Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Too much drive or too little sense?

Heidi and me in the Pease River bottom in 1992. She's wearing her "It's Hell Being a Bird Dog" expression while I pull off her boots after a morning hunt. Some years, the river bottom is a carpet of sand burs. (Photo by Brad Carter)
* * *
Patrick's blog about hard and soft dogs in general and his beloved Trooper in particular really struck home. In regard to working terriers, Patrick describes a hard dog as one that goes in teeth first and never backs up regardless of quarry or conditions. A soft dog, on the other hand, usually locates and bays the quarry until the hunter can use his tools to extract and dispatch it. Not surprisingly, over the course of a long field career, the hard dog suffers more damage than his softer counterparts.
Expanding on Patrick's description, I might call Maggie a hard dog. She descends from big-running field trial stock, and, true to her lineage, she's a very fast, wide-ranging slasher with near-maniacal prey drive. Yet she's fairly easy to handle, because she likes to stay out in front. You won't win a field trial with a dog that casts out and comes around behind you, no matter how many birds he finds. I have little doubt that if a skillful handler campaigned Maggs on the field trial circuit, she'd be competitive. She's a stylish blur, just what judges are looking for.
And she has spent much of her career sidelined by injuries. Unlike her Aunt Molly, a sturdy 55- pound thoroughbred out of the same bloodline, Maggs is a very delicate 42-pounder. Even though West Texas quail country punishes her body, she knows only one speed and one way. Hit the shin oak motte at full tilt; dive off of the 6-foot bank; run flat out over the roughest, rockiest, most broken terrain imaginable.
So she tears up a knee, and the doc orders a month-long break in the middle of quail season. The next year, it's a badly strained ligament in her paw. Two weeks of crate rest followed by a month of only light exercise. I could go on. She re-injured her paw early this season, but seems to have recovered. Still, I'm waiting for the next blown knee or serious gash.
Heidi, on the other hand, came from a solid but undistinguished line of gun dogs. Oh, there were field champions way back there, but she wouldn't have gotten a second look from a field trial judge. Yet she took a sensible approach to her job. Instead of running flat out, she covered her ground at a comfortable lope. Yes, she'd sometimes get out a quarter of a mile or so, and she'd swing around and nail a covey two hundred yards behind me, but she slowed down when she needed to and understood that it's best to ease into a plum thicket. As a result, she could hunt two long days in a row or several consecutive half-days, all season long.
Yes, we gun dog lovers owe much to the field trial folks. We have better dogs today because of competition and testing. But a field trial heat typically lasts 30 minutes and is likely to be held on fairly open, gentle ground so that judges and handlers can see the dogs.
I love hunting with Maggie. With her big heart and sweet nature, she'll always be one of my favorites. But I'll think long and hard before buying another pointing dog pup sired by a field trial champion.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Out and About

Russell Graves has some great photos from his trip to Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, and some righteous bow hunting shots.

Julie Zickefoose visited the Bosque Del Apache NWR around the same time and grouchily argues against sandhill crane hunting.

Rebecca gets some great news.

Mike, at Sometimes Far Afield, takes us on a pheasant hunt in the Texas Panhandle.

Rod Dreher worries about intellectual incest at universities.

Steve Bodio shows us his new goshawk here and here.

Terrierman rips price-gouging veterinarians.

Take a quick look through Chas Clifton's eyes. Personally, I like his view.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cate and the Coyote

How 'bout them ears?

Two or three times a week, I run Cate in the woods along a creek that wends through a park near my home. I can't carry a gun, of course, but the woods are full of fox squirrels, and Cate is starting to tree. We're violating the local leash law, but no else walks in the woods. There are no trails there - other than old game trails - and real woods, with briars and deadfalls, are just too untidy for most suburbanites. They stick to the paved trails that run through open, mowed areas of the park.

A large male coyote lives along the creek. We see him on nearly every outing. On cool days, we'll sometimes find him lazing in the sun along the edge of the woods. As far as I know, he causes no trouble. The first time Cate encountered him, back in early October, she weighed all of 18 pounds. But in her currish little mind, this was something to be chased, caught, and whipped to a frazzle. She took off after the coyote, baying bloody murder. The coyote loped away, probably wondering about this crazy little blond dog. Nowadays, after a few scoldings, Cate pays the coyote little attention. Usually, he stops and watches us at a distance, obviously waiting for us to pass so that he can go on about his business.

Unfortunately, he terrifies folks who walk their small dogs through the park, even though he never bothers anyone. Someone has complained to the local animal control people. Lately, I've been finding wire snares along the game trails. I suppose I ought to start packing wire cutters in case Cate runs into a noose.

Of course no one worries that dogs might get caught in these snares. After all, no one actually goes into the woods. There are wild animals in there.

I wonder. Just how tame do our woods have to be to satisfy safety-obsessed suburbanites? Can we not tolerate one beleaguered coyote?

Back to the Panhandle

Weekend before last, Brad Carter and I loaded the dogs and headed back to the Panhandle. We hunted in a cool drizzle Friday afternoon. The dogs found a couple of coveys, and we took a few birds while Cate howled in her box. We got back to the truck just before dark and let her out. While Jack and Maggs drank from a windmill tank, Cate jumped in and paddled around. Then, of course, she had to go back in her box soaking wet.

Next morning, we hunted in the rain. I topped a hill south in the river and felt a warm breeze out of the South. Sure enough, the rain stopped and the temperature rose. By mid afternoon, we were sweating and the dogs' tongues were dragging. Still, we managed to move a few coveys. Cate got acquainted with sand burs.

Jack, Brad's French Brittany, points a covey beneath a cedar.

Brad waters Jack from a canteen. We tease Jack about looking like a little bear. He doesn't seem to mind.

We moved a few more coveys Sunday morning. A good hunt, all in all. Maggs held up well - her paw seems fine. The plains got some much-needed moisture, and we took home a few birds. We're not covered up with quail this year, but I'd say we have plenty.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Panhandle Hunting Trip Report - Finally

Way back in mid-November, the hoped-for cold front never came. The first afternoon, Brad and I cast Jack and Maggie up a brushy draw in the breaks south of the Pease River and tried not to think about rattlesnakes. It was clear and about 80 degrees. I had already seen a rat snake crossing the road. The mesquite was still green, as was the waist-high broomweed and the thickest crop of ragweed I've ever seen. The Rolling Plains made excellent use of the spring and summer rains.

Of course the dogs were stepping on their tongues fifteen minutes later when they plowed into a big covey that made a joke of the old rule that says that bobwhites rarely fly further than 80 yards. After a fit of whoaing, cussing, and whistle blowing, we got the dogs started in the direction most of the singles had taken. Amazingly, they found and pointed a few of the those birds, which had flown across a wide draw then up and over a hill. Most of them were a good 150 yards from where we flushed them. Of course they probably ran after they lit, but you get the picture.

Two hours later, with the sun disappearing behind the red cliffs above the Pease, we made it back to the truck, sore-footed and out of water, but encouraged. We'd moved three big coveys in about two hours, in miserable heat and rank cover. Certainly not impressive by Texas standards but much better than last year. Big coveys usually mean a good quail population. In lean years, six-bird coveys are common, even early in the season. A couple of good frosts, a little rain or snow, and we'd be in business.

Maggs on point. Seconds later, a covey flushed. Note the rank cover.

Next morning, we woke to fog and cooler temperatures. We moved a couple of coveys, but by lunchtime, the sun had burned the fog away and we were faced with another November day fit only for golfers and rattlesnakes.

Even worse, Maggs was favoring her left front paw. She injured a ligament in that paw last season but seemed to recover after a six-week rest. Still, I suspected she'd re-aggravated her old injury. I checked on her after lunch, and sure enough, the outside of her paw was badly swollen. The hunt was over for good ol' Maggs.

But fear not. After a three week rest, Maggs was back in action.

Stay tuned for another update.

Typical Panhandle bobwhite country. Looking north over the Pease River breaks.

I'm back - with apologies

I apologize for the light (non-existent) blogging the last few weeks. Magazine deadlines have left me with little energy to spare. Many thanks to everyone for all the good hunting wishes, and to Matt for the blunt and completely justified reminder.

Monday, November 5, 2007

My Opening Day Approaches

As much as I've enjoyed recent hunting stories by Rebbecca, Mike, Patrick, and others, I have to admit that they induced sharp twinges of envy. Sure, the dogs and I have been out for runs, but these weren't real hunts. Most of the time I didn't even carry a gun; I'm still a little nervous about shooting around Cate. She's bold, but why rush things? Quail season opened the last weekend of October. I tried not to think about it as I went about my weekend chores. This past weekend, with temperatures in the 80s, I was actually glad I hadn't headed for West Texas.

But cooler temperatures are coming. I'm heading out tonight for the boonies up along the Red River for a few days of quiet work and some late afternoon runs with Cate and Maggie. Come Friday morning, we'll load up and head for our quail hunting grounds along the Pease River, in the southeastern corner of the Panhandle. I'll be meeting my old buddy Brad Carter there, along with his Brittany, Jack, and old English setter, Buck. Cate will be along for the ride, and she'll get in some short romps. Maggs is in decent shape and ready to go.

I have high hopes. The Rolling Plains got more than enough rain. Quail numbers were horribly low at the beginning of the breeding season, so I'm not expecting one of the legendary Texas boom years. But the hunting ought to be pretty good.

We'll see.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Wendell Berry's Wisdom

I'm working on a long magazine piece about reconciliation. As I've done so often over the past 20 years or so, I went to my bookshelf to consult Wendell Berry. Over the past two days I re-read The Hidden Wound, his book on racial healing and reconciliation, written when he was only 34. As always, he offers much wisdom, concisely and beautifully. Here are two samples:

"There is, I am sure, such a thing as a sense of guilt about historical wrongs, but I have the strongest doubts about the usefulness of a guilty conscience as a motivation; a man, I think can be much more dependably motivated by a sense of what would be desirable than by a sense of what has been deplorable. The historical pressures upon race relations in this country tend always to push us toward two complimentary dangers: that, to whites, ancestral guilt will seem an adequate motive; that, to blacks, ancestral bondage will seem an adequate distinction."


"It may be the most significant irony in our history that racism, by dividing the two races, has made them not separate but in a fundamental way inseparable, not independent but dependent on each other, each needing desperately to understand and make use of the experience of the other. After so much time together we are one body, and the division between us is the disease of one body, not of two. Even the white man and the black man who hate each other are, by that very token, each other's emotional dependents."

I've never understood why Wendell Berry is not better known and more widely read and discussed. Then again, simple wisdom and decency, without irony, cynicism or sentimentality, seems of little interest to the intelligentsia or the media these days.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Not Quite Dead

Chris Vognar's movie column on the revival of the Western, in yesterday's Dallas Morning News, got me thinking about western novels.

It seems that cultural taste makers have been trying to drive those last few nails in the Western's coffin for at least the past three decades. I've long assumed that the themes and settings of the Nineteenth and early Twentienth Century American West simply don't resonate with modern Manhattan and West Coast sensibilities. They pronounce the Western dead because they have no interest in it. Therefore it nearly dies. Bookstores stock only a few Louie L'Amour and Matt Braun titles, if they stock westerns at all. One editor told me that westerns are books written "by old men for old men." Never mind that elderly men actually read and are more likley to have disposable income (not having spent it on cars and electronics) than the coveted 18-35 crowd. Sometimes, I get the feeling that the literary world is a bit like the high-fashion business.

No doubt changing tastes and a glut of horrible novels and movies in the 1950s and 1960s helped bring about the Western's decline. Nowadays, few people fully embrace the old frontier triumphalism - at least in its most simplistic forms. I suspect that urbanization plays a role too. Mountain men, buffalo hunting, and Comanche horsemanship are just too far removed from modern reality. (Unlike, say, Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.)

Then along come Russell Crowe in 3:10 to Yuma and Brad Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Sure enough, the American public can work up an interest in Western movies, thanks to modern marketing, our celebrity culture, and - let's not forget -great stories.

So why not good, well-marketed novels?

I'll admit that I have a stake. I've written two novels that can be called Westerns in that they're both set in Nineteenth Century Texas. I certainly wouldn't call them traditional Westerns. (One academic reviewer accused me of "postmodern grotesquery." I wasn't sure whether to be offended or flattered.) New acquaintances of my generation often ask me about my novels, and I do my best to describe them. Often as not, they'll say something like, "Oh, I don't read Westerns, but I'll buy one for my Dad. He loves them."

Thank heaven for Dads. Long may they live!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Water Dogs

Another scorcher today. Somebody said it's supposed to be fall.

I took the dogs out for a run this morning. They headed straight for the pond. Just as well. I didn't feel like fighting through poison ivy in the woods and head-high giant ragweed along the field edges. Right now, I can't imagine temperatures in the 50s, let a alone frost. But the dogs were glad to be out.

Who said treeing dogs won't fetch?

Maggs is a Chesapeake Bay Retriever wannabe

Two knotheads

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Too Hot to Hunt

Damn this Texas heat. Low 90s today, with more of the same predicted for the rest of the week. We should get a nice cool front in here next week.

Took Maggs and Cate out for a run this past Thursday at a wildlife management area near Lake Texoma. It was just too hot in the fields, and the woods are still full of poison ivy. Mostly, the dogs swam in the lake. Cate just turned 13 weeks old, and she's paddling around like a duck. Just followed Maggs right in. Curs aren't known for retrieving, but she'll fetch a small training dummy or tennis ball all day long.

On the way home, we drove through Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. Lots of wading birds and resident ducks, and, in the road near the headquarters, the biggest timber rattler I've ever seen. Yes, timber rattlers are docile compared to diamondbacks and cottenmouths, but it got me thinking about floundering around in the hot woods with a small pup. I never let fear of poisonous snakes keep me from doing what I want to do, but seeing a big one makes me especially mindful.

Maggs caught a 'possum a few nights ago, but, bird dog that she is, couldn't bring herself to chomp. I looked out the back door and found little Cate dragging it around by its tail. I put both dogs in the house, and a few minutes later the 'possum woke up and went on about its possumish business.

As you can see, we've had a slow news week at the Chappell house.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Prairie Remnants

I spent a morning last week exploring a small parcel of unplowed Blackland Prairie with Matt White,author of Prairie Time: A Blackland Portrait and Birds of Northeast Texas.
I've lived in the Blacklands, in the Dallas area, for the past 25 years, but this was the first time I had ever seen virgin Blackland Prairie. I've seen many working pastures with little bluestem and and other natives that provide decent habitat for grassland birds, but nothing like this.

Unplowed Blackland Prairie is far and away the most endangered habitat in Texas if not all of North America. Of the original 12 million acres, only about 5,000 remain, mostly in the form of small patches on private land. This particular patch survived only because it was set aside as a hay meadow and was spared the plow. Even when the cotton and corn crop failed, you could feed yourself and your family on a piece of prairie with a milk cow and a few hogs or other livestock. Matt had an interesting theory on these remnants. He said, "The very best of the old Blackland farmers had a practical conservation ethic that's rare today. They knew that they had to plan for contingencies because they couldn't just run out and buy whatever they needed, like we can today."

Prairie Rose - Blooms April-July

Blue Sage


Chest-High Big Bluestem

In 1848, upon arriving at the edge of the Blackland Prairie, Dr. John Brooke, an emigrant from England, wrote,

“It was the finest sight I ever saw; immense meadows 2 or 3 feet deep of fine grass and flowers. Such beautiful colours I never saw…”

Later, after settling in Grayson County near the northern edge of the Blackland Prairie, he wrote,

“I can sit on my porch before my door and see miles of the most beautiful Prairie interwoven with groves of timber, surpassing, in my idea, the beauties of the sea. Think of seeing a tract of land on a slight incline covered with flowers and rich meadow grass for 12 to 20 miles…”

Keep that in mind if you ever drive through the Dallas area.

I just finished a feature article on the Blacklands for Texas Parks & Wildlife. I believe it's scheduled for the February issue. It was interesting, worthwhile work but very depressing.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

If in doubt...

Post more puppy pics!

Donny with Cate and his rat terrier puppy Junior

Donny decided to take his puppy Chance Jr., with us to Minden , to show him off a bit and give him some crate and truck time. The more hauling and handling now, the less stress and confusion come hunting season.

In his prime, Junior's sire, Chance, was probably the best squirrel dog I've ever known. With Junior, Donny hopes to keep the line going. So far, things are looking up. Junior is big, bold, and friendly like Chance.

Chance and Junior

Now nearly eleven, old Chance is finally slowing down a bit, but he can still give you a good half-day hunt in cool weather.

Back in Marshall, we stopped in to visit our friend Ricky Houston, a serious squirrel hunter and rat terrier man. He wanted to see Cate, and I wanted to see Ginger, his pup. Ginger comes from a well-known line of large rat terriers established by Bobby Davis over in Louisiana. (Donny; Ricky; Bobby - did I tell you this story takes place in the South?)

Ricky with Ginger

Cate gets pummeled

Sure, life can seem pretty rotten at times. But as long as there are pups, how bad can it be?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Productive Trip

Well, look what I brought home from Minden, Louisiana.

It started on a Tuesday afternoon three weeks ago when Donny Lynch, my East Texas hunting buddy, called. As usual, he began by expressing his surprise that I actually picked up the phone then complained for five minutes or so about how it’s damn near impossible to reach me.

I assured him that I always screen my calls and only took his because I misread the number. That seemed to satisfy him.

I said, “What’s up?”

Nothin’. I just called to talk dogs and squirrels with an old hunter.”

Of course he was up to something.

I waited.

He paused.

After a moment, he said, “I found you a cur dog.”

Yes, I’ve wanted a cur ever since I hunted over Donny’s old dog Molly, and especially after spending time in the woods with his young cur, Whitey. But I had convinced myself that I ought to wait until next year. This coming season I wanted to get Maggie, my German shorthair, into a lot of quail, and I wanted to scope out some good squirrel hunting spots close to home. Then I’d be ready to take on a cur pup.

Donny already knew all this, but I repeated it. He said, “You won’t find any better breeding anywhere around here.”

Coming from Donny, that meant something. He convinced me to give the breeder a call. I promised I’d call in a few days.

“Them pups is ready to go. They’ll be gone before Sunday. His dog has won everything around here, and the gyp is out of top Kemmer lines up in Tennessee.”

Okay, I’d call right away.

And I did. Then I called Donny back and told him I’d pick him up on my way through Marshall. He’d started it. He’d have to ride over to Minden with me.

I knew before I went that I’d buy one of those pups. The breeder, Greg Coker, is a serious squirrel and ‘coon hunter. His cur Tiger, the sire, is an excellent competition and hunting dog. The dam, a superb 'coon dog, belongs to his friend in Tennessee. Neither of the men were professional breeders looking to make a profit. Rather, they were breeding hunting dogs for their own use - always a good sign where experienced dog folks are concerned.

There were ten pups. Two females had been selected to go back to Tennessee with their Mama. True to their Kemmer blood, most of the pups were yellow. Greg and his brother would keep a pair of brindle males. After that I had my pick. I’ve always found dark brindle coats striking and backwoodsy. All of the curs I had known back in Kentucky had been brindled. But Jane likes yellow. (When Mama ain’t happy, and all that….)

Anyway, the pups tumbled out of the pen, and their mama, probably to her great relief, went over to join Tiger in another pen. Two bold females caught my eye right off. In the end, it was just a matter of picking one because I like her four white socks. I found the sire and dam calm and friendly, and neither barked or paced excessively despite the visitors and excitement.

So we loaded “Cate” and headed west. Donny, who took a shine to the other yellow female, later admitted that he had to repeatedly remind himself that he already had a yard full of good dogs at home.

Of course Maggs was appalled that first night, but she's a good sport.

Since then, Cate has been eating like a hound and growing like a thistle:

'coons beware!

Much to its benefit, the mountain cur isn’t recognized by the AKC. Hence the healthy variation in size and color. Until fairly recently, the mountain cur really wasn’t a breed at all, but a “type”bred strictly for working qualities. We all know the benefits of breeding records, judicious line breeding, and competition.. We all know the dangers, too. The cur has always been a rawboned, rural meat, hide, and stock dog, the sort of dog unlikely to catch the attention of the Fancy and well-heeled competitors. Let’s hope it never does.

Cate, a Kemmer Stock Mountain Cur, or Kemmer Cur, can be registered with the United Kennel Club, the National Kennel Club, and the Kemmer Stock Mountain Cur Breeders Association. For those interested in such things, the UKC website offers a brief history and breed standard.

Should be an interesting fall and winter.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Blogswick Stew

Michael Blowhard takes on the human population growth-is-always-good crowd.

James Howard Kunstler wonders if we’ve reached peak tech.

Chas Clifton gives us the straight poop on a certain black bear food.

Matt Mullenix has reopened his hawking blog.

Grumpy Old Bookman lets loose another entertaining haymaker at literary snobbism.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Apologies and Appeals

My apologies for my recent lack of blogging. I’ve been holed up in the boonies for the past several days, away from the Internet and telephone, trying to make progress on my part of the working dogs book I’m doing with Wyman Meinzer.

I’m struggling with an introductory essay on the history of the canine-human bond. I’m thinking 2500-3000 words, aimed at a general audience.

For reference, I’ve checked A Dog’s History of North America and Dog’s Best Friend, both by Mark Derr, A History of Dogs in the Early Americas by Marion Schwartz, and Lost History of the Canine Race by Mary Elizabeth Thurston.

Naturally, Derr, Schwartz, and Thurston agree on very little.

In Dog’s Best Friend, Derr begins his history of the wolf-human relationship 500,000 years ago, pointing to evidence that Canis lupus variabilis and Homo erectus pekinensis were “sharing time and space, food and shelter…” He further mentions that remains of Homo erectus and wolves dating back some 400,000 years, were found in Kent, England. He does not come out and say that there was a working, religious, or ceremonial relationship between species, but it seems implied.

Further along, Derr states that tamed wolves were well on their way to becoming dogs by the end of the Paleolithic Age. He frequently uses the name “wolfdog,” to describe short-faced wolves or very wolfish but nearly domesticated canines.

He then says,

“Among the predators hunting them [large Pleistocene herbivores] were saber-toothed tigers, scimitar cats, dire wolves, gray wolves, and humans with their wolfdogs.”(my emphasis)

Yet, a few pages later, he writes,

“By 15,000 years ago, people around the world were raising dogs, [my emphasis] with the centers of activity being northern Europe, including England, northern North America, especially the Arctic region, the Middle East, China, Japan, and Siberia. Presently, the earliest fossil called a dog comes from Obercassel, Germany, and dates to 14,000 years ago, the late Pleistocene or upper Paleolithic.”

Mary Elizabeth Thurston begins much more recently:

“Tantalizing hints that a relationship of some sort was forming between people and wolves during this era come from La Grotte du Lazaret, a 125,000-year-old complex of Paleolithic shelters discovered in France in 1969, where wolf skulls appear to have been set at the entrance of each dwelling, leading excavators to speculate that canids already were incorporated into some aspect of human culture at this very early stage.”

Thurston also puts the development of the true dog well into the Neolithic Age:

“Some of the earliest known skeletal remains classified as dog come from the Neolithic site of Jarmo, situated in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains spanning Iran and Iraq. Radiocarbon-dated to 6600 B.C., the fifty-three cranial and mandibular fragments of big-boned canids suggest that they may have been descended from mountain-dwelling wolves who were larger than their brothers in the floodplain.”

As for the use of dogs or “wolfdogs” in the hunting of giant Pleistocene animals, Thurston writes,

“At a twenty-five-thousand-year-old mammoth hunting camp in the Ukraine, for instance, some distinctive wolf skulls were found along with butchered remains of at least 166 mammoths. The skulls were markedly different from those of average wild wolves, with many of them exhibiting foreshortened muzzles, diminished tooth size, and teeth crowding, all traits hailed as more common to domestic dogs than wolves.”

I’m confused and would appreciate any comments, especially suggested reading. I’m not trying to wimp out of doing the needed research; I’m in over my head and need a bit of guidance. Also, my deadline looms large.

In a recent comment on one of my blog entries, Steve mentioned that some of Derr’s dog-evo seems out of date, but noted that scholarship on that subject is moving rapidly. Further comments?

Again, this will be a commercial book aimed at a general audience, not a scholarly work, so I don’t have room to guide readers through each author’s arguments. However, I do want to provide a reasonable treatment, one consistent, as far as possible, with current scholarship. In other words, I don’t want to make a fool of myself.

Many thanks!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Tagged by Terrierman!

I had thought (hoped, actually) that as a relative newcomer to our little community of bloggers, I might escape notice. But no. Patrick, every bit as alert has his terriers, refused to let the new kid off the hook.

I'll do my best. No doubt my friends and loved ones could come up with a much longer list of quirks and foibles.

1. Just before dark, when it's not too hot, I like to sit in the backyard, sip red wine, and admire my tomato plants. Jane finds the practice odd and amusing, but not surprising.

2. In an earlier career, I designed circuitry for military weapon systems. For the most part, I enjoyed the work immensely, especially the part that involved running around in the desert testing prototype equipment. Although I find my current career as a writer more satisfying overall, I miss the math.

3. I get a bit annoyed when people ask, "How did an engineer become a writer?" Clearly, they know nothing about engineering or writing, though they probably think they do.

4. I like to think of myself as thrifty and sensible. My two daughters think I'm cheap.

5. I'm a morning person. I like to get up very early and drink a pot of coffee while sitting in the dark in my easy chair. I tell Jane that I'm working, and I am. She doesn't buy it.

6. Although it's a terrible dog training practice and more than a little ridiculous, I've always given my dogs nicknames. So far it hasn't caused even the slightest confusion. My agreeable dogs have responded well to both names and nicknames. My hard-headed dogs ignored both.

7. I have a good sense of direction in the field, but in restaurants, I often have trouble finding my table after a trip to the salad bar or men's room.

8. I am certain that car commercials are not aimed at me.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Marvin Nichols Reservoir Article

A text-only version of my article on the Marvin Nichols Reservoir controversy is now available online. The original version, with Russell's photos, is still on the newsstands in the July issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife.

Normally, I don't go around crowing about my own work, but I want to draw attention to Texas's reservoir controversy and the outrageous land grab by water hustlers and big city boosters.

Swift Fox Photos

You must check out these photos by photographer Russell Graves. The little swift fox was thought to be extinct in Texas until the mid-90s when Texas Parks & Wildlife biologist Kevin Mote live-trapped several on the shortgrass prairie in far northwest Texas. Further research indicates that the swift fox is holding its own if not exactly thriving. They're very shy and largely nocturnal, hence the lack of good photos. I don't know how or where Russell took these, but I plan to twist his arm for details.

I wrote a feature on the little swift a dozen or so years ago, but TPW's online archive doesn't go back that far.


Monday, July 9, 2007


After a five-hour delay at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport – more rain, wind and lightning – we arrived in Louisville and finally made it to our hometown of Campbellsville, Kentucky a little after midnight.

Next morning, Tuesday July 3, we drove 150 miles southeast to visit family in the little mountain town of Harlan, where my father was raised.

Driving through Appalachia, I’m always struck by contrasts: beauty, blight, poverty, natural wealth, dignity, degradation. I am not well-traveled, but I suspect that the region shares these contrasts with other places where economies have been built on extraction by outside interests. Since the end of World War I, unfathomable wealth has left the region in the form of coal, oil, natural gas, and timber, and that outflow continues today. I wonder how much of that wealth ever passes through banks on the Cumberland Plateau. Notwithstanding the occasional fine new brick home perched on a ridge above hovels and wrecks along the creek, the region remains mired in poverty – and the associated problems. As we crossed a bridge over Greasy Creek, Jane pointed out a campaign sign for a local magistrate's race. It listed the candidate's winning qualities: honest, a veteran, sober.

Mountaintop removal and clear-cutting continue amid growing public outcry – mostly from outside the region, as best I can tell. The mining industry still offers the only decent wages for working-class folks. But there are signs of healing. In Harlan county, at least a few hollows now hold modest homes and churches in place of squalid mining camps. As we drove south out of Hyden, I thought of Steve Earle singing “The Mountain.”

There’s a chill in the air only miners can feel
There’s ghosts in the tunnels that the company seals

I recognize that mine is an outsider’s view, though Southern Appalachia is a place I’ve visited often. My people, the Chappells, come from the hollows along various forks of Greasy Creek, in Leslie County – still one of the most sparsely settled counties in a sparsely populated state. But in the 1950s, my father left the mountains and settled in central Kentucky, a gentler place of rolling timbered hills and fertile bottomland, the country I’ll always think of as home. I have not experienced first hand the difficulty and complexity of life in Appalachia, so I try to form my opinions very carefully. Nothing is ever quite as it appears, and it can be awfully hard to discontinue practices that feed and clothe your children – if only barely - even if those practices are killing you and defiling your home region while enriching a few stockholders and providing “affordable” energy to distant, disinterested consumers.

I have long considered Harry Caudill’s Night Comes to the Cumberlands one of the best works on the history and culture of the Southern Highlands. But there’s no shortage of proud mountaineers who find the book insulting, even though Caudill was a Letcher County boy who earned his law degree and came back home to fight for his people and region. When I visit, I keep my opinions to myself.

Driving along shaded mountain roads while admiring swinging bridges and tiny, dignified homes and gardens of pole beans, corn, and tomatoes, I reminded myself that a 47 year-old man who misses his father terribly, a man still looking for a place and a way to truly dig in and make a life, had better beware of sentimentality.

Still, I can't help but feel that there’s something in those mountains worth knowing and keeping.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Water or Woods?

My article on proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir appears in the July Issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife. My copy arrived in yesterday's mail. I assume it's on newstands by now. It should be available online in about a month.

My buddy Russell Graves shot the photos. I suspect his work will have a bigger impact than mine.

So far, the response has been very positive. But I'm expecting some nastygrams.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Grassland Birds

I just finished writing an article on the status of bobwhite and blue quail in Texas. One of the biologists I interviewed referred me to the National Audubon Society report, "2007 State of Birds." Very depressing. The northern bobwhite quail ranks first on the list of declining common birds, down 82 percent since 1960. In general, grassland birds are faring poorly due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Northern shrike and eastern meadowlark populations have declined more than 70 percent.

Felicity Barringer wrote about the list in this past Friday's New York Times.

In Texas, bobwhite numbers declined about 75 percent between 1980 and 2003, and I'm sure they're still slipping. Most of the losses occurred in the increasingly urbanized eastern third of the state. Quail are holding steady in those vast, sparsely populated strongholds, the Rolling Plains and South Texas Plains.

On the upside, I learned that Audubon Texas employs a full-time biologist, Jason Hardin, to lead its Quail and Grassland Bird Initiative. In addition to habitat work and landowner education and support, the initiative has the added benefit of building goodwill between hunting and non-hunting members of the conservationist community.

Now back to local doom and gloom. North Texas - particularly the Dallas area - is the fastest growing region in the state. Boosters gleefully shout that the area's population will likely grow from 7 million to about 13 million over the next 50 years, supposedly necessitating all sorts of destructive water projects. Of the original 12 million acres of Blackland Prairie, which includes the Dallas area, only a few thousand remain unplowed and undeveloped. No doubt hundreds of thousands of acres of semi-wild prairie - decent grassland bird habitat - remain in the form of marginal farmland, vacant lots, green belts, wildlife management areas, and so on. Outside of management areas, refuges, and Corps of Engineers land around reservoirs, few of these tracts are larger than 100 acres. And they're disappearing under slabs and parking lots ever day.

When we moved to Plano in 1983, bobwhites, northern harriers, kestrels, and meadowlarks were common sights in the open spaces around neighborhoods. Our first spring here, bobwhite cocks sometimes perched on our backyard fence and whistled for hens. Lowe's and Walmart now cover a big part of that covey's home range. I haven't heard a bobwhite whistle in Plano in 20 years. I can't remember the last time I saw a harrier or meadowlark in the area. But boy do we have grackles and house sparrows.

I wish I could be more optimistic, but I predict that the grassland bird decline will continue. Whatever habitat can be preserved or restored will be offset by more strip malls and subdivisions. Here in Collin County, new malls are going up while others sit empty. Developers develop.

"Economic growth," has moved alongside Education, Our Future, and Our Children. The idea has become unassailable. Raise so much as an eyebrow and you're a crank, an elitist, or worse.

We moved here from Kentucky, a fact that's pointed out to me nearly every time I raise my concern about unchecked growth. Others have a right to settle here too. I don't dispute that. You get transferred, change jobs, or graduate from college, so you move. Few people have anything against wildlife and open spaces. I suspect most never think about them, especially not in terms of suburban growth.

But at some point, we'll have to decide what kind of world we want to inhabit.

I take that back. We're deciding right now. Problem is, most of us haven't paused long enough to realize it.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Please, somebody talk me out of it...

Here's what I want:

Not this dog, but one like her. This is Whitey, a mountain cur owned by my buddy Donny Lynch of Marshall, Texas. She hunts squirrels and 'coons. When she occasionally trees a bobcat, Donny gives her a pat and sends her on. She would trail and bay wild hogs, but Donny doesn't want her cut, so he broke her from swine. I suspect that like her ancestors in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee, she'd learn to pull rough stock herding duty if she had the opportunity.

I have always admired generalists, even though nowadays, the glory seems to go to the specialists - or at least breeds developed for specialized duty - English pointers, Labs, treeing Walkers - never mind that good examples of each of those breeds can perform tasks that specialist hunters discourage. Most decent Labs would be happy to root rabbits out of a fence row. There's absolutely nothing unnatural about a pointer pointing a cottontail, but he'd better not do it in the presence "serious" bird hunters. When I was a teenager, I shot plenty of bobwhites and even a few woodcock that had been trailed and flushed by my beagles.

My last three dogs, including Maggie, my current hunting partner, have been German shorthaired pointers. I chose GSPs because they're supposed to be versatile, and sure enough, good ones develop early, point naturally, staunch up with little formal training, retrieve enthusiastically, and love water. GSPs will hunt whatever you want to hunt and a few things you'd rather they leave alone. But then so will most hunting dogs. I've had hell breaking Maggs of deer and hogs.

But of course when we talk about a versatile dog or generalist, we mean versatile within some range. Your Lab will find quail, but she won't outperform a good pointer, especially in open country. That's because Labs were developed for heavy water work. There's a reason for that build and woolly undercoat. The best ones are very biddable, mark well - better then most humans - and possess tremendous retrieving drive. Likewise GSPs retrieve from water, but they're no match for the average Lab or Chesapeake. Maggie will paddle out in the stock pond (stock "tank" here in Texas) and fetch your mallard, but I wouldn't expect her to make a long, difficult retrieve in rough, cold water. And she'd drive you crazy in the duck blind or boat. She's built to run, with the temperament to match.

In Germany, GSPs are expected to point both furred and feathered game, track wounded big game, retrieve from land and water, and even dispatch small predators. The first ones brought to the the U.S. in the 1920s were large, ponderous, and poorly suited to American conditions and customs. Americans set about speeding up the GSP- basically making more it like the English pointer. (Molly, my second GSP, had a lemon patch behind her left ear. Hmmm... where could that have come from?) Today, most American-bred GSPs are primarily upland bird dogs. The North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association does not require work on furred game in its utility tests.

Which is fine with me. I've been primarily a bird hunter for the past 20 years. I grew up with pointing dogs and can't imagine doing without one.

Problem is, good, affordable quail hunting is getting hard to find, even here in Texas, one of the last strongholds of wild bobwhite hunting. A good South Texas quail lease runs as high as $10/acre. Figure that two guys with good dogs need at least 2000 acres for a decent season. Do the arithmetic. West Texas prices are only slightly less. Most people who actually live in good quail country can't afford to hunt there because the land is leased by well-heeled folks from Houston, Dallas, and the other big cities, or by guides and outfitters who cater to the wealthy.

With rare exceptions, I hunt on public land. But as serious hunters of average means get priced off their leases, guess where they turn? At present, there are three wildlife management areas in the state that offer good bobwhite hunting - when we get rain in the right amounts at the right times. These have become crowded , and, the last few years, have been closed to quail hunters much of November and December.

Add the fact that I have to drive four and a half hours to reach the nearest of theses management areas. Further add the fact that I'm not getting any younger. Then consider that the woods close to home are full of squirrels and coons, and that most of the public land is in heavily forested East Texas. Also, I love to eat squirrels and the occasionally 'coon. An adjustment to my hunting life seems in order.

Yes, Maggie will tree squirrels, which is very embarrassing in certain company. But, being a bird dog, she's usually looking for woodcock when we're in the woods, and there are few if any woodcock in Texas in October and November. She might tree if she strikes hot scent or sees a squirrel on the ground, but for the most part, she's not a treeing dog, despite all that hound ancestry in the distant past. And when she barks, she sounds like she's being tortured with a cattle prod.

Curs, on the other hand, are to treeing dog work what the dock-tailed European pointing breeds are to upland bird work. Curs don't possess the beautiful voices and cold noses of blooded hounds, but most have a pleasant enough treeing chop, and over the course of a season, good ones will catch more 'coons than will hounds, tree squirrels, and actually hunt in the same county as their handlers.

Purist houndsmen write curs off as meat dogs. They're exactly right.

The mountain cur developed in the Southern Appalachians as an all-purpose hunting and stock dog. Mountaineers didn't want a dog spending hours sorting out a cold trail. Rather they wanted their dogs to strike hot scent, push their quarry to tree very quickly, then bark so that they could be located. Because they often trail silently, they'll sometimes catch game before it can tree.

Despite their toughness, most curs are very trainable and friendly toward people.

I want one. Bad.

But I already have a good dog that I love dearly, and a small backyard. As it is, I'm having trouble giving Maggie the work she deserves. That's not likely to change, given the shortage of affordable bird hunting, gas prices, and the shortened quail seasons on public land. If I got a cur, I suppose I could take Maggs along on squirrel and coon hunts. She wouldn't hurt anything, and she might even get reasonably good at it. If nothing else she'd get more field time than she's getting now. And I'd probably still quail hunt about as much as I've hunted in recent years.

(I can just imagine certain bird hunting acquaintances reading this and shaking their heads. He has absolutely lost it. Lettin' his pointin' dog run trash! And bark, for godsake! With a goddamn curdog! Next thing you know, he'll be wearing overalls and chewing Red Man.)

I don't care. I want to hunt with dogs. I can either adjust to new realities or sit around complain about the disappearance of affordable bird hunting while Maggs grows old. I doubt she cares what she hunts, so long as she hunts. And she'd enjoy having another dog around.

Still, the expense, puppy destruction, and barking that upsets my fussy neighbors. Like I really need a half-grown tree dog out back baying somebody's cat or a mockingbird perched on the fence. Honestly, I can't justify another dog. I know that.

Other people, however, are not so responsible. The other day Jane told me that I ought to go ahead get a cur pup. She said it could be an early birthday present. We could handle it. After all, way back when I was in my gung-ho twenties and thirties, we'd managed with two bird dogs and a beagle. Curiously, she told me this a couple of days after I'd shown her some photos of cur puppies on a website. My wife is so impulsive.

I said no, but thank you. I'm not serious about it yet. I'm just thinking about what I'll do when Maggs retires or passes on. Imagine - two young hunting dog in the burbs. With our schedules and travel. Let's be real.

As luck would have it, we're heading up to Kentucky to visit family later this month. We'll spend some time in our hometown, where there happens to be breeder of excellent mountain curs. Then we'll run down to far southeastern Kentucky to visit a beloved aunt. I know a guy just across the border, in Tennessee...

Just a little fact-finding. Talk to some hunters, look at some dogs. Make some contacts. Nothing serious yet. After all, I'm a grown man. I know the difference between want and need.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

It's not my fault. Blame the boys at Querencia.

Steve started it. Reid followed. Then Matt. Last night, I gave in to peer pressure and gathered reading material from my office couch, nightstand, dashboard, and office floor. But then I've always been vulnerable to corrosive influences.

I'm revisiting Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert in preparation for my entry into the Texas Water Wars. Actually, I'm already skirmishing, as some of you may know. My article on proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir will appear in the July issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife. Much has happened since I wrote the piece. In fact, I'm beginning to gather material for a book proposal on coming water conflicts in Texas and on the Southern Plains. I'm way behind on my blogging; I'll try to catch up in the coming weeks.
Even if you wrote off Susan Sontag after "9.11.01," her New Yorker "Talk of the Town" piece, you might want to reconsider and at least try At the Same Time, her posthumously published collection of essays and speeches. She'd been shaping several of these pieces for publication in book form shortly before her death in 2004. If "9.11.01" seems reflexive and ill-considered - by her own admission, she "dashed it off," while still in the throes of grief and shock - her later essays are far more thoughtful. I hope to post a more thorough review within the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, here's what she had to say about the importance of reading:
"A writer is first of all a reader. It is from reading that I derive the standards by which I measure my own work and according to which I fall lamentably short. It is from reading , even before writing, that I became part of a community - the community of literature - which includes more dead than living writers."
I just started This Common Ground: Seasons on an Organic Farm by Scott Chaskey, a poet and farmer. You have to admire a man inspired to verse by compost. As a vegetable gardener battling a mild case of blossom-end rot in two of my tomato plants, I'm especially looking forward to the chapter entitled "The Wolf's Peach."
I need no excuse for reading dog books, but for once, I have a one handy. Photographer Wyman Meinzer and I are doing a coffee table book on working dogs. I'm writing a series of short essays, about 20,000 words total, and captions to go with Wyman's photos. We're not restricting ourselves to "working dogs," as defined by the AKC. We consider any dog that does useful work a working dog. So far, we've covered, search and rescue dogs, assistance dogs, scent hounds, herding dogs, curs and feists, terriers, customs dogs, bomb and drug sniffers, sporting dogs, police dogs...I'm sure I'm forgetting some. We hope to finish by late summer. The book should be out Fall 2008. Anyone know hunters in Texas with coursing dogs? Steve? Matt?
The Ben Lilly Legend by J. Frank Dobie: No one can write responsibly about Texas big game hounds without some knowledge of legendary hunter and houndsman Ben Lilly. Emphasis on legendary. Here's Ben Lilly on Ben Lilly:
"My reputation is bigger than I am. It's like my shadow when I stand in front of the sun in late evening."
One ought to keep in mind that J. Frank Dobie was a folklorist.
Lost History of the Canine Race by Mary Elizabeth Thurston, A History of Dogs in the Early Americas by Marion Schwartz, Dog's Best Friend by Mark Derr, and A Dog's History of North America by Mark Derr. All very readable and worth the time.
Marion Schwartz irritated me slightly by saying that while she might consider owning a Siberian husky or Carolina dog, she would never choose a greyhound, mastiff, wolfhound or any descendant of the dogs the Spanish put to horrible use against Indians - as if greyhounds are at fault because their 15th Century ancestors were bred, trained, and handled by sadists.
To my complete satisfaction, Mark Derr lets loose on the AKC and the Fancy in Dog's Best Friend. He also defends hunting with dogs and rural cultures that preserve working traits. I don't quite buy his training philosophy, however. Perhaps it works for him. In A Dog's History of North America, his description of Spanish misuse of dogs is far more thorough and appalling than Schwartz's.
Lost History of the Canine Race contains good art and photos, including a couple of shots of New Guinea Singing Dogs and an irresistible photo of a dingo puppy.
The single issue of The New York Review of Books represents the vast pile of unread periodicals on my office floor. I can't remember when I've been so far behind. On the upside, I'm behind because I've been working my way through a bunch of magazine assignments.
Last night, I made some headway into the current issue of the The Atlantic Monthly. Interesting article on writer Harlan Coben, who routinely commands seven-figure advances. Like most best-selling writers, he does one thing very well. He writes thrillers and not much else. I don't see any seven-figure advances in my future. (See bird hunting book, two historical novels, ranch book, dog book...)
By 10:30, I didn't quite feel up to James Fallows' long article on why China's rise is good for us. I'll need to gather some energy for that one.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Baked Squirrel

Squirrels are tough. If they weighed 50 pounds, you'd need to hunt them with an elephant gun. Fry them like chicken, and you might as well gnaw on your hunting boots.

If you must fry them - and I love fried squirrel, gravy, and biscuits - you'll do well to parboil even the youngest squirrel for 20 minutes or so before flouring it. Even then, it's awfully easy to overcook those delectable forelegs.

If you're just getting into squirrel hunting or you've come onto possession of a mess of squirrels and have no idea how to prepare them, here's a nearly fail-safe recipe. If you've had bad experiences with tough squirrels, fear not. Follow these steps and you'll forever turn up your nose at store-bought meat.

Harold Hoey's Baked Squirrel (From Squirrel Dog Basics by David A. Osborn - highly recommended, by the way.) I've modified Mr. Hoey's recipe slightly and added some additional instructions.


2-3 sectioned squirrels
vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 small can of sliced mushrooms or half a cup of sliced fresh mushrooms.

Season squirrels with salt and pepper, then roll in flour. Cook in oiled skillet until golden brown. Place squirrels in covered baking dish. Cover squirrels with milk/cream mixture, celery, onions, and mushrooms. Bake young squirrels 1 1/2 hours at 350 degrees. Bake old-timers - especially fox squirrels - another half-hour or 45 minutes.

You can't go wrong. Eat with your fingers. You'll need lots of napkins.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Deep East Texas Hunting and Fishing Trip

I spent two days last week hunting and fishing at Caddo Lake with my old friend Donny Lynch. May squirrel season is on in East Texas, bream are bedding, and we're having an unusually cool, wet, and pleasant spring.

Donny hunts raccoons and squirrels with mountain curs, feists, and rat terriers - serious meat and hide dogs. He hunts every day; I feel like the rankest beginner every time I visit him.

Caddo Lake, with it's cypress breaks, moss-draped oaks, and sloughs is last thing most folks picture when you mention Texas.

We started out after bream - red-ears and bluegill - in mid-afternoon. Donny, practical meat fisherman that he is, rigged up with floater and number 10 hook baited with a crawfish he'd netted in a creek that runs through one of his 'coon hunting hot spots.

I, gentleman fly fisherman that I am, started rigging up with a woolly worm - my never-fail bream fly. Donny hauled in two or three whoppers while I screwed up a couple blood knots. Over the next hour, it became obvious that Caddo Lake bream prefer crayfish to my lovingly tied flies.

In desperation I tied on a hair's ear nymph.

Donny said, "What's that s'posed to be?"

"It suggests the larval stage of various insects."

"I got a little cup full of the larva." He reached for his maggots. "Tie one of these on that little hook. Them brim will eat it up."

I did. They did.

An hour later, we were back in his camp dressing a nice mess of bream.

We ate supper, waited for dark, then went coon hunting. He cast Ranger, a feist, and Whitey, a mountain cur, along the edge of some flooded timber. Within minutes, they struck and the chase was on. A few minutes later, they treed and we waded into to the flooded woods. Mind you, it was eighty degrees and pitch dark. Donny had a coon hunters lamp; I had a $5 flashlight. We found the dogs raising bloody hell around the roots of a huge fallen oak.

Donny said, "I smell a cottonmouth. Come here and you can learn what one smells like."

I know very well what a cottonmouth smells like." (a mild skunk odor) "I'm just fine where I am."

We never found the raccoon, though I know it was there somewhere. The dogs were just too worked up. Donny conducted a methodical search while I trained my light on any tangle that might hold a cottonmouth.

A few minutes later, another strike and another short race. This one ended at a hollow cypress tree in waste-deep water in the middle of a slough. I got to the dogs first; they were swimming circles around the tree, barking every breath.

Donny arrived and found the 'coon right off - a young boar that will go well with yams and cornbread. You can take the boy out of Kentucky but...

Next morning we headed to the woods for squirrels. As I write this three fryers are thawing in the kitchen.

Ranger, a two year-old feist, treeing a gray squirrel.

Whitey, a mountain cur, and Ranger working a tree. Donny said, "Old Whitey is eatin' that tree up!" We expected a squirrel, but they'd treed a 'coon.

Chance a 10 year-old rat terrier stops to listen. Good squirrel dogs use their eyes and ears as well as their noses.

Ranger fetches a gray squirrel. He's as soft-mouthed as any retriever.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

If you build it...

More water hustling in yesterday's Dallas Morning News. In yet another pro-reservoir column, William McKenzie begins,

"About 20 minutes north of Mount Pleasant, you'll find a bumpy, unpaved road
that takes you into the heart of one of Texas's great water disputes. The
proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir site lies alongside the pothole-filled
road, which curves through acres of private, impenetrable hardwoods until it
finally comes upon the Sulphur River. Downstream from a graffiti-covered bridge is where the Sulphur would be dammed to form Marvin Nichols. "

Bumpy unpaved road...pothole filled road...impenetrable hardwoods...graffiti-covered bridge...

How untidy compared to freeways, St. Augustine lawns, business parks, and strip malls. And such a waste of exploitable land!

As usual, McKenzie goes on to claim, with very little supporting data, that North Texas - Dallas and the surrounding suburbs - will run out of water by 2060 or before, if Marvin Nichols Reservoir isn't built. He further claims that conservation measures won't be sufficient, and that alternatives to reservoir construction will be prohibitively expensive.

More than the projected $2.2 billion cost of Marvin Nichols Reservoir? What alternatives?

All of this is based on predictions that North Texas's population will double over the next 50 years.

But I wonder: Is it a case of build it because they're coming or build it so they'll come?

His language is telling:

"Wrong calls on reservoirs would leave us [my emphasis] high and
dry... Do nothing and we're [my emphasis]way short of
water. "


What about them and they're? You know, the folks in Northeast Texas who'll lose hundreds of thousands of acres to the project?

McKenzie continues,

"Complicating this is a wicked set of politics. A triumvirate of farmers,
timber interests and environmentalists don't want new lakes, and they have a
toehold in the House. "

Wicked politics. Makes me feel sorry for those poor, politically outgunned pro-reservoir folks. You know, Metro 8 Chambers of Commerce, Dallas Water Utilities, North Texas Municipal Water District, Tarrant Regional Water District, The City of Dallas. Fighting the big guys against all odds.

McKenzie ends the piece with an anecdote about riding around with Clarksville mayor Ann Rushing who told him that her town has lost half of its population, largely because it relies on well water, and that there isn't enough good water keep people living there. Did she take a poll? Most rural folks depend on wells, and there's no shortage of groundwater in Northeast Texas.

If he hasn't already done so, I hope McKenzie will spend some time with folks who are in danger of losing their property or jobs so that North Texas can ensure its own continued growth.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Do we really want to drown this?

For a look at what could be lost to Northeast Texas reservoirs, check out Russell Graves's blog.

Texas Water Wars

The editorializers in today's Dallas Morning News are appalled because those unreasonable rural people up in Northeast Texas, abetted by environmentalists, don't want to lose their land and livelihoods so that the state's most profligate water users can build a bunch of reservoirs.

Imagine that.

But Dallas needs this additional water to ensure its future!

Oh, the country folks? I guess they can just move to Dallas and contribute to its economic growth.

I'll stop there for now. My article on Marvin Nichols Reservoir, currently the most contentious of the proposed water projects, is scheduled for the July 2007 issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife.

Much more soon.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Deep Economy

I'm about three-fourths of the way through Bill McKibben's latest book, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. My traditionalist side tells me that I should finish the book before commenting, but running commentary doesn't seem too far out of line in the blogsphere.

Arguably, McKibben's The End of Nature, published in 1989, remains the most influential popular work on global warming. Though he has grown increasingly strident about curbing human-induced climate change - organizing rallies and taking Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and other prominent environmentalists to task for their opposition to the Cape Wind Project - his message continues to be one of quiet reason, hope, and decency.

Rush Limbaugh called him an environmentalist wacko - a label that serves as a marketing blurb on the jacket of McKibben's book Hope, Human and Wild.

If "wacko" means looking at scientific evidence and concluding that the "non-negotiable American way of life" is unsustainable, then McKibben is guilty as charged. We need more wackos.

Actually, McKibben is a devout Christian, Sunday school teacher, and family man who eats meat, appears tolerant of responsible hunters, and approves of selective, sustainable logging by local operators. He acknowledges the positive power of free enterprise and the failure of large-scale collectivism. (Right-wing wacko!) Certainly, many of his convictions seem deeply conservative in the traditional (as opposed to neoconservative) sense. Yet, taken as a whole, his sensibilities are unmistakeably progressive. His concerns always seem more practical than ideological.

Deep Economy is organized into five sections:

1. After Growth
2. The Year of Eating Locally
3. All for One, or One for All [gasp!]
4. The Wealth of Communities
5. The Durable Future

In his introduction, McKibben notes that for most of human history, "More and Better, roosted on the same branch." In the eighteenth century, Adam Smith theorized that individuals pursuing their own interests in a market society make one another richer, and that improved efficiency, usually through specialization and increased scale, increases wealth. No question about it, Smith's theory has proven correct so far.

But McKibben points to studies that suggest that after achieving some level of prosperity, additional wealth no longer makes individuals happier. Furthermore, our focus on growth and efficeincy at all costs is destroying communites and wrecking our planet.

He writes,

Taken together, these facts show that we need to make a basic shift.
Given all that we know about topics ranging from the molecular structure of
carbon dioxide to the psychology of human satisfaction, we need to move
decisively to rebuild our local economies. These may well yield less stuff, but they
produce richer relationships; they may grow less quickly, if at all, but they
make up for it in durability.

He ends his introduction with a caveat: The option to choose less is a luxury most of the world's people don't enjoy. To the desperately poor, More definitely means Better.

Hold that thought. More later...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pinching Nose and Dipping Toe....

I have to admit that I begin this blog with a mixture of fear and guilt. Fear that after four books and a hundred or so articles, I have nothing of interest to say. Guilt from the suspicion that I'm compromising my ideals - characterized by crankiness, skepticism, and an attitude toward popular culture that swings between disdain and despair.

Every fifteen year-old with a computer and digital camera has a blog. Touring musicians blog about their fights and binges. Aspiring writers blog hopefully, bitterly, earnestly, and endlessly. So many blogs by "writers" seem embarrassingly narcissistic and exhibitionistic. Much of what blog authors call stream of consciousness (assuming they're familiar with the term) I call gibberish.

Until recently, when I considered blogging, the only titles I could come up with were Another Writer Blogging or Another Pathetic Marketing Attempt by a Minor Regional Writer. Other than blogs by a few heavyweights, most seem like pitiful pleas for attention.

There are exceptions.

Nowadays, when one admires an article or book by an unfamiliar author, the first order of business after (or even before) finishing the work is to check out his or her website. Many of these have a link to the author's blog. I can never resist.

Most I glance at and forget, but a few have become daily habits. After reading the morning paper, I must check Stephen Bodio's Querencia and Rod Dreher's Crunchy Con. On Mondays, I can't miss James Howard Kunstler's Clusterfuck Nation Chronicle and Daily Grunt. Through these, I've learned of a few other excellent blogs, which I'll pass along in future posts.

More single-minded (or dull) folks might call my blog checking a waste of time, but I see it as a way to keep up with thinking outside of the mainstream punditry, and, more importantly, a way to jump start my own thinking. The best of these are beautifully written, thorough, thoughtful, and cover topics generally ignored by magazines and big city dailies.

I've named my own blog Home Range, because I plan to leave national and international politics to the Huffers, Coulter, and others who, because they're better connected, smarter, more worldly, better read, more talented, more doctrinaire, more self-assured, or more sadistic than I am, have millions of readers while I have next to none. Rather, as my blog's subtitle suggests, I'll stick to subjects about which I might have something useful to say.

But as one grows, so does one's home range.

Why bother? After all, there are hundreds of thousands - if not millions - of blogs out there. Never mind all the other media vying for people's attention. And done right, blogging takes creative energy, something I rarely have in excess.

I'm blogging because I want to enter a conversation, to exchange ideas with folks who have questions similar to mine.

At best, I hope to be of use. At the very least, I hope to learn something.

We'll see how it goes.