Easter 2013 exploration - Willow Springs Ranch, AZ

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A group of friends gathered in the Sonoran Desert over Easter weekend 2013 to celebrate a 40th birthday. The company, food, and chocolate cake were outstanding. The weather was perfect, and to our delight we also were surrounded by beautiful desert wildflowers, found a desert tortoise just emerging from its burrow, and climbed a hill to find a furious flurry of hundreds of spring butterflies "hilltopping."

Hilltopping is mate-locating behavior. Males compete for the best location on the highest hills, patrolling furiously, trying to find the few females amidst a sea of males. Theory is that the "top" males that can ascend the hill and hold the best territory make the best mates.

We observed black swallowtails, desert orange-tips, Sara orange-tips, possible Texas crescents, and perhaps 4 other species.

The experience was pure magic—our blood pressure plummeted and we sat, entranced, surrounded by an aerial dance, exclaiming with delight like children at a circus.

Enjoy a short video here:



Sonoran Desert spring butterfly hilltopping from ConserVentures on Vimeo.

BGAN review turns into real-life test

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Lost at Sea, a set on Flickr.

When we took an OCENS BGAN satellite communications kit to a remote beach in Mexico where we planned to celebrate the New Year with friends, we expected to have fun testing it by checking email and news, and maybe making a few phone calls to friends to evaluate the ease of use and reception.

As it turned out, the unit had to prove its value in much more tragic circumstances.

If you’re not yet familiar with the concept, BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network; just say “beegan”) allows both data and telephone communication from virtually anywhere on earth, via a compact portable antenna that links with one of four geosynchronous equatorial-orbit satellites. Roseann and I wanted a system that would allow us to send and receive email, post images and articles on the Web, and make critical telephone calls anywhere we parked the camper. BGAN technology now makes doing so easy and efficient (if not yet exactly cheap) using one’s laptop computer, which communicates with and through the antenna via either a cable or wi-fi connection to access and send data at up to 464 kbps. A separate telephone receiver can be used with the antenna on its own if you don’t need data service (although it will send and receive SMS messages).

We’ve been working with OCENS (“oceans,” for Ocean and Coastal Environmental Sensing) for over a year now—they sponsored the communications area at the 2012 Overland Expo. The company is a comprehensive resource for satellite communication systems, and can equip travelers, explorers, and scientists with BGAN kits, satellite telephones, and other types of equipment and software, either on a purchase or rental basis. Matt at OCENS sent us the latest Hughes 9202 terminal—the smallest Class 2 terminal on the market at barely over eight inches square—along with a Thrane and Thrane Explorer handset. The kit, with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack, comes tidily packaged in a Pelican 1450 case. A complete set of instructions for connecting to the Inmarsat satellite system comprises a single laminated card.

Our first morning on the beach in Mexico we made coffee and wandered about catching up with people we hadn’t seen in a long time. There was the usual round of campsite tours as we checked out who’d done what to their Four Wheel Campers or Volkswagen Westfalias or OzTents or FlipPacs. I took some video with the Canon 5D MkII, then moved down to the water’s edge to get some background footage of tidepools and birds. The water was glassy silver; barely a swell tumbled home on the gravel. Brown pelicans skimmed past just millimeters from the surface, defying physics. I heard the sound of an outboard motor, and saw two fishermen heading into the cove, so I set up the camera and got a shot of them traversing the frame. As the camera rolled I looked askance at the boat—a 12-foot, outboard-powered aluminum craft, painted camouflage, that would have been fine on a bass lake but seemed marginal for the Sea of Cortez even in calm weather. The men were obviously weekend sport fishermen; they carried what appeared to be light spinning gear. The two made a few casts in the cove, then motored off to the north.

The afternoon turned windy, as it usually does in winter in the Sea of Cortez, and by dusk a sizable surf was pounding the gravel beach in front of our truck, and whitecaps showed out in the open water. But early the next morning it was calm again when we heard another outboard, and saw three men dressed in foul-weather gear motor up to our beach in a panga—the sturdy and seaworthy fiberglass boat used for decades by Mexican fishermen. Behind the panga they towed a camouflage-painted aluminum boat, which, it developed as we talked with them, they’d found capsized, barely afloat—and empty except for an outboard motor and two fishing rods.

The story continues here: http://www.overlandexpo.com/overland-tech-travel/2013/1/5/bgan-review-turns-into-a-real-life-test.html

Blood & Leather Project completed

History records that rapacious, musket-armed Arab slave caravans of the 18th and 19th centuries avoided transiting what is now central and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania—it just wasn’t worth risking the wrath of the belligerent spear-wielding Maasai who dominated the region. Early European explorers as well dreaded the sight of a line of colorful leaf-shaped shields appearing on a hilltop, and took roundabout routes into the interior. Even the mighty British Empire never directly confronted the Maasai militarily, and relied instead on political sleight of hand to squeeze the tribe out of its best grazing lands once the area was deemed a protectorate.

While the Maasai no longer range and raid at will over the East African landscape, they have continued to fight to retain their identity as a tribe and culture, picking and choosing which bits of the modern world they wish to adapt. Thus a red-robed and sandaled herdsman leaning on a spear in the South Rift is quite likely to be chatting in Maa on a cell phone, and a smartly-dressed businessman in Nairobi might go home for the weekend to a hut surrounded by a thorn boma that keeps lions out of the livestock.

But one icon of Maasai history—those tall, intricately decorated rawhide shields, so universally recognizable that one features centrally on Kenya’s national flag—seemed lost forever, save as dusty relics in museums, rare and expensive objets d’art from exclusive curio dealers, or, tragically, as cheap, undersized, shoddily made tourist souvenirs. The loss was doubly sad since each shield’s design elements, or sirata, revealed detailed information about its bearer’s clan and achievements, and thus represented a tangible record of Maasai history.

This loss seemed unacceptable to two elders in the Olkirimatian community of Kenya’s South Rift Valley. Tonkei Ole Rimpaine and Karinte Ole Manka—both former shield bearers now in their 70s—approached ConserVentures, our small non-profit that often donates resources for cultural conservation projects, with a plan: They wanted to put together a workshop to build new shields, using authentic techniques and materials, with the immediate goal of producing examples to be displayed in a planned Maasai heritage museum, and the secondary but much more vital goal of passing on their knowledge to a younger generation. Through the generosity of several donors, we arranged to source rawhide and supply food and transportation to the group, and to use the Lale’enok Resource Center as a base. John Kamanga, the chairman of the Olkirimatian community and a driving force for Maasai cultural conservation, was our liason as we worked on logistics from 7,000 miles away. The construction team comprised John’s father, Ntetiyian Ole Pasoi, two other elders, Sipale Mpoe and Marikete Ole Ilelempu, and four women, Rijano Ene Ntetiyian (John’s mother), Majakus Ene Saitage, Moyiangei Ene Sampao, and Bebi Ene Mugesa.

Over the course of five days in late October, Tonkei and Karinte supervised the group while we photographed and filmed the entire process. In that time, one cowhide (the only major concession to the 21st century, the original cape buffalo being no longer available since Kenya banned hunting), some goatskin, and a pile of limbs from a Cordia senensis tree magically morphed into two sturdy shields—a stiff rawhide face backed by a carved, tensioned center stay and handgrip, the perimeter laced with goatskin around flexible Cordia wands. Then, alchemist concoctions of charred bone, ocher, limestone, and cow’s blood (the latter amusingly stored in an old Famous Grouse whiskey bottle), dabbed and streaked on the shields with chewed twigs, blossomed into recreations of the original Olkirimatian sirata. The two senior elders eyed each line and color critically, and more than once sections were scraped off and re-painted to achieve the proper symmetry. Throughout the process, young Maasai men of the community hung around to watch or help, taking cell-phone photos and fueling our hopes that some might be inspired to take up the craft as a business—we believe there’d be a ready market for detailed and authentic Maasai shields as a counterpoint to the cheesy tourist rubbish.

To us the end products—as far as we know the first true Maasai shields produced in decades—seemed like priceless artifacts. Yet before the paint was dry Tonkei and another elder had grabbed them and set to in a fierce mock duel, leaping and yelling like the Morani they were 50 years earlier while we cheered wincingly from the sidelines.

The completed shields, not minus a few scuff marks, are now stored at the Lale’enok Resource Center. One will be taken to Nairobi to be used in educational programs; the other is destined for the planned cultural museum to be built at a nearby archaeological site, Olorgesailie.

That is, as long as Tonkei Ole Rimpaine and Karinte Ole Manka don’t decide to requisition them, grab a couple of spears, and head out to raid cattle and take some land back from the British.

* * *

51-shield making team at Okiramatian1-elders-shields2-cow3-kill4-skinning and bleeding5-blood
6-stretching hide7-pegging hide8-ash on hide9-rubbing hide10-audience11-burning bones for pigment
12-fire for bones13-bones burning14-grinding burned bones to powder15-powders mixed with milk16-blood ready to mix for pigment17-dried hide
18-hide buried in boma dung19-hide under dung20-gathering rib poles by river21-Cordia poles for frame22-Elder and youth23-roughing in main rib

Photo gallery (51 images): click here.

ConserVentures provided photography and videography services for this project, and will be producing books, posters, and film for the Maasai Cultural Heritage Program. You can learn more about the South Rift Association of Land Owners and their programs at www.soralo.org

The Jesuit final exam




I wasn’t lucky enough to know Reverend Anderson Bakewell, S. J. (Society of Jesus) before he died in 1999 at age 86. But my friend Steve Bodio knew him well and hunted with him.

Hunted? Yes—Bakewell was not your ordinary priest, even for a Jesuit. In the 1930s he collected reptiles and amphibians in Mexico and South America for the St. Louis Zoo (and had several of them named after him). In 1941 he climbed Mt. Wood in the St. Elias Range, at that time the highest unclimbed peak in North America. He went on to be the youngest member of H.W. Tilman’s attempt on Mt. Everest in 1950, the first from the south, which would prove Hillary’s and Norgay’s successful route three years later. In the meantime he earned a bachelor’s degree and did graduate work in astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy. Oh, and in 1942 he entered the Society of Jesus and did missionary work in India (where he helped prepare antivenom for snake bite treatment) and Alaska (where his parish comprised 35,000 square miles). And became a member of the Explorers Club along the way. And compiled a modest arsenal of fine weapons, including a .416 Rigby which a British officer friend got for him for $75 (they go for $20,000 today).


Bakewell in his Santa Fe home

Recently Bakewell’s biographer sent Steve a (presumably tongue-in-cheek) clip from a mid-80s Jesuit newsletter in his effects, titled “Jesuit Final Exam.” If you’re familiar with Heinlein’s classic “Specialization is for insects” quote from Time Enough for Love, this will strike you as sort of the same concept . . . on crack. Steve wonders whether, especially given the rifle reference, Bakewell might have had a heavy hand in concocting this.

INSTRUCTIONS: Read each question carefully. Answer all questions. Time limit: four hours. Begin immediately.

HISTORY: Describe the history of the papacy from its origins to the present day, concentrating especially, but not exclusively, on its social, political, economic, religious, and philosophical impact on Europe, Asia, America, and Africa. Be brief, concise, and specific.

MEDICINE: You have been provided with a razor blade, a piece of gauze, and a bottle of Scotch. Remove your appendix. Do not suture until your work has been inspected. You have fifteen minutes.

PUBLIC SPEAKING: Storming the classroom are 2500 riot-crazed aborigines. Calm them. You may use any ancient language except Latin or Greek.

BIOLOGY: Create life. Estimate the differences in subsequent human culture if this form of life had developed 500 million years earlier, with special attention to its probable effect on the English parliamentary system. Prove your thesis.

MUSIC: Write a piano concerto. Orchestrate and perform it with flute and drum. (You will find a piano under your seat).

PSYCHOLOGY: Estimate the sociological problems which might accompany the end of the world. Construct an experiment to test your theory.

ENGINEERING: The disassembled parts of a high-powered rifle have been placed in a box on your desk. You will also find an instruction manual, printed in Swahili. In ten minutes a hungry Bengal tiger will be admitted to the room. Take whatever action you feel appropriate. Be prepared to justify your decision.

ECONOMICS: Develop a realistic plan for refinancing the national debt. Trace the possible effects of your plan in the following areas: cubism, the Donatist controversy, the wave theory of light. Outline a method for preventing these effects. Criticize this method from all possible points of view, as demonstrated in your answer to the last question.

POLITICAL SCIENCE: There is a red telephone on the desk beside you. Start World War III. Report at length on its socio-political effects, if any.

EPISTEMOLOGY: Take a position for or against the truth. Prove the validity of your position.

PHYSICS: Explain the nature of matter. Include in your answer an evaluation of the impact of the development of mathematics on science.

PHILOSOPHY: Sketch the development of human thought; estimate its significance. Compare with the development of any other kind of thought.


I’ve occasionally mused on how many of Heinlein’s human skills I could claim (at last count I think I was pretty sure about 16, not counting of course “die gallantly,” which no one can claim until it actually happens). But the Jesuit list? Um . . . I could certainly assemble the rifle, even without the instructions. I have a rough concept of the development of human thought, and some pretty good theories as to the sociological problems that would accompany the end of the world.

And that’s about it.

Steve Bodio, left, and a 75-year-old Anderson Bakewell in Magdalena, New Mexico, in 1988

Land Cruisers of Baharia, Egypt

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Land Cruisers of Baharia, Egypt, a set on Flickr.


The oasis of Baharia, about five hours south of Cairo, is the gateway to the Western Deserts and a major hub for expedition services and vehicles.

While there during the Sykes-MacDougal Centennial Expedition in February 2012, we had heard there was a booming trade in all things Land Cruisers, but we were not prepared for the sheer numbers of every type of Land Cruiser imaginable—and then some!

There were plenty of new, expensive models, sure, but there were many custom amalgamations that sometimes boggled the mind. Apparently, to avoid the high import duties on any vehicle (new or used), canny Egyptian mechanics in Baharia started bringing in halves and quarters of Land Cruisers from Japan and elsewhere, and then reassembling them after arrival—duty-free.

These photos were taken in just one day plus part of a morning, not even a full 8 hours in the town during daylight. There were hundreds—literally six or seven out of 10 vehicles was a Land Cruiser. Almost all the images are snapshots, taken out the window as we drove or shot quickly while walking; there are a couple of non-Land Cruisers in there, just too interesting not to include.

Wildlife drama at Ravenrock

Hummingbird migration begins. by ConserVentures


The last week has seen a lot of wildlife drama at Ravenrock.

After a summer pretty much devoid of hummingbirds, two took up stations at our three feeders on Monday (a male black-chinned, and an immature Selasphorus—either a rufous or broad-tailed). On Wednesday two more had joined them, and on Friday morning four more, for a total of eight birds doing full-on battle all around the cottage. Most of them are very aggressive Selasphorus, with the black-chinned holding his own. These guys are so pumped up they even dive-bomb hapless butterflies, who get spun around in the hummer-jet-wash.

We put up a fourth feeder, and have gone from a consumption rate of about a cup a week (including Gila woodpeckers and nocturnal nectar-feeding bats) to two cups every 12 hours.

On the mammal front, we had some of the most fun coyote action we've ever had in the area. On our morning walk on Wednesday, just past the driveway on the road to the well, we spied a female white-tail trotting towards us in the desert scrub—her tail flying, and her mouth dripping with saliva. Very odd behavior. She was stopping, listening, and then started snorting the white-tail alarm whistle. Suddenly she bolted up toward the driveway, where we saw first one and then a second coyote. She dove straight at them, and chased one around and around a small tree. The coyotes had enough, and took off to the north. No doubt the young doe had a new fawn nearby, we've seen several already this year.

This morning early, while I was out doing some yard work, I heard a coyote yipping off to the west just below our hill, and caught movement down off the state road. Two, then three coyotes were dashing towards the house at full runs—normally they trot-walk. Then two more appeared, and it became clear these five were chasing a sixth coyote, who ran hell-for-leather straight up the hill and bulleted over our hill just behind our bird-feeding yard. The chasers stopped at the bottom of the hill. In the golden early morning light their pelts were gorgeous russet-and-brown, they were very stocky and healthy-looking coyotes. Seems like we've got two packs having a territory dispute perhaps, with our property in the middle of the contested ground.

Finally, it's not been quiet on the reptile front, either, though decidedly less dramatic. A lovely small desert tortoise kept me company at the clothesline on Wednesday, and also on our walk we passed this lovely horned lizard hunting ants just off the state road. He was so well-camoflaged we nearly stepped on him.




Happy 100th birthday, Julia Child


Julia Child once said the perfect meal was a thick juicy steak and a martini.

I offer up the perfect martini (the Vesper), in honor of the 100th anniversary of her birth today.

Via the excellent blog, Why Evolution is True, here are some great links honoring her today as well:

New York Times has several article, including a summary of her contributionsby Julia Moskin and a nice remembrance by friend and co-chef Jacques Pepin. She was without question ad icon, and had an enormous influence on American cooking and dining. And of course she was hilarious in an unintentional way: gangly, awkward, and with that voice. She inspired several imitations, including Meryl Streep's wonderful portrayal in Julie and Julia (I loved the Julia parts, didn't like the Julie ones), and of course Dan Ackroyd's sanginary satire on Saturday Night Live.

I consider Julia Child to be one of the people who inspired me not only in the kitchen, but in life. She lived everything 110%, and had a wonderful and inspiring relationship with her husband, Paul. (One of the best gifts my wonderful husband gave me was a signed copy of From Julia Child's Kitchen.)

I worked my way through much of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and it made me a much more competent cook, very comfortable in the kitchen and working with ingredients. I can whip up from memory now any of the basic sauces (all the variations of brown and white, from a good meat gravy to a lovely béchamel)—and I think of her every time I do.

I love her practical approach to everything, but above all the fact she was so true to food and its basic goodness. She eschewed fads and was quick to slay them in public. I also love that she had a very basic kitchen, no $20,000 super-charged 10-burner-equipped gleaming kitchen for her. You can see the kitchen she used her whole career, it's lovingly resurrected (the actual kitchen) in the Smithsonian in D.C.


Dung beetles, Sonoran Desert

Dung beetles, Sonoran Desert an iPhone video by ConserVentures on Flickr.

We frequently see dung beetles diligently working the cow droppings around Ravenrock. Earlier this spring we watched six beetles at one fresh cow patty, madly rolling up dung into perfect spheres and then surprisingly quickly pushing it away with their hind legs, usually two beetles to a ball.

But yesterday we found these two just outside the front door to our cottage—and were just enchanted.

I need to research what species of dung beetles are here in the Sonoran Desert; it's possible these 2 are in the genus Onthophagus. 

Has anyone seen any like this before? To describe them as "adorable" seems antithetical to a dung-harvesting insect, but it's true!

Desert Rain Cafe, Tohono O'dham Nation

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As a thunderstorm charged across the desert floor north of us, dust and sheets of rain sailing dramatically in its path, we headed west across the vast Tohono O'odham Nation to visit a little cafe we read about over the weekend.

Tohono O'odham Community Action (TOCAonline.org) has many worthwhile projects across this vast nation (2.8 million acres), but their Desert Rain Cafe and Gallery, in the very nice, rather upscale shopping center on Sells' main street (Indian Route 19, on Google maps), is their most visible.

We pulled up at about 1 pm, and the place was hopping. All the tables on the porch (cooled by misters and shaded by mesquite trees on the west) and inside the small but cheerful cafe were full, and there were several people at the counter ordering. It's hard to miss the bright yellow walls—exactly the color of desert marigolds.

The menu features not only desert foods, but locally farmed on the nation. All the proceeds benefit community projects, and the young people involved in the cafe project and farming are gaining valuable skills in food production and running businesses. From the TOCA website:

TOCA’s Desert Rain Cafe’ opened in April, 2009 as the only restaurant using locally-farmed Tohono O’odham foods, including tepary beans, O’odham squash, and cholla buds. In the first year, the cafe served 90,000 meals.  In September, 2010, TOCA was able to publish From I’itoi’s Garden: Tohono O’odham Foodways. The cookbook serves as the basis for Desert Rain Cafe’s menu.  
TOCA’s commitment to offering affordable, fresh, native meals in the O’odham community has improved the local food system.  The cafe’s success and leadership by young adults has helped TOCA and our community partners bring traditional O’odham foods into the local schools:  
- In April, 2010, the first O’odham meals were served in local schools.  
 - In October, 2011, the Indian Oasis Baboquivari School District made tepary bean quesadillas part of its daily menu for K-12 students. 
- TOCA’s Y.O.U.T.H. & Project Oidag help in the school gardens and activities.

We ordered from the lunch menu ("Monsoon") as well as the appetizers ("Drizzle"). I had the prickly pear cactus-and-chile-glazed grilled chicken sandwich with freshly baked roll, which comes with a side of tortilla chips and pico de gallo salsa made with tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and cholla cactus buds. Jonathan had the white tepary bean and short-rib stew with a chile cornbread muffin. We both had lemonade sweetened with agave nectar. Both entrees were delicious and perfectly cooked, with the glaze just spicy enough to be interesting, and the stew very hardy but not greasy; the cholla-bud salsa is also very tasty, though you have to get used to the slightly mucilaginous texture of the buds. The food at the cafe is also very affordable—the stew was $5.95 and the sandwich $8.95. With drinks and an extra side of chips, the total was $25.

The service was not fast, but there were only 2 staff to handle phones, counter sales, and table service, and they did so with quiet efficiency and friendliness, though not effusive; if you're fond of the "Hi guys! My name is Mandy and I'll be your server!" perky waitstaff, head to the university, not an Indian nation.

Despite being happily stuffed, we had to get a couple of giant mesquite cookies to go. Made with flour from mesquite tree beans, these cookies had an almost gingerbread-like flavor and texture, naturally sweet and carob-y from the mesquite, though they are pretty dense and not super moist.

The clientele was eclectic and friendly; from hip young O'odham women in business attire texting madly on iPhones to bad-ass young men (who Jonathan dubbed, politically incorrectly, "Papago punks") with gelled hair, Bowie knives, tattoos and 'tudes, as well as Anglo teachers and social workers, O'dham business people, and "foreign" travelers (two men from Germany). It felt like we were far, far from the USA, which in a way we were.

As we left the cafe to head back to Tucson, we saw a scene unique to Indian nations and developing countries across the globe: livestock casually wandering the streets, in this case half a dozen horses with new foals, the traffic barely slowing down to get around them.

It's great to be reminded you can explore just 50 miles from home and still have wonderful travel experiences.




This is just wrong

And yes, I checked, and it's true. Current official Boy Scout knives are made in China.

If I perceived the slightest sign of quality in this thing, I wouldn't be quite as upset. But I don't. The "stainless" steel doesn't appear to be remotely so. The blade isn't just corroding (which most stainless steels will do to a greater or lesser extent); it's rusting.

A Boy Scout knife used to be a prized possession, something for which one saved or wished for at Christmas, and then probably used well into adulthood or passed on to a son (or daughter). They were made by legendary companies such as Case, Camillus, and Kershaw.

Think this will be an heirloom someday?

Peach season: rustic tart, and . . . pickles?

Camera Roll-56 by ConserVentures

Our friends Diane and Steve recently brought back many boxes of lovely organic peaches from Willcox, Arizona.

Of course we've had peach cobbler, peaches on ice cream, and a rustic peach tart (above).

But this year I decided to try tershi, or Afghani-style pickled peaches.

With hot-pepper flakes, coriander, mint, garlic, and apple-cider vinegar, the results are puckery indeed—a bit much to just eat from the jar (though Jonathan did, to humorous results).

Last night I made whole wheat fettucini with turkey and sautéed onions, garlic, and celery with dried cranberries and half a jar of chopped pickled peaches and a dollop of the juice. The savory turkey, onions and garlic went very well with the sweet-tart pickles and cranberries—and the colors are really lovely as well.


Pickled Peaches, Afghan Style (tershi)
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Recipe By: Mark Bittman (How to Cook Everything)

Ingredients:

2 lbs. peaches, peeled and sliced
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 cups white or white wine vinegar
1/8 cup sugar
4 cloves crushed garlic
2 teaspoons dried mint
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes

Directions:

Put the salt, the vinegar, sugar, and spices in a pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, then let cool for about 5 minutes. Pour the mixture over the peaches and let cool to room temperature. (Add more vinegar or water if the cucumbers are not covered.)

Transfer the peaches and pickling liquid to airtight jars or containers; store in the refrigerator for at least 3 days or longer for stronger pickles. They will keep in their pickling liquid for up to 3 weeks.

Notes:

My first batch was made with very ripe peaches; they would do better with ever-so-slightly under-ripe fruit, so their structure holds up and yields a slightly crunchier texture.

War of mimics





In the last week two male northern mockingbirds have set up and are fiercely defending adjoining territories with our home in the middle.

Starting at dawn (when this audio was recorded), they have been singing non-stop all day every day, and when the moon was more full, well into the night.

We have counted sixteen distinct species (at least) that they are mimicking—greater peewee, lesser nighthawk, American kestrel, Cassin’s kingbird, cactus wren, and Gambel’s quail, to name a few.

While we need to confirm it, it seems that they actually do tend to sing time-appropriate songs. For example, one of them sings Cassin’s kingbird's mostly-dawn and -dusk call right at dawn or dusk.

Anyone else notice this same phenomenon?

Photo credit: USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, George Jameson

Update on July 21: one of the birds sang most of the night last night, with a near-new moon and cloud cover.

The Silk Road Trilogy

Our friend Steve Bodio—writer, falconer, coursing dog fanatic, and fellow "constant apprentice"—brought to our attention this wonderful project on Kickstarter:

The Silk Road Trilogy by Russian Life — Kickstarter

A small publishing house in Vermont will team up with translators to bring a bestselling Russian trilogy, set in 749 A.D., to English. We pledged, and will receive a copy of the first book, The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas. Congratulations to this project, which was successfully funded today.

Meanwhile, we still have the Blood and Leather project on Kickstarter, with 20 days to go and $800 pledged (and a few more dollars from some friends who just don't do online money stuff).

Please take a look:

Life is good. Chocolate-bourbon pecan pie.

Life is good. Chocolate-bourbon pecan pie. by ConserVentures

Jack Daniels Bourbon Pecan Pie
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Ingredients:

2 grade-A large eggs (slightly beaten)
1/4 cup dark Karo syrup (I use Sonoran Desert honey)
3/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons corn starch
8 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup Jack Daniels bourbon
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (I use Lindt 72% dark chocolate)
1 bag pecan halves (approximately 2 cups)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix eggs and Karo.

Combine sugar and corn starch, add to egg mixture.

Melt chocolate and butter, cool. Add bourbon and combine with egg mixture. Beat together in mixer on slow speed. (At this point I usually sample the bourbon. Just to make sure it's fresh.)

Pour into a 9-inch unbaked pie shell. Sprinkle evenly with pecan halves. To make an impressive-looking pie, lay the pecan halves on top in a circle around the edge and keep making circles until the pie top is covered rather then sprinkling them on top.

Bake on cookie sheet for one hour. It's okay to keep sampling the bourbon.
Pie should be firm and will "set-up" while cooling. Serve with bourbon, if there is any left.