HOME RANGE: Notes on Literature, Nature, Working Dogs, History, Martial Arts, Other Obsessions and Sundry Annoyances by Henry Chappell
April 11, 2016
To write about gundogs, especially your own, is to risk sentimentality - a risk worth taking. Tarrant pushed it everytime out, and sometimes went over the edge. But not here.
“They are the iced mace of wind thrown by bad-dad winter, off to the north, blowing the redleg mallards off their last haunts. Blowing them south, flying like buckshot. And you’re gripping Pup and whispering “No head up,” and you fit the duck call to your lips. It is cold and you know it will freeze to the skin. But you call. And the lead hen throws her body high, looking down and back, seeing the iced-in blocks pointing bill-up to the slate sky.
“And now they come, shingles rippled loose from some old barn and the wind is driving them crazily toward your decoys and you stand and the old gun barks and the dog launches. He’s breaking ice and standing high in the water, though his feet don’t touch bottom. And you wish you’d never shot. For nothing can live out there. Not even Pup in the prime of his life. Yet he clamps the big bright drake and spins about, throwing water with his whipping tail, and comes for you – the drake covering his face – so he must swim by instinct, for he cannot see.
You’re out of the blind now and running the bank, yelling out. And the retriever comes to shore, not stopping to shake, and heads straight for you. But the black dog turns instantly silver. The water has frozen that fast. And you take the duck and the dog shivers, his teeth chattering, and the pelvic-drive muscles convulse. Then he spins in the tall yellow grass; he runs and rubs the side of his jowls in the mud and stubble.”
Bill Tarrant, “Of Miracles and Memories,” Field & Steam, August 1983 Read More
March 23, 2016
From "The Bear," collected in Go Down Moses.
“The dogs were there first, ten of them huddled back under the kitchen, himself and Sam squatting to peer back into the obscurity where they crouched, quiet, the eyes rolling and luminous, vanishing, and no sound, only that effluvium which the boy could not quite place yet, of something more than dog, stronger than dog and not just animal, just beast even. Because there had been nothing in front of the abject and painful yipping except the solitude, the wilderness, so that when the eleventh hound got back about mid-afternoon and he and Tennie’s Jim held the passive and still trembling bitch while Sam daubed her tattered ear and raked shoulder with turpentine and axle-grease, it was still no living creature but only the wilderness which, leaning for a moment, had patted lightly once her temerity. ‘Just like a man,’Sam said. ‘Just like folks. Put off as long as she could having to be brave, knowing all the time that sooner or later she would have to be brave once so she could keep on calling herself a dog, and knowing beforehand what was going to happen when she done it,’”
William Faulkner, “The Bear” Read More
March 14, 2016
Janisse Ray's Ecology of a Cracker Childhood
"I was born to people who were born to people who were born to people who were born here. The Crackers crossed the wide Altamaha into what had been Creek territory and settled the vast fire-loving uplands of the coastal plains of southeast Georgia, surrounded by a singing forest of tall and widely spaced pines whose history they did not know, whose stories were untold. The memory of what they entered is scrawled on my bones, so that I carry the landscape inside like an ache. The story of who I am cannot be severed from the story of the flatwoods.
Janisse Ray, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood Read More
March 7, 2016
Apologies for the cheesey arrangement. Yeah, the flies are crudely tied, but mine, and bream don't care.
“… Later still, entrusted with your own safety, you went out with homemade canoes that were almost coracles in their shapelessness, and wouldn’t hold straight, and ripped on the rocks of the rapids. Squirrel shooting on cold Sunday mornings, and ducks, and skunk-squirted dogs, and deer watering while you watched at dawn, and the slim river bass, and bird song of a hundred kinds, and always the fly-fishing for fat bream and the feel of the water on bare skin, and its salty taste, and the changing shore. The river’s people, as distinct from one another as any other people anywhere, but all with a West Texas set to their frames and their faces which on occasion you have been able to recognize in foreign countries … Even first bottles of beer, bitter drunk with two bawdy ranchers’ daughters you and Hale ran across, once, fishing …”
John Graves, Goodbye to a River Read More