Sunday, October 11, 2009
250 words, get up and get another cup of coffee.
250 words, get up and scratch the dogs' ears.
250 words, eat lunch.
250 words, declare victory and spend the rest of the day editing, chasing new work, bookkeeping or, better, yet, walking, working dogs, hunting, or working in the garden.
I'm happiest, sometimes nearly euphoric when I'm writing. I know from long experience, that I need to get my 1000 words in before mid-afternoon, after which my mind slows. I know that I'm tormented when I don't get my work done.
Why, then, do I fight it? Why do I so often sit, churn, and obsess rather than simply write "one true sentence?"
I often wonder if that mental interference or static is really destructive, a symptom of some character flaw or inborn limitation, or somehow essential.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
For example, between books written by a certain gun nut and bibliophile known to fly gos hawks and run fast dogs in the vicinity of Magdalena, New Mexico, and A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, you’ll find a thin volume about hunting with a Harris hawk in southeastern Louisiana.
Or I should say that In Season: A Louisiana Falconer’s Journal by Matt Mullenix is only in the broadest sense about hawking in Louisiana. Consider this early passage in which Matt and his three year-old twin daughters, Maggie and Briana, approach a backyard trap containing a live house sparrow that will be fed to Charlie, a Harris hawk:
“You catch a sparrow, Daddy?”
Yes, well. Look at that.
The sparrow fluttered wildly from one side of the cube to the other at our approach. West Nile Virus is rampant here, and about 10 percent of the sparrows I catch are dull, thin, and variably disoriented. No medical diagnosis, but suggestive and ominous. This one seemed quite fit.
“I want to be nice, please.”
“Me too – be nice!”
We have been through this before, albeit obliquely: Charlie has to eat; Charlie eats small birds; ergo, Daddy keeps sparrows in the freezer for Charlie’s dinner. Chicken is a bird and we all like chicken, don’t we? These are Charlie’s little chickens!
But now I was going to kill a sparrow in front of my lambs…There was panic, then guilt. This was becoming a long walk to the corner of the house.
Yep. Daddy is going to get him.
Matt describes the young male sparrow in his fist, “shedding heat and heartbeats into my palm,” and, with his back turned to his girls, quickly breaking its neck and hoping it wouldn’t bleed much.
He takes the still warm bird to his daughters.
“Oh! He sleepin’?”
No. He’s dead, honey.
“I be nice.”
Maggie pet the still-warm sparrow, pulling back a small gray feather with her finger. She stared at this. Briana asked to hold the sparrow. I hesitated, feeling its blood now wet between my fingers, but let her have it anyway. She said an amazing thing: “Can we feed Charlie?”
I read this one night after supper and knew that I would be up late.
As the title says, In Season is organized as a journal of a single hunting season beginning mid-August and running through February. There are fine descriptions of hunts, of course, the serious hawker’s nearly obsessive tracking of his bird’s weight, and monthly tallies of game taken. In general, I dislike score keeping, but in this case, I sense that Matt is simply giving Charlie credit and charting his trials and progress much as hunting dog nuts recall coveys pointed and game treed.
More importantly In Season tells the story of a young man’s efforts to responsibly weave his hunting into his everyday life and to be at home in his chosen place, the prairies, woods , and sloughs around Baton Rouge. With restrained, precise prose, Matt describes his struggle to balance sport, work, and family responsibility. He wants his daughters to understand and appreciate his passion and believes that the connections between falconer, hawk, land, and prey can teach important lessions, whether or not the girls ever take up falconry. He knows that his wife, Shelly, can never truly understand, yet she supports his passion and does her best to help him find time to hunt.
On my hunting nights we have show-and-tell. Daddy at the window, wet and full of seeds. The girls push their faces against the glass and want to see what Charlie caught. If there’s something left, I show them. I turn it in my hands in the light from the kitchen; point out wings and the feet and the place where Charlie ate its head.
“Oh, he ate that? That’s funny!” says Maggie
I wonder that it might be.
Shelly watches. She’s trying to be neutral, happy for the girls to ask about the birds – happy there’s a pane of glass between us.
As hunting, with the modern emphasis on destinations and equipment and the “experience of a lifetime,” becomes just another form of high-end recreation, it’s encouraging to read about a man and his hawk heading out to small fields close to home. Matt’s descriptions of his barebones, ready-to-go-at-a-moment’s notice approach made me take a look at my own hunting style to see if I couldn’t simplify and keep things a little closer to home. I haven’t quite whittled my gear down to rotting, second-hand sneakers and mud and seed-encrusted jeans, but I’m making progress. Having hunted with Matt, I can now say, with some relief, that he does resort to rubber boots on cold, wet February days.
Then there’s his friendship with Ida, a brave elderly woman who loves birds in general, hawks in particular, and riding around with Matt. I won’t spoil this part of the story with an excerpt.
I count In Season among the best outdoor/nature books I’ve read. As a regular reader of the blog Querencia, I’ve long known that Matt Mullenix is a fine writer, but I wasn’t quite prepared for In Season.
But now you are prepared. Read In Season. Trust me; you don’t have know anything about falconry. If you care about country, wild things, home, family, and friends, you’ll understand Matt Mullenix perfectly.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
1. Among men, there seems to be a link between physical strength and aggressiveness. (You may have noticed that NFL linebackers seem eager to engage in violent collisions with other large, strong men. Likewise, your average boxer seems overjoyed to have knocked an opponent unconscious in the ring. )
2. Exceptionally beautiful women can be, at times, a little... well... high-maintenance. (Enough said.)
As always, Home Range provides clear-eyed analysis of the latest science. According to Tom Jacobs at Miller-McCune:
"The power of [Vladimir] Putin's symbolism [expressed in recent photos showing his physicue] is explained by a provocative paper just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Authors Sell, John Tooby and Leda Cosmides of the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, link physical strength in men with both a propensity to anger easily and a favorable attitude toward the use of force to settle political disputes.
"'If governmental decision-makers are like other humans, then their musculature may be playing a role, unconnected from rational evaluation, in their decisions to go to war,"'they write. It's a bold statement, but one based on a somewhat startling premise: Brawniness, they contend, is next to thuggishness."
Jacobs quotes psychologist Aaron Sell:
"This model of behavior, in Sell's words, 'predicts that individuals with enhanced abilities to inflict costs or to confer benefits will anger more easily, for two related reasons. First, their greater ability to withdraw benefits or inflict costs translates into greater leverage in bargaining over conflicts of interest, meaning that anger is more likely to be successful for them. ... Second, their greater leverage leads them to expect that others will place greater weight on their welfare.'"
The researchers tested their hypothesis by measuring upper body strength of university students and subjecting them to questions designed to measure their temper, history of conflict, and general hawkishness. Not surprisingly, the stronger students seemed to have shorter fuses and placed greater importance on national defense than did their less-brawny counterparts.
I accept their results, but I'm not buying their broader interpretation.
Early in my rather short and unremarkable college football career I noticed, like most of the other freshmen athletes, that the biggest assholes, the ones most likely to start a fight, were nearly always marginal upperclassmen who felt threatened by more talented underclassmen. The most physically imposing players, though they were extremely violent on the playing field, were more likely to be humble and easy-going off the field. Sure, some were thugs, but most weren't. The strongest man on the team, a guard who could bench press well over 500 pounds, had a reputation for being especially kind and helpful toward freshmen.
Perhaps strong men fought more during their playground and locker room years simply because they believed they had a good chance of defending themselves whereas weaker boys and young men chose to flee or put up with abuse rather than risk a beating. Please understand that I'm not excusing or minimizing the misery inflicted by sadistic jocks and other large thugs. Nearly every group has its sadists and violent, capricious, paranoid kooks. I suspect that bullies tend to be physically strong only because strong young men have an easier time bullying. Are we to assume that violent fantasies and tendencies are extremely rare among weaklings?
During my years in the engineering world, I noticed no connection between physical stature and belligerence. In fact, the most notorious corporate bullies and guerrilla warriors - the ones I had the poor fortune to work with, anyway - were physically unremarkable. I assume that their apparent arrogance and pugnacity stemmed from inborn temperament and the cognitive ability that allowed them to dominate their high-tech work environment.
Admittedly, mine isn't a scientific survey, but I stand by it. When I was young, I loved to hit people on the football field. I'll even go so far as to say that I enjoyed the unavoidable pain that comes with any good collision. I never felt a moment's remorse about the separated shoulders, cracked ribs, and at least one concussion that I caused. I had my share of off-the-field brawls, though I never started one, and I've always hated bullies. And I damn sure understood the difference between behind-the-bowling alley fisticuffs and a military invasion. I don't think I'm unique in that regard.
Fresh out of college, I reported to my first engineering job along with about a dozen other young engineers and scientists. Compared to today's collegiate football players, I was a little fart, but I was far and away the biggest guy in my group of new-hires, and the only ex-jock. During that first week, our boss, a very skinny middle-aged engineer, called each of us in separately to discuss company policy. After covering vacation, sick days, and various acts that could get me fired, he said, "...and if you ever shove or punch anyone, you're out the door."
During lunchtime discussions, I learned that I was the only one of the group to receive that warning.
Naturally, I wanted to storm into my boss's office and knock his head right off of his skinny neck.
Okay, seriously, my new boss didn't know me at all. He made a quick judgement based on my appearance or perhaps my Kentucky drawl. (You know us hicks. We're always going around killing things. )Perhaps he thought, "This guy is a lot bigger than me, and he talks like a redneck. He might hit somebody. I had better warn him." His comment didn't bother me at all; it merely seemed odd. I knew that I was harmless and couldn't imagine that anyone could suspect otherwise.
Nevertheless, I try to keep that experience in mind.
A thought: President Obama is slender but fit, and, I suspect, quite strong for his age and weight. It's likely that he's every bit as strong as the equally fit George W. Bush. I seriously doubt that Senator John McCain, even in his prime and adjusting for his long mistreatment by his North Vietnamese captors, was much if any stronger than the current president. Gerald Ford, probably the best athlete to ever serve as President, is often remembered for his even temper and conciliatory tendencies.
As for data that suggest a positive relationship between feminine beauty and sense of entitlement ... well ... I'll defer to the experts.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Wyman and I have started work on Under One Fence, a photostudy of the giant Waggoner Ranch. It should be out Fall 2010. If you liked 6666: Portrait of a Texas Ranch, you'll like this one too.
In June, I signed a contract with Texas Tech University Press to write Right of Capture: The Looming Water Crisis in Texas. A publication date hasn't been set, but I expect the book will come out in late 2011.
I'm trying not to panic. I'll finish wearing out my pickup doing the research.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Friday, June 12, 2009
If you've ever written a book, you know the feeling.
Working Dogs will be out this fall.
I have plenty of other work to do today, but I'm in a celebratory mood. I'll probably just put the lid on the box and go for a nice, long walk.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
"Just think how large a cow Big Ag would have if the average American provided even as little as 10% his food needs through gardening and hunting?"
Have any of you ever put pencil to paper to calculate how big your garden would have to be or how much fish and game you'd have to put away for you and your family to achieve a certain level of self-sufficiency?
I like Matt's figure of 10 percent self-sufficient. It seems reasonable, though I'm afraid I'd be shocked at just how much gardening, hunting, and fishing I would have to do to achieve it - even for just Jane and me.
Any thoughts? Suggestions for making such a calculation?
Monday, June 8, 2009
Is somebody feeling a little insecure?
Patrick Deneen and the folks at Front Porch Republic are all over it.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
And my container tomatoes, which had looked great when I left, are showing signs of nitrogen deficiency.
Still, things are coming along. The little peppers are Cubanelle. I need to do something about the uneven, over-crowded, unruly carrots.
I gave the container tomatoes a shot of liquid fish. They ought to look better in few days, and they are making fruit.
These are Better Bush, another indeterminate variety that does very well in containers.
My Anaheim peppers are doing well in a container. They aren't the nitrogen hogs that tomatoes are. My daughter Sarah and her boyfriend were eyeing them today. They both love hot, spicy things. I warned them. I expect missing peppers any day now.
Some thinning in the raised bed yielded this little bunch of radishes - cherry bell and white icicle.
Then, there's the embarrassing Left Bed. Note the paltry pole beans and ridiculous, lonesome pepper plant. Evidently, when I switched from engineering to full-time writing I lost the ability to count. That extra pepper plant had to go somewhere.
The poor beans - Kentucky Wonders, which grow well nearly everywhere - got off to a very late start, thanks to your intermittent and distracted gardener who happened to be struggling with an article deadline. Then, evidently believing that the Intermittent Gardener had sown the beans at an insufficient depth, a certain elderly beagle belonging to a certain inattentive daughter tromped them in a good bit deeper.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Like all novelists, I daydream about movie adaptations of my novels, and whenever I think of a movie based on The Callings, I always imagine music written and performed by the Millers.
Until a few years ago, I had always thought about Buddy Miller in terms of his long association with Emmylou Harris. Then one day while I was browsing in a bookstore, a song jumped out of the background music, and I dropped whatever book or magazine I was considering and hustled back to the music department to ask what was playing. The sales clerk walked over to the "Americana" section and pulled out Midnight and Lonesome. I've been a Buddy and Julie fan ever since.
Here's Buddy talking about his new CD:
Here's one of my favorites, "Worry too Much," from Universal United House of Prayer. I'd call it a protest song.
Like Bill Mallonee, Buddy and Julie Miller are often regarded as Christian artists, and some of their best songs reflect their faith. But you certainly don't have to be religious to enjoy their music, and I doubt that their songs get much (if any) play on Christian stations. They get lots of airtime on the Alt-Country stations here in Texas.
Here's one from Written in Chalk. I believe it's called "Chalk."
And a nice segment with Buddy and one of his favorite guitars:
Sure, some of Buddy and Julie Miller's songs are very simple, earnest, even sentimental. Twenty years ago, I probably would have rolled my eyes. Nowadays, it doesn't take me long to get my fill of nihilism and irony. More and more, a Buddy and Julie song is exactly what I need to hear.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
...and pays the price.
Friday, April 3, 2009
Monday, March 30, 2009
My home hunting ground lies along tributaries of the Red River, in Grayson County - or what used to be the Red before Lake Texoma backed up behind the dam.
Ecologists call the narrow stretch of hardwood bottomland that runs adjacent to the Red, between the Arkansas border and the western boundary of Grayson County, the Red River Area and generally consider it part of East Texas, a categorization I agree with. Culturally and ecologically, the Red River Area feels like the South.
I feel at home here.
West of Grayson County, the Red River country takes on characteristics of the much drier Cross Timbers and Prairie Region. Just to the south, out of the river breaks but still in Grayson County, the terrain opens up into Blackland Prairie.
Although squirrel season never closes in Grayson County, fox squirrels start breeding in late winter and stay busy with their young until late April or so. For me, the season is closed until May 1, the traditional opening day of spring squirrel season in East Texas.
Week before last, Cate and I spent two consecutive afternoons scouting our bottoms. Had I been inclined, I could have taken 10-squirrel limits both days. Things are looking up for May.
Spring is upon us, although the woods still have a open, raw, late winter look.
I think of these woods as mine. I'm occasionally reminded that others stake their own claims...
.... and employ their own methods. A homemade deer feeder, hidden on public land. We are, after all, in Texas.
Each to his own. I'll take this any day:
They're rarely this easy to spot.
In areas more exposed to wind, post oaks and blackjack oaks predominate - fine, gnarled old- timers, stocky, bent, and thinning on top, much chewed and drilled by their tenants, worthless to lumbermen....
... but benison to a transplanted Kentuckian.
Trees grow straighter down in the sheltered creek bottoms. There are giants here. My photos never do these woods justice.
... and disappeared here.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Russ paid me a visit a few weeks ago during his North Texas Wine Tour. As we unloaded his car, I noticed a large Rubbermaid container full of books. He said, "Oh, that's my traveling library." Yet another reason we get along.
Be sure to check out Vintage Texas, Russ's wine blog.
I'll go ahead spill the beans and hope Russ will forgive me: He's working on what will be the Texas wine book for at least the next dozen years or so. Just remember, you heard it here first.
For immediate release from Texas Conservation Alliance
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds Neches River National Wildlife Refuge
Contact: Janice Bezanson, 512-921-1230
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday affirmed the July 2008 decision by Judge Jorge A. Solis in favor of the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge. The City of Dallas and the Texas Water Development Board had filed suit hoping to overturn creation of the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge and make way for a reservoir Dallas predicts might be needed in fifty years. Instead, Judge Solis upheld the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2006 creation of the refuge.
“This is wonderful news!” said Janice Bezanson, executive director of Texas Conservation Alliance. “The Neches River Refuge is exceptional wildlife habitat -- one of the most important wildlife areas left in Texas. Thousands of Texans wrote letters or signed petitions in support of its creation.”
Dallas and TWDB contended that the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act by failing in several ways to do an adequate environmental assessment and by failing to cooperate with state and local officials.
After careful review, Judge Solis disagreed with the allegations and denied motions by Dallas and TWDB to require a more detailed environmental study. Dallas and TWDB appealed Judge Solis’ decision. Thursday a three-judge panel affirmed the lower court ruling.
Biologists say the land within the boundaries of the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge is some of the least disturbed and highest-quality bottomland hardwood forest left in Texas, rated Priority 1 for acquisition by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. By contrast, the reservoir proposed for the site is one of many water supply options available to Dallas Water Utilities.
Bezanson described the hardwood forests to be protected in the Refuge as “fabulous”. Towering oaks and hickories shelter wildlife and provide the nuts and acorns that deer, squirrel, turkey, and other animals depend on in winter. Bushes, smaller plants, and understory trees such as dogwoods provide a diverse array of food for resident animals. The Refuge is located in the heart of the North American Central Flyway, the major “highway” for and migrating ducks and songbirds. The waters of the Neches River sustain the exceptional habitat of the Big Thicket National Preserve, the Davy Crockett and Angelina National Forests, various state parks and wildlife management areas, and the Sabine Lake estuary.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service has been barred from acquiring land for the refuge, pending outcome of the appeal,” Bezanson continued. “Conservationists are poised to donate several thousand acres to the refuge as soon as the ruling is final. We look forward to celebrating a wonderful new refuge on the Neches!”
Texas Conservation Alliance, Friends of the Neches River, and a number of other organizations are proposing that the Neches River be studied for potential inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Designating the Neches as a Wild and Scenic River would protect the river and enhance its value for tourism.
I suspect Dallas and the North Texas Municipal Water District will now go after the Sulphur River like a junkies looking for a fix.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Matt has already covered our late February blogger meet-up at Gregg and Soo Barrow's place, but, late as usual, I thought I'd add a few more thoughts and photos.
Turns out, you can glean a lot from folks by reading their blogs and comments. When I met Gregg and Matt for the first time, in the Barrow driveway, I felt like I'd known them for years. A couple bottles of stout and a walk with the dogs only strengthened the feeling.
Hawkers don't need a hunting lease - even in Texas
Working a field
Gregg and Caleb
In short, a great trip with great friends and great conversation about dogs, books, and hawks. Gregg, thanks for all of the solid dog training advice. Soo, thanks a million for putting up with me.