Audio: Coyotes in South Dakota

When visiting my favorite South Dakota ranch, I usually spend some time each evening out on the range photographing the night sky. In addition to the cattle residing at the ranch, the coyotes are constant companions. They start singing near sundown; some are heard only faintly, very far in the distance, while others are surprisingly near. In the darkness, I have no idea exactly where they are. Their howls make a fantastic soundtrack to the visual display overhead—one that provides a good degree of romance, and not a little tingling of the spine.

On this particular night of sky shooting, I brought along a digital recorder and a directional microphone. The result is a half-minute recording of the coyotes doing what they do.

Caution, pet owners: Your dog or cat may not like this recording. Proceed accordingly.

The audio is posted as a video (with the above still image) at these links:    Vimeo    YouTube

Speaking of the Song Dog: Whether you love coyotes, hate them, fear them, or know very little about them, I highly recommend the Dan Flores book Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History. Covering everything from biology to mythology, the book is a comprehensive coyote biography, illuminating such topics as the coyote’s role in the beliefs and culture of Native Americans, its “discovery” by European Americans, portrayals of the coyote in modern popular culture, and the lives of urban coyotes. (Unsure about the correct pronunciation of the word coyote? That’s covered as well.)

The book examines the evolution of these highly intelligent animals and their unusual reproductive adaptability. While wolves were being extirpated by humans, the coyote’s ability to function either as a pack member or as a solitary hunter allowed the species to survive and expand its range. The core of Coyote America is a detailed look at the long timeline of a misguided and utterly futile government campaign to exterminate one of the most resilient animals on the planet; 150 years of persecution, and the coyote has now colonized virtually all of North America and Central America.

You don’t have to be a biologist to appreciate the wealth of information in this book; Coyote America is not presented as a dry scientific monograph. Dan’s writing is accessible, well paced and provides a very enjoyable reading experience.

After the book’s release in 2016, Mr. Flores was interviewed by National Geographic. Take a few minutes to read that informative article on the NG website:

How the Most Hated Animal in America Outwitted Us All

I discovered this book thanks to Ed Roberson’s Mountain & Prairie podcast. In a 75-minute conversation, available here, Ed and Dan discuss coyotes, wild horses, land management and other interesting topics. (Be sure to check out another great book by Dan, American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains.)

Hey, you with the bushy tail: I’ve written of my fascination with owls, and I am similarly drawn to coyotes. I hear them quite often when I’m wandering through the Canadian wilderness and the American West, but I have never heard the coyote’s song here in the eastern part of the country. As for spotting a coyote with my own eyes, there have been just four such occurrences, and only twice was I able to photograph the encounter (both times from the driver’s seat with a pocket digital camera). First, there was this “prairie wolf” in western South Dakota…

And, not far from my home, this eastern cousin…

You can view a very short video of this creature walking across the snow-covered field by following these links:    Vimeo    YouTube

This may go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Do not approach a coyote, do not attempt to feed a coyote, do not encourage coyotes to become comfortable around humans.

Further reading and resources: This link will direct you to Project Coyote, a non-profit organization “whose mission is to promote compassionate conservation and coexistence between people and wildlife through education, science and advocacy.” Read about their work toward ending wildlife killing contests that target coyotes and other predatory species.

(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)

View from the Saddle

It is difficult to make this anything of a letter. I have been riding for a whole week, seeing wonders and greatly enjoying the singular adventurousness and novelty of my tour, but ten hours or more daily spent in the saddle in this rarefied, intoxicating air, disposes one to sleep rather than to write in the evening, and is far from conducive to mental brilliancy. The observing faculties are developed, and the reflective lie dormant.

~ Isabella Bird, letter dated October 28, 1873

Larimer County, Colorado

~

Nearly 150 years have passed since Isabella Bird explored the Colorado Territory on horseback. Having traveled much of the same ground myself in recent years, I’m happy to say that a great deal of the area’s wild beauty is still with us.

Isabella’s letters about her adventures are collected in the book A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains.

(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)

Carl’s Library: Hammond’s Nature Atlas

I’m no bookbinder, but I’m pretty handy with a roll of black cloth tape. While going through some of my books in storage, I came across an old favorite which has seen better days. I used that roll of tape to reattach the front and back boards, and now the book is shelfworthy again.

The book is Hammond’s Nature Atlas of America (1952), and this copy has been with me longer than any book in my collection; I still remember turning these pages as a kid. As then, I love looking at the colorful paintings by Walter Ferguson and John Cody.

There’s no doubt that this book fostered my lifelong fascination with nature and science.

~

Illustrations and text: Copyright 1952 by C.S. Hammond and Company, Inc.

(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)

Carl’s Library: Mary Schäffer Warren

108 years ago…

A Merry Christmas

My darling brother: If you had only not been a boy I could have thought up O so many things to have sent you. But being a boy (however I am very glad you are) you will have to put up with a book. I do not know how good this book is for I have not read it. But the notice said many fine things about it.        ~ Sister Julia

In many of the vintage books I have acquired over the years, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover reminders of the people who owned those books long ago, such as Julia’s handwritten note found in my copy of Old Indian Trails of the Canadian Rockies by Mary T. S. Schäffer.

Mary Schäffer’s husband, Dr. Charles Schäffer, had a passion for botany. His playground was the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia, and shortly after their marriage, Mary made her first trip to western Canada with Charles, acting as his scientific assistant. She was awestruck by the magnificent scenery all around her. With her husband’s guidance, Mary quickly became a talented amateur botanist and enjoyed the work they did together. She collected and identified specimens, captured photographs, and painted beautiful watercolor illustrations of the alpine flowers. For Mary, this was the genesis of many annual transcontinental journeys via the Canadian Pacific Railway, from her home in Pennsylvania to the wild country known as Banff & Jasper National Parks.

Charles died shortly after their 1903 visit to the mountains. By that time, Mary was thoroughly in love with the Canadian wilderness, and as a tribute to her dear husband, she wished to complete the botanical guide of mountain flora that they had dreamed of writing. Mary enlisted her husband’s colleague, botanist Stewardson Brown, to co-author the project, and they set out for Alberta in the summer of 1906; the book, Alpine Flora of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, was published the following year.

That great task now completed, Mary was eager to plan her next westward journey, with a desire to make it a grander adventure than any before…exploring new territory and spending more time in the wild. Over the winter months, Mary and her friend Mollie Adams began their preparations.

Old Indian Trails is the story of the 1907 and 1908 expeditions made by Mary and Mollie, along with guides Sid Unwin and Billy Warren.

To anyone who quizzed the group about the purpose of their travels during those two summers, they explained that they were looking for the sources of the Athabasca and Saskatchewan Rivers. In truth, they were happy just to be roaming through this beautiful wilderness, wherever the trails may lead.

But there was indeed one specific goal very much on their minds: to locate a mysterious lake which the Stoney Indians called Chaba Imne. Working from a sketch made by their local friend, a Stoney named Sampson Beaver, they finally found the lake in 1908. Its current name, Maligne Lake, was affixed by Mary, and she is credited with its “official” discovery.

From her earliest travels, Mary approached Indigenous Peoples with warmth and friendship, and showed an eagerness to understand their way of life. She had great affection for Sampson Beaver and his family; Mary looked forward to visiting them whenever she was in the area. The Stoney Indians referred to Mary as Yahe-Weha (“Mountain Woman”).

After so many years of enduring long train trips to see her beloved mountains, Mary realized there was no longer any point in maintaining the life she knew in Philadelphia. She finally made Banff her year-round home and married her long-time mountain guide, Billy Warren.

With her writing, her lectures and her lantern slide shows, Mary worked to publicize the beauty of this region. Even so, a part of her was saddened to see the peace and tranquility fade a little as more and more visitors arrived each year, and opportunities for trailblazing and discovery existed only in her memory.

Like many other titles in my library, I discovered this book due to its reference in another book (and once again, I can’t recall which one). That is one of the joys of nonfiction; I’ve enjoyed many books that I likely would never have found—and my library has grown—simply due to authors referencing earlier works on the subject at hand.

Of course, it’s hard for me to pass up any old book that happens to include a folding map…

Speaking of mountains: I know that a similar early edition of this book resides on the shelves of the Rocky Mountain Land Library, and I can’t think of a more appropriate home for it. I want to take this opportunity to mention that December is a great time to make a donation to the RMLL, as they are currently raising funds to support their 2020 workshops and restoration projects. Find out more about the Land Library and make a contribution by visiting landlibrary.wordpress.com.

Companion book: I recommend the biography No Ordinary Woman: The Story of Mary Schäffer Warren by Janice Sanford Beck, published in 2002. The book provides a great deal of illuminating information, from Mary’s Quaker upbringing in Pennsylvania to her final years with Billy Warren in their Banff home, and in between, we learn of her early travel experiences and her growing appreciation for wild beauty, her first trips to the Canadian Rockies with Charles, her fascination and fondness for the Indigenous Peoples she encountered, the botanical work with her husband and Stewardson Brown, her government-backed survey expedition of Maligne Lake in 1911, her journeys to other parts of the globe, and her environmental activism. Additionally, this book contains several of Mary’s previously unpublished articles and manuscripts, and many more photographs from her mountain adventures.

Photographs and text: Copyright 1911 by Mary T.S. Schäffer.

(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)

Carl’s Library: The Kindred of the Wild

It’s sad to see a beloved used bookstore close its doors. But the bright side of such a farewell is the opportunity to do several years’ worth of shopping in a few short weeks. When the owner of the bookstore in my neighborhood decided to retire, I was able to add dozens of vintage books to my library at generous clearance-sale prices. I didn’t walk in with a wish list; I just browsed the shelves featuring books on history, exploration, the American West and wilderness fiction and came home with a wide assortment of unfamiliar titles.

I was not acquainted with The Kindred of the Wild, nor its author, Charles G.D. Roberts. Since reading the book, I have learned that it was wildly popular in its day, selling very well the world over, and that Roberts is highly regarded as a writer of prose and poetry—much of his work dedicated to natural history.

Kindred is a collection of short stories about the lives of wild animals, set in the woodlands of Atlantic Canada, where Roberts grew up.

Some stories describe prey/predator relationships, while others tell of encounters between animals and humans. Death appears often in this book, but escape, survival and freedom are also present. And on page after page, the reader finds beautiful descriptions of the sights, sounds and tranquility of the forest.

Accompanying each story are several full-page illustrations by artist Charles Livingston Bull

As Roberts acknowledges, Kindred is a work of fiction. The stories are not anthropomorphic in nature; the creatures are not affixed with human names, nor do they speak English. These are simply tales of animals doing what animals do. Roberts was a proponent of realism when writing about animal behavior.

Nevertheless, the book became involved in the so-called “nature fakers controversy,” in which naturalist John Burroughs and President Theodore Roosevelt criticized the work of authors such as Roberts, Ernest Thompson Seton, William J. Long and Jack London, condemning their stories as “sham natural history.”

Whether or not such allegations hold any truth or relevance, I’ll leave for others to decide. In any case, I appreciate Roberts’s writing style and I truly enjoyed reading this book.

Illustrations and text: Copyright 1902 by L.C. Page & Company, Inc.

(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)

Carl’s Library: Mina Benson Hubbard

This autumn’s long road trip gave me my first look at Quebec and The Maritimes; I made it as far east as Port Morien, Nova Scotia. I was asked by a few people if I would be continuing on to explore Newfoundland & Labrador. No, my first visit to that province will be a monster of a trip all its own. At some point in the next few years, I’ll embark on what will likely be the Pontiac’s greatest challenge: driving the Trans-Labrador Highway—probably the most remote and loneliest highway in all of North America. Should I reach the Labrador coast, I’ll be far closer to Greenland than to New York City.

To this day, Labrador remains a vast boreal wilderness with very few inhabitants; only 27,000 or so live there, mainly along the coast. It is a land of rugged terrain, dense brush, fierce weather and legions of biting insects. Life is hard there, even for the Indigenous Peoples of the region. Few visitors see Labrador’s interior.

Imagine traversing this daunting landscape in 1905, with no map to guide you…

Warning: This report contains spoilers…

Leonidas Hubbard, Junior set out in 1903 to chart a course through the harsh interior of Labrador—said to be the least-explored region of North America at that time. His party became lost in a labyrinth of lakes and swamps, and the cold air and snow arrived early that summer. They were unable to secure sufficient game to feed themselves as their supplies dwindled. Too weak to travel, Leonidas died from starvation, alone in his tent, after his two companions had raced off separately to bring back food and a rescue party.

Mina Hubbard, now a 33-year-old widow, grew determined to complete her husband’s journey. She was an absolute novice regarding this type of travel, and most people were shocked at the idea of a woman participating in an exploratory expedition, let alone leading one. But she planned it well, teaching herself navigation and mapping skills, researching equipment and provisions, talking with trappers and sportsmen who knew the territory, and assembling a reliable crew: Joseph, Job, and Gilbert; the fourth man, and the greatest asset to the team, was George Elson, a survivor of her husband’s expedition.

In late June of ’05, they loaded two 19′ canoes with their gear, which included plenty of flour, rice, coffee and other staples; meat, fish and berries would be procured as they traveled. Leaving the Northwest River trading post, the expedition began its long slog up the Nascaupee River, struggling against the swift current and making several portages along the way.

They finally came to the sprawling Lake Michikamau, and shortly thereafter, to the river’s source, which Mina named Lake Adelaide (zooming out from this aerial view will give you an appreciation for the ruggedness and isolation that this wilderness offers). Crossing over the height of land (the present-day boundary between Labrador and Quebec), the team descended the George River. They soon found themselves in the midst of the largest caribou herd in the world—hundreds of thousands of beasts in migration mode. Farther on, the expedition passed through the great Barren Ground of northern Labrador, and in late August, arrived at the Ungava Bay trading post, where they waited for the final southbound ship of the season—Hudson’s Bay Company’s steamer, Pelican—to return them to Rigolette.

All told, they canoed and portaged 576 miles from post to post during those 62 days in the summer of 1905, and gave us the first accurate mapping of the Nascaupee and George Rivers.

Mrs. Hubbard’s book is not a cold play-by-play of each day’s progress, but is written in a storytelling fashion that allows her to expand upon many aspects of the adventure. She writes of their successes and discoveries, their worries and critical decisions, their near disasters. She describes their friendly encounters with the Montagnais and Nascaupee tribes of the interior. She writes of animal behavior, thoughts of home, thoughts of her late husband, the personalities of her companions, their moments of joy along the way, and her appreciation for the beauty of her surroundings.

The men were very protective of Mina and constantly worried for her safety; to their dismay, she had an adventurous streak and loved wandering off alone to hike up hills and mountains, smiling and happy as she walked along. In addition to her revolver and hunting knife, Mina armed herself with one Panoram Kodak Camera and one 3.25″ x 4.25″ Folding Pocket Kodak Camera…

I discovered A Woman’s Way Through Unknown Labrador by a reference in another book on northern exploration (although the title of that book escapes me). I learned enough about Mina Hubbard’s expedition to know that I definitely wanted to acquire a copy of her book, and I was lucky to find this 1908 first Canadian edition. This particular book was the obvious choice for a cartophile like me, as it came complete with its original color copy of Mina’s map, detailing the routes of the two expeditions. The map is stored in a pocket within the back board, and is in remarkably good condition for its age…

Mrs. Hubbard’s map became the benchmark for this region, as recognized by American and European geographical authorities. Several of the lakes and land features along the route still bear the names that Mina affixed to them in 1905.

Included in this book is the diary that Leonidas Hubbard kept during his expedition, along with George Elson’s account of those final days, his harrowing solo journey to find help, and his return the following spring to retrieve Mr. Hubbard’s body.

I don’t purchase books as investments; I buy them to read, and I look for sensibly-priced copies. Yet, for whatever reason, I felt that I needed a premium edition of this title, and it is indeed the most money I’ve ever spent on a single book. Even so, no regrets here…it is a beautiful book and a great reading experience.

Photographs, map and text: Copyright 1908 by Mrs. Leonidas Hubbard, Jr. (Mina Benson Hubbard).

(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)

Carl’s Library: Salamina

Our friends at the Rocky Mountain Land Library have been sharing photos of a few of the wonderful books in their vast collection, set against the scenic backdrop of the Buffalo Peaks Ranch. Though my own library is much, much smaller, and the view from my apartment is not nearly as inspiring, I’d like to follow their lead and occasionally show you some of the beautiful old books occupying my shelves—particularly, books about exploration (that is, exploration back in the glory days before GPS, digital cameras and North Face jackets). I have many books about the American West, Canada, and the high latitudes of the polar regions; books about journeys of discovery over unforgiving terrain and survival in dangerous weather conditions, books about boundless tracts of wild land and the flora & fauna therein, books about Indigenous Peoples living in harmony with nature, books written by those who have successfully explored and charted unmapped territory, and books about those who died in the attempt. I’m able to experience the wilderness for only a few weeks out of each year; I’m happy that I can read and dream about it during my time at home.

~ ~ ~

Recently, during an email conversation about books, my friend remarked that a book she’d read at a young age had just popped into her head for some reason. It was a story about life, love, nature and culture, accompanied by striking illustrations. She revealed that the book had changed her life. That book was Salamina by artist and writer Rockwell Kent…

I was surprised that I had never heard of this book, or the author. From my friend’s glowing description, I knew that I had to see it for myself. And because the artwork is a key component of the book, I decided that I wanted to get a nice copy; thanks to the internet, I was able to find a 1935 first edition in great shape, and reasonably priced. It is the most recent addition to my library…

The book tells of the author’s life among the native population of Igdlorssuit, Greenland in 1931-32. He went there not just to live and explore, but also to paint and draw. Like my friend, I enjoy the pen & ink drawings opening each chapter and the many full-page portraits done in Conté crayon…

I hadn’t gone far into the book before I realized that I was very happy with my purchase, and grateful that my friend had brought this title to my attention. And I knew that I would be acquiring more books by Rockwell Kent the moment I read this wonderful passage:

Let all your dreams have been of warmth and tropical luxuriance; let what at last is given you be bare, bleak, cold, in every way unlike your thoughts of earthly paradise, your chameleon soul cries out, “By God, I love this barrenness!” Why otherwise have men gone out from comfort, from the pleasures of city life, from all the cultivated beauty of a developed countryside, and in hardship and poverty, in unremitting labor, in all the hard conditions of some frontier life, found happiness? Why do men love the wilderness? For its mountains?—there may be none. For its forests, lakes, and rivers?—it might be a desert; men would love it still. Desert, the monotonous ocean, the unbroken snow-fields of the North, all solitudes, no matter how forlorn, are the only abiding-place on earth of liberty.

Beautifully stated, Mr. Kent. And quite true.

Illustrations and text: Copyright 1935 by Rockwell Kent.

(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)

Kindle? Not In My House

This story has nothing to do with the Pontiac. Rather, it is about the way that I explore North America—and beyond—when I’m not behind the wheel…

book1a

As I’ve aged, I’ve become more and more keen on minimalism within my living space. I hate clutter, and I’m not a fan of owning stuff; if I don’t need it and use it, out it goes. Also, I’m not a collector…that is, not in the hobby or investment sense. There are, in fact, two “collections” in my home, and both continue to grow: my vinyl and my books. Since I do need them and I do use them, they’re not going anywhere. When I’m not exploring the wonders of the world outside these walls, it’s likely that I’m indulging my love for music or my love for the printed word.

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My library is not overloaded with obvious titles…the classics that are known to everyone; I do have many of those, but I also have a boatload of obscure material. There are millions of old books out there worth reading, even though the titles aren’t familiar to most people, or to me. I take chances. If a book is truly awful, I’ll trade it in at my favorite bookstore. That doesn’t happen often; most of them, I keep, as I enjoy reading a book more than once and finding things that I didn’t fully appreciate the first time through, and I’ll often use a book as a guide when I want to visit interesting places that the story brought to my attention.

I love the process of discovery; one book leads me to another book by that author, or to another author that was referenced; one book introduces me to a place or a person or an event, and I seek out other books on those subjects to learn even more. And my library grows.

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Nearly every book I own, I purchased used. I don’t shop at chain bookstores and I’m not interested in “best seller” lists. I buy the occasional used copy of a recent release, if the subject appeals to me, but I especially love old books…books written before my time. The majority of my collection falls in the 1875 to 1975 range. And I do like tracking down the oldest copy of a title that I can find. Mind you, I’m not a fanatic about it; I don’t scour every corner of the globe looking exclusively for pricey first editions. I have several firsts, and I have plenty of second, third, sixth, and Nth printings, but they were located through a simple search process, either from local used bookstores or from eBay, Alibris, et al, and they were purchased at reasonable prices. There are only two books in my collection that were priced above $99.

Paperbacks have never appealed to me; the ones I have are only there because a hardcover edition was never printed. They just don’t hold the same magic as a well-read hardbound beauty. For me, reading is not solely a process of absorbing information; I’m also charmed by the romance of the book itself…its weight, its scent, the feel of the boards, the texture of high-quality vintage paper and printing, the delicate fold-out maps in my books on exploration, the beautiful plates and illustrations on thick, glossy paper.

And there is the occasional thought of others who have held this same book…people long since gone. How did they get the book? Did they enjoy it? Reminders of their presence range from simple inscriptions inside the front cover to the beautiful note I found, written on monogrammed stationery, still tucked between the pages of one of my books, from Julia to her brother, dated December 25, 1911.

An old book has a personality, something which no digital device could ever capture.

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Recently, a friend shared this link to a wonderful story about the Rocky Mountain Land Library. Reading about this project made me realize that I want to make arrangements for the disposition of my books; I have no kids to leave them to, and I’d rather they not end up in an estate sale. Perhaps this library, or one of a similar nature, would welcome the donation; my collection contains many vintage books about the Old West.

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Copyright 1898 by The Macmillan Company, Assigned 1899 to Crane & Company, Topeka.

(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)