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bat-eared fox

I have not yet been asked to review the new film Alpha, which is a story about early dog domestication. I have not seen the film yet, but I do want to see it.

I do think we need to get beyond the Coppinger model for dog domestication, and I think there have been some serious attempts recently, but I’m not going to play around with that right now.

Instead, I’m going play around with some speculative domestication reverie. Forgive me my flights of fancy. I must play around a bit.

Let’s say that domestication didn’t involve wolves at all. Let’s say it happened with a very different canid.

And you really can’t get more different from wolves than bat-eared foxes are. Bat-eared foxes are odd little creatures. They are intensely social foxes that live almost entirely upon harvester termites. They do eat other things, and they have even been known to scavenge carrion. But most of what they eat is harvester termites.

Let’s say that somewhere in East Africa some 50,000 years ago, a wandering band of nomad came into the land, but found the whole countryside devoid of game.  The only quadruped messing about the scene were several bands of bat-eared foxes.

And the hunters speared the foxes and ran them down and roasted their bodies on campfires and ate away at their manky fox flesh and hoped the spirits would bring forth a kudu or an impala from the bush.

So for many weeks, the people hunted the bat-eared foxes, and they choked down the fox meat.

But then the fox numbers dwindled, and the disgusting pains of hunger swept through the people. And the babies starved to death, and the children grew gaunt in the piercing sun.

And so the hunters set out on a big journey into the rising sun hoping that they would some place so wondrous as to have plentiful hoofed game.

One hunter, though, knew of a little trick that he’d learned from the hot days of fox chasing in the sun. He knew that the bat-eared foxes like to hang near the termite nests, and he knew that if he staked out one big termite nest, he’d eventually run into a fox.

For two hot days he sat in silence. But on the nightfall of that second day, he the hoary gray form of a bat-eared fox. It was a vixen, and she was all heavy with milk.

Her form was gaunt and tight, and he teats were all swollen with the milk. And the hunter felt pity for her, and so he could not cast his spear upon her.

He sat there watching as she picked up the termites and marveled her rapid mastication.  Rare is the hunter who can avoid watching his quarry and empathizing with it. It is man’s ability to empathize with an animal that ultimately makes him great hunter. It is his ability enter into the animal’s mind and see its ways and its habits as the animal sees it.

But he still can kill it and kill it with skill.  It’s just that every once in a while, the empathy subsumes the hunter, and he feels that odd profound kinship with the animal. It is a feeling I have felt so profoundly on my own hunts, and it is one that I know has made me pass up more than a few shots.  And these are the feelings I do not wish to lose. If I do, I will be a monster, not a fully human hunter.

So the hunter sat and watched the vixen eating the termites, and he let her pass. He then followed her tracks through the arid country. He kept his distance back on the trail, hoping that he would not spook her.

He followed her out of nothing more than curiosity, and as he followed her, he noticed the cloven hoofs of a kudu. The fox and the kudu were following the same trail,  so the hunter knew that if he tired of his little fox tracking, he might be able to get on a kudu trail and bring home some nice meat for the band.

As he followed the trail, the kudu sign grew fresher and fresher. And out of the bush, a young kudu materialized out of the heat waves.  Both hunter and kudu were suprised to encounter each other, but the hunter knew to throw his spear.  It hit home, and the kudu ran and ran. The hunter followed its blood trail, and then found the beast lying in its death throes.

He dispatched the kudu with a simple blow to the head, and it became meat in very short order.

The hunter covered his kill and began the journey back to where he had left his companions. He had dropped a kudu bull, and they would soon have food to eat.

But he had to make his way carefully home, for the stench of blood could bring in lions and hyenas. So he started homeward,  when he sensed presence of another being staring at him.

When he turned to look for his stalker, he was shocked to find the vixen standing upon a little boulder. She was transfixed by him, and he was amazed by her.

He turned to walk away, and the bat-eared fox squall-barked.  He turned to look in her direction. He waved a blessing at her, and then turned to walk again. The vixen squall-barked again, this time with frantic intent.

The hunter turned to look at the fox, but then another movement caught his eye, He turned his head to make his eyes register upon the form before him, and then he realized that a young male lion had come to stalk him. It had been trailing the wounded kudu, and now, it had come upon a bit of human flesh. All it had to do was lie in wait, and there would be a kill.

The hunter stood tall on his legs and reached for his spear. He had but one opportunity to make the lion fall as it began to charge, and he knew that he had to make it count. Otherwise, he would be lion’s meat.

He made his spear aim dead on the lion, and as the beast began its horrific charge, the hunter steeled his nerves  and began his spear cast. It home just as the lion’s charge reached within ten feet of him.  The arrow hit the lion lungs, and her ran off in terror to die the death of a mortally wounded beast.

But the hunter lived. And he owed his survival to the little squall-barks of the bat-eared vixen.

He just began to make his way home when he herd the sound of many hoof-beats. All around him were vast herd of zebra and wildebeest.  And there were many kudu and impala flitting about.

In his journey following the bat-eared fox, he had accidentally stumbled onto some game rich country, and he had to bring his people here.

And he had to make them thank the fox.

And so these people survived a long bout of famine all thanks to their guardian spirit, a little bat-eared fox.

And so the legend was passed through all the people’s children and their children and their children’s children.  And the people came to revere the fox, and bring the kits into their villages and make them their guardians and good luck talismans.

And soon there were whole populations of bat-eared fox that lived in villages and ate people food along with their normal insectivory.

And they followed the people out of Africa into Eurasia, where they diversified into so many forms.

And the bat-eared fox is found on every island and on every continent where people exist.

Some herd our chickens and ducks. Others keep malaria mosquitoes at bay, while others rat as proper terriers do in our present reality.

But in this reality, man’s best friend is the bat-eared fox, not the domesticated wolf. And wolves themselves never survived into the present era. It was too clunky and too churlish to fit into the world dominated by man, and it was fully extirpated from all the land.

And so I’ve laid out some silly reverie of speculative domestication. Forgive me my folly. I sometimes can’t help it.

 

 

 

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Rabbit Road

rabbit

The road was mostly overgrown now, but you could feel the gravel moving under your feet when stepped along it. And the rabbit hunters often did when they went out for a spot of pot shooting for cottontails.

These hunters were not the noble coursing men or poachers of England, but simple Appalachian hill farmers and farm boys who knew where to go to bring in a few rabbits for the pot. Those with sense often brought along a few not particularly well-bred beagles to bound about the brier patches and drive the most recalcitrant and retiring Lagomorpha shotgun.

But the land of brier patches was once a good little hill pasture. The family dairy cattle once grazed all around these little escarpments and benches, and many days the summer sun would shine upon bare-chested farm boys leaping about the grass as they tried to catch grasshoppers as bait for the bluegill holes.

However, now the land was covered in briers of multiflora rose and sand brier, and the rabbits lived as kings. They had cover to hid them from the swooping red-tails that often flew over the briers in search of the few dumb bunnies that stood around when the winged death’s shadow covered menaced the ground.

And the gray foxes all knew that they had to beat the brush hard to make a good rabbit chase, but by mid-November, enough happy fur hunters had taken shots at them to ward them off the overgrown road until the next spring, when the baby rabbits would fill the road again. This was the time when the gray foxes tried their skill at hunting blue jays and songbirds in the autumn olives and rhododendron, leaving their rabbit hunts to better days when the quarry was more naive and stupid and the guns were not cracking for their heads.

And so the men wandered along the old road, eyes casting all around for the brown leporid forms that would make for fine frying and roasting on a chill November night.  Part of their goal was to shoot the rabbits. The other was to check out the deer sign, and maybe figure out where those big bucks were traveling now.  Such early forays would give some insight into the ways of the local deer that might give a hunter a bit of an advantage once the great Thanksgiving week deer cull began.

But the truth of the matter is that it was a good time to be out walking with a gun in one’s hands.  This was the time of year when it the air was so strongly crisp but the sun still had enough power to balm the skin as one entered into the world of forests and fields and went questing after wild meat.

The men would talk about the weather, especially the forecast for the coming snows, and they would tell tales of great deer hunts of the past, of that time when they jumped a wandering sow bear and her two cubs and how all three ran off in absolute terror as the men’s boots scratched upon the gravel.

They would marvel at the old moonshine drum that stood half-hidden in a stand of ancient white pine. The would wonder how the old farmers of that alcohol banning time hid their drinks and spirits, even though the law was always slinking about busting down their operations. They would wonder how man as religious as the great grandfather who owned this land had led a double life, preaching hard against all the sins that lead to eternal damnation and then parceling out the sauce to the local ne’er-do-wells.

The drum was hidden nicely. It was covered with soil except for the opening lid, which lay just exposed enough on the ground that if one were looking very carefully, it would become instantly obvious. It held 50 gallons, and when it was in use, it hid that valuable drink so well that no lawman ever set eyes upon.

It was only known because of the simple perambulations of the rabbit shooters, who just happened to notice it when a wounded cottontail passed into the pine grove and fell into its death in front of the drum’s lid.

So the rabbit shooters knew about the other side of this rabbit road.  They knew they were walking on a land of survival but a land in which not all was at appeared.

But the rabbit meat was good for the roasting and the frying on those coming cold nights, and the waking the woods and simply chatting was good enough for the spirit.

And so they came every weekend in first few weeks of November. They dropped a few rabbits, and some ran their beagles. And the brier patches were full of rabbits. And the comradeship of a nice walking hunt made the world make sense for a while.

The rabbit road was a pathway into something simpler yet more complete. And so these men and boys came with their shotguns and game bags

And the frying pans and roasting pots were filled with meat, meat that had come from a land left to go into briers and brush, where the rabbits had their great paradise.

 

 

Fetcher

fetcher

 

img_5497

Some experts aren’t big fans of us using the term “Anthropocene” to describe our current epoch. We’re still in the Holocene. Maybe the Holocene has gone into a truly anthropocentric era, but they remain unconvinced that humanity has reached a tipping point in which nature truly is bent to the ways of humanity.

I would argue that we are. A mass extinction followed the switch from the Pleistocene to the Holocene.  Large numbers of megafaunal species fell to the wayside. Extinctions and extirpations occurred through those thousands of years in which began the switch from a hunter-gatherer ape to an agricultural demigod of a species.

In the past few centuries, though, we’ve gone into overdrive. We’ve conquered disease after disease.  The human population is growing more and more every year, and the need for constant growth to accommodate so many hungry people is taking a real toll upon the world’s ecosystems.

Species are dying out, and yes, species are being created as we continue on with our mass tinkering. But who can say that we’re creating anything as magnificent as an Amur tiger, an African bush elephant, or blue whale. We are creating a world that favors the generalist and the small and unobtrusive. We are not creating world that favors the magnificent and predatory and fell and bestial.

It sings the song of the lowly Virginia opossum and the yappy red fox. It goes hard against the thylacine and the massive megafaunal wolf.

Humanity, now becoming more and more cloistered in urban settings, knows very little of the world that isn’t forged in steel or encased in concrete. The digital information revolution has not empowered the logical and reasonable. Instead, it has empowered the lynch mob and the demagogue that hits the mob’s sensitive buttons. Whole technologically advanced societies are now divided upon which of the various digitally connected lynch mobs one belongs to.

And so we have climate change deniers forcing environmental policy, and we have animal rights fanatics trying to ban anything in which humans have a true relationship with an animal that goes beyond the cutesy caricature of a silly cartoon.

Wisdom, reason, and true civil society will be the only ways to deal with the challenges of the Anthropocene, but if you look at the wealthy nations right now, especially my own, none of these forces operates well in the body politic. We have a first class baboon in the White House, who seems to think that all he needs to do is engage in demagoguery and that will save his bacon from whatever scandals surface. And we have an opposition party that doesn’t seem to understand anything, except that half the party hates the other half, and all those with actual power in the system seem to be much more concerned with courting donor money than trying to mobilize to fight against the Anthropocene’s looming darkness.

I’m sure that many other countries in the West are in the same boat, and in each case, warring lynch mobs are so ballistic across the great digital connections that allow us to have these things called social media that it’s becoming harder and harder to walk everything back, even just a little.

We loom a little closer each day to true ecological demise. We have cast our lot into the Anthropocene’s abyss.

Will we someday rise to the occasion?

Or are we really nothing more that aggression-prone tribal apes that somehow got lucky when it came to the evolution of our brains?

We will need more than that luck to save ourselves.  We will need to use those brains. We will need to set aside the aggression.

And I just don’t know if our species, as brilliant as it is, can really do these things. I have to hope that we can.

Vain hope is better than true doom and gloom melancholia. At the very least, it makes waking up in the morning a little easier and going to bed at night a little less of an effort.

 

 

 

 

She’s a keeper

apple

Out of the Rush x Fontana litter, I am so excited to announce that I am keeping Apple as my dog. So now have as mine, a German shepherd and a golden retriever puppy.

Apple belly rub

Apple tug:

apple profileapple tug

apple tugging

 

 

Death of the Old Doe

 

dead deer

Blood and nasty green stomach matter gushed from her side. The Old Doe had been hit. The arrow flew from the old oak tree, just off from that feed plot where all the deer had been feeding all through the late summer and early autumn. It was aimed at her heart, and the doe was hit a bit far back.

And now she was running wounded. Death was coming, but it wasn’t fast enough.  The agony of the deer was now replaced by the terror and panic that she must run from the predator, the danger that that revealed its with that swishing arrow sound and the thud into deer flesh.

She would not be long for this world, but it was not soon enough to remove her from the before the torture of this sort of death would set in.

For seven years, the Old Doe had run these hills. Her mother was a wise old girl, who had dropped the Old Doe and a buck fawn in her fifth spring, and she taught her young ones the ways of survival in summer swelter and through the hard snows of winter. She taught them many to walk into the wind, so they could always catch the scent of what lay ahead, and she taught them to be most wary of man. For man is the only animal that can kill you if he has you in his clear view of sight, and if man can see you, you’d better run like hell.

A pickup truck took her mother on a late March evening, when the doe took her young out to lap some vestiges of the road salt that had been dumped all through the winter. It was an ignoble death for such a wise creature, but it is a death that happens thousands of times on the highways every year.

And the Old Doe became an orphan, but she had her mother’s wisdom, and she had her mother’s band to hook up with. White-tailed deer live in little societies in which the mature bucks live in their own bands and the does and their growing offspring live in their own as well. The old does become really woods-wise, and they pass this knowledge onto their daughters, granddaughters, and nieces.

The buck bands split up when the autumn makes their hormones surge into a state of insanity, aggression, and just plain libido. They run the country looking for estrus does on their own, and this is roughly the same time that men with rifles and shotguns show up and drop them dead as the course the sweet sensual scents of the rut.

But the does stay together through most of this insanity. A buck might run a doe on her own for a little while, but she invariably returns to her sisterhood.

The Old Doe learned from her mother’s older sister, who died at the age of ten, when her teeth were all ground down to the nubs, and there was no way that she could masticate an acorn or beechnut to feed her gaunt form. She starved to death on a late February day, and when she passed, the doe band’s leadership was passed to the Old Doe.

And she ran the hills for four good years. Every hunter and homesteader in that part of the country knew her well. She was a big, stout doe, and she always dropped her twins in the sweet days of late May.  They would follow her out into the pastures on midsummer evenings when the fireflies seemed to rise with the humid vapors of dusk.

Two daughters made it through the gauntlet of slinging arrows and firing guns and speeding cars. They were her lieutenants, and by their second years, they were both dropping twins along with their mother. Coyotes and mowing machines got some. A bobcat got at least one.

The hunters looking for tender meat always took the little fawns as soon as the hunting season started.

The Old Doe lived a life in which death stalked everywhere, and it was always just a matter of time before someone was shot or impaled or lifted from a sleeping form.

But she lived all through that horror, and her band thrived as well as deer could.

In the end, the Old Doe could only avoid a fatal error so long, and on that early October day, she led her band to her favorite food plot, and for whatever odd reason, she chose to slide in with the wind blowing behind her as she passed the big oak.

The steeping sun occluded the hunter’s form as he drew back and let the arrow fly. He was a young man, fifteen years old and learning to be a proper huntsman. He had spent hours practicing in the range. He thought he had that arrow flinging down, and I suppose he did. Even the best of them sometimes shoot a little too far back.

After the arrow thudded into her side and out the other, the Old Doe ran with her band for the coverts. But the loss of blood and the spurting green stomach matter slowed her advance.

And in panic she ran as hard as she could. She didn’t know the direction. She just ran and ran. The thorns from the multiflora rose pierced her legs. She just ran and hoped that all the terror and pain would cease.

And then she fell and fell hard. Her neck twisted the side. She flailed for about five minutes and bleated as if she were a lonely fawn calling out for her mother.  And as she bleated, the strength sapped from her existence.

Her sides rose and fell and legs flailed a bit longer.

But she was gone.

And all that knowledge of being a deer in these hills was wiped away.  Minutes ago she was animate fur and flesh, and now she was a pile meat, hide, bone, and organs.

The night began to drawn in around her body.  A trio of roaming farm dogs caught her scent and trailed down to her final resting place.  They tore at her hide, but not being experts at dissecting carcasses, they made a mess of the whole thing. Indeed, most of what they did was tear into her flank a little as they torn into each other as they fought over this bounty that they had suddenly discovered in this part of the dark woods.

And so the Old Doe died, and her carcass was discovered that morning when the young hunter and his father managed to pick up her trail in the early morning sun. The meat was not whole, and the stomach contents had fouled most of the meat as she decomposed in the early autumn warmth.

At least she wasn’t alive anymore to suffer, but her body would be left to rot and stink and feed the vultures, foxes, and opossums. They would live well off her body, for in death there can be promise for more sustenance, more life. And if nature’s rules are adhered to, all flesh goes to the carrion beetles and the decomposing bacteria.

And so we can think of the Old Doe’s death as a tragedy, a wasteful death that ended a lifetime of horror.

But the white-tail evolved to live lives of horror. They don’t have complexes about it. They simply live while they know of constant terror, and pass on what they know to their young. And they have done so for millions of years on this continents, millions of years before the first Siberian hunters came down from Beringia and took that first white-tail for a bit of meat.

Their bodies have fed countless numbers of humans, and they’ve fed such teeming multitudes of predators that it would be foolish to count them all. And in the hills where they once grazed among the Mastodons and fleeted away from American cheetahs, they now live in the oak woods, where the rifles crack and arrows fly.

They live their fleeting lives of constant terror. But they live them well and so nobly that few humans can ever approach their dignity, even when they fall in such folly as the Old Doe did.

But it is the way of these creatures. Their evolution as prey made them be this way, and we must accept that their deaths must come, if not by the hunter then by the speeding car or horrific starvation.

So it should be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

anka is not a snob

Until relatively recently, I had decided to keep my online presence as so-called “dog expert” as limited as possible. Over the years, I had grown tired of the online dog scene. Almost everyone I used to cooperatively blog with had either decided I was a “fawkin’ eejit” or had moved onto better things.

In the meantime, it became fashionable for people who thought they knew something about real dogs to use what little remaining lives they have to trash people, to shame people, and to act as the most self-righteous asses possible.

Twice, I’ve tried to have a Facebook group associated with this blog, and twice, I’ve given it up. The first time was when my larger group, which had been in existence for several years, became infiltrated with a bunch of self-righteous Millennials, some of whom are nothing more than dog show wannabes and the rest wannabe “dog whisperers,” who probably shudder that I place them in the same category as Cesar Millan.

The second time comes from the simple fact that I’ve changed my life and changed my mind about a certain prick-eared breed.

It is true that I now co-own a top of the line American show-bred German shepherd.  I don’t think he’s crippled, and I don’t think any objective veterinarian would say so either. I like this dog a lot, even though his primary human is my partner. He is a good dog, and if you hate him, I’m sorry. He has nothing to prove to you.

It has been difficult for me to admit that I was wrong about this breed and to accept that I was wrong about what most breeders in the US are trying to accomplish with their show strains of this breed. Not everyone wants that extreme extra angulation in the rear, but just having that angulation is not indicative of a dog that dog is suffering.

But the problem is that I have spent a decade building up a bloody lynch mob about purebred dogs. My views on extreme brachycephalics remain relatively the same. But I am not going to write long screeds about how German shepherds consist solely of structural train wrecks. I do prefer the really good working line dog of this breed, but I do not hate the show ones. And there is room for both types in a breed this useful and loved. There absolutely are dogs that do have problems, but this is not a universal in the breed.

But I have helped build this lynch mob, and for this, I do feel a great deal of guilt. I cannot walk it back it, and if I try to walk it back, I am fairly certain that I will just become someone to throw into the flames.

I have, however, decided that I do need to be public. If you agreed with me about dogs before but disagree now, that’s fine. Maybe you like all the other things I write here and will stay with me.

But I am not participating or feeding into this toxic dog snob culture. I don’t care from which angle the snobbery comes. It just isn’t good for me. I don’t think it’s good for dogs, and I don’t think it’s helping in any way, except stroking egos.

And we all love to have our egos stroked. I certainly do.

But you know what we have to do to grow as human beings? We have to keep open minds. We have to accept that a big chunk of what we believe at any given moment will be shown to be wrong.

When I was in my 20s, I was much more obtuse and obstinate.  I thought I knew a lot more than I actually did, and deep down, I knew it. And thus, I compensated for my lack of any kind of knowledge by being an insufferable angry young man.

Like this:

At some point, though, the angry young man winds up taken aback. His crusade is revealed not just be folly but totally in error, and when he realizes that he can keep being angry all the time or he can allow himself to make adjustments.

My life in the past couple of years has been about making adjustments. I am re-calibrating what I am and what I should waste precious brain cells into fighting over.

So dogs will be part of this blog to be sure, but this will not be yet another one of those “burn down the AKC” blogs. Those blogs already exist. If you want to read them, go ahead. I certainly do read them.

But my own creative and intellectual energies are over trying to produce that content here.

I am going to focus much more on my actual writing craft. As you may have noticed, I am doing much more experimental forms of writing here than I was before. You may not like my “arting around,” but I am doing it anyway.

I have a profound connection with a dog right now, one that I have not experienced in a very long time. She will be a major focus of this work, and I do think that the “retriever” aspect of this blog will be greatly lacking, probably from now on out.

If I could change my blog name, I certainly would. I have disliked it ever since I realized I had named it without creativity. I was seeking approval and notoriety from someone I did admire at the time, but we’ve long since had a falling out.  (I’m sure he would appreciate it if my blog had a different addy and if I went by a different username, for exactly the same reasons).

Right now, I’ve learned that you just have to have your life happen to you, and sometimes,  if you want to be really happy, you have to admit error and move on.

And if you want to grow, you have to admit that you’re wrong. At the very least, admitting you’re wrong is the first step to being right.

And love to be right.

***

There is already a “German Shepherd Man,” if you’re suggesting I change to that name. He has a great Youtube channel and has very nice West German working lines.

 

 

 

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