All posts by Michael Patrick McCarty

Michael Patrick McCarty earned a B.S. Degree in Wildlife Biology from Colorado State University. He has worked in a variety of capacities relating to fisheries and wildlife biology, water and environmental quality, and outdoor recreation. A lifelong shooter, bowhunter and outdoorsman, he has hunted and fished throughout North America. A used and rare book dealer for more than 25 years, he offers a catalog of fine titles in the fields of natural history, angling, the shooting sports, farming, and agriculture. “I have a passion for old books, slow food, pigeons, the pursuit of bugling elk, fish and game cookery, heritage poultry breeds, personal freedom, and the Rocky Mountains, to name just a few, and not necessarily in that order. I consider the White River National Forest of Western Colorado as part of my backyard”. Mike writes about an assortment of outdoor and food related topics. “I am particularly interested in the nexus between the desire to provide one’s own food, and the withering array of local, state, and federal laws and regulations which often stand in the way. It is the manner in which they all relate to the cornerstone issues of personal freedom and liberty that concerns me. For me, it’s where the rubber meets the road”.

In The Eyes Of A Pigeon

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a turkey vulture soaring against a blue sky looking for a meal
Always Watching
a pigeon with head up and eyes on alert for predators
It’s All In The Eyes

 

 

 

 

A willing and observant person can gather some extraordinary insights about the natural world in the most unlikely places. It can happen in the short time that it takes to blink an eye, no matter if that eye belongs to you, or to something else. Nature abounds with beneficial lessons and the teachers of true meaning are everywhere. I just happen to gain some of my clues from the clear-eyed and attentive stares of my backyard pigeon flock. You can learn a lot from an otherwise ordinary and common creature.

I spend a fair amount of time with this captive audience of one hundred in their outdoor aviary. I am their provider, and their lifeline from the outside lands. I supply them with their daily ration of grains and clean water, regardless of the weather or the many other duties or time constraints I may have. I fill their pickpots with grit and minerals. I break ice from their bowls in the winter, and suffer the same stinging snows and biting winds of the day. I clean their flypen and pigeon-house, and keep a sharp eye out for the telltale signs of distress or disease. I study them closely, and through it all, they watch me too.

a pigeon with a twig in it's beak flying to build a nest

 

 

I am a constant in their lives, and a spoke in their wheel of life. I have come to know of them and their world just a little bit, and they of me. It could be said that they would rather prefer that I was not involved at all, but I am a necessary intrusion they must tolerate, at least for a brief time.

Yet, they wait for me each morning and afternoon, the anticipation building as I drive up to the entrance doors. They mill about excitedly as I approach, ready to perform just for me. I touch the door handle, and they begin their wild jig, dancing like ecstatic puppets on hidden strings. They hop about and swirl their wings like crazed whirligigs, or slap their wingtips smartly as they launch from their perch for a short flight across the pen.

They chant their pigeon talk and coo even louder as I step in through the inner doors, to become completely surrounded by frantic birds, eager to fill their crops before the other’s. They push and shoulder for each speck of grain as if their life depended on it. Perhaps they bicker and fight to establish or maintain some imperceptible pigeon pecking order, or maybe just to remind themselves that life can be a struggle. You would think that they would know by now that their will be enough food for all comers, but it is a wild ritual that they simply must abide for reasons known only to the pigeon.

We have repeated this madcap scene a few thousand times and more, the pigeons and I. It has become routine, with little deviation from the usual suspects. That is until yesterday, when our normal interaction abruptly and inexplicably changed.

It was immediately obvious when I pulled up in my truck. The absence of sound or flashing wings struck me first, and what pigeon heads I could see sat on top of outstretched necks, alert, with searching eyes. They crouched in the classic manner of all prey, with feet tucked under their bodies, coiled and ready to spring out and away from impending danger.

The birds stood frozen and paid me little mind as I entered and searched the ground for an animal intruder. I investigated the pigeon houses and the nest boxes and found nothing. I checked every nook and cranny of their limited world and came up empty. I paused to scratch my head, and ponder this puzzling circumstance.

Hand on chin, I stared at the closest pigeon and wondered, determined to discover just why he would not fly. And then he cocked his head, and I saw his eye focus on something high as he grounded himself more tightly to his perch. At that moment I spied a wide, dark shadow moving across the dirt floor, and smiled. I knew exactly what belonged in that kind of shadow, as did my fine feathered friends. All I had to do was look up, to see just exactly what it was that had struck such all-consuming fear in their hearts.

I had no doubt that the shadow maker was an eater of birds, but there were several possibilities in this category. A red-tailed hawk maybe, or a gleaming eagle from the nearby river. In this case the black shadow belonged to an animal of equal color, with a distinctively naked neck. It was not what I expected to see.

The Turkey Vulture, or Buzzard as it is sometimes called, is quite common to the American West and many parts of North America. A six-foot wingspan casts a long shadow across the land, and he covers a lot of it as he travels. That great red and bald head is immediately recognizable from afar, and known by all. His sentinel like posture and hovering demeanor create and perpetuate his iconic image. It is a form often associated with death, and it is a meaning not entirely lost on my domesticated, but anxious, pigeon flock.

The Vulture is classified as a bird of prey, after all, even though he finds most of his meals by smell after they are already dead. I suppose that it is a distinction utterly lost on the brain of a pigeon.

Continue reading In The Eyes Of A Pigeon

Soil, Not Gold, Is The Best Investment

earthworm in the hand
Hans / Pixabay

Robert Rodale was a pioneer in the fields of organic gardening and local food production, as well as a giant in the publishing world. His words often ring more true today than when he wrote them, which is a gift in itself. I have reproduced some excerpts here from a small volume in my collection, which hold even more power given the fact that they were written in 1981. It provides another insight into the current discussions of the merits of gold as an investment, compared with the ability of an individual or family to provide food for one’s survival in the face of bad times.

For many, those bad times have visited their neighborhoods already, so they definitely hit a little too close to home.

For example:

“…we are heading into a soil and food crunch. I am convinced that the days of surplus farm and food production are almost over. My guess is that you haven’t heard or read about that possibility anywhere yet, except right here in these pages. But it is bound to happen…”

“The disruption of normal social and economic activities caused by a worldwide food shortage would probably increase the attractiveness of both gold and soil as investments. But I feel that if you compare the relative merits of each, soil is clearly the winner. And because of the shortage of food that is likely to occur within this decade, soil will soon replace gold as the most talked about and symbolic thing of enduring value.

This is going to happen because people have always put a higher value on things that are rare. Gold has always been rare, and will remain so, even though more is being mined all the time. But soil has never before been at short supply on a worldwide basis. Erosion and encroachment of deserts have ruined the soil of large regions, and their have been famines caused by bad weather. But never have people had to contend with the thought that, on a global basis, there isn’t enough soil to go around. Within a few years that will change. Soil will, for the first time, become rare. And worldwide television and news reports quoting crop production statistics and high food prices will carry that news everywhere.

A new symbolism of soil will develop. Until now, soil has symbolized dirt in the minds of many, especially city people who have little or no feel for the tremendous productive capacity of good soil. I think we are going to see that attitude change rapidly. Access to good earth will become the greatest of all forms of protection against inflation and a much stronger security blanket than it is now…”

“When you spend gold, it is gone. Soil properly cared for, is permanent…”

“I want to make one final point. Suppose you do have a hoard of small gold coins at home, and a food shortage develops here in the U.S. Hopefully, the cause will not be war, and it may not even be an absence of food in central storehouses. The shortage could be caused by transportation breakdowns, most likely a lack of fuel to carry food from farms to processing plants to supermarkets.

Where would you take your gold coin to buy food? In postwar Italy, as in this country several decades ago, small diversified farms could be found near all towns and cities. There were even truck farms within the city limits of New York. All are gone now. Many americans would have to walk or ride their bicycles for hours to get to a farm, and then likely would find an agribusiness operation with bins of one or two commodities on hand. Spending your coin would present a real challenge.

So the best fall back possession is not gold, but a large garden and a pantry of home-produced food.”

From the introduction by Robert Rodale, in the book titled “Fresh Food, Dirt Cheap (All Year Long!) by The Editors of Gardening Magazine.

“I wish to have an intimate relationship with earthworms, and soil”.  – Michael Patrick McCarty

 

earthworm castings
Hans / Pixabay

 

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Rabbit Livers Are Da Bomb!

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a victorian painting of a chef surrounded by a variety of wild game in preparation for cooking. eating Rabbit Liver
Let the wild Feast Begin

Betting and odds making is not my forte, but I am willing to wager that even the most adventurous among you have not eaten a rabbit liver.

If I’m wrong, and you have partaken in the livery plate of heaven, then you may wish to stop reading now. You know what I am about to say, and I hate preaching to the choir or boring our readers.

The liver of the common domestic rabbit may be the most delectable liver in all the world. It’s not even exotic or overly pampered, and it can probably be found on a homestead or backyard just down the road. It certainly doesn’t hurt to know that it is really, really good for you too.

I know, it was a great shock to me also. I am generally not so passionate about innards, or “offal”, as it is more affectionately known. The word itself sounds much too much like “awful” to my wordsmith sensibilities, which makes me wonder if that was the intention in the first place. It doesn’t help to know that a common definition is “waste parts, especially of a butchered animal”, or that some synonyms include refuse, garbage, or rubbish”. Sounds so completely appetizing, or not. As a matter of course, I tend to favor the standard cuts and less daring fare, but hey, to each their own. And then I discovered rabbit livers.

To be more accurate, I can thank a friend for that discovery. He was the one that watched as I butchered and processed some rabbits for that night’s dinner. I knew that he liked his rabbit, and I was happy to oblige him and eager to get it in a pan. I had completely overlooked the livers, and he was absolutely not going to let that happen. As it turned out, he cared much more about them than he did about the rest of the rabbit. He rolled them in flour and flash fried them in butter and spices with a happy grin, and I tasted one and smiled too.

I don’t know why I should have been so surprised. I’ve field dressed a lot of game during my years as a hunter and pursuer of large and small game. You could say that I came to livers and other organ meats quite naturally, and I’ve had my share of venison liver, and such. I know that millions love it, but I must admit that I have always been a reluctant eater of such provisions. I was always a hunter first, but a cook, …not so much.

After all, what does one do with a pheasant gizzard, or the kidneys of a caribou. A responsible hunter uses all parts of the animal. But the wet, squishy parts?

I call it the “offal dilemma”, as all roads lead to the undesirables and inevitable actions. I always separated out the parts and pieces, and either passed them out to appreciative friends (or so they said) or made a half-hearted attempt to prepare and eat them. It really wasn’t too bad. That was until the day of rabbit livers, and my opinion of livers, and offal in general, made a hard right turn. I am a reinspired cook, so pass the onions and mustard, please.

Offal is no longer a tough sell. These livers are in a league all their own. They are mild and sweet, satisfying, and easy to prepare. In fact they are hard to ruin, short of setting off a nuclear explosion in your kitchen.

But don’t just take my word for it. Track some down today. Befriend your local rabbit raiser. Impress your friends with your culinary expertise – hell, impress yourself. You won’t regret it even a little bit.

Now that I think about it, I wonder if many more people know about this original delight than I suspected. After all, epicures can be funny that way. Sometimes they don’t let us in on all of their little favorites. They must protect their source, after all. On second thought, maybe it can be our little secret too.

By the way, rabbit livers can also keep you in shape. I’d walk a mile for a rabbit liver, because rabbit livers are Da Bomb!

Da Bomb: the best ~ simply outstanding; no comparison or greater value can be placed to another of similar type of manner”

Michael Patrick McCarty

Food Freedom!

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Just What Is a Utility Pigeon?

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french mondaine utility pigeon squabs squabbing backyard meat production squab farming
A Bird of Outstanding Utility

 

By Michael Patrick McCarty

Most people are quite familiar with the image of a pigeon, a bird commonly seen in the courtyards and barnyards across the globe. But did you know that young pigeons, or squab, are considered a delicacy by millions of people? Or that squab farming in the backyard or on the rooftop may be more common than you might think?

And oh by the way, just what exactly is a “utility pigeon”?

A good place to begin an investigation is with the origin of the word pigeon. It is “pijon” in old french, meaning “young dove”, and “pipio” in Latin, or “young chirping bird”. Another clue can be found in the definition of utility, which means useful, beneficial, or profitable. Our good friend the pigeon is all of that, and more, and can certainly meet those basic requirements.

Utility Pigeon is a general term that is broadly applied to describe any breed of domestic pigeon that is kept primarily for the production of meat. Sometimes referred to as “working birds”, they are capable of producing an adequate number of young, or squabs, of suitable weight and quality to justify their production costs.

By their nature, some breeds of pigeons are more productive, and profitable, than others. Pigeons in general have been intensively and selectively bred for many centuries, with many breeds falling in and out of favor along with the whims of the times and other developments.

The standards today include the King Pigeon of various colors, the Red Carneau, and the French and Swiss Mondaines, to name just a few. All can make excellent squabbing pigeons, though the White King seems to be preferred by many commercial breeders.

In fact, careful and judicial breeding with productivity in mind is the story of the Utility Pigeon. Notice that the very origin of the word pigeon emphasizes the young bird, or squab, which gives us some true insight into what the originators were thinking all along. Utility pigeons produce squabs, lots and lots of squabs, to our everlasting epicurean delight. They are the steady workhorses of the pigeon world. They work to live, and live to work. It’s what they do, without apology, nor complaint.

They are indeed a most useful and utilitarian bird.

The Mit Ghamar Dovecoters of Egypt tower above the city where pigeon and squab raising is king
Now That’s A Place Of Pigeons – The Mit Ghamr Dovecotes

 

Food Freedom – Raise A Squab Today!

 

By Michael Patrick McCarty

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Spring Will Come…To A Small Forgotten Corner

A weathered mule deer skull and antlers on a garden fence with morning glory vines and flowers
A Morning Glory Morning. Photograph by Michael Patrick McCarty

 

For those of you who are suffering under heavy snow cover and record cold temperatures, I offer one small token of encouragement.

I took this photograph a few seasons ago in my garden, where a young Morning Glory Vine had begun it’s initial journey up the side of my garden shed. The flowers were brand new that morning.

Winters can be oh so long in the high country of Colorado. At that point in time, I was more than ready to embrace the possibilities of warm spring winds and the promise of a new day.

So I say, endeavor on. The turning of the season will arrive, just in time…

Photograph by Michael Patrick McCarty

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