furnace, all the other gear, and was in business again.

Lead hasn't been a problem. Like many reloaders who come out of a relatively poor childhood I am an addicted brass and lead scrounger. I never weighed it, but even before I stared molding again I probably had almost a thousand pounds of lead in the shop and keep getting more all the time. The primer shortage may have finally broken, but I already had a good supply on hand.

It's nice to be back in the molding game. I have molds for all my principal firearms and feel downright self-sufficient.

[The bullets in the photograph are .452/255s and .357/158s. They were all thrown from Lee aluminum molds, something I would have sniffed at in the old days. But they do an excellent job and I am now an enthusiastic fan of them.]

The acid test

Dogs like to chase deer. The deer run; the dog chases. Until I broke her of it my first Shorthair was a passionate deer-chaser.

Today I was molding bullets and casting lead ingots in the shop when I looked up to see three whitetails about 60 yards away giving us the eyeball (see arrows above). Jack gave them eyeball back and when they turned to leave he started to give chase. I gave him a "Jack! No!" and he stopped in his tracks, turned and came back, and just watched them go over the fence and off onto the prairie.

Folks who don't live with hunting dogs might not realize what a Big Deal that was for me. (And him, too!) He is not quite a year old, all-boy, all-hunter. I chalk it up in the major accomplishment column for him to be so responsive under these circumstances.

In case anybody has so far missed the point— I really like this dog.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A well-spent first of June

Livestock auctions, especially the long-standing ones, are good places to get the feel of a place, or a region in my case since the nearest one is about 70 miles from me. But I went over today for their fiftieth anniversary and recognition day. They've been in business a long time and made many friends over those years.

Lots of old timers, lots of big hats, big belt buckles, fancy boots, well-worn jeans, and good old-time manners. No eye contact without a nod, a smile, a wave, a howdy— and eye contact was sought not avoided. None of this furtive turning away real-quick-like when somebody looks at you, as is the urban standard. I guess that's a picky, little thing. But not for me.

A good place to "see who lives here." And to see a little bit of what they're like. I feel the results were well worth the trip.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The race is on!

Our plentiful spring moisture has brought with it an explosion of weed and grass growth here on the High Plains. Weeds and grasses apparently disagree about the region being "desolate and inhospitable." As a photographer I like weeds— their variety, their colors, their beautiful shapes. As a gardener (even of a very minor sort) I consider them my enemies and spend more time than I would wish assassinating them with every means at my disposal.

But that's just part of the life here. As is the onslaught of the 'hoppers, which haven't yet made their appearance. Something else to look forward to in the struggle to get a few peppers and tomatoes out of the ground.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Immersed in time

One of my greatest pleasures in Ireland, as I have already mentioned here, is to walk into the many ruins of very early monastic settlements. The area is just full of them, some of them reputed to be pre-Patrician. (It is a myth that Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland. There was already a sizable Christian community here when he arrived, around 432AD.)

Most of these sites simply sit isolated in farmers' fields. Left as if the inhabitants had gone off for a visit and never returned. Some are merely scattered stones. Others show the remnants of buildings: primitive churches called oratories, hut sites, and always, always, the graveyards.

Headstones, of course, were not used. But the sites are most usually marked by a collection of white quartz stones. Sometimes, as pictured above, they will be marked by an imposing cross-stone which is most probably adorning the resting place of an important abbot or perhaps the original founder of the site.

Of all the many aspects of these sites, the thing I value most about them is their solitary nature, their aloneness. In all the years I have been visiting them, and adding more to the list of favorites, I have never seen anyone else visit them. Never had to share them. Tourists never come, which is a good thing. They probably wouldn't enjoy them that much. Just a pile of old rocks. And hard to find. That's the best part: they are hard to find. But once found they give back, in special ways.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Renewing an old friendship

For a project I am working on I needed to be able to digitize 20-year-old 4x5 negatives and transparencies made with a view camera. The available gear is catching up to the needs of photo-workers who don't care to sink $50,000 into a drum scanner, and I finally found a flatbed scanner that will give me what I need from my old large-format negatives. It's not the ne plus ultra, but I am sufficiently impressed to be happy to have it in my tool-kit.

The photo above is a much reduced web version of a scan from a 4x5 transparency. The original scan file, of about 8x10" size is over 30Mb. Definitely not for blogs!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dogs that look up

I just recently became aware that there was a controversy (minor to be sure) about whether or not dogs can look up. Silly. Of course they can look up. Who asked that question anyway? Obviously someone who doesn't know beans about dogs.

But there is a kernel of interest in the question. It may have originated in the observation that dogs seldom look up, and some may never do it at all. I have always felt that looking up was a sign of intelligence in a dog. It's also a matter of expectation: A squirrel dog relies on his nose but he also uses his eyes to scan limbs. The picture above is Jack watching some blackbirds fly over him. Murphy, my gone-but-not-forgotten Rottie, used to watch contrails.

Of course, he was the contemplative sort and would have snorted in derision if any of the clueless had asked him "Do you dogs ever look up?"

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Real power!

What's real power? Krugerrands buried under the henhouse? Microsoft stock? A friend in Congress?

Nope. It's wood left over from winter, all cut up and ready for next winter.

Be-withs and Maybe-laters

Jack is a Be-with. If I leave the room he has to get up and come along. If I go to the door to the outside, front or back, he's right there with a "Where we going now?" look on his face. If I go to the truck to get something he wants me to open the door to the doggie section so he can get in. When I'm finished with what I am doing, maybe in only two minutes or less, he is happy to get out and go to our next destination with me.

Maggie, on the other hand, is a Maybe-later. If I leave the room (unless it is approaching eaty-time) she will stay wherever she is, thankyouverymuch. Usually that's on the couch in the front room. If I go to the front door and ask her if she wants to go out I will most often get a "Maybe later" and if I am lucky a yawn will go along with that.

Emma is an opportunistic blend of the two. She has an uncanny sense of when I am going to do "something interesting," like go out for a walk or go to the shop for some more or less mundane project or errand and give her some mouse-hunting time. She picks and chooses, according to her whim and interest of the moment. Coat, hat, gun will always get her immediate and enthusiastic attention, but she will flat refuse to go out if it's raining. Fortunately she has an excellent bladder.

The one thing they are all Be-withs for is the Rhino, our UTV. If it's parked out front and it looks like that's where I'm headed then all three will be standing expectantly at the front door. If I go to the shop without them to fire it up and pull it around front, I will hear the chorus of frantic "Eee-eee-eees!" and see the noses pressed up against the glass of the front storm door or the window over the couch. (I'm a major consumer of Windex.) If I open the door the Be-withs are in it in a half second and there is nothing I can do but take them for a spin, however brief. No Maybe-laters in this crowd!

Monday, May 23, 2011

And the beat goes on...

"Neighbors" out here is a relative term. I have some I consider neighbors that live 60 miles away. We are already pretty darn sparse and in the last six months I have lost three families of them. The most distant one was about 12 miles away, the closest about 4 miles.

That's the theme out here: Folks sell out and leave and the Big Boys keep getting bigger and bigger. The end result though is yet another homestead empty and rotting and no more kids playing in the yard.

The house in the picture above has been vacant a long, long time. No barn? No outbuildings? No. Once a place is abandoned those are bought up and moved. So we have a lot of just plain isolated houses sitting forlornly on the prairie and waiting for... nothing at all. I guess it's called progress.