Thursday, November 29, 2007

Book meme/request

The holidays are right around the corner and I find, to my surprise, that I don't have much in mind in the way of books that I'd like to give or receive. In an attempt to remedy that situation, I'm going to list five titles that I've read and enjoyed in the last year or so that are in print or readily available and exhort various literary, knowledgeable and interesting(fascinating, hot) bloggers, as well as anyone who might read this, to contribute their recommendations. Fiction, popular science, popular history, biography, good stuff that might not come to one's attention absent a suggestion. The things that have made the biggest impression on me in the last year or so aren't exactly obscure and some are a couple of years old, but I don't hesitate in recommending any of the following:

1) 1491 by Charles Mann. Really, really interesting. Fantastic compendium of new theory and knowledge about that population and landscape of the Americas before European arrival and record keeping. One of these days I hope to get around to working through some of the material in his bibliography.

2) Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. A look at food production and a meditation on modern Americans' connection or lack of connection to their food. Lots of interesting information about growing corn, feed lots, organic farming, mushroom hunting, and an interesting look at hunting itself.

3) Heat by Bill Buford. A really interesting look at working in a commercial kitchen (Mario Batali's Babbo!), traditional Italian cooking, and, somewhat tangentially, Batali himself. Not at all like Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" except that it draws several pictures of a busy New York commercial kitchen, I found myself reminded of Bourdain's book frequently but enjoyed this one more.

4) 1634:The Baltic War by Eric Flint and David Weber. This is more a recommendation for an alternate history series, which starts with "1632" than the specific book, which is not the strongest in that series. Interesting premise and a very active publishing schedule from Flint, who does a lot of editing of and collaborating with other authors he's invited to participate in this setting. This is a good introduction to alternate history for non-science fiction fans. It is also good for fans and has the added benefit of a pretty big back catalog with more books forthcoming. I do wish Flint would return to his core characters a bit more, but that's me.

5)Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen. Fun mystery/thriller with an ecological bent by Hiassen, who sets his books in southern Florida and populates them with very eccentric characters. I can't imagine anyone not laughing out loud at least a few times when reading a Hiaasen novel.

Lagniappe: Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett. Most recent in a series of young adult novels. If you're not allergic to fiction for juveniles or have an eight to fourteen year old who needs a book to read, get this or, better yet, start with "The Wee Free Men", the first of the books involving Tiffany Aching. For that matter, if you can stand to read things in a fantastic setting at all and haven't read Pratchett, you're really missing something. I hadn't read any of his books before a couple of years ago and ripped through his back catalog in no time at all. Suggested beginnings are "Guards, Guards!", "Reaper Man" or "Small Gods".

So, what made an impression on you all? Comments solicited!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dog discovers fire

Guess he's never seen a fireplace in action before. Things have turned cold here, so I've built fires the last couple of nights. Booker has only ever been around one camp fire with me and considers this to be high entertainment.

The cat has added "crazy" to his list of reasons why the dog annoys him.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tom Kelly's "The Boat"

Tom Kelly is probably best known for "Tenth Legion", a great book largely about turkey hunting. A while back I ran across another book of his from The Lyons Press titled "The Boat" with a cover blurb that read in part "One man's quest to build his own wooden boat-". Now, as I science fiction reader, I long ago learned to disregard the cover of a book, as the stalwart figure in the space suit or the exotically-clad woman illustrated there, respectively shooting at or cowering from a BEM, seldom reflects the contents. I think the covers have gotten better with time, but they are still more misleading than not. While the illustration on this book was fine and appropriate, that blurb shows that someone had not read the boat. While the narrative is generally tied together by the story of a boat Kelly built and then used for thirty years, no "quest" is involved in the construction, which is described in a very few general and self-deprecating pages. Rather, the book talks about the history of timber cutting in the South, turkey hunting, fishing, river bottom land and its importance as habitat, and a whole host of other things. Kelly has what sounds to me like a classic Southern voice and the short book flies right by. Just don't expect to read about boat building.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Trinity Session

Not having anything to do with the Trinity Site, down south of me, but the album by Cowboy Junkies. That album came out twenty years ago (I didn't pick it up until a year or two later after hearing their cover/reworking of "Sweet Jane".) It is, in my opinion, one of those rare perfect albums where all the songs are not only good but are better as part of the whole. Critics toss around terms like "moody" and "ethereal" when referring to it. There are a few covers- Lou Reed, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, but it isn't as country as you'd think from that list. I'd call it "spare" and maybe go for "contemplative", the latter largely because I enjoy listening to it while driving through mountains at night. The tempos are about right for slow dancing with a couple/three of them in 3/4 time.

So, in celebration of the anniversary of the recording of their break out album, the band went back to the church where they all sat around a very expensive microphone and recorded "Trinity Session" and, with the addition of Natalie Merchant, Ryan Adams, Vic Chesnutt, and Jeff Bird, recorded all the songs again and titled the effort "Trinity Revisited".

Since I'm a fan, I pre-ordered the thing like I have most their albums since they started doing things off their own label and website. The package got here the other day and so I tore right into it.

There is always a risk in reinterpreting something that fans have listened to thousands of times and come to love. I've read that the difficulty is an artifact of recorded music. Before we listened to exactly the same version of a song repeatedly people didn't have such fixed expectations as to what a given song should sound like. I've heard Jimmy Buffett complaint that he can't recall all the words to his own songs as exactly as the fans, as he hasn't listened to them over and over again.
Nonetheless, I was optimistic that "Trinity Revisited" would be a good album. In part, with was because I think one of the Junkies' strengths is their covers- apart from "Nebraska" I don't care for Springsteen, but every cover of his work I've heard by Cowboy Junkies has pointed up how good his songwriting can be and brought out beauty that never gets through the bombast that is all I get from the songs when Springsteen performs them. At best, it is going to take a couple dozen listens to decide about this album and I'm not sure I'll get there. Margo Timmins, the Junkies' singer, has become a stronger vocalist over the years and her voice is wonderful. In contrast, the male singers on this album are terrible, unmusical, and not good despite having other, decent recordings. For that matter, I'm not sure what the deal was with Natalie Merchant. She wasn't singing in harmony much with Timmins and seems to sing in an increasingly stylized manner as time goes on. Hard stuff.

It's always interesting going back to something you really enjoy, whether it be a food, a movie, an album, or whatever. Much as I like live music and appreciate how a new take on a song can give it a different feeling, I haven't really been able to warm up to this recording and find myself thinking "they're messing up this song" because it doesn't sound like the original. You all can see a bit of "Trinity Revisited" here. If you don't have it, buy "Trinity Session", from back in '86, the very first opportunity.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The dark side

Good dog:

Bad dog:

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

What were they thinking?

When I was growing up I used to read in the Big 3 outdoor magazines about "slob hunters". Every other issue or so there would be an editorial encouraging hunters to behave well to avoid alienating landowners and non-hunters. "Slob hunters" was the slogan or phrase that the writers and editors adopted to label thoughtless, crude, or destructive behavior. To tell the truth, I never thought too much about the term or the exhortations. We didn't do that sort of thing and I was fortunate never to really run across any egregious examples of bad behavior. Now, the following isn't really that egregious, I don't suppose, but it is a good example of some low-level carelessness that just can't do hunting any good.

The area I hunt ducks is a stretch of river between towns, but surrounded by fields and houses. Access is via locked gates administered by a conservancy district. You pay an annual fee to get a key. The stretch through which the river runs is a mile or so between levees, the space not water taken up with cottonwood river bottom forest and tangles of salt cedar (tamarisk) and Russian olive. Coming out from a hunt the other day, I let myself through the gate to see the following:

some fellow hunters who had enjoyed a decent morning cleaned their four ducks (two mallard hens, a drake, and a hen widgeon) and left the offal, heads, feet, and wings in the road right by the gate, almost in the access road. Now, what would the folks using that land behind the gate in the background think when they come across the bits and pieces as they go to fetch some of their hay? I'd guess they would probably elevate hunters from the minor annoyance of "guys who drive by in the early morning and make the dog bark" to "slobs". For that matter, quite a few folks ride their horses or bikes down the levee roads, even down there. A bunch of duck guts and heads isn't going to strike them well, either. What I really don't understand is, why there? That levee road runs for ten miles before the next gate, with hundreds of acres of forest they could have cleaned their ducks in and left the remains out of sight. Advertising their success? I tossed all the bits over the edge of the ditch bank for the delectation of the first crow, coon, coyote, or other scavenger to happen upon it. The scattered feathers won't draw flies and I didn't bother to hunt them down. I kind of wish I'd run into these folks as they were dressing the birds, just to ask "why here?" and hope it would shame them into a bit more discretion. It's not a big thing, but, heck, so avoidable.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


Duck season opened last weekend but I didn't make it out until this past Saturday. I was looking forward to see how Booker the Chessie would handle his first duck hunt and I have to say, my expectations were pleasantly exceeded. We got the decoys out and he settled into the blind with no problems. We got buzzed by a couple of bunches of ducks and he was busy watching the birds, sometimes seeing them before I did. Of course, being a bird dog, Booker doesn't distinguish between cranes, crows, hawks or blackbirds. If it's close and flying, you can feel the mental pressure from the dog to "shoot!".

Scanning up-river:

out front:

and down-river:

you got to watch close or they'll sneak up on you.

I started off on an embarrassing note; we had a bunch of teal blast through the decoys, then circle around and come back through. I stood up, swung, and missed. Booker charged out and insisted on checking every single decoy to see if it was the bird he was sure had been downed. Poor guy, he's going to have to get used to hunting with me, where every shot by no means indicates that a bird will be falling. After having to wade out to bring him back in from where he was still looking for a bird, I leashed him up. The next couple of opportunities, he tried breaking at the shot but furthered his acquaintance with the command/suggestion "whoa" courtesy of a stout blind support the leash was looped to. Once I did knock down a bird- off he went, having marked the fall and returning the duck to a couple of feet short of the blind before returning to the water to look for more. Retrieving is still not perfect.

We had a bunch of ten mallards, all but one drakes, circle us a couple of times then put in a couple hundred yards up stream. They swam down a bit, then headed back up and could not be convinced to join the decoys. After pretty much everything had stopped flying for an hour or so, Booker got bored-

so I told him we'd sneak those ducks. I leashed him up and we crept up a dry side channel and then through the cockleburrs until we got to about where they ought to have been. I stowed the leash and then we eased up to the bank to have the whole batch, plus a couple more, jump up. I took the closest drake and Booker made a great retrieve, swimming across the current to nab the cripple in a very decisive manner then bring him right back to hand-

A couple of birds and high note to end the day on. I'm going to have to really make an effort to get out this year.