here are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.
Aldo Leopold

10 November 2011

Restoration project on "the back 40"

Restoration area shaded in green, an eroded "rill" originating in the woods to the south, flowing north into Canoga Creek tributary.
"Before" shot, looking north down the rill.

"After" shot, looking north down the rill from the same vantage point as above.

03 October 2011

Selective timber harvest

We decided to thin out some big black walnuts and also cut a few locusts for construction of a new cattle handling facility.  The timber sale financed the rest of the handling facility.

21 August 2011

First trellis

In 2002, we harvested our first grapes. At that time, our "front" field nearest the lake was planted to corn (in the background).

Now, almost 10 years later, we have installed our first trellis system, in the very spot where the above photo was taken. These two baby steps hopefully foreshadow what is to come at
Canoga Creek Farms (& Cellars).

30 January 2011

No Hunting

I spent some time with the family, celebrating my 40th birthday, in my favorite Adirondacks area, the Moose River drainage. This time, we were focused on the North Branch, based at Big Moose Lake's famous Big Moose Inn. We enjoyed some truly fantastic family downhill skiing at McCauley Mountain, and also some first -class backcountry touring in the Pigeon Lake Wilderness Area. While in the woods, we came across this novel scene of the game in the Adirondacks.

07 January 2011

Two Brown Dogs

I saw it all in a moment, the conflict, the struggle, the dialectic of dominance. The goose were felled, they hit the field. Two brown dogs were dispatched to subdue and retrieve them, from two different places, from two different persons, of two different tribes. One dog, unbridled in his aggression and accustomed to encountering little resistance, menaced the other, of arguably more truculent stock but considerably more trained and of better manners, over a goose which lie dead or dying on the field. In a flash, teeth were bared and the dogs hurled themselves into each other, growling and snarling and biting and struggling. This spectacle against the snow sprinkled with blood slowed down to a slow-motion ballet and soundtrack, mildly horrifying and intriguing at once, and seemed to go on for an eternity. I felt myself become fascinated and recognized the detached viewing and floating feeling of combat of any kind. It ended, with both dogs standing over the undecided but decidedly contested goose. Neither dog retrieved the goose, or accomplished the superficial objective,but both succeeded in their ultimate calling of asserting dominance and establishing order, by either victory, defeat, or a draw. A sublime experience, and applicable by extrapolation in profound and disturbing ways. I felt the familiar shiver of feeling the ghost of Hobbes and Burke passing over me as I walked onto the plain and retrieved the goose. I crossed the gap in the hedge, and unceremoniously tossed the contested goose into the other tribe's pile.

06 January 2011

I was asked once to comment on why I hunt, and I said: I for one don't hunt to prove anything, but to get back to an elusive something. Thanks to this landscape, and unconditional friendships that solidify within them, I always feel a level of fulfillment, of being "at my limit" in the satiated sense. I am proud of my farm, and my hunting, and my friends. Viva la Canoga.

Perhaps I was wrong, perhaps there is proving. Perhaps the "hero of every hunting story" problem that Rich described is a reaction to the fear of not being a hero in any story at all. Perhaps hunting helps us prove that we can be heroes, through mastery and persistence. Perhaps, when the noise of "constructive criticism" and the onslaught of suspicion by even your closest allies that you really are illegitimate, a fraud, a fake, an imposter and interloper, becomes almost deafening, perhaps it is then that the proof, the antithesis, the null hypothesis, is in the well placed shot and all that went in to it and becomes of it. The irony is that perhaps that cannot be shared or truly appreciated except for by a very few.

In these cases, I defer to the good sense of dogs. Here are a few pics of Nick and Brant doing what they do.

01 January 2011

Finale buck

Despite the twists and turns of 2010, I am able to reflect upon my big game season with some measure of satisfaction. On my last successful hunt of the 2010 big game season I was able to take a nice coyote and a buck that is easily my second best ever. This in a year that was supposed to be a wash for me, a year that I had written off as a loss, given my injuries in the pre-season. I ended up the year with an antlerless archery tag filled, a buck and a doe tag filled during the shotgun season, and a buck on a muzzleloader tag.

The buck pictured here represents a very memorable shot. I had killed the coyote only about 30 minutes earlier and was debating about ending my hunt when I noticed motion about 150 yards away in a ravine. After a few minutes of watching, I was able to pick out the shape of a doe, who became more visible with time and focus. She was intent on something in the opposite direction of my stand location, and the wind was in my favor. I watched her for over 30 minutes, sometimes laying down, other times standing up with ears pricked forward, twitching her tail. A buck?

After another 15 minutes of this I decided, seeing no other deer, to climb down and try to stalk the doe by creeping to the edge of the ravine and pulling off an ambush shot. I didn't want to take such a long shot on a doe. As I was descending the tree, I kept looking at the doe in the gully, but as I got lower and the angle of view changed, she went out of sight. Then, I caught a burst of motion and the shape of a deer raced by from right to left in the ravine. They're moving...change of plan!

I raced back up the tree, thinking better of my ambush plan, and hoping they would move towards me and offer me a shot. As I reclaimed my position in the tree stand, and brought the binoculars to my eyes, I could see two deer. I looked at them through the binoculars. They were bunched up now, both looking intently away from me, oblivious of my presence over a football field away. Then, out of the right side of my field of vision through the binoculars emerged an antler, which kept growing until I saw a large neck and attached to the body of a very healthy buck in full rut. It was so vivid and clear against the snow, and yet I dropped the binoculars, not trusting the data coming in. I raised them again... he was big bodied, his tines reached beyond his eye in profile and he was beyond the ears... "a shooter," I breathed, dropping the binoculars and raising the gun to asses the situation through a scope.

The shot was no chip-shot, plus 150 yards, down hill, lots of trees and brush. I had two possible openings two shoot through if the buck cooperated. It would have to be perfect. PERFECT. I debated momentarily about taking the shot at all, and then the voice of reason, the one I have grown to trust in deer season told me "you see one shooter per season-- two if you are really lucky... if you have a make-able shot, take it." So the shot was makeable, I told my self, so I'll take it.

The buck was busy sniffing and twitching his tail while I was snuggling up to the seat and the tree on my hang-on tree stand, trying to find a rock-steady rest. As I settled in, kneeling on the platform and using the seat to stabilize, he stepped into the better of my two openings. He was quartering toward me, presenting a thin window at vitals with a sharp down angle, but I felt good on my rest. He stopped. I focused on a quarter-sized patch of fur slightly forward of his front right shoulder. At that angle I'd hit vitals and perhaps break the shoulder, anchoring him. I prepared to commence the squeeze. As I began the exhale and the oh-so-gentle squeeze I vaguely noticed him move his head downward to lick his front left leg and his left hind quarters. The shot. A cartwheel through the scope and smoke. Did I hit his antlers when he moved his head? Still looking through the scope, and not moving an inch, I began to be able to see four legs straight up in the air quivering, and then they became still and listed to the right. Deer down. Was it my buck? Did I hit him in the head or antlers? Did a different deer step in front of the shot? Many questions were racing through my mind.

I regained my seat in the tree stand to compose myself, reloading and checking back every few seconds to confirm that the downed animal was not going to regain consciousness and scamper off (as happened the year before out of the same stand... see the "snorkel deer"). I checked my watch, to begin the agonizing but obligatory 30 minute wait. After 15 minutes, and many, many confirmations with scope and binoculars, I was certain of the presence of antlers and that the deer was dead. I descended the stand and slowly made my way to the downed deer. As I reached him, the two does he was with burst from some brush on my right and bounded away. I worried for a moment that that was a sign that the buck was still alive, but when I reached him, the bullet wound(s) told another story. As the buck had turned his head to lick his left side, the bullet neatly severed his spine, then entered his chest cavity and lodged in the upper portion of his heart. He died instantly.

I hefted the antlers in my hand. I was very aware of the feeling that was washing over me, of a kind of relief mixed with remorse, the beginning and ending, the victory and the end of the struggle. He was a nice buck. One to be proud of. I have only one bigger, but not better. This buck came with much effort, after many trials and barriers, and after a difficult previous season. This buck was a gift to mark a turning point for me, a leaving behind and a striving ahead. The season finale-and a beginning.

On hunting whitetails, Koller once said:

"If we must kill them,let it be quickly and cleanly, without excuses. Paradoxical though it may seem, a sportsman, to enjoy his sport, must kill that which he admires. He must posses it, fondle it, show it to his friends; and to possess he must kill. No one can object to this, for it is the way of nature; but in the name of this mother of all wild things, it should be a sudden, painless death."