Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Poplar Forest Dreaming of Dixie

Dixie on her blind retrieve.
That's the registered name of our beloved gun dog, Dixie. She's is a medium-sized working Labrador Retriever, and in the middle of her second full hunting season with Tom, our resident protein-provider.

Dixie retrieves to Jan's hand.
Dixie, now age four, has been shining this year. Tom's duck blind buddies have been amazed at her development, she seems to be learning all the time.Tom swears she gets it now that she is supposed to hide in the camouflage cover, but if she hears him take the safety off his gun she is up looking for the incoming, and ready to mark the outgoing. Her whole body seems to vibrate with still energy after the gun sounds. "Will there be a retrieve for me? Where's the bird?"

She is well-bred and was well-trained before we ever met her. We have someone in Texas to thank for that, and Hightest Kennels for finishing her. We have kept her whole, dealing with the heat cycles about every 7 months, because we wanted to see if she would be exemplary, and worthy of carrying on her line. Twice now, I have had to get her tested to see if she was pregnant.  (Once a Rottweiler broke into our fenced backyard. The gate, which this dog just crashed right through, has since been fortified!)
Dixie hides under the cammo.

We have been doing our homework, learning how to read a pedigree, about the importance of titles, hip and eye clearances. Our girl passed those important physical tests, and has a wonderful demeanor. She is really a loving companion as well as an outstanding hunter who does blind retrieves, and delivers birds to the hand. She hunts ducks and pheasant with equal relish.

Yesterday, I drove our girl up to Lodi, California to get a second opinion on our charge. We realized that our opinion, and that of our hunting friends may be slightly biased, and so we sought the advise of Jan Burkholder of Stonewall Retrievers. In addition to having 20 years of experience training dogs, Jan writes a regular column on the subject for California Waterfowl magazine. We knew her opinion would count for a lot, and after exchanging a few emails, she invited us over to have a look at Dixie.

I arrived at Stonewall at 11:00 a.m., just before the shooter arrived. Rick has a dog named Red (a yellow lab, go figure!) in training with Jan and he was on the truck, along with seven other labs and a German Shorthair Pointer, all younger than 9 months, and in various stages of training. We loaded Dixie up and set out for the training pond that Jan leases from a neighbor who has land to spare. This neighbor also has a dog in Jan's care. One at a time she brought the dogs out, gave them a chance at one live bird, of the pigeon variety. Rick only missed one, and she made sure to give each dog a chance at a bird. None of these dogs minded the loud bang of the gun. What was even louder was our Dixie barking and demanding her turn. She was so keyed up, I could not quiet her and I could see saliva dribbling down the kennel vents. Dixie was last to come out.

Jan allowed me to take still photos, but the light was not favorable at this time of day for that kind of shooting. I was amazed at her patience, even with the young chocolate lab that did not want to give up the birdy. Second to last dog to work was the pointer, and Jan set up an upland game scenario for her, hiding a bird under a bush then asking her to find and point to it. Though eager, this dog overshot the mark and I heard Jan say something about not using her nose and relying too much on her eyes. On the second pass the bird was flushed and it flew straight over the pond. Rick got off a very difficult long shot and it dropped on the far side, beyond a thatched knoll in the middle of the pond, just a barely visible black speck floating on the surface. I told Jan Dixie would get that bird for her. We had inadvertently set up a very difficult blind retrieve.

Poplar Forest Dreaming of Dixie
I invited Jan to handle Dixie. It took about six casts, which is directing the dog to go in a particular direction, bird unseen. As I watched Dixie worked her way zigzagging the shallows, looking for what Jan was sending her towards, I thought Jan couldn't see the bird, because she did not send Dixie directly towards it. Finally on the fifth or so cast, she got Dixie swimming deep enough, and as I later learned, downwind of the bird, and it was amazing to see Dixie smell it and make a 90 degree turn to swim directly for it. Nothing wrong with her nose. I was certainly a proud dog mom at that moment. I heard Jan say, "Wow, look at her, she swims as fast coming back as she does going out!" But, the highest compliment she paid her was, "Yeah, she's got enough to share."

We'd like to thank Jan Burkholder for being so generous with her knowledge and time. The next steps are to acquire a copy of "How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With" and see if we can make an appointment for the stud dog Jan has recommended. This adventure is only beginning!

Thursday, October 27, 2011


I’ll never forget last year’s duck hunt with my husband. The strange 4th of July sound, only without the fireworks. The wind was so vicious that day, I thought I was going to be pushed into the water and drown as my waders filled up. Instead, I only got stuck in the mud, and had to be rescued to my great embarrassment. I disobeyed my husband’s specific order not to help pick up decoys from the refuge pond when we were done with the hunt. He must know some trick for walking in the mud that he has not shared with me. No limit on ducks that day, just one small Teal to show for all the effort.

I am a once-a-year annual duck hunt observer. My husband has not missed a season in 40+ years. As my huband’s hunting buddy and good friend, Pete, points out, “you go through all that and you’re not even shooting?!” Boy, and people think duck hunters are crazy. What does that make me?

That was the old way to hunt, on a refuge by lottery, where you have to get up an extra hour early just to have time to set out your decoys, not to mention drive to whatever refuge you'd drawn and stand in line at “oh dark thirty” to hear which blind you get.

This marked my third duck hunt, on the second weekend of duck hunting on October 26th, 2011. I was accompanying my husband as a non-shooter at the Kerry Duck Club off Highway 5 at Santa Nella exit, nestled right in between some nice dairy farms adjacent to the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge.

Duck club hunting is the gentlemen’s way to go if you can afford the membership fee. Don’t start envisioning fancy clubhouses, there’s just a sign up board, and a few trailers parked on the property, which is specifically maintained for duck habitat. The best part is, you get to sleep in an extra hour because the decoys are all set out two weeks prior to Opening Weekend.

We arose together at 4:30 a.m., donned our clothes, carefully laid out the night before -- I had even patched the two-inch hole in my waders. The truck was already packed. The only thing we forgot (only discovered once in the field) was a whistle for handling the dog. The drive was just one cup of coffee away. This club selects a blind based on a pre-determined order, and I watched my husband wait patiently as the members came forward and place their game piece on a peg, indicating blind location, on a specially designed board to indicate where they would hunt and how many hunters. My plan was just to take pictures, so no game piece for me. We had faxed in my signed club liability waiver and a copy of the rules and regulations the day before.

Waders and headlamps on, we marched, with the dog at our heels, in the dark to the blind location. Always a little tricky finding this in the dark. What creeps me out is when we turn off the dry path to walk across the pond to a point I cannot see. When the mud got particularly sticky, I had to grab my waders and lift my feet with each step to keep from getting stuck. When the water raised to knee level, I had to repeat the “fear is the mind-killer” matra from the Bene Gesserite. (Only Dune fans will get that reference.)

I was never so happy to find two cement holes in the ground, when my husband announced we had arrived, just 20 minutes until shoot time. We quickly got the covers off and put the dog in position, jumped in our dry holes, outfitted with seats, and put out the dry palm fronds, stored conveniently in the blinds, for some extra cover from ducks in flight.

Even though it was the second weekend of the season, the birds, including coots and snipes, which nobody wants, were flying thick as thieves. I donned ear plugs quickly after I learned how a cement hole magnifies the boom of a shotgun. You’re not supposed to talk a lot anyway, and my husband only had to shush me once.

Armed only with a camera, I was able to capture a few worthy pictures, but the greatest moments can only be witnessed. I witnessed my husband shoot a double with the 20-gage over under he bought for me last Christmas, and admired him for his patience as he passed up winged Teal to reach his limit with two Pintail, taken one at a time. (They are known to be the best for eating.) We departed at 10:30 a.m. and headed for home, a meal, and a shower. Even the dog seemed satisfied.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Past Meets Present

My nephew Christopher, incoming freshman at UCSB.
As I drove down Highway 101 my past intersected with my present. The bend at Gaviota revealed oil rigs off the shore, the smell of the sea and eucalyptus, then Refufio, El Capitan. A pelican making his survey. Shock of hot pink boganvilla.
Brian finds Chris the right board.

I passed Winchester Canyon Road -- a place I must not return to emotionally, physically forbidden. It was an orange cone zone, detour available on the next exit. I decided to pass on that trip down memory lane.

The ugly building that used to hail passers by, formerly The Ruby Begonia, a restaurant that more resembled a prostitute, still stands at the last exit out of town.  A new name, a new owner, but the same old place. Someone should really burn the place down and put up somthing grand in its place.
The Funk Zone east of Anacapa St.

I am here for a happier purpose than a trip down memory lane. My nephew will start his Freshman year at UC Santa Barbara next week. I am to acquire a surfboard for his graduation present, a promise of fun in the sun. The experience a pardise such as this should offer.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Old Wine

Guest post by Tom Concannon
It is always fun and enlightening to taste older vintage wines with a group of appreciative friends.  Part of the allure is the near adventure-like quality of tasting wine of sufficient age as to make it a once in a lifetime experience.  Like any adventure, the outcome that each bottle will produce is uncertain and for this reason I prefer to open a number of bottles with the idea that one or some of them might be an exceptional wine, (still.)

On May 23 we will gather with some good friends at our house in Livermore to open the last bottles of old California Cabernet that we have in the house.  The vintages span 24 years from the 1961 vintage to 1985.  We will have two wines representing each of the decades and we hope that each wine will teach us something.  Here are a few comments about the bottles to be opened.

1961 BV George de la Tour Private Reserve: The vintage 1961 was considered to be excellent in France but in California this vineyard experienced spring frost and then some rain at harvest.  This wine was made by Andre Tchelistcheff who was one of the most influential winemakers in California history.

1964 Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Bottling: This wine was the last vintage made from the old Cabernet vineyard that produced the Concannon Clones 7 and 8.  These two clones that UC Davis took from this vineyard have become some of the most widely planted Cabernet Sauvignon varieties in California today.  This wine was produced in the manner proscribed by Katherine Vajda, the California wine industry’s original female professional winemaker.

1974 Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Bottling: This vintage shows Concannon Vineyard adapting to a new decade with some new ideas.  Although the labeling style was short lived, this wine also demonstrates the talents of a new winemaker, Bob Broman, that joined the winery in 1973, (I think).  1974 was a very ripe vintage in Livermore and the reds from that year have generally held up well.  We have two bottles and one of them has a low fill point.

1978 Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon: This vintage was the first one made after the death of my father in May 1978.  It was released in 1983 when the winery was purchased by its second owner after initially being sold in 1980.  Tthe “Celebrating 100 years” sticker acknowledges the first vintage at Concannon, the 1883 vintage.  1978 followed two severe drought years in 1976 and 1977 and so the vines were probably not producing a large crop.  This wine tasted good last year.

1985 Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled: To my palate the 1985 vintage was the best vintage of my lifetime.  Every producer that I tasted made good red wine in 1985 and I went to several tastings in Los Angeles that showcased this vintage.  Concannon had winemaker Sergio Traverso in this year and, working in the prime of his career, and he made some absolutely exceptional wines that year.  At fifteen years of age this wine bested every other producer’s 1985 vintage that we were able to taste it against and it will be really special to find out if it still has the chops at the ripe old age of 26.

1985 Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: This wine will offer a Napa Valley example from the 1985 vintage.  While Cabernet styles and makers are a matter of personal taste and preference, there is no doubt that Silver Oak has a huge number of fans. This was particularly true back in the early 1990’s when this wine was released.  Again, it should be fun to tasted two wines from “Tom’s favorite vintage” to see which one we still like today, (hopefully a beauty contest and not the opposite)

I will post another entry after our tasting with some results from our evening.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

May Day

Teri Tith at her first Met performance.

It was a "four egg day". That's the most we can expect since we lost one of our hens to a predator while I was in New York last week. The remaining girls are 3 years old and still producing well, mostly confined to their coup and the enclosed, secure adjacent run. The climbing rose is recovering from the severe cut back we had to do to install this enclosure. They really miss the free ranging. I toss them treats and vegetable scraps from the kitchen, but it's not the same. Now we are leaning how to manage the flies the build up of droppings bring.

I was able to take in two operas while in New York with my friend Lauren. It was fun to have Easter Dinner with her parents and sleep in her childhood bedroom. It's not every day you wake to a unicorn and song birds. (Lauren's twin bed had a satin, stuffed unicorn hanging directly over it, and her Dad has several bird feeders set up along the front of their home.)

Central Park on Easter Sunday
Home again, home again...after a long-planned trip East. We have a garden to plant. A cat, a dog and chickens to tend. We had dinner with my Mom, our first at her new apartment. I even got to go in the spa before dinner.

What a beautiful day it was!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Spring Fever

Dixie and Tom at Lake Del Valle.
Our dog has come up lame, right as she is about to go into heat. She sprained her toe on the right paw playing frizbee fetch in the nearby creek last week. I feel pretty guilty for letting her do this. I guess even river rocks are not good to run and rough house on. She'll be doing no retrieves or swimming for the next 10 days. Glad that's all it was, and very pleased that Dr. Bains was able to diagnose the problem right away. He prescribed anti-inflamatory pain meds to be given 2 times a day with orders to keep her on slow walks only.

We've had frosty mornings and cool north winds, which makes me think it is too early to plant outdoors, but we are getting the ground and compost heap ready. Tom is going to help me plant and install a watering system that will make it easier to keep up with the garden this year. We are also installing the fixtures for hanging lanterns from the canopy of the Mulberry trees in the backyard. We want to add a bit of light so we can hang out outdoors longer into the balmy summer evenings that we know are ahead.

The wysteria is in full bloom. Tom taught me to prune them for blooming, and it turned out very well. We hope to keep up with it for blooms all summer. New crape myrtles, with deep burgundy colored flowers, were planted along side the long driveway and the dead pine and two others were removed. You can almost tell there's a house from the street now.

I was thrilled to see the first heirloom tomatoes heirloom tomato seedling poking up through the soil  when I poured my first cup of coffee this morning. Hope at least some of them survive to planting time.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Perfect Cup

I still don't have it right, my first cup of Joe that is. Mom indulged us with a new Delonghi cappuccino/coffee maker for Christmas. I am still learning how to use it. This unit is so different than the little single cup Krups we'd been using, it's back to square one in the prep.

I decided to take this photo before the assembly step on my cup of cap because it struck me how fussy I am getting about it and how many things were out on the counter just so I could get the task done. Let's go through it, shall we?

Can of regular grind coffee from Trader Joes
Milk carton
Hazelnut creamer (just in case I wanted to try it)
Cappuccino mug (with hot water to warm it)
Electric Coffee Mill (because a cappuccino needs a finer grind)
Liquid Stevia natural sweetener
2 Small glass measuring cups (the drip and steamed milk)
Teaspoon to fold the frothed milk before pouring

You're wondering what the spray bottle of water is for. That's to keep my kitten off the counter while I am fussing with my first cup of coffee. Grounds all over the counter is okay, but no animals please. Not depicted above are the whole nutmeg nut and grater I use to get some on the top of the frothed milk.

[Special note to friends and family: You do NOT have to serve coffee to me this way when I am an overnight guest!]