Monthly Archives: November 2009
Bobwhite Colinus virginianus, Photograph birdsofoklahoma.net
In the late 1970s, I began to train Brittany spaniels to point, hold, flush, and retrieve quail. My Uncle Adolph Kampen of Amarillo kept a Brittany as a house dog and hunting companion, and I sought to have Brittanies, train them to the hunt, and find good homes for them. My intention was to keep a brace of Brittanies as house companions.
I first obtained pigeons for the Brittanies to flush under blocks of hay that I scattered on the neighborhood school ground. The pigeons would fly back to their cages when flushed. It was only three blocks away.
I purchased fifty quail chicks to use in the training of Brittanies. I lived in the city and would eventually move out to the country. Bobwhite quail were available by mail order, like chickens. A quail chick is about the size of a large human thumb, quite small and yet, not fragile. Roger Tory Peterson writes that the Bobwhite is “a small, brown, chicken-like bird, near size of Meadowlark. The male shows a conspicuous white throat and eye-stripe (in female, buffy). Tail short, dark.”
[Peterson, Roger Tory. A Field Guide to Western Birds. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969. See pp. 86-91.]
The quail chicks arrived in boxes delivered by the postal service. I divided the quail into three coveys and I placed chicks in large cardboard boxes in a spare bedroom on _____ Street in Amarillo, Texas. At night, the coveys would settle in and sleep, but during the daylight hours, they would feed, water, and utter quiet “peeps.”
Within a month, the chicks had outgrown their cardboard boxes in the bedroom and I placed them in quail pens in the backyard that I had constructed. Quail pens have compartments that allow all quail to be released, but one or two quail are retained in the pen so that they will call the covey back together. It is a remarkable display of covey unity that the quail will scatter, but when their penned-up covey mates call, the group will come back to the pen and enter the pen through a funnel trap.
One day as I parked the car into the garage, I heard the loud call of quail in my backyard and in the neighbor’s yard. There were quail calls all over the neighborhood. The latch on the pen door had come undone and a covey of quail had scattered about the neighborhood, flying over fences, going into garages, scratching in backyards, and checking out new and wondrous things up and down the block. Within the hour, my neighbors called and told me that they had quail in their garages or screen porches and would I come and retrieve them?
I rounded up every escapee quail, placed them in portable cages and reset the latch on the main pen more securely. Without a doubt, the time had come to buy land outside of town and start training the Brittanies on the quail. The quail needed the space.
South of Amarillo, on the highway to Palo Duro Canyon, I purchased ten acres of land, moved the quail, pigeons, and Brittanies to the pastures with kennels and pens, and borrowed my parents’ recreational trailer.
My life in the country began.
I visited Taos countless times in the 1970s. I lived in Amarillo, Texas, and by leaving Interstate 40 at Tucumcari, traveling north on state highways, I could be in Taos in six, six-and-a-half hours.
Taos and its people offered me a chance, on two occasions, to move and reside in the high desert country. I regretfully declined the offers, but I think back everyday of an non-lived lineament of my life.
The first offer came from Jim and Voyce Durling-Jones who had land and a home out near the Three Sisters Peaks, in the old Carson, New Mexico, area. At the time, they managed the Sagebrush Inn and built their adobe home near Three Sisters. They offered me a parcel of their land to build a bunkhouse or cabin near their place. Jim was also a metal worker, a sculptor, and Voyce, an artist. I declined because I couldn’t afford to build a casita and I did not have the equity to borrow.
The second offer I had came from a Taos Indian woman who asked me to marry her. I had met her cousin, Leroy, and he had taken me, the Indian woman, and her brother up on the road behind the pueblo that goes up the mountain in the direction of Blue Lake. About a third of the way up the mountain, we stopped, got out the chuckbox and ate lunch under the aspens. We had lunch meat, onions, tomatoes, and peaches along with Coca-Cola and water. I got out the guitar and played and sang a few songs. It was good and happy time. Leroy, I remember, took a bite out of the onion as if it was an apple. It never occurred to me that here was this white face up in the mountains with three Indians. I drove them up to the lunch in my Volkswagen, a dark blue “bug” with a sun roof.
When we finished lunch, we loafed awhile and chatted, then I drove into town with the Indians. They showed me a back road that went by Mabel Dodge Luhan’s house. As I drove, the Taos woman looked at me (she was sitting in the front passenger seat), and with a broad wave of her arm, sweeping the Taos reservation, the mountains and the desert, she said, “Jack, all of this can be yours, too, if you will marry me.”
In all seriousness, she proposed. I thought it a rather quick courtship. Her name was _____. I replied that I was already committed to a woman back in Texas and I could not break my promise, but that I would always remember her proposal, the sweep of her arms across Indian land, and that day we lunched under the aspens. Her brother and Leroy in the back seat, said, almost in unison, “Yeeehaaay, Yeay!” She was not shamed by my rejection and I was honored. And, her male relatives were not displeased. We spent another hour or so together and I took them back to the pueblo and let them out near their home, close to the old graveyard and church. I’m not sure she was serious, but neither did she laugh when she proposed. I know I would have had to sustain a courtship with her for it to be respectful. I never saw her or Leroy again, and, I’ve often wondered what became of her.
So, twice, Taos has called, and twice I have declined. If it calls me again, I will submit, and move with livestock and family to a beautiful, open, soaring, and inspiring place that has beauty above it, beauty below it, and beauty all around it: Taos.
[I wrote this post on November 3, 2009. I have been writing about the Baird Hill Pond lately and decided to bring this forward to the front page and make it public.]
This morning at about 7:15 a.m. CST, I spied a flock of ducks on the Baird Hill Pond. This is my first trip by the pond since last Thursday (no ducks then) and with daylight savings time over, the dawn’s light illuminated the pond. From my pickup, I saw a flock of about fifteen ducks, paddling in the middle of the pond. Their presence shows that the pond sustains life. Whether or not the pond gains additional flocks remains to be seen, but the pond may be reconstructing itself.
Mt. Kilimanjaro snow cap is melting fast. Whether this is the result of global warming is unknown, but suspected. Arctic Ocean is opening up, Antarctica’s ice shelves are breaking up, and second homes (MacMansions) disturb the Taos Indian annual rabbit hunt. Baird Hill pond is losing its vegetation, but ducks are there today. How many more canaries have to die before we stop the misuse of our resources?
Photo by Stephen Morrison on European Pressphoto Agency, as cited in The New York Times link above.
I think it was Borges that wrote once that a dead jaguar was found way up the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, beyond his or her range by several thousand feet. Why? What so possessed the jaguar to seek the mountain, going beyond what was familiar? Borges or whomever it was wrote a short explication of their theory. I have mine and I shall post about it one day.