Monday, December 15, 2008

Robert Earl Keene's Merry Christmas from the Family

Yes, we've all heard this little masterpiece from the great Robert Earl Keene many times, but it always helps me get through the season - or to Christmas Eve night when I finally get into the spirit of things.


Friday, December 5, 2008

If in doubt...

The evidence: osage orange cuttings.

If you wait until conditions are perfect, you'll rarely hunt. I know that.

Tueday before Thanksgiving, I'd put in a good day at the word processor and had a couple hours to hunt. Wind was howling in out of the west. Treetops were whipping. A bad time to squirrel hunt, but it was the time I had.
We hunted for an hour or so without a strike. Then Cate treed a bowhunter. Fortunately, he turned out to be friendly, but I felt bad about disturbing him. Yes, we were hunting public land and I had as much right to be there as he did, but he'd picked an excellent spot overlooking a stretch of dry creek lined with oaks. Acorns covered the creekbed. I had seen several deer in the area on previous hunts. And he'd obviously lugged his portable tree stand a long way.

Then the wind really picked up so that I doubted I could hear Cate if she treed more than fifty yards away. Feeling low, I decided to call it a day.
I started to unload my shotgun as we started to head up the trail to the truck. Then Cate raised her nose and bolted into a thick stand of cedars. Since she usually yelps when she strikes hot scent, I assumed she was either cold trailing or smelling distant air scent. Moments later she treed.

I found her on an unuually large bois d'arc (osage orange or, in local parlance,"bodark"). The whipping branches revealed a fox squirrel hidden near the top.

I let her carry that one back to the truck.

Just go.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Something to keep in mind...

Wisdom from an unnamed 'coon hunter who occasionally sips beer at a certain watering hole on the Red River in Northeast Texas:

"Messin' with a man's wife is a good way to get your ass kicked; mistreatin' a man's dog is a good way to get killed."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Magazine Updates

In case you're interested:

"Reviving the Trinity," published in the November issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife, is now available online.

I've uploaded text file versions of "Woodcock Dogs" and "East Texas Woodcock," published in the October 2008 issue of Texas Wildlife, to my website.

I recently received word that "Water or Woods," published in the July 2007 issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife, won first place in the "public issues" category in the 2008 International Regional Magazine Association (IRMA) competition.

Happy Thanksgiving!

To the blog roll with him!

I've long thought that my buddy Wyman Meinzer should have a blog. In fact, I had thought about trying to talk him into guest blogging here at Home Range. He's a hunter, trapper, pilot, writer, publisher, all around wild man, and the best wildlife photographer in the country. (And you should see his hand-carved predator calls.) Wyman has kept a field journal since he was a kid, and now he'll be sharing his thoughts, experiences, and photos with us at his new blog.

So stop by, get to know Wyman, and check out his books. He's a sure-enough Texas original.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Gurf Morlix live @ the Granada Theater in Dallas Tx

This Gurf Morlix tune always leaves me shaken, makes me think of a certain someone. Hang in there, gal. Hang in there.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

More Tough Going

Cate after a short hunt this past Thursday. Folks who think squirrel hunting is a kid's sport have never tried to spot a fox squirrel flattened out on a branch near the top of a mature oak.

Temperatures dropped here in North Texas, thank goodness. Then the wind picked up. But if you wait until everything's perfect, you'll rarely hunt.

Cate and I got out a couple of afternoons last week. Late Thursday, with the wind howling in the treetops, she disappeared into a patch of cedar and Osage orange. I heard her strike and wondered where a squirrel would hide in such low scrubby stuff. Moments later, Cate emerged with a fox squirrel which she efficiently dispatched with vigorous head-shaking and much impressive growling. You'd have thought she was fighting a bear. She handled the two squirrels in the photo in a more traditional manner.

We're heading for deep East Texas tomorrow. Soon, it'll be time to head west for quail.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bone of Conciliation

I wrote a piece on Comanche-Texan conciliation for the Sept/Oct issue of Orion. It's now available online. I've long sensed that simple acknowledgement and proximity - stepping outside of comfort zones - promotes healing far better than official proclamations. It's hard to resent someone or remain indifferent to his concerns after you've shared a meal and a few laughs with him.

You can see more of Juanita Pahdopony's fabulous art in the print edition.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Chauvinism or Hard Truth?

From Associated Press:

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) -- The man who announces the Nobel Prize in literature says the United States is too "insular" and ignorant to compete with Europe when it comes to great writing.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Horace Engdahl said Tuesday that "Europe still is the center of the literary world."

Engdahl is the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, which selects the literature prize winner. He is expected to announce the winner in the coming weeks.

Engdahl says the U.S. "is too isolated, too insular" and doesn't really "participate in the big dialogue of literature."

Since Japanese poet Kenzaburo Oe won in 1994, the selections have had a distinct European flavor. The last American winner was Toni Morrison in 1993.

Is there an American novelist or poet who deserves serious Nobel consideration?

HT Bridgette Williams at Texas Pages.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Tough Going - But Good

Cate after a very warm morning hunt in the Red River breaks.

Squirrel season opens October 1 in most East Texas counties. However, in the timbered hills and draws along the Red River, in a few north Texas counties where Blackland Prairie and Post Oak Savannah meet to form some of the best fox squirrel habitat anywhere, the season never officially closes, though summer heat keeps hunters out of the woods June through August and most of September.

Last week, with early morning temperatures in the low 60s, Cate and I hit a certain section of woods - post oak, blackjack oak, pecan, elm, cedar, and Osage orange - for a couple of warm-up hunts.

We did, in fact, warm up.

We started at first light, and by 9 o'clock I was drenched in sweat and Cate was stepping on her tongue. Compared to gray squirrels, fox squirrels are late risers.

Still, we had a fine time, and Cate worked well in spite of the heat. She treed several times, but the squirrels were very hard to see up there in the dense leaves. It's pretty tough for a single hunter and a dog this time of year. I blew a couple of easy shots.

But cooler days are coming. We'll try to get out a day or two this week.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Little Scrappers

How's this for precocious?

A few posts back, I wrote that Donny Lynch, my hunting buddy and dog training mentor, has pups for sale. Here's a very recent photo of four of his pups on a tree. Yes, there's a squirrel up there. The gorgeous feist highest on the trunk is Sponge Bob (named by Donny's grandson Eli.) He's 11 weeks old. The little rat terriers are 8 weeks old. Some of his pups are for sale and some are not. Again, if you're interested, drop me a line and I'll put you in touch with him.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Goose Throwdown

Actually, I'm most impressed by the Chessie. She clearly knew how to take care of the goose but backed off at her master's command.

HT to the boys at Field Notes.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More on "Stuff White People Like"

I've always considered "Stuff Various Ethnic Groups Like" harmless fun. I had my own fun with the concept here.

But Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic's literary editor, thinks that Christian Lander, founder of the blog "Stuff White People Like," offers more than lightweight mockery:

"SWPL—which catalogs the tastes, prejudices, and consumption habits of well-off, well-educated, youngish, self-described progressives—was refreshing because it’s everything a blog, almost by definition, is not. Rather than serving up unedited, impromptu, self-important ruminations on random events and topics, the tightly focused, stylishly written, precisely observed entries eschew the genre’s characteristic I (though Lander in fact writes nearly all of them) and adopt a cool, never snarky though sometimes biting, pseudo-anthropological tone. "

Further on:

"More damning is the conclusion produced by a careful reading of this often fine-grained semi-sociological analysis: a good deal of the progressives’ attitudes, preferences, and sense of identity are ingrained in an unlovely disdain for those outside their charmed circle. "


"At the top of this list is anything that has to do with Christianity”—an aversion, Lander discerns, rooted not in religious enmity but in taste (Christianity is “a little trashy”), formed largely by class and education. To those of this mind-set, the problem with a great many Americans is that they don’t “care about the right things.

".... In fact, he asserts in a somewhat atypical aside that betrays the steel behind his joshing, 'White People 'really do hate a significant portion of the population.' "

Think of the Left's predictable reaction to Sarah Palin, and the Right's gleeful, cynical, and equally predictable effort to exploit it. (Perhaps we need a blog called "Stuff Right People Like.")

I'm afraid that disdain for a certain "significant portion of the population," isn't limited to the Left. Here in very white collar, Republican North Texas, among people who generally regard any form of collective bargaining as a significant slide down the slippery slope toward socialism, I'm amazed at the new-found love of the working class. Todd Palin, a union man! A sure-enough 'merican! Those goddamn liberals wouldn't last a week up there in Alaska.

Of course the ideologues and opportunists in both parties underestimate the people they simultaneously loathe and woo. Getting to know truck drivers, rural preachers, farmers, factory workers, and tradesmen would be messy and uncomfortable. Better to work in the abstract and deal in stereotypes. Engaging nimble minds where we hadn't expected to find any, seeing what can be endured and accomplished through simple religious faith, or counting friends among the uninsured "resources" freed-up by downsizing and globalization could encourage reflection. We might even begin to to question positions we've spent years solidifying and arguing.

But then we like what we like. If only the everyone else liked what we like...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Reprieve for the Ogallala Aquifer

A few minutes ago, I ran across this small wire report in The Dallas Morning News:

"LUBBOCK - Billionaire and wind energy advocate T. Boone Pickens has indefinitely suspended plans for a water pipeline aimed at shipping water from the Texas Panhandle to thirsty cities downstate. Mr. Pickens is continuing to pursue rights of way for electric transmission lines to carry power generated by a planned wind farm. Spokesman said there were no buyers for the water."

Politics aside, I like and admire Boone Pickens in spite of his fearsome reputation. Several years ago, I interviewed him for the Dallas Business Journal and found him gracious, funny, and self-effacing. That said, I'd hate to be one of his enemies.

Wind towers are ugly, noisy, and potentially deadly to birds. I have serious reservations about the Kenedy County Wind Energy Development project on the Texas coast. Nevertheless, I appreciate Boone Pickens's leadership on the issues of peak oil and wind power. Yes, he has a serious financial stake, but at least he has something to offer. We have to wean ourselves from fossil fuel, and wind power is one alternative. Wind farms on certain parts of the High Plains - one of the world's windiest regions - make sense.

However, I've always opposed Pickens's water project. I'm not sorry to learn that he has abandoned it for the time being. In theory, he'd purchase rights to drill and pump fossil groundwater from all over the northern Panhandle then pipe it to customers in Dallas, Fort Worth, and other profligate water consumers. Under the outdated "Right of Capture," he could sell as much water as he could pump. Never mind that the Ogallala Aquifer, the basis of the entire High Plains economy, is being rapidly depleted by heavy pumping for irrigation. In some areas, the water level has dropped 100 feet or more.

Proponents of the plan say that water is worth more to the farmers than the crops they could grow, and that once the water is gone, agriculture on the southern High Plains will cease, and the native grasses and wildlife, even bison, could return. One way or another, the Ogallala will be depleted. Landowners might as well get the maximum benefit from the pumping rights.

This isn't a ridiculous position. Week before last, I spoke with a prominent High Plains agricultural expert about the state of the Ogallala Aquifer. I asked him why so few people, are talking about it. His answer: "Because it's too awful to imagine. So they don't imagine. It's easier to deny the problem and keep doing what you've always done."

Sound familiar? "Drill, baby, drill!"

But selling fossil water will hasten the destruction of the region's economy, leaving less time for orderly transition and will likely speed the already unsustainable growth in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex while delaying critical debate about limits.

These days, Boone Pickens is focused on wind. I wish him much success. Hopefully, he'll be too busy to get back to his water project.

The Joys of Cur Ownership

I feel fall coming. Cooler temperatures, declining stress, new hunting license, fox squirrels going about their squirrelish business with renewed vigor, Cate understandably raising hell all day long, and, thus far, my dear, long-suffering neighbors not complaining to the authorities.

Jane tells me to make her hush. I respond that you probably shouldn't reprimand a tree dog - especially a pup - for treeing - or "roofing," or "fencing," as the case may be.

In hot weather, fox squirrels, like gray squirrels, are most active early and late in the day. No problem. Let the dogs in just before sunrise then turn them back out around mid-morning.

Now, the squirrels are active all day, scurrying about roofs, running along the top of my fence, trying to get at the last of my tomatoes, and generally keeping little Cate in a state of high and noisy alert.

I cannot safely shoot the squirrels with my pellet gun. Believe me, I've given it serious thought. Blessed silence plus baked squirrel.

We'll tough it out. Hunting season opens October 1. Cate can get her squirrel fix in the woods, then lie around my office dreaming squirrel dreams.

Yesterday afternoon, I gave up and let the dogs in. After sniffing everything in my office at least twice, they lay down and commenced snoring. A bit later, as I stared at the monitor and considered superfluous adverbs or wondered if there were any new entries at the Atlantic Monthly blog and otherwise worked very hard at not working, Cate cut loose at the top of her lungs. In my small office. With the door closed.

After I regained my wits and breath, I spun around to find both dogs staring at the ceiling, ears perked, brows furrowed. Then I heard the unmistakable patter of a squirrel running along the roof.

There was nothing to do but say, "Good girl!" and try to keep Cate from jumping on my desk.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Need a Good Pup?

Donny Lynch, my East Texas hunting buddy, has a few rat terrier and feist puppies he'd sell to the right hunter(s). Donny isn't a commercial dog breeder, though he's very serious, experienced, and knowledgeable. He occasionally breeds hunting dogs for himself and his friends. In this case he has a few pups left over, but he's not desperate to sell them. Donny hunts every day during the squirrel season, and coon hunts all summer in the East Texas heat, so he has no trouble working several dogs.

Of course no puppy is a sure thing, but I can personally vouch for Donny's breeding stock. I've hunted over all of his finished dogs and count them among the best all-around hunting dogs - of any breed - that I've ever known. During an average season, they'll account for hundreds of squirrels and scores of raccoons.

The rat terrier puppies are out of a locally famous line of treeing rat terriers often called "Dubbie dogs" in reference to "Dubbie," a large terrier that won the World Hunt several years ago. In general these dogs are silent on the track with a clear loud bark on the tree. This litter's sire is Chance, one of Donny's all-time favorites. You can see a decent photo of Chance in this article.
Chance's puppy Junior made an appearance this past July on Good Morning Texas. At just over a year old, he's already treeing well, and he accounted for a number of squirrels during his puppy season.

Ranger, the sire of the feist pups, is ounce of ounce, the toughest little hunter I've ever seen, though he's very companionable and biddable. Like Chance, Ranger is silent on the track and has a nice clear bark on the tree. He's an excellent coon dog. I blogged about him here and here.

As a general rule, I don't advertise or plug products. I have no financial stake in these puppies, nor do I know how much Donny might charge. But he's a great friend, dog man, and hunter, and I wanted to pass this info along.

For the most part, Donny places his pups with serious squirrel and coon hunters, but I suspect that if you can provide a good home and keep a dog busy with other kinds of terrier and feist work he'd be glad to hear from you. His dogs are very bold, gamey, and versatile. These pups will be very well socialized. The feist pups are around seven months old and are already starting to tree. I believe the rat terrier pups are quite a bit younger.

If you're interested, drop me a line, and I'll put you in touch with Donny.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Stuff Some White People Like

First thing this morning, when I should have been working, I checked in on 2blowhards like I do first thing every morning when I should be working and noticed that Michael Blowhard scored 27 out of 107 on the "Stuff White People Like" test and found himself a little less white than he'd expected.

"Stuff Various Ethnic Groups Like" seems to be all the rage these days, so I decided to find out just how white I am. Turns out, I'm considerably less white that Michael B.

I scored 17/107.

One glance at the test confirmed my suspicion. The questions, like television commercials, are not aimed at my demographic. That is, age 48, born, raised and educated in Kentucky, comfortably settled in Texas for the past 26 years, extremely cheap...uh...thrifty and sensible

For instance, I do not know, nor have I ever known a person of any ethnicity who likes self-aware hip-hop references. Likewise Oscar Parties, Michael Gondry (whoever the hell he is), or knowing what's best for poor people.

I knew a vegetarian once. She moved to Manhattan. This past weekend, I met a young woman from California, a fellow scribbler who had relapsed after 10 years of vegetarianism. I asked her what happened. She said, "I moved to Texas."

I love dogs, as some of you may know. Also, coffee, black friends, farmers markets, gifted children, public radio, and book deals, especially those that come with an advance. My friends (black, white, and Hispanic) and I love organic food, particularly, squirrel, quail, frog legs, catfish, and any vegetable or fruit plucked from a backyard garden or orchard. Ditto bumper stickers or at least those that proclaim things like "I Hunt With Meat Dogs."

I like Barack Obama. However, I enjoy looking at Sarah Palin. (Stuff Middle-Age Men Like)

If you're new to my blog, you may be surprised that my friends and I love wine, which, according to the test, moves me toward the white end of the scale. In fact, on our hunting trips, far more wine than beer is consumed after the guns are unloaded and put away. A couple of years ago, I visited my buddy Wyman Meinzer at his home in Benjamin, Texas. We'd spent an afternoon following a pack of curs and plott hounds in pursuit of wild hogs. We were pulling back out on Highway 82, just before dark, when Wyman's wife, Sylinda, called and said, "Where are you boys? It's wine time!"

Oh, wait...

Could that be considered ironic? Maybe I'm a little whiter than I thought.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Warning: Shameless Self-Promotion

I love wine writing assignments, and I'm living proof that you don't have to be an expert to get paid for tasting wine and scribbling opinions.

My article "North Texas Uncorked" appears in the August issue of Texas Highways. You can check out a much-abbreviated version here, along with a short interview and a selection of Skeeter Hagler's photos.

I'll thank you serious and educated wine drinkers for holding your laughter.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Good Morning Texas

The Land Report/Working Dogs segment on "Good Morning Texas" went very well, I thought. But who is that old man with the little yellow cur?

The WFAA folks were very gracious. Host Gary Cogill made quite a fuss over the dogs and even brought them a big bowl of water. Eric O'Keefe did a great job and put in a fine plug for Working Dogs of Texas, the book Wyman and I finished early this year. It should be out in fall 2009.

We had a great time, and thank goodness I didn't have to talk!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Little Cate-Cur - Morning Show Diva

I'm still not quite believing this, but I checked the "Good Morning Texas" website, and there under Tuesday - tomorrow - is "Dogs with Jobs."

Eric O'Keefe, a Dallas-area publisher, editor, and writer is launching a new version of Land Report, a magazine aimed at owners of rural land. There will be features and columns on everything from farming and ranching advice to wildlife management, hunting and fishing, and celebrity profiles. I wrote a piece on working dogs for the inaugural issue. The inimitable Wyman Meinzer provided incredible photos.

Eric's publicist landed him a spot on "Good Morning Texas," and, fine fellow that he is, he'll be talking about my article. He convinced the producers that the segment wouldn't be complete without some real working dogs.

So, Donny Lynch will be there with his feist Ranger and rat terrier Junior. Wyman's son Hunter, a cowboy and cutting horse trainer is bringing his border collie-Kelpie pup, and I'll be there with Cate, who turned a year old yesterday. Donny has promised to wear his best overalls and Wolverine boots and a starched shirt. I'm thinking of giving Cate a bath this afternoon. This would be her third, if I'm remembering correctly.

Most likely, Eric will talk for a few minutes and then we'll parade our dogs through one by one. We're just serving as dog handlers and probably won't say a word.

Naturally, I'm a wreck. I can just imagine an off-stage dog fight. Cate often howls when she's excited or especially exuberant.

Still, I'm half expecting they'll decide they don't need the dogs or don't have time. We'll see.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Counting Words, Wasting Creative Energy

The University of North Texas recently launched a promising literary journal. (HT Michael Merchel at Texas Pages.) In the inaugural issue, the estimable Bob Shacochis muses on the agony of trying to finish a long, difficult novel while resisting the seductions of literary journalism.

Let me admit right off that I took great comfort in his suffering. I constantly fret about literary output. If Shacochis does the same, I must be in fine company. I enjoyed the entire essay, but found his descriptions of his daily work habits most fascinating.

"Sometimes I do fall asleep, which makes me feel miserable in every conceivable way. Neither sleep nor stimulants have any effect, however, on the speed at which I write these days, which is glacial. I begin each session by revising the 300 or 400 words I extruded–wrenchingly, haltingly–the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that, and I end each session with 300 or 400 new words, the dogs dancing around my chair in anticipation of their before-dinner walk. "

At first glance, that looks like a very modest output. When I'm working on a novel, actually writing as opposed to researching or plotting, I usually manage 500-1000 words per day - usually closer to 1000. But, unlike Shacochis, I'll write an entire draft without slowing to revise. So I'll spend most of a year turning out a very rough first draft, only to spend almost as much time on the second. After that, subsequent drafts go much faster, and of course there's the psychological benefit of seeing pages accumulate. I hesitate to spend time revising until I've reached the end of the story because I'm afraid a chapter or long passage will have to be scrapped or rewritten because of an unforeseen plot twist.

On the other hand, while writers like Shacochis, who revise as they go, will take much longer to reach the end of the story, they have a fairly polished draft when they type "THE END." I read somewhere that Kurt Vonnegut perfected every page before going to the next. When he finished a first draft, it was ready to go to his editor. You can't argue with success.

I'm very suspicious of anyone who claims to have perfected a method. About the best anyone can offer is, "This is what usually works for me."

Friday, June 20, 2008

Chris Knight - Enough Rope (On The Edge of Country)

Kentucky boy and WKU graduate. Nice song. He talks right too.

We were there in Bowling Green at the same time. I wonder if we ever passed each other on that steep hillside between the dorms and the math and science buildling.

A glimmer?

Interesting article by Sara Nelson in Publishers Weekly:

HT Michael Merschel at Texas Pages.

Here's a sample:

“'In every crisis lies an opportunity,' goes the old saying—and nowhere could that be more true than in publishing today. It's that kind of thinking that has led Bob Miller, say, out of traditional publishing and into creating his new venture, Harper Studio, which has reportedly already closed several deals. It's that kind of thinking that has led S&S—clearly just as worried as the next house about all the “challenges” to reading in the age of the Internet—into the digital age; just look at some of the house's new, nontraditional, take-charge new-media hires. "


"What I think this means: some of the quaint, arcane practices we cherish—returns, say—are going to have to go. Likewise, astronomical advances, the kind that don't make money even if the books land on the lists. And what about backlist? Is somebody ever going to figure out how to mine this most potentially profitable publishing vein?"

How many of you writers out there cherish returns?

I'll remain hopeful, but I'm certainly not optimistic.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Sense of Entitlement

According to this AP Article:

"The nation's anger over $4 gasoline is producing a lot of energy-related theatrics at the White House and in Congress. Republicans are demanding new drilling off the nation's beaches. Democrats want to tax away oil companies' profits."


"President Bush on Wednesday said families across the country are looking to Washington to help them cope with economically ravaging high gasoline costs. And he warned lawmakers that if they don't do something before the July 4th holiday "they will need to explain" to voters."

So the nation is angry about high gas prices. If, in fact, production has peaked and is now in or near the beginning of inexorable decline, where should we direct our anger? Really, who's at fault?

Other Arrangements

If you haven't read James Howard Kunstler's The Long Emergency, but you're interested in or worried about peak oil, check out his piece in Orion, "Making Other Arrangements." Here's the crux:

"And a harsh reality indeed awaits us as the full scope of the permanent energy crisis unfolds. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, world oil production peaked in December 2005 at just over 85 million barrels a day. Since then, it has trended absolutely flat at around 84 million. Yet world oil consumption rose consistently from 77 million barrels a day in 2001 to above 85 million so far this year. A clear picture emerges: demand now exceeds world supply. Or, put another way, oil production has not increased despite the ardent wish that it would by all involved, and despite the overwhelming incentive of prices having nearly quadrupled since 2001. "

This article ran in early 2007, so Kunstler's figures may be a bit out-of-date, and no doubt optimists and those with an interest in maintaining the belief that we can continue forever at our current pace have published refutations, either of the basic numbers, Kunstler's interpretation of those numbers, or both. I can't begin to keep up with the technical details, since everyone with a stake or a political or ideological ax to grind seems to have his own numbers and interpretations.

Most folks that I talk to here in the Dallas area are in Dick Cheney's camp: Petroleum prices are too high. Like it or not, ours is a fossil fuel economy. The obvious solution is to increase production. It's as simple as that. Drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, open offshore areas to drilling. That'll get gasoline prices down for a few years. In the meantime "they" will come up with solutions to our long-term energy problems.

But, as Rod Dreher points out:

"For the record, I agree with USA Today's editorial board that we ought to drill in ANWR, but that it barely make a difference in the nation's energy use.According to federal government estimates, if we started drilling today, oil would start coming out in 2018, and would peak in 2027 at -- are you ready for this? -- a whopping 780,000 barrels a day. According to the CIA Factbook, in 2004 the US was consuming 20 million barrels a day. If we had ANWR pumping at peak right now, it would meet less than five percent of our daily needs. And by 2018? Even more of a drop in the bucket, assuming we don't reduce consumption, which we almost certainly will have done by then. "

I don't support drilling the ANWR. I think the probability of environmental damage outweighs the potential benefit. More than 90 percent of Alaska's North Slope is open to drilling. Surely we can set aside and protect this great wilderness. Just because very few Americans want to go there, let alone live there, (It's just a goddamn wasteland! I seen it on TV!) doesn't mean it isn't worthy of protection. Nor does the fact that caribou have been seen hanging around the Alaskan pipeline (Hell, they like that pipeline!) mean that drilling and the associated development wouldn't damage the refuge's ecology.

As for off-shore drilling, I'm not educated enough to comment responsibly. I'll just say that I'm very skeptical given the cost and complexity. How close are we to effectively burning a barrel of oil to get a barrel of oil? Are the existing reserves large enough to justify development costs? Here's Kunstler, in The Long Emergency:

"The ratio of energy expended in getting oil out of the ground to the energy produced by that oil in the U.S. oil industry has fallen from 28:1 in 1916 to 2:1 in 2004 and will continue falling."

I really ought to check these numbers since they scare the hell out of me. Surely, I'm over-simplifying or misinterpreting. Please, somebody tell me why these numbers aren't that worrisome, that 2:1 really is a comfortable margin. Please. Or convince me that Kunstler is wrong.

Oil industry technology is progressing! We can get the petroleum more efficiently!

Yes, but as we deplete fields, oil becomes more difficult and expensive to extract. Will technology keep pace? Or will it fall behind and the ratio of energy gained to energy expended continue to slip? And what about the effect of petroleum cost on the pace of technology?

But let's be optimistic in the short term. Let's say oil producers are able to ratchet up production and gas prices begin to fall significantly. Won't consumption, which has decreased slightly due to high prices, begin to rise? So we plow ahead, of course, as does China and India, instead of making the kinds of "other arrangements" recommended by Kunstler, Bill McKibben, and others, or for that matter, any changes. Change can be expensive, painful, and frightening, and our neighbors, co-workers, and kids might think we're odd. Worse yet, we could over-react. After all, things still seem to be working. Surely "they" will do something to keep things going.

Maybe they will. The old engineer in me still has plenty of respect for human ingenuity. I know better than to assume that the currently unimaginable is impossible. Yet I also believe in physical limits, so I'm far less sanguine than market ideologues who shrug and say, "Don't worry. Market conditions will stimulate the necessary innovation," as if economic theory, a strange brew of sociology, politics, and mathematics, is anchored by the kinds of laws that form the foundation of the hard sciences.

What should we do? We hear a lot about the need for local economies and walkable communities. But how should the average suburbanite get started?

A while back, Matt asked a similar question and received some interesting comments.

In his column in Sunday's Dallas Morning News, Rod Dreher makes a few suggestions that will cause some of his conservative colleagues to turn green and rip out of their suspenders and bow ties. A sample:

"•Dramatically changing zoning restrictions to permit small retailing in residential areas, making it possible for people to walk or bike to do their shopping. Refuse to approve new housing developments unless they are designed for pedestrian accessibility to retail areas.

•Through regulation and tax-code changes, encouraging the development of local farming, so population centers can better afford to feed themselves. Similarly, discouraging the use of arable land for development.

•Government investing in expanding broadband infrastructure to make high-speed Internet access more accessible and affordable. A recent study by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation found ranked the U.S. 15th out of 30 industrialized countries in terms of broadband performance. Offering tax incentives to companies that use the Internet to decentralize their workforce to homes and neighborhood clusters."

All well and good. But consider a composite suburban couple, the kind of folks who commute 10-20 miles every day, then come home and drive their kids all over creation. Both husband and wife work at professional jobs. In fact, they're probably corporate transplants, mortgaged to the hilt. They can't afford private school for the kids; if they move into the city, the kids will have to attend a very rough public school, the kind with gangs and metal detectors. Their home hasn't gained in value. There's a swimming pool where they might have grown vegetables. They've spent their adult years living like most everyone else at their economic level, their income growing along with their debt. But now they're seeing troubling signs, feeling that that ought to make some adjustments.

Any ideas?

Let's hope the optimists are right. Otherwise, I'm not seeing a smooth tranistion from the current fossil fuel economy to whatever lies ahead.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

James McMurtry - 60 Acres

Why am I a James McMurtry fan? Because he actually takes an honest look at people and places and sees where we're headed. No sentimentality or affected angst.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Better Late than Never

A few weeks back I left this comment on Mark's post on his new tenant:

"Nice pic. For the past several years we've had a mourning dove nest on top of the shade structure over the dog houses. Drives the dogs crazy, but Maggie can't quite jump high enough to reach it, and I keep her dog house far enough to one side that she can't jump on it and then jump up and chomp at the nest. So far this year, no dove. I kind of miss it."

Well, yesterday, I stepped outside to find Maggs whining and pacing about beneath the shade structure. Our tenant has arrived.

Cate doesn't give a rip. If it isn't covered in fur, it isn't worthy of her attention. But a squirrel on the neighbor's roof sends her around the bend.
Actually, Mama Dove has picked a good spot. She has overhead protection from avian predators, and heaven help the possum, coon, or rat snake brave or stupid enough to enter the yard. I do worry about the fledglings flapping out into the yard.
Still, I welcome the company.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

In case you're interested...

For the past few years I've written a hunting dog column for Texas Wildlife, the magazine of the Texas Wildlife Association. TWA doesn't maintain an electronic archive, so I've started uploading the published columns to my website. I have a few there now, and I plan to get the rest of them, along with selected feature articles, uploaded over the next several days. You can read them here.

Most of the columns are aimed at beginners, so experienced working dog folks probably won't learn much from them. Still, bird dog lovers might enjoy reading about hounds, and houndsmen might enjoy reading about retrievers, and so on.


Friday, May 9, 2008

Too Fast, Too Fragile

Frank Deford's NPR commentary on Thoroughbreds and the American emphasis on speed and power in nearly all sports got me thinking about pointing dogs. Modern pointing dog field trials stress speed and style above all other qualities, including hunting ability. As a result, we're seeing too many dogs with more "run" than "hunt." My own beloved Maggs descends from a long line of great trial dogs. She's a blur in the field. And she's injured more often than not because her delicate body just can't take the pounding she gives it on the rough West Texas badlands. She also has marginal hips. At five years old, she no longer wants to jump in the bed of the truck. At two, she'd jump over the tailgate. Yet she still runs flat out in the field. On warm days, she consistently outruns her nose.

But she looks damned impressive doing it - when she's within sight.

Monday, May 5, 2008

I Love Mountains Day - Wendell Berry

Nothing flashy. Just plain-spoken wisdom, as always.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Grand Cayman

Confession: On Wednesday April 23, 2008, between 7:15 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., I consumed four large lobster tails, a house salad, several rolls, an assortment of steamed vegetables and at least two glasses of sauvignon blanc.
Excuse: I was merely getting my money's worth on all-you-can-eat lobster night at a Grand Cayman restaurant that caters to American appetites. Besides, we were on vacation, damn it.

A diving vacation, actually. A well-traveled diver once explained to me the difference between a diving vacation and a diving trip. On a diving vacation, you mix a few dives in with your gluttony, lying about, and overspending. On a diving trip, you get off the plane, throw your gear into the rental car, and drive directly to the boat. Over the next few days, you spend as much time in the water as you can without succumbing to nitrogen poisoning. In other words, you dive the way I went at hunting and fishing back in my teens, twenties, and early thirties. I don't go at anything that hard anymore, including work.

Normally, Grand Cayman Island would be way too upscale for a cheapskate like me, but my alert and resourceful left-brained wife put together a great deal, one of those tedious and confusing arrangements involving points, miles, credits, discounts, and upgrades.

Given a choice of vacation spots, I'll head to some mountain range or other or back to Kentucky. Jane will head for the ocean. I'm a decent swimmer, comfortable in water. Jane is powerful swimmer, a former life guard, who'd rather swim a mile than walk a mile. I'm convinced that her ears double as gills.

So we left glorious spring weather here in North Texas - crisp nights and mornings, highs in the low 70s, bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, tender greenery everywhere - to land on a Saturday afternoon in suffocating heat and humidity. Sweat ran down my sunglasses as I toted our gear from the little terminal to the rental car office. (Welcome to de island, mon!) I muttered something like, "I can have this shit in Houston in August." If Jane heard me, she held her tongue.

The intrepid divers head out to sea. We don't have an underwater camera, so we ended up with the standard ridiculous tourist photos ("...and here we are at Rum Point, standing next to the giant wooden lizard.")

* * *

When I was a kid, back in the early seventies, I did some diving with my father. Dad was a spear fisherman and volunteer diver for the local rescue squad. He and another squad member taught me the basics in the pool at tiny Campbellsville College, in my hometown. What I remember most from those lessons is the gentle amusement in Dad's brown eyes, behind his mask, as we passed his regulator back and forth in eight or ten feet of water during our "buddy-breathing" exercise. No doubt my eyes were big as silver dollars as I waited those few seconds for Dad to calmly take his two or three breaths before handing the regulator back to me.

After that, we did some shallow diving along the banks of Green River Reservoir, slow, easy diving, with decent visibility. We filled up a tackle box with lures that anglers lost to roots and stumps. The number of huge bass that hung around in six feet of water in the middle of a summer day astounded me.

Dad stored his personal diving gear in a small, faded army-surplus rucksack. I loved to go through it, and he didn't mind. He kept his mask and regulator in the main compartment, wrapped in rags. His compass and depth gauge went in side pockets. His knife, in its hard scabbard, was shoved to one side of the main compartment so that when the flap was closed the big orange handle protruded. The bundle smelled of old canvas, lake water, rubber, and a scent that I can only describe as "Dad." I relied on borrowed equipment, but I had my own rucksack, and I daydreamed about filling it with my own gear.

In his work with the rescue squad, Dad located and helped recover the remains of drowning victims. I asked him about it, and all he'd say was, "Usually you're right on top of the body before you recognize it. "

Then, on a cool, gray spring day, he descended into a deep, flooded quarry in search of a missing mother and her toddler and infant. He found the car in about thirty feet of water. The windows were down. He turned on his light and looked inside. After that, my unshakable father, a WWII combat veteran, lost interest in diving. I was too young to continue without him.

Years passed, and Dad seemed to get his second wind. Still vigorous in his early sixties, he bought a new bird dog pup - this first since his best old dog died a dozen years before - and regained his passion for old pursuits. He began to talk about diving again. By this time, a couple of years out of college, I could afford my own gear. We made some rough plans, noted improvements in equipment, looked at prices.

Then he died suddenly, and I let go all thoughts of diving.

* * *

A few years back, Jane announced that she wanted to go diving in the Caribbean. I told her she'd have to take lessons and get certified, and that I'd need to go through the training again. She let it drop, and I figured that was the end of it. But this past January, we saw "Bucket List," the movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, about two cancer patients determined to do all of the things on their list - their bucket list - before they kicked the bucket. So they jumped out of planes, drove race cars, reconnected with family, and so on. A very funny and touching movie. Jane decided we'd get an early start on our bucket list. Next thing I knew she'd signed us up for scuba lessons. We finished our academic and pool lessons here in the Dallas area. We'd finish our certification with four successful training dives in the waters off Grand Cayman Island.

It all came back very quickly, though I had to adjust to major equipment improvements. For one thing, the old style of buddy-breathing is out; today's diver is equipped with a back-up secondary regulator for emergencies. Modern masks are far lighter, more comfortable, and easier to clear than the older models, though they lack the satisfying heft. No more confusing dive tables. A dive computer that attaches to your BC or wrist crunches the numbers for you.

Sunday morning on the island, we rigged up our gear, and, along with five other students, followed our instructor, Dave, down the ladder, through the rocks, and into water too clear and blue to be real.

Trouble, right off. This being my first saltwater dive, I underestimated the effect of the additional buoyancy. Twelve pounds of weight, I discovered, would barely get me under water. I worked way too hard maintaining reasonable depth as we worked our way out to the remains of an old cargo ship sunk by the British Navy in the 1920s. Jane kept looking back, motioning for me to get with it and keep up. It seems that descending thirty feet has little effect on a relationship. Still, I managed to get to the designated open spot on the bottom where we demonstrated a few necessary skills.

A bit later, as we switched out tanks in preparation for our second dive, Dave, a very reserved, patient young Brit, who'd said not a word about my struggles during the first dive, walked by and placed a four-pound weight in my hand. The second dive went much better.

* * *

It seemed to me that despite its posh restaurants and hotels, gorgeous beaches, rising financial prominence, and well-deserved reputation as a top diving and snorkeling destination, Grand Cayman Island hosts a high concentration of unhappy tourists. Eye contact was rare and fleeting, unless I happened to say "hi" or "good morning," which usually elicited a a startled glance and quickened pace. Grim or bored visages nearly everywhere, even on the beach. A typical breakfast scene: Jane and I are sitting at a table, sipping coffee and orange juice, enjoying the morning view of the beach. In walks a striking young woman, thirty-something with patrician good looks, followed by three or four young children, an uncomfortable-looking nanny and well-dressed and tonsured husband. The kids' eyes never leave their video games. The father's eyes rarely leave his Blackberry. They order without looking at the waiter. Other than the nanny' s corrections of the children, no one says anything. We noticed this sort of thing right off and saw it every day. Only in the tackiest tourist traps near Georgetown or out at Stingray Island, where crews from tour boats feed the stingrays to keep them around and tame, did folks seem to be having a big time.

Then there was the disappointing lack of birds. Maybe we were there at the wrong time of year for birding, but I expected lots of songbirds, gulls, and the like. Instead, I saw mostly white-winged doves, a few swallows, and lots of grackles. I don't believe I saw a single gull or wading bird. Maybe that's as it should be; I haven't checked into it. But I'll pass along a story. One night we were sitting in Sunset Grill, a hamburger and taco joint that became our favorite restaurant, (incredible fish tacos!) when a plane flew over so low that Jane thought it was about crash on the beach. I said it reminded me of a crop duster. The manager overheard our conversation, and said, "That's the mosquito plane. It comes over about this time every night. You've probably noticed that we have absolutely no mosquitoes." Actually, I hadn't noticed, most likely because, sure enough, there were no mosquitoes. Jane said that she was glad we weren't dining outside just then.

The life of the party. Your faithful correspondent in Paradise. Tired, sunburned, grouchy, and ready for supper.

* * *

The next two dives really were spectacular. We spent time about 70 feet deep, demonstrating proficiency with a compass and convincing Dave that we could take off our masks for a few seconds, put them back on and clear them without freaking out. Mostly, though, we eased along above the coral, watching turtles, tarpon, and schools of fish I couldn't identify. One of my regrets is that I didn't do more reading on the ecology of the island and its waters. Earlier that morning, a group of divers saw a hammerhead, so we kept an eye out, but didn't see one. Jane didn't seem especially disappointed.

Jane loves diving; she's thoroughly hooked. I like it. Actually, I took more pleasure in her delight than in the actual diving. Although I was quite comfortable, save for mild ear squeeze that forced me to slow my descent and equalize more often, I couldn't help but feel like a foreign object. Maybe it was the Darth Vader hiss of breathing from a tank. Maybe I prefer the mystery of something coming from unseen depths to take my fly, lure, or bait. Maybe I'm just getting old and cranky and prefer to spend my time where I feel I belong. Or perhaps the world's best diving can't match the wonder of being a kid six feet deep in a Kentucky lake, easing along with Dad, looking at schools of largemouth bass and bream, keeping an eye out for lures tangled in the brush.

Friday, April 18, 2008

More Excuses and an Upcoming Trip

My apologies for my lack of blogging and commenting, and thanks to Mike for the nudge to my already guilty conscience. I've been buried under work, but then everyone else works too, and they still manage to keep their blogs current.

Jane and I blast off on a short diving vacation tomorrow. I promise a full report with photos when I get back home. I'm taking along James Howard Kunstler's new novel, World Made by Hand. Expect a short review sometime in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, thanks for your patience, and please keep checking in.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Once again, the Onion nails American culture

Sometimes there's more truth in satire than in the best reporting, as this piece from the Onion clearly demonstrates.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Computer Crash

My not-so-old computer quit for good this past Friday. I finally got up and running with a new one late last night, but after jumping through all of the Internet configuration hoops, I seem to have dropped some email. So if you commented on my blog posts or sent email and now think I'm a rude SOB who ignores his friends, rest assured that I'm merely a clumsy SOB (Senile Old Birdhunter) who sometimes loses email. I hope you'll re-send your comments.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My Amazon/B&N Problem

Last Thursday I logged onto and ordered Coal River by Michael Shnayerson and two books in the Oxford University Press "Very Short Introduction" series. Even with the typical heavy discounts, the order qualified for free shipping. The following Saturday morning, I received an email from Amazon saying that the books had been shipped. Yesterday, (Monday) shortly after lunch, the books arrived at my front door.

How can any independent bookstore, other than those dealing in very rare, specialized, or antiquarian books, compete with that kind of service and convenience? Of course I love to browse bookstore shelves and racks, and I rarely leave without buying something. But for the past several years most of my book purchases have gone like this: A review on a new book or an essay about a writer's work catches my eye, or I'll need a book or journal for reference. Instead of heading to the bookstore, I click over to Amazon. But not without a twinge of guilt.

In most ways, I was crunchy (Jane would say cranky) before Rod Dreher entered high school, though I'm very grateful for his articulation. I can't help it; I'm wired that way. My preferences are based more on my upbringing and inborn temperament - the influences that shape my sensibilities - than on politics or even moral reasoning. Certain things just feel right while others feel cheap, vulgar, or exploitative.

So I want to support independent bookstores. I would go well out my way to do business with a good independent bookseller if I could find one within remotely reasonable driving distance.

Or I like to think that I would. There are a few small issues that make me wonder.

Yes, independent bookstores are increasingly rare, but I've visited several in various Texas cities and towns, and, with rare exceptions, they don't stock my books. Oh, they'll be happy to order them for you, but books by a minor regional novelist don't justify shelf space that could be more profitably occupied by the works of better-known writers. And of course that's perfectly reasonable from a business standpoint. Independent booksellers have limited shelf-space and they're fighting for survival. They can ill-afford to placate every neurotic writer who comes along.

Then there's evil, predatory Barnes & Noble. They stock my books, especially here in Texas. When I have a new book out, community relations managers from various B&N stores around North Texas call to schedule book signings, which means that my books get time in the front window and on front tables - space that Texas Tech University Press, my fine little publisher, could never afford. Throughout the year, B&N recognizes local writers through author of the month promotions. B&N can afford these little outreach efforts whereas the independents need to score very popular local writers or big-name literary writers from elsewhere in order to justify the time and expense required to put on a worthwhile event. Of course independent booksellers do get behind works by new or obscure writers that would otherwise be overlooked, but their numbers are small, and they can do only so much.

I understand the independent booksellers' predicament. I also want people to buy my books. Whenever readers send me email, I always ask how they found out about my book and where they bought it. Nine times out of ten, they read a review in a newspaper or magazine. Then they ordered the book from or picked it up at B&N.

So, despite the convenience of shopping, I still find myself browsing amid flocks of teenagers drinking five dollar cups of coffee. Maybe I'm petty or mercenary.

On the other hand, I have to say that my frequent business with isn't totally inconsistent with my natural crunchiness.

For decades Union Underwear, which made - you guessed it - underwear (for Fruit of the Loom) was far and away the largest employer in Campbellsville, Kentucky, my hometown. The town bent over backward to accommodate "The Factory." Working lives were spent in the bleach room or on this or that line. Women worked grueling shifts stitching together T-shirts as fast as they could feed material into the machines, then went home to help their husbands with farm work.

Then came the 1990s and NAFTA. The Factory shut down and moved to Mexico. Unemployment in Taylor County shot up to 18 percent. The degree to which the local agricultural and business economies had eroded became bleakly apparent.

A few years later, built a huge distribution center in Campbellsville and put a lot of people back to work. To a rural, Southern, non-union population accustomed to employment at The Factory, Amazon's work environment seemed downright progressive., of course, saw a very stable workforce in a region where the cost of living is relatively low.

So when I place an order through, I tell myself that, in a minuscule way, I'm supporting old friends, former neighbors, and classmates. On my website and on this blog, I'll link to Amazon, despite the company's annoying practice of prominently hawking used copies just below the listed price of a new copy. (I certainly don't object to the used book market, and I'm thankful for every reader, but given a choice, I'd prefer to earn my tiny royalty.)

And until something changes, I'll continue to root for independent booksellers while doing business with the allegedly bland, heartless, soulless, predatory chain that stocks and occasionally promotes my books.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Townes Van Zandt - Marie

I stumbled across this and just had to share it.

Everybody loves "Pancho and Lefty," but of all of the songs the great Townes Van Zandt wrote and sang, "Marie" is my favorite. The song knocked me out the first time I heard it and has haunted me ever since.

There's an unfortunate audio synch problem throughout the second half. If you're inclined to be distracted by it, just close your eyes and listen. You don't have to be a lefty to be moved by "Marie."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Proper Beagle Work

Sure, Uno's a looker, but can he do this? My first hunting dog was a beagle, and I still love the breed. Back then, we rarely called them beagles. Usually, we just called them "rabbit dogs." Looks like this guy has some good ones.

Friday, February 15, 2008

It's Getting Colder

My Blackland Prairie piece, published in the February issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife, is now online. Meanwhile, even in our current recession or economic downturn or whatever it is, subdivisions and strip malls continue to crawl over the North Texas Prairie and creek bottoms. Where are all of these people coming from? What happens to the homes they're leaving? My part of Plano is full of empty strip malls.

I've been thinking a lot about Matt's recent post about "letting the cold in." That idea has stuck with me since I first encountered it more than twenty years ago in Vance Bourjaily's The Unnatural Enemy.

Warm spots are getting awfully scarce in northcentral Texas.

Sure-Enough Dog!

Donny Lynch and Ranger, his fine treeing feist, late last month in the Sabine River bottom. Ranger treed either a squirrel or 'coon in a hollow tree. He was climbing up the trunk, barking every breath, and had hung onto the hole for several seconds while I fumbled with my camera. Donny had just stepped up behind him when I snapped this photo.

With Ranger's help, Donny, our friend"Smooth," and I took seven squirrels in about two hours in very warm, windy conditions.

At only three years old, Ranger is one of the best all-around hunting dogs, I've ever known. He's fearless when facing outraged 'coons and is a deadly-accurate tree dog. He's also a delight in camp and handles beautifully in the woods. Donny rarely has to raise his voice.

Year before last, Ranger got stuck while chasing a 'coon into a hollow cypress tree. While Donny desperartely tried to call him out, he continued to bay his quarry. Finally, we could hear him struggling to get free and worried that the 'coon would chew him him up while he had no room to move. We ran a quarter of a mile back to the truck and were gathering the ax and saw (the chainsaw was out of fuel) when Ranger came huffing through the woods toward us.

Donny leaned on the truck bed and let out deep breath.

I said, "Wonder how he got loose?"

Ranger stood panting, awaiting further instructions.

Donny said, "He probably ate is way out."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

When Editing Becomes Rewriting

First thing this morning I vowed that I would write 500 words for a magazine assignment before blogging or reading blogs or checking email - all of the normal and nearly irresistible ways of avoiding work.

So much for willpower.

I had been planning to wait until tonight to blog about the piece on Raymond Carver in the December 24 issue of The New Yorker. But then a tiny crack in the discipline dam quickly gave way to complete collapse. I gave in and listened to a short NPR segment on Caver's relationship with Gordon Lish, his longtime editor at Esquire and Knoph. Now, my creative juices are trickling in that direction, and I won't be able to redirect the flow to a more responsible course until I've posted a few thoughts on Carver, Lish, and the writer-editor relationship.

I discovered Raymond Carver back the early nineties as I was beginning to read beyond hook and bullet and nature writing. I started with his short story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and went on to read nearly everything he published.

Much has been made of his minimalism, but what struck me was the clarity and elegance of his simple language, and, even more important, the sense that here was man of decency, a man who had struggled and suffered, one who'd known failure and could understand and forgive weakness in others. Reading his stories about failed relationships, alcoholism, murder, and betrayal, I felt the gentleness with which he handled his struggling, absurd, often miserable characters. Here was an adult, a writer who could be trusted.

At times, though, his stories frustrated me, not because he failed to meet my expectations - a writer works under no such obligation - but because I felt that something was missing or that Carver was telling me something through omission, but I was too thick to get it. Some of Hemingway's stories leave me with the same feeling, as if he wrote much more, then went back and excised it. Of course critics and scholars tell us what we should infer from those silences, but I'm often left thinking, "Well, maybe."

Hemingway famously said that when chiseling stories, a writer should go back and "take out all of the good parts." I don't think he meant that at all. His related statement - apocryphal or not - that a writer should be prepared to "kill his babies" makes more sense to me. In other words, beware of your own "best" writing; it can get in the way of your story.

According to The New Yorker, Carver wasn't as severely minimalist at mid-career as critics have long believed. Manuscript drafts and correspondence show that Lish cut some of Carver's stories by more than 50 percent and literally rewrote the ending of the title story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." Furthermore, correspondence between the two make clear the anguish the heavy editing caused the newly sober and fragile Carver.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love met with critical acclaim, making a literary star of Carver and complicating his relationship with his old friend Lish. As he gained confidence, Carver began to stand his ground. His later, lusher stories earned high praise from critics, putting to rest (in my opinion) the notion that Lish propped him up.

These revelations jolted me because "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" has stayed with me all these years because it moved me and at the same time left me with the feeling that Carver was holding something back. Turns out, Lish held it back.

Carver's original (or very lightly edited) version of the story, under its original title, "Beginners," follows the article and selected correspondence.

Did Lish go too far? I think so.

Is the story better of worse for Lish's editing? I'm still thinking about it.

If you think that famous literary writers work with complete confidence, read a few of Raymond Carver's letters to his friend and editor.

And if you haven't done so, read Raymond Carver.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Carry the Damn Camera

Back in the early nineties, when I started writing for the bird hunting and gun dog magazines, I had to provide photos with my manuscripts - for no extra pay, of course. On every hunting trip, I tried my buddies' patience by holding things up to photograph a dog on point or by bringing everything to a halt if the light was especially good. I have never been a good photographer, but a bunch of my simple shots saw the light of publication. But constantly worrying about photos took some of the fun out of hunting. I vowed that if I ever wrote for magazines that work only with real photographers, I'd leave the camera at home and concentrate on my hunting and any stories that might come out of it.

Well, I'm happy to say that I haven't submitted a photo in a dozen years or so. My stories seem to read better accompanied by photos by Wyman Meinzer, Russell Graves, and other pros.

But these days, of course, digital photography is easy and fun, and the results are immediate. And of course I like to include photos with my blog posts.

Still, I'm usually too lazy to carry a camera.

I paid for that laziness earlier today.

I took Cate to a creek bottom a few miles from home. It's within the city limits, so I can't carry a shotgun, but the place is covered with huge pecan trees, several kinds of oak, hackberry, and Osage orange, and it's loaded with fox squirrels.

Cate is really starting to tree. She's been treeing and barking at squirrels that she can see for several weeks, but lately, she's starting to tree by scent only, and she's learning to follow timbering squirrels through the treetops, barking every breath - a nice, clear, chop, almost as deep and smooth as a coonhound's.

Cate struck about 50 yards away amid a stand of huge post oaks. For several seconds, I couldn't find her even though she was raising hell. Then I heard scratching up in the trees - a squirrel running up a trunk or branch, I assumed.

No, Cate running up the trunk of a big oak that had fallen against another old giant.

There she was, my seven month-old pup, eight feet off the ground, standing on the trunk of a leaning tree and reared up on the tree that held the squirrel, barking her head off.

And I had no camera and no gun. Nothing to do but cheer her on.

Directly, the squirrel timbered. Cate ran back down the leaning trunk, following the squirrel by sight. She lost it after a few minutes, but had that been a real hunting situation, that squirrel would have gone in the bag.

Next time, I'm carrying the damn camera.