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...