Sunday, December 28, 2008

On snow and exploding whales

So... back in Oregon and finally coming to a full stop... boy am I looking forward to a few days of rest.

I'm happy to report that I was able to get just about everything out the door in good time for shipping and all local pickups and deliveries made, though a few by the skin of my teeth as a handful of pieces due for pickup the last Sunday of the market were still hot off the sewing machine as of five o'clock that morning, yikes! A couple red leads didn't make the holiday cutoff, due to a series of dismally poor-quality hides having to be sent back to the tannery. Those couple remaining pieces will be shipped out on Monday morning--and a million thanks for the patience of those kind folks. The quality of my raw materials is of paramount importance to me, and I refuse to spend either my money or yours on crummy leather. If it happens, I'm always happy to substitute another color of your choice if time is of the essence, but sometimes it takes a few tries to get my paws on a side of leather that's high enough quality for me to be happy to ship gear made from it.

It's been an action-packed holiday season and I am sure happy to have worked with some really great folks on a world of different projects. This here is a custom bear paw harness done for Yuki-san, the shiba "brother" of Jiro with the rad "green flames" harness.

The bear paw cutout on the back saddle was an awful lot of fun to do, and I was pretty tickled about the claw marks on the shoulder straps, too. I dug up some photos of bear claw marks on trees for the shape. I think I've mentioned before that I often work with veterinary tools--the claw marks were dug out with a surgical curette, rather than being cut, so that the slashes would look torn into the leather.

I'll have to sit down and look through my camera for more fun stuff... I was in such a sewing frenzy that I sometimes didn't even have time to stop and shoot portfolio photos, sewing long after dark and boxing things for shipment before dawn the next day. There was a fun set of tiny little vines and leaves collars for cockapoos Carmella and Tulip, and a mini version of the squares and dots collar for beagle Copper down in Sacramento... a flat collar for landseer Moses that's bigger than my friend Claire's belt size ;0).

Meanwhile, we wrapped up the last weekend of Holiday Market in fine style. I'd decided not to do the last Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday stretch through Christmas Eve in hopes of making it down to my parents' house for the holiday. It ended up being a wise choice because I went down like a poleaxed steer on Sunday night with what I am guessing is Giardia* though remains undiagnosed because though at one point I actually blacked out in my mews while feeding my hawk, I am either too stupid or too stubborn to have gone to the hospital when my medical professional of choice was unavaliable, being pretty firmly of the school of "that which does not kill you can probably be cured with ginger ale and crackers if you wait it out long enough". Perhaps not wise, but I really do hate hospitals exactly that much**.

Anyway, between the suspected flagellated protozoan parasites and the heinous ice storms, it was an hour-by-hour thing whether or not we were going to make it out for Christmas, and when we had a break in both situations we made a quick escape out with the bare essentials; the clean socks and undies, the Christmas gifts, and the dog all made it, but the camera along with several other helpful items did not. I'd have liked to post photographic documentation of the f*n Winter Wonderland that was the Siskiyous and the Shasta pass, but this awesome artist's rendition will just have to do:

That pretty much sums it up. In case you're wondering, the crack in the rearview mirror is one of Simon's few puppy indescretions. His sharky little puppy teeth can still be felt on either side--Mr. Armadillo thought until very recently that he'd bonked it while jumping around and cracked it with his noggin... no, he actually gnawed the frame top and bottom and cracked the glass by squeezing it when I left him in the car for thirty seconds.

So... we apparently timed it perfectly to make it through the passes while everything was just under siege by slush but the temperatures hadn't dropped below freezing yet. Yucky, but not really dangerous. We made it to my parents' house on Christmas Eve, stayed through the next day, and made a quick escape the next morning, again with perfect timing as the passes were frozen again just after we got back through.

I was apprehensive about having timed Gaia's feedings, but even that worked out as perfectly as possible; she weighed in perfectly to the gram for that day's flight training so we had a quick training session with a few mews jumps to the glove for a light feeding. Wild birds don't necessarily eat every day, and falconry birds often eat on a 48 hour schedule. It's not generally a problem for them to miss a feeding, but when you're not there to monitor the situation you tend to err on the side of overfeeding, particularly when you happen to be an apprentice with a bird at a tricky and very precise stage of training and the weather is potentially severe. Often when you feed them up in anticipation of going away for a day or two you lose several more days of training while your bird doesn't have any interest in food, sitting around instead on a window perch with that comfy meal percolating through their system and one foot pulled snugly up in their warm belly feathers. But! occasionally I do something right and she was spot on target for what we call her "initial response weight", or the weight at which she becomes interested in coming to the glove for food.
So we had a quick visit in the mews and the next day, yesterday, went out for her very first outdoor flight training. It went beautifully, though we had to go out a bit early--I'd timed the amount of food I had given her the night before so that she'd be hungry around late morning. We started getting weather reports for heavy wind and rain so I made a dash out a few hours earlier than planned. She wasn't as keen as I might have hoped but did respond beautifully with a series of half a dozen short flights from the training perch and happily enough recalled to the glove from the top of the weathering yard and out of a plum tree. All in all, a very satisfactory first flight session. She ate a little heavily so today we'll go out in the mid-afternoon assuming her weight and appetite are on target for our first session on a creance line--a weighted line of fifty-odd feet that we use for longer flight distances. In theory, if I'm managing her handling correctly, we'll spend a week or so polishing her whistle/glove response and doing a bunch of training to a lure (a vaguely bunny-shaped leather and wool pad on a rope, baited with meat) on a creance line, a few days of the same sort of training without the creance, and then we'll go hunting.
There's more to it than that, but... if all goes well, things should progress very quickly from here.

And lastly, this is already miles long, but I just feel the need to leave you all with this glorious incident from Oregon's news archives. The thing that really makes me laugh about this is imagining the scenario in which when considering how best to remove a manky dead whale from your beach, clearly a half-ton of dynamite is the go-to option.
There's really no other way to say it than the way Dave Berry did:

I am probably not guilty of understatement when I say that what follows, on the videotape, is the most wonderful event in the history of the universe. First you see the whale carcass disappear in a huge blast of smoke and flame. Then you hear the happy spectators shouting "Yayy!" and "Whee!" Then, suddenly, the crowd's tone changes. You hear a new sound like "splud." You hear a woman's voice shouting "Here come pieces of...MY GOD!"


Hope you all have the very happiest of holiday seasons... whichever you might celebrate, and an undisappointing Festivus, for the rest of us. ;0)

*note to self: be more careful in re: dead quail, whistles and hood braces (and other equipment that's likely end up in my mouth), and keeping better track of the pockets into which both are stuffed.

**I promise I'll call Dr. B on Tuesday, dad!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I have been keeping a lid on all the neat stuff going out in boxes in the last few weeks, for fear of spoiling any surprises, but I can show off at least one set:

This went out to Hazel in the SF Bay, mama of Diablo and the rest of the pups discussed in one of the very early journal posts. Hazel's kind of a reddish, shepherdy-looking lady.

Hazel's gear is a set made complimentary to the set I made a year or two back for Diablo. His features the same bronze raindrop triskele, framed by a set of stylized phoenix shapes that match the pattern on his coat. His lead has phoneix tail feathers that wave in opposite directions up either side of the handle from the conchos. Hazel's collar has a set of wings, drop-stitched by hand, that match the "wing" patches she has on her shoulder blades. The feathers on her lead fall down from the concho at the base of the handle. The down fluff of the afterfeather is cut in with the tip of a surgical blade; you can't see in the photo but there are tiny razor scores along the rachis to suggest the barbs of the feather, too.

I was really thrilled to be asked to do this set for Hazel, and am happy to know these great folks and their ultimately cool dogs. Talk about down-and-out, Hazel really needed someone to come along and save her life, and these folks did... and put in an incredible amount of time and effort to raise and find find amazing homes for her entire litter, too.

To Jon and Brigette: thanks for what you did with those dogs, and thank you for asking me to do this set. I hope it does her justice.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Raw Dogs in Action!

Check out this pair of cuties!
Deshi and Tetsuya sport their new custom Raw Dog harnesses:

Thanks to Carina for the great video!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

One of the best parts of my job... hearing some great stories about folks and the pooches they love. I had the honor of building a collar for this gorgeous lady; below is the sweet story of how sometimes the right people and critters find each other in this world. Note: Greenhill is our local private, non-profit animal shelter.

She is a beautiful girl and we feel very fortunate to have found her. She came into our life last January just a week after our old dog crossed over. Someone told us that sometimes the dying dog finds the next one. The day after Lexie died Patty was looking at the Greenhill website. She knew a person taking cat pictures for them and wanted to see them. We had talked about not getting another dog right away but there was Lily. We went out there to meet her. Most of the other dogs were bouncing all over the place but she was just sitting up on her bed like "Where have you been? I've been waiting." We had to wait for her to get spayed and recover from kennel cough before she could come live with us. She appears to be a purebred blue Weimaraner that someone socialized very well and she'd had at least one litter of puppies. We never could find out much of her prior history. The intake form said she had been around grandkids. She is an energetic girl and needs to play hard at least every other day. Perhaps her former owners couldn't do that anymore. We have been blessed to have her find us.

Many thanks to George for the story, the beautiful photo, and for giving a home to a Greenhill girl!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


This bird is incredible!

We're making great progress; she took food for the first time on Sunday morning, eight days after trapping. It takes a pretty powerful motivation for a wild-trapped bird to overcome their natural inclination to believe that I'm about to eat her at any given moment. She was hugely well-fed when I picked her up off the trap, it took more than a week for her reserves to get low enough to even look at the food I offered her, but she finally took some food this weekend--it's the first major step in building a working relationship and very exciting.

Other than putting on her permanent furniture, there really hasn't been much to report up until now. Falconry birds are required by necessity, tradition, and federal law to wear particular equipment (called "furniture") which hasn't much changed in several thousand years. Now we use metal grommets on their soft leather bracelets and steel ball-bearing swivels for tangle management, but the basic setup is more or less exactly the same as King Arthur and Ghengis Khan used. Documents dating before 1000 BC depict equipment and techniques we still use today. One of the things I love most about this sport is true living history, with language, equipment, and techniques all reaching back with at least three thousand years of documentation.

Anyway, shortly after trapping we put on their furniture, and the taming process begins (called "manning"). We spend hours just sitting with them in the dimly-lit mews, touching them, picking up their feet to inspect toes and talons, opening their wings, just acclimating them to touch and proximity in the first 24 or 48 hours. People think it sounds nuts to take a wild bird straight off a trap and start "petting" them, especially those wicked-looking talons... but that first day or two they're really so afraid that they more or less accept anything. They're fully expecting you to start eating them at any second. It must be completely terrifying, like being in an alien world. As time goes on and they gradually lose the fear they start to take in more of their surroundings and adjusting to their new situation. I started taking her out of the mews, sitting or walking around the yard, sitting with her in the house while we watched TV in the evenings, acclimating her to the dog and the dog to her. There's really not a whole lot you can do with them until they're good and hungry, other than continue manning them as thoroughly as possible--until they start thinking about food, they're really just waiting to get eaten themselves, and still afraid of every new thing.

I'd offer her food on the glove every day, but she wasn't even looking at it. That's okay, and expected--as I'd said, she was very well-fed at trapping, so she had plenty of reserves to keep her comfy for quite a while. I don't think she even would have eaten on Sunday if I hadn't pushed the issue, but it's starting to get very cold here and she was shivering that morning when I picked her up. I was worried she was going low enough on calories that she was having trouble staying warm, so again I sat with her and offered her some food on the glove which again she didn't even look at. Eventually I offered her a big, juicy wad of liver on a pair of forceps, stroking it along the side of her beak to encourage her to open her mouth. Eventually she nipped at it, probably more out of irritation than anything else, but once it was in her mouth she sat thinking about it for a good five minutes, flashing her pupils. She took a few more bits off the forceps, but still wasn't hungry enough to take the food off the glove, so we were done for the day. It was a good sign though, and I knew she'd probably eat in the next day or two. At least I got some calories into her!

Sunday evening after the Market I offered her food again on the glove, but she was pretty uninterested. I figured she could think about it overnight and sure enough on Monday morning I offered her some more liver off the forceps which she snatched up fairly quickly. She sat flashing her pupils for a few minutes and thinking about that food... then leaned down and went straight for the food on the glove. Breakthrough!

It really is a big deal for them to lean down and take food from the glove for the first time. They handle everything amazingly well, but leaning down and exposing the back of their neck to the handler is a tremendously vulnerable position to put themselves in and they must be either very comfortable or very hungry to do it. She wasn't real hungry and only ate a fraction of what I expected her to take, but it was a huge breakthrough nonetheless and tells me she's making great progress... they say 90% of the work of manning them is done when they take that first food off the glove.

Once she started eating, it tells me she's relaxed enough to start leaving her unhooded in the mews, which feels great. Before this point, they tend to bate a lot, thrashing around and bashing up their flight feathers. Most birds have no sense of smell and rely on hearing only supplementary to their vision. By hooding them, and eliminating their visual input, it sort of shifts their attitude about everything into neutral. They don't fear what they can't see. We hood them and acclimate them to touch, to balancing and moving around the glove, to stepping on and off from perch to glove and back, all without the element of fear. By the time we remove the hood and let them see what's happening around them, they have some familiarity with all of these things, and it makes the manning process much, much less stressful for them.

Today at first light I went out to the mews and found her resting comfortably on her perch, a foot pulled snugly up in her warm breast feathers and looking out the window--a very relaxed posture. I picked her up for weighing (we monitor them very closely for weight and condition, and keep a daily log of notes), and offered her some food. She wasn't hungry, so instead we practiced picking her up and setting her back down on the perch, unhooded, as well as walking through doorways, going from light areas to dark and vice-versa, and spent some time just walking around the yard, enjoying the frosty morning.

I left her resting comfortably on a perch out in the weathering yard, and will try offering her food again in a few hours in exchange for hopping to the glove--the first step in a flight recall. Real progress has been made, and it's very exciting!

In other news, anyone have any good name suggestions? I have been calling her Gaia. I tried out Io and Spica, but nothing seems to quite stick. Until this point she's been so terrified I hadn't seen much of her personality... maybe in the coming days she'll calm down enough to tell me what her name is. I'd love to hear any ideas anyone has!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bit more updating...

So, about that monster of a female red tailed hawk I picked up last week: if you're wondering where I disappeared to, it's there. Between keeping up with the sewing and Holiday Market stuff, this lady has been demanding every scrap of my attention and energy. I still haven't managed to name her. She's feisty and refuses to tame which is giving me much pause for thought. In this nutty season and through the growing pains of learning entrepreneurship, having something that demands I sit very still, watching and listening and learning, is something of a treasure. I tend to feel guilty when I stop working long enough to go for a run or do some yoga. It's good for me in a million ways, but I spend the whole time worrying about orders waiting to be filled, sketches to be sent, website updates... a hundred million other things that need my time and attention, and instead of coming back relaxed and ready to rock, I cut it short and come back anxious and stressed.

But in handling this bid, there are no other demands on your attention... there can't be. You clear your mind and you focus. There's a total art and science to the first week you spend with a wild-trapped falconry bird, going through the process known as "manning". It's not really a taming per se, but the building of an understanding. Thirty minutes after being trapped out of the wild, she's sitting on the end of your glove and you're eying each other. It's a lot to think about for both of us.

I also fell down a flight of stairs about a month and a half ago, and haven't been able to get a good workout, since. Like a jackass I didn't go see anyone at the time as "sitting in the ER for five hours between SARS and the bubonic plague, then being treated like a drug addict" isn't high on my ranking of favorite pastimes; a couple weeks later when I got around to mentioning it to my own doctor, she told me she thought I'd cracked two vertebrae in my lumbar spine. I may have also have effed up my right hip socket in the bargain. None of that has been super comfy, and so not being able to really get up and move in over six weeks is making me feel like I'm about to jump out of my skin. Dr. says nothing but walking for exercise until we get this back thing sorted out, and there again are not many things that rank lower on my mental list of "a million better things to do, instead".

There's a lot to be done this time of year. The demand for custom gear has exploded, and I'm learning to balance Raw Dog with the other things in life. My partner, my dog, my health, and this little, feathered dragon on the end of my arm are all reasons I wanted to spend my life working from home. It's sometimes a challenge to remember that. It's almost daylight and I'm going to head out in a bit to work my dog, to sweat, and then visit with my hawk... then come back and get some "real" work done ;0)

PS for Deshi and Tetsuya:

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Very quick update

Brief for now, more later (hopefully with photos)...
First things and business first: things are absolutely manic on the Raw Dog front. Though I usually try to get orders shipped within 48 or 72 hours, I'm currently running at about 5-7 days for shipping for most gear ordered through the site, such as standard collars, leads and toys. Custom leads and basic custom collars are running at roughly the same time frame, and highly custom gear such as harnesses, highly customized and embroidered collars are taking about two weeks... so if anyone is considering ordering anything for Christmas, now's the time to get your order in. I'll likely stop taking custom gear orders for the holidays by the end of this week or middle of next, in order to have everything complete and shipped to arrive in time. I thank you all for your patience and support.

A few folks are still waiting for photos of sketches or work in progress. I've been unable to get the software for my rockin' new camera set up on my work machine, so I've put my husband (Senior Vice President in Charge of Electronics) on the case and he's promised to have it set up pretty quickly.

Holiday Market continues to rock, one of my favorite things about it is all the folks we run into while hanging out at the booth. We had a surprise visit from my banker Sid and his lovely wife, Katie, always a treat, Kim Anne and Autumn, Maria, Heather and Mike, Jon O.'s lovely mama stopped by to say "hi"... if you're in the area, the Market is a great place to get your shop on. There are some absolutely incredible artists and artisans who set up shop here for these six weeks, and aside from booth after booth of art and craft-work, there's good food, good music, and the greatest parade of people-watching I could ever imagine.

Lastly, and the reason I mostly haven't been heard from in a couple days... after nearly a year of unsuccessful trapping efforts around Eugene, I've recently picked up a monster of a female redtailed hawk. Her trapped weight was 52 oz--as a point of comparison, Arion, the little male I had last year, weighed around 31 oz at trapping. She's tremendous, well-fed and feisty. I have high hopes for putting a dent in the local bunny population. Hell, at her size, maybe we'll chase a few geese, too ;0)

If you need to reach me, my cell phone is currently the best point of contact, that number is 541.520.5713. I'm sticking pretty close to the sewing machine, probably for the next few weeks, and any free second not spent sewing will be spent handling my hawk in this early, critical taming period. I'm checking my email first thing in the morning and last thing at night, but making a concerted effort to stay away from the (time-sucking) computer during the day, so if you have a question or need help right away, please do give me a call. I always have my phone on me and check it frequently. If I don't answer it may be because I've got a little, feathered dragon on the end of my arm, and will call you back soonest. ;0)
Mr. Armadillo (Senior Vice President in Charge of Invoicing and Orders) is taking incoming orders and handing them off to me as they come in, so be assured your order has been noted and will be handled as quickly as possible, even if you don't hear from me right away.
Again, thank you all for your patience and support, y'all are great.

More updates and photos to come!