Thursday, January 04, 2018

North Country Grouse Roosting in the Snow

I was after snowshoe hares with my beagle Jupp back in 1983 behind my father-in-law’s place north of Malone, NY on a sunny but cold day in January. “Cold” in the St. Lawrence Valley frequently means daytime highs in the single digits with well-below 0°F temperatures at night.

Ruffed grouse, or “partridge” as we call them in the North Country, long ago adapted to surviving in frigid weather by burrowing into the snow. Back in 1983, I hadn’t learned about this behavior. I was wearing old-fashioned ash and rawhide snowshoes on this hunt, and, standing still for a moment, was straining to hear beagle music from Jupp who was trailing out of sight. Suddenly, literally out of nowhere, a partridge erupted from the snow just inches in front of my ‘shoes. I was so shook up by the feathered missile launch that I took a tumble a$$ over teacup. Regaining your footing after flopping into 3 feet of fluffy snow with two 3’ snowshoes twisted underneath you is a time consuming jiu jitsu match in which you paradoxically dig yourself deeper into the powder with every clawing effort to extricate yourself. In the future I’ll leave the deep powder to the grouse.

Here’s a photo of a snow roosting partridge, and two short video clips of grouse flushing.





Wednesday, January 03, 2018

On The Road Again 32 Years Later

When I met Nancy at the Skylon Marathon in 1977, she was already an accomplished, record-setting road racer. She continued to work hard after we married in 1978, and in spite of my help, she got even better. Lots better.

We've got a shoe box full of clippings and notes from most all her races. I'm going to use Cold Duck as a vehicle for revisiting some of them with family and friends. Entries will be added in reverse chronological order. I've invited Willie to set the proper mood.





January 3, 1986

Event: Charlotte Observer Marathon
Location: Charlotte NC
Distance: 26.219 miles
Time: 2:50:13
Place: 1
Prize: $2,000
Career Prizes: $13,065

The Skinny: Nancy had run the Charlotte course twice before, and knew it was difficult because of its rolling terrain. So she paced herself early, and hoped she’d have a chance to chase down the hopefully-fading leaders on the back end. I love it when a plan comes together!



Nancy had come to know Kathrine Switzer through Kathrine’s work with the Avon series of races. Kathy, you might recall, was in 1967 the first woman ever to officially enter the Boston Marathon. That was quite a story at the time. You could look it up.

Anyway, Kathy sat down with Nancy post-race for an interview on the sponsoring local TV station. We still have a VCR copy of that interview (Millennials may also look up “VCR.”) It was fun for me to hear Kathy - neutral as a sportscaster should be - nevertheless mention during the interview that the wily veteran Nancy looked very strong at the half-way mark, and that she was not at all surprised when Nancy was able to run the early leaders down.





October 6, 1985

Event: Twin Cities Marathon
Location: Minneapolis MN
Distance: 26.219 miles
Time: 2:46:47
Place: 13
Prize: $383
Career Prizes: $11,065

The Skinny: Nancy ran a solid race as a member of Team Moving Comfort, finishing about 10 minutes behind race winner Jan Ettle.







November 25, 1984

Event: Philadelphia Marathon
Location: Philadelphia PA
Distance: 26.214 miles
Time: 2:47:27
Place: 2
Prize: $500
Career Prizes: $9,482

The Skinny: Barbara Filutze won the women’s race. Other than Nancy winning $500 for second place, I recorded no further notes at the time. I must have been underwhelmed at the time. You may recall W. C. Fields’ epitaph….





October 28, 1984

Event: New York City Marathon
Location: New York NY
Distance: 26.214 miles
Time: DNF
Place: DNF
Prize: 
Career Prizes: $8,982

The Skinny: Nancy never ran well in high heat and humidity. At NY this year, the high temp was 79°F, and it was very sticky. Since she started with the elite women and I started in a different area with the also-ran men, we began the race on different courses. When I ran into Nancy at about mile 10, I suggested she drop out and we’d try a cooler marathon later in the Fall. As you’ll read next time, this was probably a good call.



June 2, 1984

Event: L’eggs Mini Marathon 10 km
Location: New York NY
Distance: 6.214 miles
Time: 35:57
Place: 22
Prize: $100
Career Prizes: $8,792

The Skinny: Nancy and I were surprised to learn how hilly a course could be routed through Central Park. There was a strong field present for this at-the-time A-lister event; but Nancy’s time also reflected a building fatigue factor in the aftermath of training for and competing in Olympia.

That said, we got to stay in a spiffy room at the St. Regis, got $50 a day for cheeseburgers (almost enough ;-) and were invited to a VIP sitting area one night at a huge NYC hotspot that year: Studio 54.







May 20, 1984

Event: The Lilac Festival 10 km
Location: Rochester NY
Distance: 6.214 miles
Time: 35:26
Place: 4
Prize: $400
Career Prizes: $8,692

The Skinny: This was Nancy’s second of seven consecutive Lilac 10 km races. The race staff was always extremely thoughtful to her (and me), the drive over from Buffalo was not a bother, and there was always a great after-party at a saloon whose name I can’t remember (I told you they were great parties.) Nancy’s 4th place finish this year must be leavened with her Olympia marathon performance just 8 days before.



May 12, 1984

Event: US Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials
Location: Olympia WA
Distance: 26.214 miles
Time: 2:40:57
Place: 37
Prize: 
Career Prizes: $8,292

The Skinny: Nancy trained very hard for these first-ever women’s marathon Olympic Trials. I know she left quite a bit of herself “out there” in some very rugged runs in February, 1984. The invitation to and good performance in the Trials remains one of the high points of her career.

I am surprised to find how few mementos we’ve kept of the Trials. I have just one photo, and it’s simply of Julie Isphording and others with Nancy outside their dorms in Olympia. I’ve done a bit of ‘net searching, and found a nice account of the Trails. You can enjoy it here.




March 18, 1984

Event: RRCA National Championships
Location: Albany NY
Distance: 18.642 miles
Time: 1:50:24
Place: 6
Prize: $350
Career Prizes: $8,292

The Skinny: The Chopperthon 30 km was Nancy’s final tune-up for the Olympic marathon trials coming up in May. Anne Hird outclassed the field in 1:45:15 over a tough enough course on a grey day.




October 9, 1983

Event: Miller Lite Marathon
Location: Milwaukee WI
Distance: 26.219 miles
Time: 2:39:15
Place: 1
Prize: $3000
Career Prizes: $7,942

The Skinny: What a great race for Nancy! Her time was a new PR; it won her $3,000; it earned her an invitation to the first women’s Olympic marathon trials; and, we have recently learned, it remains the course record after 32 years.

Milwaukee was very kind to us. Post race, we enjoyed a dinner with friend Dick Kendall and his daughter at a German restaurant. By evening’s end, and much beer, the owner, by now celebrating with us, invited us to his cellar for secret schnapps. Whee! and ouch….







September 25, 1983

Event: WBEN AROCC 20 km
Location: Buffalo, NY
Distance: 12.418 miles
Time: 1:11:54
Place: 1
Prize: $0
Career Prizes: $4,942

The Skinny: On weekdays Nancy trained almost exclusively on the loop in Delaware Park. She was quite prepared for this 20k held on a glorious Sunday morning in September. Her time was the 9th best 20k performance of all American women in 1983.

Nancy was introduced to the local media after this race. She was quite a hit, and was often the “color commentator” for occasional local broadcasts of racing events.

The autumn of 1983 was a high point in Nancy’s racing career. It was Good to be Queen.






June 5, 1983

Event: Linde Run
Location: Buffalo, NY
Distance: 6.214 miles
Time: 35:20
Place: 1
Prize: $300
Career Prizes: $4,942

The Skinny: The Linde Run — Linde is now Praxair — was held in the afternoon, somewhere near 5 or 6 o’clock. That was not Nancy’s favored time of day for racing. Further, she had been traveling and racing quite a bit over the preceding month and a half. Her time, if not her prize, is reflective of her fatigue.



May 28, 1983

Event: L’eggs Mini Marathon
Location: New York City
Distance: 6.214 miles
Time: 34:46
Place: 15
Prize: $100
Career Prizes: $4,642

The Skinny: L’eggs Mini Marathon was a biggie back in the ’80s, attracting the world’s best women racers, including Greta Waitz who won it 5 times.


Nancy is pictured here with her Moving Comfort teammates including Ellen Wessel, Eleanor Simonsick, Elizabeth Goeke, and Gail Kingma.




May 22, 1983

Event: CTFA Senior Championship
Location: Southern Ontario
Distance: 6.214 miles
Time: 34:00
Place: 3
Prize: $392US
Career Prizes: $4,542

The Skinny: I’m surprised that I have no photos, newspaper clippings or notes about this race, as it is Nancy’s career PR at 10 km. There must have been a very good field, as 34:00 and $500C is pretty rich for a 3rd place finish in 1983.



May 15, 1983

Event: The Lilac Run
Location: Rochester, NY
Distance: 6.214 miles
Time: 34:02
Place: 1
Prize: $600
Career Prizes: $4,150

The Skinny: On Nancy’s first ever visit to the Lilac Run, she set a new PR and the course record. In this initial and in subsequent years, the Lilac Run proved to be generous sponsors and great friends. Those were very happy times!

Here’s Nancy and men’s winner Sosthenes Bitok mugging with their awards.





May 7, 1983

Event: The Elizabeth River Run
Location: Norfolk, VA
Distance: 6.214 miles
Time: 34:41
Place: 1
Prize: $1,000
Career Prizes: $3,550

The Skinny: The Elizabeth River Run turned out to be a wonderfully enjoyable affair. Nancy was treated like family by personable race director Roberta “Bert” Cake of The Virginian Pilot. Nancy smashed the old course record in 34:41. And we both got to enjoy watching his girl friend haul star runner Adrian Leek around by the ear.





January 27, 1983

Event: The Birth of Paul Donnelly
Location: Buffalo, NY

The Skinny: Nancy’s sister Martha raised 4 wonderful children who are now outstanding young adults.

In addition to being whip smart, Martha’s kids have become very good athletes as well. I often send them additions to this blog not just to acquaint them with their favorite aunt’s accomplishments, but also, because they’re so fiercely competitive, to maybe fire them up to pursue even greater accomplishments.

“The kids” have grown up in a microchip age and, like their hip peers, are firmly dialed in to the digital age. They might be wondering why Harold Tinsley, in the prior entry, sent us a hand-written letter instead of just texting us. I guess the kids could be forgiven not “remembering” that there were no text messages 32 years ago. Remember? They hadn’t yet been born!

But that has changed overnight. Today’s entry therefore does not reference Nancy’s racing, but rather celebrates the birth of our godson Paul Donnelly 32 years ago. As Nancy was at the beginning of her racing successes, just so Paul was at the beginning of his life. I’m proud and happy that they both have succeeded so well in their missions.

In the photo below, Paul is seen with his young and lovely mother Martha lo those many years ago. I hope your birthday, and every day, is perfect, Paul!



Editor’s note: Nancy tells me that some of the preceding language may be construed as insensitive. She reminds, and I append with apologies, that Martha remains lovely to this day.

Thanks to AP, AN and ACDA for their effusive support and encouragement with this entry.





December 11, 1982

Event: The Rocket City Marathon
Location: Huntsville, AL
Distance: 26.219 miles
Time: 2:39:41
Place: 2
Prize: $0
Career Prizes: $2,550

The Skinny: Jane Buch beat Nancy over this hilly course. But Nancy’s 2:39:41 set a new PR and got her plenty of notice in women’s racing circles.

Harold Tinsley communicated with me in hand-written notes like this one. This was less a thoughtful and classy gesture (although Harold was certainly all that) than simply the way things were still commonly done in 1982.






July 17, 2014

Event:
Location: Buffalo, NY
Distance:
Time:
Place:
Prize:
Career Prizes: $2,550

The Skinny: Events in this blog happened 32 years ago today. This one, however, seems like it happened only yesterday. That’s probably because it happened just yesterday.

Our local newspaper published an article that referenced Nancy’s absence from a certain local race some years ago. The reference provides half the answer to the question of why there are so few local races mentioned in this blog.



July 11, 1982

Event: The Utica Boilermaker
Location: Utica, NY
Distance: 9.321 miles
Time: 0:55:45
Place: 2
Prize: $50
Career Prizes: $2,550

The Skinny: Earle Reed once again invited Nancy, this time a past champion, to have an enjoyable gambol over severe hills on a hot, sunny morning. What’s not to like?

Nancy had a good day, but couldn’t keep pace with Laura deWald (54:41) over the last 3 miles. The ice-cold post-race beer was, as always, superb.








June 6, 1982

Event: The Avon International Marathon
Location: San Francisco, CA
Distance: 26.219 miles
Time: 2:45:50
Place: 10
Prize: $2,250
Career Prizes: $2,500

The Skinny: The first-ever women’s marathon was scheduled to debut in the 1984 L.A. Olympics. Avon used their race and its relatively lavish prizes to focus attention on the considerable abilities of female distance runners.

The invited athletes got a pre-race bus tour of the course, and not surprisingly discovered that it was quite hilly. On a warm day, Lorraine Moller’s winning time was a modest 2:36:12. Of the 13 racers headlined in Avon’s pre-race press literature, Nancy beat all but 5 of them.

Nancy’s prize was her first large paycheck. It was huge for its time, but specially so for a 10th place finish in a women-only event. The incentive of such prizes fundamentally altered the way that Nancy would select and train for events in her racing calendar.




April 19, 1982

Event: The Boston Marathon
Location: Boston, MA
Distance: 26.219 miles
Time: 2:44:17
Place: 10
Prize: 
Career Prizes: $250

The Skinny: Charlotte Teske won the race on a blue sky 65°F day that was a bit warm for many marathoners’ preferences. Nancy’s 10th place finish established her as a serious runner on the national stage. The BAA medal she earned, while among the smallest she ever won at an important event, remains a talisman of one of her proudest achievements.










December 12, 1981

Event: The Avon Series
Location: Deer Creek, FL
Distance: 6.214 miles
Time: 34:30
Place: 2
Prize: 
Career Prizes: $250

The Skinny: The Avon Series was not just a lot of fun for a great many female athletes, but it also was a launch pad for a number of successful racing careers. In this race, Nancy broke her own PR at 10 km, and nearly ran down Nancy Conz for the win. We were both a bit surprised and delighted.

There was an after party that we traveled to by boat at night. It was a long time ago, but I recall that we all enjoyed a great night.




October 17, 1981

Event: The Skylon Marathon
Location: Buffalo, NY
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 2:40:48
Place: 1
Prize: $200 appearance fee
Career Prizes: $250

The Skinny: The day dawned cool, blue and windless, and it had Nancy all pumped up for a good race.

As usual, Nancy started at a conservative pace and gathered steam as she went. Onlookers were letting her know that she was the first woman, and this caught the ears of several of our male running club friends. They fell in step as sort of an honor guard, and that happy crew chugged along until near the very end.

Here’s a photo of Nancy setting a personal and course record just above the Horseshoe Falls. On her feet are a pair of the orange and white Etonic “Eclipse,” by far her favorite shoe over her career.







March 15, 1981

Event: The Cherry Hill 10-Miler
Location: Cherry Hill, NJ
Distance: 10 miles
Time: 0:57:10
Place: 1
Prize: none
Prizes: $50

The Skinny: Nancy and I flew into Philadelphia with tickets provided by the race director. He also found lodging for us with a well-intentioned couple eager to host an invited “star.” The couple was ever so sweet. They fussed around Nancy in anticipation of her every need, insisted that we take their bedroom, and were completely and impossibly nice. We phoned the race director and begged him to please get us a quiet room at the race hotel.

We breakfasted on race day with Bob B., a fellow we’d met some years before at the Maple Leaf Half Marathon in Manchester, VT. He was a middlin runner who was well enough connected to appear “at all the right races.” Over oatmeal, he casually mentioned that Ellison Goodall was going to win the race going away “because no one else is here.”  Nancy appeared to let the remark slide while we were at table, but she actually took it like a hard punch to her gut. Channeling Knute, I reminded Nancy of Bob’s withering assessment on several occasions prior to race time. Nancy made a point of finding Bob at the post-race ceremonies so she could ask him how he’d done. Like the commercials say, “priceless.”

Miss Goodall was a gracious good sport after the race. She not only congratulated Nancy, but promised to talk to her sponsor (Adidas) about adding Nancy to its team. Both Goodall and Adidas came through, although those particular shoes never proved to be a good fit for Nancy’s foot.

Her first place finish at the Cherry Hill 10-Miler was a significant victory for Nancy, bringing with it her first sponsorship and several invitations to coming races. She had arrived on the regional scene.




January 3, 1981

Event: The Charlotte Observer Marathon Race
Location: Charlotte, NC
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 2:47:08
Place: 1
Prize: none
Prizes: $50

The Skinny: The Charlotte course is quite hilly, and is not a place where a racer is likely to set a PR. Nancy did, however, smash the former course record by 11 minutes and 18 seconds (!!) with her time today. This win set the tone for 1981, and even better things were soon to come.

The men’s winner was Steve Podgajny. He and his wife Marjorie became new friends after we met at the post-race ceremonies. The morning-after headline: Editor’s Nightmare as Podgajny, Mieszczak win Charlotte Marathon.

We’d driven to Charlotte, lugging a case of one Canadian beer or other to share with friends we were making “on the circuit.” While recovering from the race with these potassium-enriched fluids, we heard of deteriorating weather in Pennsylvania and western New York - we used to have “old fashioned” winters then - and so, after we’d all polished off the case, we decided to head home around 3 a.m. Everything went smoothly if darkly through North Carolina. But we ran into some snow in the hills of West Virginia, and it continued to worsen through the swing east at Erie. The stretch from Pittsburg to Erie was a real bear after having driven red-eye all night and with the west winds now making the driving treacherous. I recall two campers who were very happy to arrive home two or so hours later.





July 13, 1980
Event: The Utica Boilermaker
Location: Utica, NY
Distance: 9.321 MI
Time: 55:02
Place: 1
Prize: $50 appearance money
Prizes: $50
The Skinny: The Boilermaker is a tough, competitive race. 15 KM is a long way; in the severe hills surrounding Utica on a hot and steamy morning, this race ain’t no day at the beach. Winning this race did a lot to establish Nancy’s regional and national bona fides as a competitor tough as, if you’ll forgive, a boilermaker.
This great photo popped up in newspapers all across the country:


For those keeping careful score at home, notice that this race was the first in which Nancy either received appearance money or won prize money. Stick with her here: she’ll do even better soon enough. 



June 22, 1980

Event: Mentholatum 10K
Location: Buffalo, NY
Distance: 6.214 MI
Time: 35:48
Place: 2

The Skinny: Almost exactly one year later, Nancy still almost catches Jackie Gareau.



Moving off the “32 years ago today theme,” it was on this very day 35 years ago that Nancy D. moved in with Michael M. And exactly one month later, they were married. Aw shucks.


November 4, 1979

Event: Avon Series 
Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 
Distance: 12.42 MI 
Time: 1:15:52 
Place:

The Skinny: From the Buffalo Evening News: “Nancy Mieszczak of Buffalo’s Checkers Athletic Club finished fourth in a 20-kilometer race here Sunday and won a trip to the Avon National Championships in Pasadena, Calif. next spring.”

In a pre-race article the Ottawa Sunday Post wrote: “Among the Americans traveling to Ottawa is Nancy Mieszczak of Buffalo…. She is the Road Runners Club of America 1978 20K Champion.”

The winner of the race was Karen Doppes of Cincinnati. Karen, Julie Isphording and Nancy would become friends over the years of the Avon circuit. It’s a small world. Two years ago, I met Bill Cosgrove whose Springer was competing at a local field event. Bill is quite a star - deservedly so - in the spaniel world. We got to jawing about this and that. While making small talk, I may have mentioned Julie as another name I recalled from Cincinnati. He knew her well: she used to run around with his wife Karen… Small world, indeed.


June 24, 1979

Event: Bonne Bell
Location: Buffalo, New York
Distance: 6.21 MI
Time: 37:56
Place: 2

The Skinny: This was one of the slowest 10Ks of Nancy’s career. My notes are sketchy, but I suspect race day must have been hot, or the course perhaps a bit long. In any event, she was the first local finisher, and second only to that pesky Jacqueline Gareau woman. Nancy recalls that Tom Donnelly paced her on his bicycle.

In the pre prize money era, the Bonne Bell bell was a tasteful and sought after prize, and it still remains in the trophy case. We’ve always liked this photo taken at the awards ceremony.



May 13, 1979

Event: The Ottawa Marathon
Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Distance: 26.2 MI
Time: 2:55:58
Place: 3

The Skinny: Nancy and I enjoyed racing in Ottawa. We’d drive north several days ahead of the race and visit with Doc and Mom Dragoo. Then we’d overnight in Ottawa the night before the race and scoot back home when it was over.

Nancy set a PR at this race even though she developed a bad set of blisters en route. She was third to Jacqueline Gareau who ran 2:47:58.

This was the first of several races having a Husband - Wife Division where I gravy trained my talented wife’s performance with a modest one of my own. We still have the beer mugs proclaiming us Labatt’s Husband - Wife Champions of Canada.


September 24, 1978

Event: Maple Leaf Half Marathon
Location: Manchester, VT
Distance: 13.1 MI
Time: 1:20:00
Place: 2

The Skinny: Nancy had not been racing quite a year when I met her in October, 1977. She had done very well in that time, including victories - as a rookie! - in two marathons. In one of these races, she absolutely destroyed a particular fellow who was desperately trying to keep pace with her.

We know this because Guy Thomas told her so, on the phone, when he invited her to run his inaugural Mapleleaf Half Marathon in Manchester, VT. He was a great sport, and in no time we became friends with Guy and his wife Vivien.

For some reason, I neglected to keep a journal record for this race. Nancy didn’t take a lot of seconds in those days, so I suspect whoever beat her was quite good. It may well have been Patti Lyons, a superstar in road racing in 1978. In any case, Guy’s promotional efforts and the fast 1978 times helped the race to grow in stature over the years.

Nancy and I were there again a year later when Patti set a world record with a 1:14:03 time. You can see Patti hoisting the cutting board that was a cool prize in those just-before-prize-money days. Nancy has one, too; we’ll use it to chop some cheese the next time you’re visiting.



May 14, 1978

Event: Revco Classic
Location: Cleveland, OH
Distance: 10 KM
Time: 36:40
Place: 1

The Skinny: Revco was a fore runner of stores like Walgreen. Its chain was wide spread and healthy back in 1978, so its signature race attracted strong men’s and women’s fields for both the 10 KM and marathon events. Revco disappeared after its stores were bought and renamed by CVS in 1997.

Nancy beat second-placer Kitty Consolo by 43 seconds, finished 68th overall, and continued to garner regional and national attention.

I had a good race, too. I finished in 32:33, at the time a personal best that was good for 23rd place and bragging rights as first western NY finisher.

This race pre-dated the prize money era in road racing. One of the attractions of the event was the offer of Revco merchandise in addition to traditional “statue trophies.” I don’t remember what Nancy won; but my age-group award was included in Webster’s definition of irony: a hair-drying iron.


April 17, 1978

Event: The Boston Marathon
Location: Boston, MA
Distance: 26.2 MI
Time: 2:55:00
Place: 20

The Skinny: In the week before the race Nancy and I flew to San Diego for a National Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference. Although working math teachers and genuinely interested in the Conference’s programs - specially hands-on events using those new personal computer thingees - we were also delighted to absorb some sun and get in some easy training before flying into Boston for the Marathon.

A woman for whom I’d worked earlier in the 70s was nice enough to host my fiance and me for dinner at her club in La Jolla. I recall gentle conversation and a great view of the ocean. The evening was a special engagement present to a couple of starry eyed kids. Thanks, Mrs. Kellogg.

In Boston, we crashed with my school days pal Peter O. We slept either on floor-laid mattresses, or futons, or something; I don’t exactly recall. Except that if we slept on them tonight, we’d be dead by morning.

Anyways, we got up, went out for breakfast, and - incredible for us - finally committed around 9 a.m to actually starting the race.

Nancy’s 20th place was therefore darn good. If Cold Duck lives long enough, I’ll be able to blog an even better finish.


March 19, 1978

Event: AAU National 30 KM Championship
Location: Albany, NY
Distance: 30 KM
Time: 1:58:23
Place: 1

The Skinny: Nancy and I were engaged at the time of the 30 KM Nationals in Albany. We bunked with Richard J. and his lovely wife Kathy. Cold Duck regulars will recognize him as Cousin Richard of Speculator fame.

A day after the race, I kissed Nancy goodbye and while she headed back to Waterford, I drove home to Buffalo. In addition to teaching math there during the day, I was also teaching applied trigonometry to machinist apprentices at night. I had a tradition - enabled by an administration that looked on with benignly blind eyes - of taking the class out for an adult beverage after I’d rated the last student’s terminal exam.

After buying the first round and reporting that everyone had earned a passing grade, I discovered that the men were still thirsty - and generous. An hour and too many beers later, all tongues were loose, if a bit thick, and conversation flowed freely. Proud of my bride-to-be's recent win, I blurted out that I was engaged to the national trucking champion, except that I did not say "trucking."

After the slightest of pauses, the guys all gave me a look - visualize the Last Supper - and asked in one voice, "You're marrying the national trucking champion?" And a spontaneous cheer broke out.

This story is now known word for word by the whole extended family, down to our nieces and nephews’ college friends. There’s usually a call for the story, somewhere after the second bottle of wine, at all the major family feasts.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Finally! A Recipe For Tender Crockpot Pheasant

When I traded bunny chasing with beagles for bird chasing with flushing spaniels 25 years ago, I was certain that grouse would forever be my number one target, with woodcock filling in the occasional gap. After all, we were never surprised to flush a partridge or two by accident when hunting snowshoe hares on my father-in-law’s and others’ private land near Malone, NY.



This accounts for my unrealistically hopeful expectation that I’d be finding just as many grouse forevermore on public land south of Buffalo.

After driving 80 white-knuckled miles to and then from slim partridge pickin’s in Lake Effect Blizzard country for several years, I determined to find a safer and more productive place where I’d be able to run my dog on birds in January and February. This explains how and why I wound up joining a pheasant release club.



It also explains why, shortly thereafter, I began looking for a way to cook up pheasants that didn’t plate up as dry as a tick on a Bravecto-ed dog. My wife and I tried all sorts of preparations. We soaked breasts in buttermilk. We found a butcher who would accept boneless breasts and mix with secret herbs and spices — read “schmaltz,” or chicken fat — to make Pheasant Sausage. I tried grinding pheasants on my own, with half a pound of bacon being my secret sauce. Most recently I diced the breasts, sautéed them with a generous half stick of butter, then buried them in a cheesy quesadilla. All these attempts were palatable but not exceptional.

After seeing a video on cleaning desert quail recently,

http://uplandjournal.ipbhost.com/topic/62010-quail-cleaning-video/?tab=comments#comment-1096913

I decided to try the same technique on a pheasant, with appropriate tweaks for the birds’ different sizes. In particular, I thought that cooking the pheasant whole, bones and all, might add some flavor. So I began dreaming up a brand-new low-and-slow crockpot recipe for pheasants. It so happened that while I was thinking this over, Matt A. — my wife’s niece’s husband from North Dakota — showed up for our family’s Thanksgiving holiday celebration. We fell to talking about cooking up pheasants, and Matt offered his family’s favored technique. It was darn close to what I had envisioned, and so with just a minor adjustment or two — my vision contained no Cream of Something soup — I gave my new recipe a try.

And it was terrific! I bet it’ll work great with a rabbit or a mallard as well. Your comments and suggestions are welcome and solicited. Without further prologue, here’s my Tender Crockpot Pheasant recipe.

Ingredients

1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, into 1/4” dice
3 carrots, peeled and sliced on a bias into 1/8” coins
2 medium potatoes, unpeeled, and cut into 1/2” dice
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated and diced
1 pkg. onion soup mix
2 healthy dashes soy sauce (don’t doubt me)
a sprig or two of thyme
2 Bay leaves
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
1 squirt @ anchovy- and tomato-paste
light splashes of a dry light white wine, as in Sauvignon Blanc
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3 strips of bacon, cut in half
1 rooster pheasant, skinned and eviscerated (a quite naked bird ;-)
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1+ tbsp. cornstarch and cold water slurry

Technique

1. Skin and eviscerate the pheasant so it looks like a naked Perdue roaster;

2. Cut and put into the crockpot the first 9 ingredients;

3. Put the rooster on top of your vegetable pile. Drape the 6 half-strips over the pheasant’s breast and legs;

4. Cover the crockpot and set on low for 8 hours;

5. At 7 hours (or 15 minutes less to allow for cooling time), remove the pheasant and pull the best meat off the breast and legs. Reintroduce the “pulled pheasant” into the crockpot. Reserve the bacon and less pleasing looking hunks of meat for the doggie who got you the pheasant;

6. With about 30 minutes to go, mix a hearty soupspoon of corn starch and a bit of cold water in a mixing bowl. When smooth, introduce back into the crockpot and give a good stir; and

7. Eat and be happy. A sprinkling of either Sriracha or, going the other way, some Pecorino Romano, may make you smile. Maybe have some hot biscuits with butter and the rest of the Sauv Blanc, too. God wants you to be happy.



Thursday, October 26, 2017

This Neighborhood’s Going to the Dogs.

Actually, hunting dogs will very soon be gone from this emerging neighborhood.

I’ve been hunting on a particular piece of ground since shortly after I was married in 1978. In the 1980s, I hunted rabbits there behind my first dog beagle Jupp. Since 1994, I’ve hunted woodcock there behind flushing spaniels. One day last fall while woodcocking behind Gordie, I noticed earth moving equipment on the far side of our best hunting spots. It has not taken the developers long to bring the land to this point:




Now I have no legitimate *right* to bitch about this. First and last, I’ve never owned this land. Its owners heretofore had simply benignly neglected those of us geezers who still head out in the autumn with dog and gun hoping to bag maybe a bird or two. Further, the road in the picture, and the lots that will spring off it at 90°, is on land I haven’t hunted in years, as it’s too close to older houses that have always been sited along the main road. But the end of this road, very near a tiny flow sometimes glorified as a “creek,” will necessarily move my hunting areas 500’ back from some really good, and historically precious, thickets. So, although I have no legal basis to complain, still I’m bummed.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Best Woodcock Hunting Dates in Western New York in the Last 25 Years

After this year’s woodcock hunting started slowly, I decided to seek some historical perspective by checking the log I’ve faithfully kept since 1993, the year I started hunting birds instead of bunnies. All the woodcock counted are from the single ZIPcode that is my home hunting ground.

“Slow hunting” to me means small numbers of birds flushed rather than a low number of birds killed. There’s lots of reasons why the number of birds killed over one hunter’s dogs on a given date is not a perfect indicator of birds flushed. Local coverts become overgrown and thus tougher to gun over 25 years. When I am hunting alone, I am less likely to pull a trigger these days unless the bird will be reasonably easy for my dog to retrieve — did I mention that it’s crazy overgrown here? — and unless my shot charge is not directed at the new houses that have erupted like sores on my good old hunting grounds. I could go on, but there’s no need. My point remains that birds in bag are not a perfect indicator of birds flushed.

But since birds in bag is the only data I’ve kept, I’m going to run with it while at the same time acknowledging its imperfection.

When I looked at the aggregated data, two things jumped out at me.



First, the median date for shooting my dogs’ woodcock here is October 22, which is exactly the median day of NY’s current 45-day season. This comes as a mild surprise to me, the halfway mathematical “precision” notwithstanding. I would have bet the date would have been a bit later simply because shooting is easier after all the leaves have fallen.

Second, the days between 10/6 and 11/4 account for almost 94% of all the woodcock my dogs have flushed and retrieved. Starting next year, I’ll look for something better to pursue in the “tail” dates of the season. Maybe trout. Maybe pheasants. Heck, maybe golf if the temps are well into the 70s.

Habitat loss due to human encroachment, I fear, seriously threatens my next spaniel pup from doing as well locally as did my first two. Even so, I’ll keep looking for new spots that may become available to try.