Tuesday, February 16, 2021
Saturday, January 23, 2021
Semantic syllepsis, you may or may not recall from your most recent course in rhetoric or literature, refers to the use of a single word which takes on two different shades of meaning when applied to two different parts of the same sentence: for example, "I will weigh my hawk and then my options," in which the verb "weigh" is used first literally and then figuratively.
I certainly didn't. Recall, that is. But when I uttered the example sentence above several days ago, Jessa brightened and said, "There's a word for that!" Unfortunately, however, she couldn't recall the word either, and so today we began the task of tracking it down. As it turns out, the word she was thinking of was "zeugma", but there is a fair bit of ambiguity as to the definition and application of that word, and so I have gone with the hopefully more precise two-word phrase "semantic syllepsis".
But this is a blog about hawking, not rhetoric, isn't it? (Isn't it? I asked a rhetorical question, damn it, answer me!) Okay, some context then. Our usual pattern is that the season starts off slowly, with intermittent success; then, about the time of the NAFA meet in late November (whether or not we're in attendance), Stekoa begins to catch fire, and is seemingly invincible through December—then, shortly into January, the rabbits abruptly become both more scarce and more difficult to catch. This year, though—and I write this with trepidation, not wishing to tempt the Fates or incur a jinx—his hot streak has continued unabated.
The trouble is that success can carry within itself the seeds of failure, if a certain amount of discipline is not exercised. Matt Mullenix put it well in his book In Season, adapted from his daily journals:
It's time to get serious about not hunting. Naturally, I've been putting this off.
One inevitable result [of consistent success and the resultant feeding of the hawk] is that his weight spirals quickly upward, then holds at a comfortable cruising altitude. The cost comes not so much from the first day flying over weight, but from the second.
For this and other reasons, I generally skip at least one day after a successful hunt. Stekoa caught a cottontail yesterday at the Platte River, so today I'm writing, Googling literary devices, and taking walks with Jessa in the snow; I'll fly Stekoa again tomorrow. But when skipping a day isn't quite enough, the thought process often goes like this (again, voiced by Matt):
I need not hunt. I should not hunt.
I will probably hunt.
We start the season with Stekoa tipping the scale at 32 or 33 ounces; by February, I've flown him as high as 40. And he's caught rabbits at that weight—but not consistently, and not without causing me a great deal of frustration, and sometimes genuine worry, in the meantime. These are the days when he's unwilling to follow, and sits in a tree—or worse, I end up following him, as he forsakes the field I've selected to hunt along a busy road instead. Then, of course, calling him down to the fist is out of the question, and all too often these days end only when game is finally flushed and taken—which of course means the hawk has to be fed again...
Preventing this sort of spiral is much, much easier than correcting it once it happens—a fat redtail can seemingly gain weight by dreaming about food—and I've been better about it in recent years. Better about it, and rewarded for it. So when Jessa asked me earlier in the week about my plans for the day—I had pre-arranged for several hours off work in anticipation of going hawking, and weather conditions were perfect—I nevertheless responded with a semantic syllepsis: "I'll weigh my hawk and then my options." He was up again. Despite all temptation to the contrary, I decided not to fly. Call it time off for (future) good behaviour.
Yesterday, he followed well, responded instantly when I flushed a bunny from a stand of dried sunflower and goldenrod, tracked the rabbit into the woods, and continued tracking it long after I would have lost it. Finally he took the rabbit in a fantastic stoop from a perch high in a cottonwood tree on the sandy banks of the Platte. I think the extra day off was instrumental, in which case this rabbit (an elusive January rabbit with excellent survival skills) fell prey not only to Stekoa but also to a good decision expressed as a literary device.
Friday, January 1, 2021
The traditional time to take down a Christmas tree, so the experts say, is Twelfth Night, the 5th of January. As I begin this post, it's early on New Year's Day, and I can promise the Farrell-Churchills will not be observing that particular tradition. For one thing, ours is a Yule tree, an even older tradition, so what's Twelfth Night to us?
Besides, there are other traditions to be upheld. My dad, never especially punctual about anything—he was known to friends and family as "the late Mr. Churchill" well before he was the late Mr. Churchill—used to joke about trying to get the tree down by Groundhog Day, and we've turned that into trying to keep the tree up until Groundhog Day. We've finally invested in LED lights, but in the incandescent years I sometimes worried that we might not make it to the 2nd without the drying Fraser fir becoming kindling for the fire that would finally leave us homeless. Obviously, we've been lucky.
Of course, by the time our trees do come down—we usually have two, one in the "formal" front room upstairs, and the other in the basement sitting room where we spend more of our time—we've missed the tree-recycling opportunities provided by the local council. No worries; we have a space at the back of our lot, down by the alley, where old Yule trees are the foundation of a pretty respectable brush pile. As a rabbit-hawker—and I'm happy to report that Stekoa has been catching them with clockwork regularity of late, December being kind to us as usual—I've always been glad to provide a modicum of shelter for the neighbourhood bunnies.
But just now, with nearly a foot of snow on the ground, I'm thinking of snakes.
Our little patch of ground in the city has always been home to eastern garter snakes; we occasionally see them sunning themselves in the prairie garden out front, but they are most reliably found anywhere the leaf litter from our backyard oak and sumacs has piled up: along the fences, next to the garage, and along the foundation of the house. (Also in the compost bin, where they seem to make a good living on insects attracted to kitchen waste.) We're always happy to see them, unless Anya (an inveterate snake killer) has found them first; I suppose our little serpent population is a bit safer now that she's gone, but I still miss my puppy girl...
Last spring, on one of the first warm, sunny days, Jessa was clearing dried Echinacea and Rudbeckia and Monarda to make way for new growth, and when she took her cuttings back to the alley to throw them on the brushpile, there was Thamnophis: a dozen or so glittering little garters, recently emerged from hibernation, draped over the branches of our former Yule trees like so many ornaments, enjoying the same sunshine that had induced my bride into clearing the garden.
I didn't myself see the tree of snakes—I was likely off fishing, or let's say at work, for I do work occasionally—but Jessa's description was sufficiently vivid that I can almost remember seeing them. And I can see them now, a few months into the future, on one of the first warm, sunny days of spring, when the lovely green tree now before me has gone dry and brown, but finds itself once again decorated and beautiful.
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
The start of the hawking season is usually joyous, but so far this year it has brought frustration and sorrow. First the frustration: Stekoa's first outing was nearly our last together. The debacle was entirely my fault, as I made a series of compounding errors, but I was fortunate enough to recover him the next day—warm, windy, and the opening day of the shooting season—after leaving him out overnight with a failing transmitter battery. Some re-training is called for, mostly for myself.
As for the sorrow, I'm sorry to report that Anya, the younger of my two dachshunds, has died. We've been expecting it—we nearly lost her back at the end of February, which is when we found out she had cancer—and we're grateful to have had these extra months, but there's never a good time to say goodbye.
She went by many names, this little puppy. Officially, it was just Anya, but I called her Anyabelle as often as not. Ellie (and later Jessa) called her Anya-bear, to which I always pointed out that "she's a dog!". In the kitchen, she was Anyanka the Underfoot, and I'm still a little surprised that she didn't meet her end by tripping one of us. She was also Keeper of the Two-leggeds, a title awarded by us but a role appointed by herself: anytime one of us went out to the back yard, even for a moment, Anya would come trundling along; and if we were doing yardwork, she might be out there with us for hours, as indeed she was just a few days before her passing.
We loved Anya dearly, but she could be a pain in the arse. She was a jealous little prima donna; if anyone fawned over Maxine, Anya would insinuate herself until all pets and scritches were hers, and she would bark obnoxiously whenever I hugged Jessa in her presence. She would also bark incessantly when Stekoa was on the ground with quarry—even after a decade of working together—and sometimes her bad manners extended to crowding him on the kill or even trying to appropriate his rabbit. She did not bark, however, on those occasions when she wandered off after hawking; nor would she respond to our calls, and I remember more than one pleasant day afield nearly ruined by the stress of trying to find my missing dog afterward. She did the same sort of thing at home: if the gate came unlatched, Anya would go on walkabout, completely unresponsive to our calls. (If we even knew she was out, that is; on a few occasions, our first indication that she'd gone was when a neighbour phoned or just brought her back to the house. ID tags for the win.)
But: Anya flushed a lot of rabbits for Stekoa over the years. She went out in good weather and bad, covered miles of ground on those short little legs, sometimes rubbed her chest and belly raw on brush and tough prairie grasses, swam across half-frozen creeks when she had to...then went out to do it all over again the next day. She may not have had quite the same zeal for hawking as her "sister" Maxine, but she hunted loyally and hard.
During her final days, I fingered memories of Anya like the beads of a rosary. Visiting the house in Seward where Anya was born, Ellie leaning over the edge of the denning box and picking out the same golden-yellow puppy that had already caught my eye. Bringing Jessa to the house for the first time, seeing how excited Max and Anya were to meet her and how warmly she responded to them, thinking in that moment that my life might just work out if my new friend liked my dogs that much. Camping at Verdigre Creek, several times but once in particular: we had left the dogs in the tent while we went to see a movie at the drive-in cinema down at Neligh, and immediately the film ended, a violent thunderstorm blew up out of nowhere; the twenty-mile drive back to camp was an agony of worry and guilt, as I envisioned the tent, dogs and all, whirling away on the gusty winds; we finally arrived to find camp still intact, Maxine asleep, and Anya whining softly to be let out to pee, God bless her—at home, she'd have had no compunctions about just peeing on the floor. Calmer drives, too, lots of them, my right hand gently stroking Max and Anya's fur as they slept in the passenger seat, worn out from hawking, the occasional ringing of Stekoa's bells from the box in the cargo area, driving home fulfilled and contented in the company of three of my closest friends.
Anya hated going to the veterinarian's office, and when her condition took a sudden turn for the worse on Sunday, we hoped desperately that she would simply pass in her sleep. We awoke Monday morning to find her still with us, but her breathing even more laboured, and I reluctantly made arrangements for the nice young Scottish vet to come to the house to put her down. Mercifully, however, we were spared that necessity, as she slipped away in her sleep, stretched out on her pillow next to Maxine, later in the day. Absurdly, perhaps, I recalled Sir Winston Churchill's tribute to King George VI, and his account of the King's end: "During these last months the King walked with Death as if Death were a companion and acquaintance whom he recognised and did not fear. In the end, Death came as a friend, and after a happy day of sunshine and sport, after a 'goodnight' to those who loved him best, he fell asleep as every man or woman who strives to fear God and nothing else in the world may hope to do."
As has often been noted, the tragedy of living with dogs is that their lifespans are so mismatched to our own. And as the song says, to love is to bury. So why do we have dogs, get married, have children? Why do we put ourselves through it, embark on journeys-for-life, build relationships that will inevitably end in the death of one party? Because not to do so is even worse, even more heart-rending. Anya will be missed—is already missed—but Jessa, Ellie, and I are so grateful that she was our dog.
Monday, October 12, 2020
I'm already wearing board shorts under my jeans, which get stashed in the back seat of the wagon. My street shoes go on the back floorboard, changed out for wading shoes. My Nikon—my wife's Nikon, in point of fact—also stays in the car; if I need to take pictures, I have the camera on my flip-phone, which makes up for in durability what it may lack in resolution. My wallet goes in a waterproof (I hope) case in the pocket of my shorts, and my car keys get stashed at the base of a fencepost. I grab my sling pack and I'm off.
I walk from the car across a grassy field to the brow of a hill, from which I can look down on the creek. It's broad here, so much so that I almost mistake it for a pond. I see a great blue heron standing in the "pond" and hear the rattle of a belted kingfisher, which is encouraging. I also hear the lowing of nearby cattle, but the sound is superfluous, as the air is redolent with the aroma of the beasts. I make a mental note not to drink the water, and descend the hillside to wade in.
The decisions about my personal effects and health are good ones. When I get back to the dirt road after fishing, I find the car and the keys exactly where I left them. I've taken a fall in the water, so I'm glad the Nikon was in the car and my wallet in the case, which is in fact waterproof. And, of course, I stand by my resolution not to drink downstream from the cattle herd.
But all subsequent decisions related to fishing—choice of rod, choice of fly—are rendered irrelevant by my choice to fish the upper stretch of the creek. It is very slow, languid even, and silt-bottomed. Plenty of minnows, lots of invertebrates, but I don't catch any trout. I don't have any follows or refusals. I don't startle any trout. I don't see or in any way interact with any trout in an hour or more of slow, patient stalking—sometimes from within the creek, sometimes from the bank. And eventually I discover why.
Near the end of the WMA's upper stretch, the water disappears below a mat of duckweed, milfoil, and other vegetation: the boundary fence separating public from private land has formed a dam, below which the water runs quicker and clearer and out of reach. In that pellucid water, I believe, there must surely be trout. But I decide to stay on the right side of the fence, geographically and ethically, and follow the fenceline hoping that I will be able to reach the lower stretch, where the creek re-enters the public land of the WMA. But eventually I find the going too hard, the way blocked by a vast cattail marsh, and make an ignominious retreat through cattails and nettles and beggars' lice back to the dirt road. (Needless to say, my legs are not happy with me.)
I drive to the southern edge of the WMA, where I can access the lower segment of stream from the road. I'm short on time—it's a weekday, and I am postponing responsibilities back home in Lincoln—but happy to back in productive-looking water, flowing shallow but clear over a bed of sand and fine gravel. However, I only see one trout on the lower creek, and that one darts away from under the bank as I first enter the creek.
[Lower section of Elm Creek, looking toward private land; the lighting was better.]
The weather has been dry, and there has been no flooding event. It would appear that I'm simply too late, or maybe just unlucky. I briefly wonder if the trip has been only so much wasted time and mileage, but then dismiss the question. Even when confronted with difficult conditions, it's almost always better to fish.
* * *
On my way back to Lincoln, I stop at Guide Rock once again. I'm hoping to get directions at the post office, but while the lobby is open, the office has closed for the afternoon.
On my way out, though, I happen to meet a Guide Rock resident, there to check his mailbox. He looks faintly disreputable somehow, in the manner of someone who's been down on his luck for far too long, but his troubled eyes take in my fish-print shorts, my wet wading shoes, and possibly some streaks of mud still on my legs, and he asks if I'm fishing in the area. I say yes, and he offers unsolicited directions to the local reservoir. "Big catfish down there. Really big. But you got to go at night. Bring heavy monofilament, maybe some wire." Since he seems inclined to be helpful, I ask him if he knows how to find Guide Rock. "They tore it down! Long time ago. When they built the canal, I think." (This is the general "they", the people in charge; in this case, manifestly not the Pawnee.) He gives me clear directions to precisely where I had been that morning, and subsequent research confirms that Pahūr, like several other of the Pawnee's sacred places, no longer exists as they knew it; what remains is not a vertical spire of rock but a modest, rounded loess hill.
Too late again.
* * *
Sunday, October 11, 2020
I somehow missed this at the time, but Jessa mentioned it to me this morning, just in time for Indigenous Peoples' Day tomorrow. Lacrosse is to be featured for the first time in International World Games history next year in Alabama, but the organising committee disqualified the Iroquois Nationals team from competition on the grounds that the Iroquois were "not a sovereign nation" (don't get me started) and do not have an Olympic committee. (For the record, the Iroquois Nationals compete at the international level in the World Lacrosse Championship, where both their sovereignty and their foundational role in the Creator's Game are recognised. They finished third in the most recent worlds in 2018.) Following an outcry from the lacrosse community, the IWGA then reversed course and stated that the Iroquois could compete after all—if a place could be found for them in the tournament.
Enter Ireland Lacrosse—or, rather, exit Ireland Lacrosse, as the Irish team sacrificed their spot in the tournament so that the Iroquois team could be represented. "There was so much more to be gained for the sport as a whole than for Ireland to gain from that one tournament," said Michael Kennedy of Ireland Lacrosse. "It was the right decision to pull out to enable the Iroquois to take part."
Read the whole feel-good story in Michael Glennon's piece at RTÉ.
Thursday, October 8, 2020
Friday, September 18, 2020
Monday, August 17, 2020
Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky.
—Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop
Montana claims the moniker Big Sky Country, and Nebraska's sky has long inspired its writers, but Louisiana yields nothing to either. Scenes from one day in St. Tammany Parish:
By mid-morning, the sky was full of cumulus fractus clouds, what I call a "kite sky". Can you guess why?
Sunday, August 16, 2020
Summertime...and if the catfish are jumping, it's likely because the alligators are more active. Jessa and I saw quite a few in our short time in Louisiana, beginning with several in the hyacinth-choked, tannic waters of Irish Bayou.