Sunday, September 26, 2010


So picture this – you’re in the middle of the majestic mountains of western Montana (near Frenchtown, Missoula County), it’s midnight, you’re ready to go to bed and you’ve just let your dogs out for their nightly ritual and suddenly all hell breaks loose. Your dogs immediately garner the attention of a black bear who was apparently stealing a few apples from your backyard when he/she is spotted by two of the dogs who started frantically barking and then in an unusual and uncharacteristic show of intelligence - immediately beat feet. That left the homeowner (an unnamed Lady about whom we know nothing except her courageous demeanor) and the remaining dog, a 12 year old semi-mobile and compliant collie, to fend for themselves.

Before the Lady could react the snarling and growling bear (estimated at about 200 pounds) attacked the collie and started batting it around. The Lady screamed and then kicked at the bear landing a pretty good shot (her estimation) just under the chin of the bear - enough to distract attention from the collie. The bear took a swipe at the lady ripping her jeans and scratching and bruising her. The bear now fully focused on the woman attacked her as she stood in the back doorway of her home. Though this Montana Lady retreated and tried to close her back door, the bear managed to get its head and shoulder wedged in the doorway (Houston, we have a problem…).

Our homeowner continued a firm hold on the door and with her other hand reached for anything to defend herself. Her hand found a recently picked 6½ pound, 14-inch zucchini (they measured it - see photo) which she threw at the bear, hitting it on the head. Startled, the bear fled and hasn’t been seen since. We are assured that the zucchini (courgette to you Scots) suffered no damage and is still on the menu or maybe even headed for the Smithsonian?

As I picture our homeowner desperately searching for a weapon I was reminded of the scene in The Perfect Murder where Gwyneth Paltrow as Emily Bradford Taylor frantically, blindly reached back and found the meat thermometer which she used to dispatch her attacker. What would she have done with a zucchini?

Aside from all that, order has now been restored in Frenchtown appropriately named for its original French Canadian settlers. Local authorities continue their search for the bear and have set up traps for this mean spirited critter that will probably be relocated or even euthanized upon capture. Our courageous though shaken homeowner only had minor injuries and will probably get a tetanus shot. The equally traumatized collie was taken to a vet and is doing fine. We are now left to ponder the fate of native fauna who invade the human domain.

Not only are traditional lines being crossed by native wildlife into our domain – they are now crossing boundaries within their own traditional habitats, much to the chagrin of those species down the totem pole. Black bears crossing into Grizzly territory or vice versa always come out the loser and that appears to be happening with more frequency. Of course, we also see species like the mountain lion, bobcat, fox and the ever encroaching coyote reasserting their presence in suburban neighborhoods.

The current range of the black bear includes all of Canada except Prince Edward Island, most of the continental United States and now even in the less-settled forested regions and the northwestern mountains of Mexico. While a large male black bear in the wild weighs on average 300 to 400 pounds (the female considerably less), they have been known to top out at over 800 lbs. The largest black bear in captivity now approaches 1,000 pounds. Like humans, the black bear did not originate in North America, rather traversed the Bering land bridge from Asia about a half million years ago.

For the most part the highly adaptable black bear appears to be doing OK (neither endangered nor vulnerable). Even with the loss of their prime habitat (hardwood forests) and despite hunting and trapping throughout most of Canada and in 27 US states, there appears to be a sustained black bear population growth that could translate into a U.S. black bear population of nearly one million bears by 2025. That means more opportunities for bear-human interaction.

Our Frenchtown bear makes the point again that black bears are omnivores – they will eat anything though fruits, berries, roots, grasses, flowers and nuts (plant foods in general) make up the bulk of their diet. Yes, they will eat insects, carrion (road kill to you Georgia folks) and occasional small prey like deer fawns or even a stray pet. We know of a certain bear in Red Lodge, Montana who has learned how to open casement windows and invade refrigerators. Her favorites include ice cream, berries and (I am sure) Flathead Cherries.

The bottom line lesson here is that while we can share our habitat with the black bear, we must be ever vigilant and better understand their habits. We must be careful to keep food – especially pet food and birdseed and garbage stored where bears cannot smell them. No access to food – generally means no problem. We also recommend that you completely clean your grill after every use including the drip and catch pans so as not to attract our furry friends – any of them. No, our Frenchtown Lady should not cut down her apple tree.

When I was leading regular backpacking trips in less kinder and gentler times up to the LeConte Lodge (Rainbow Falls, Bullhead or Alum Cave trails) on the mountain of the same name (6,593 ft.) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park over Gatlinburg, Tennessee I would forbid participants from carrying or using several items including perfume, any cosmetic that smelled, after shave, antiperspirant (etc.) and snacks that were not going to be consumed in route. Fact is the bears at LeConte would take these items as an open invitation to inspect and eat your possessions. The lodge then had a garbage pit which attracted lots of black bears. Because we took precautions and educated our guests we never had any problems and we always wore bells. The LeConte Lodge now hauls their garbage off the mountain - part of the problem solved.

Now, we will never eliminate those rogue bears (or other critters) who because of their circumstances become habituated to man or are just so desperate or sick they will do anything - including attacking humans. It’s all about education and understanding the animals, their behaviors and taking the proper precautions to avoid a confrontation. If you are in bear country carry bear spray if you can. Note, however, that carrying bear spray is not a substitute for following those aforementioned proper bear avoidance safety techniques. Bear or dog spray should only be used as a deterrent when in an aggressive or attacking confrontation with a vicious animal. Brush up on the law as some states regulate its use.

Thank God our Frenchtown Lady and her critters went unharmed. We need to draw some important lessons from this confrontation. Me? I’m going to start to grow and cultivate bear-ready zucchinis…


Ned Buxton

PS - Just a nod to the hopeful selection of the new Ole Miss mascot as the Bear, a noble testament and homage to the courage and tenacity of this recovering Ursus in the Mid-South. Perhaps this writer is influenced by the Brown University or the Baylor Bear? You bet!


Saturday, September 18, 2010


I recently had my taste buds tantalized with a yellow peach that appears to be the best that I have ever tasted. I don’t even know the variety but it prompted me to question my age old perception and experience that the best peaches came from either South Carolina or the sacred orchards of Georgia or robust California (aptly named the Golden State) which grows 65% of the commercial US crop. Not that I have been on some lifelong quest for the grail of peaches… I haven’t. My epiphany just happened and the difference was so startling that I had to share it with my Friends.

Now I know that the quality of any variety of vegetable or fruit is dependent on a multitude of factors that include, among others, terroir (soil), weather [that perfect combination of heat (dry) and cool (wet)] and when Mother Nature fails - sophisticated, 21st century agricultural protocols that will help produce the optimum product.

Now having said that I purchased peaches from the same orchard in South Carolina for many years and understanding that while this particular orchard strategically prunes their trees, they mostly leave them to the rigors and vagaries of Mother Nature. Those peaches come naturally and have been mostly great hence my repeat visits. I noted over those years, however, that the taste and overall quality of those peaches varied from year to year and pretty much validates my original premise that it all depends on annual growth conditions.
Well, it’s a lot more complicated/simple than that...

Strategically, it all comes down to when the peach is picked as this fruit unlike bananas does not continue to ripen and improve when removed from the tree. As a matter of fact, even with our sophisticated refrigerated trucks and warehouses, a peach plucked from the tree too early can be tasteless and as I found earlier this year – mealy. I gave those early tainted purchases to the local north Dallas squirrel population who forever humiliated and disgusted with my offering will never forgive me for that scandalous indiscretion. My sincere apologies

I judge my peach purchases on critical factors such as Juiciness, sweetness (sugar content – aka brix), acidity, texture, color (blush), size (yes, that too matters), fragrance-floral aroma, texture and my attitude and expectations at that time. If all those stars are not aligned then I could be disappointed. It wasn’t until after a predictably spontaneous purchase this late summer which brought that point home and prompted this post.

Award winning food writer Jeffrey Steingarten who since 1989 has been the food critic at Vogue Magazine, defined and redefined the perfect Peach in his June 2002 Vogue article The Sweetest Thing and agrees with the criticality of the timing of the pick. This three year study while seemingly tainted by a northeastern perspective hits pretty much close to home with a western conclusion. Given that his article was written in 2002 it might be appropriate that he update his observations given this eight year interval. This very talented and very funny guy deserves your attention and we recommend him heartily.

Alice Waters, food activist and the venerable chef-owner of the world renowned Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California, noted in her book Chez Panisse Fruit, "Nothing is better than a fruit in its own proper season, perfectly ripened and handled with care by the people who harvest it." As I have said, nothing before its time

The peach originated in China, where it was (and still is) believed to impart the power of immortality. The Peach found its way to the New World with the help of Persian traders then Alexander the Great, the Romans and then ultimately via the Spanish who brought the peach and horse (back) to the Americas. First Nations and later other early American émigrés under the very able influence of our Founding Fathers catapulted the peach to ultimate popularity.

Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew peaches. Jefferson was the more enthusiastic of the two growing thirty-eight varieties to George’s two. Jefferson considered the fruit a great delicacy and took peaches to an ever higher level using them to make Mobby, a cider-like brew which could be distilled further into a brandy. Consistent with Jefferson’s commitment to the Peach, Monticello's orchards are now planted with 45 nineteenth-century varieties.

But, let’s cut to the chase. Where do the best peaches come from NOW? That question was answered for me by my most recent purchase and the affirmation of that wonderful Wisconsin-based market, Brennan’s. Those folks have been around since 1942 and their practice has always been to buy direct from the source - no middle man (uh person) here.

Thea Miller, Product Manager/Buyer at Brennan's Market in Madison, WI (and pretty good writer) is carrying on that tradition – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Their peaches, thanks to current Brennan’s Market owner Skip Brennan who many years ago traveled to Caldwell, Idaho, are the offerings of John and Jim Symms, peach growers extraordinaire and owners of Symms Fruit Ranch.

Symms operates a 4,500 acre spread in southwest Idaho where they grow a variety of fruit including six varieties of peaches which grow in rich volcanic soil on the hills overlooking the Snake River - a happy but not surprising coincidence for this old river runner and whitewater guide. Their orchard is located in Sunny Slope about 30 miles southwest of Boise, Idaho where they enjoy a favorable and unique micro climate that assures that each and every peach ripens to perfection.

I sincerely believe that the Idaho is the best peach available in the marketplace today and the peach that I enjoy (though mine did not come from Brennan’s), did come from Idaho and Symms. It met all my criteria and exceeded all my expectations. It’s almost enough to make me start canning peaches…

So, that’s the rest of the story – it’s all about Idaho. Let’s open this door even further… This writer does wonder after going to all this trouble to elevate the noble Idaho Peach if any Might of Right readers have tasted Flathead Cherries from Montana? Ever had a Montana Huckleberry (purple gold) shake? Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh my………………

It would certainly seem that the Northwest has been quietly going about their business at being the best at most of what they do, proud of their natural resources, accomplishments, happy to contribute to the whole and scared to death that folks are going to come and stay.


Ned Buxton

PS - Yesterday was October 3rd and while late in the season we picked up another delectable crate of peaches from Costco. Yes, they were from Caldwell, Idaho and the Symms Fruit Ranch. They continue to exceed my very high expectations. Hope this season goes on forever... Aye.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Once again the lines and boundaries of the Christian radical right have been redrawn and they are migrating ever farther beyond sense and sensibility seemingly driven by a media frenzy. Consistent with the precepts of ignorance, intolerance and hate, gun toting, egocentric pastor Terry Jones head of the so called Dove World Outreach Center (UhHuh?), a non-denominational, fundamentalist Christian church in Gainesville, Florida has lent new credence to the term, Ugly American. Jones’ on and off again posturings have understandably outraged most in the Islamic Community, radical fundamentalist and moderate alike, as well as a healthy portion of the religious community throughout the rest of the world. President Obama and all responsible members of our political hierarchy have condemned Jones and his plans to burn copies of the Islamic Holy book, the Qur’an. Heck, the Pope has even weighed in on this controversy. The bright side of this is that condemnation of Jones has been swift and universal and this incident could finally open up some long overdue, positive dialogue on American-Islamic relations.

All this hullabaloo appears to be Jones’s vehicle to raise awareness of his church, himself and most obviously his book, Islam is of the Devil, along with the obligatory t-shirts and mugs bearing similar anti-Islamic messages. Can an e-bay experience be far behind?

Jones’ most recent “negotiations” with Imam Muhammad Musri, President of the Islamic Society of Central Florida would lead us to believe that Jones is apparently willing to negotiate with the “Devil” but not even listen to his own leaders. Apparent intent of his threatened burning of the Qur’an, those subsequent “negotiations” and this whole charade is intended to change the venue of a controversial Islamic Mosque, slated for construction near Ground Zero in New York. As if some guy in Florida has influence over the intentions of their community in New York City. As of this writing New York Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf states he has not talked with either Musri or Jones and has no intention of doing so – and why should he? This is all a sick ploy by Jones to garner attention for whatever and to do anything besides condemning Jones’ words and actions is tantamount to encouragement. It all started with a Tweet and evolved from there – surely a campaign of hate and bigotry.

I find it puzzling that Jones is an admitted huge fan of William Wallace and the movie Braveheart. The irony, of course, is that Wallace led one of the most famous wars against tyranny and injustice and was a champion of freedom, seemingly privileges and rights that Jones is not prepared to grant anybody except on his own twisted terms. All this self-serving vitriol has accomplished is to put our soldiers at risk and callously and unfairly paint all Americans with the brush of bigotry and hatred.

We need to acknowledge Jones and his followers for what they are, reject and denounce their words and actions all the while protecting their right to express those opinions. That’s the great conundrum and what most folks around the world don’t understand about us – the protected and constitutional right of free speech – especially since most of them live in repressive societies where similar words and actions would not be tolerated. The right to perform such a heinous act, one contrary to our constitution and the essence of our free society, is confusing to many and frustrating even to those entrusted to protecting those rights.

A now familiar radical and politicized fundamentalist Islam is anxiously looking for any excuse to incite their followers and forward their extremist agenda witness Salman Rushdie, Theodoor "Theo" van Gogh, Patras Masih, Daniel Pearl, occupants of the World Trade Centers on 9/11/2001, thousands of their own citizens via of their suicide bombings and many others. The backlash is that there are surely consequences for these absurd actions where violence surely begats violence. The BBC tragically reports that Muslim protesters haven been killed and scores injured in Badakhshan Province, Afghanistan during a Jones inspired demonstration.

As of this posting Jones now states, “We will definitely not burn the Quran ... Not today, not ever." Talking of consequences - maybe that ultimate decision was made because the Gainesville, Florida Fire Department refused to grant Jones a burning permit, or because the bank that holds the mortgage on their church has now demanded immediate payment, or because their property insurance has been canceled, or because the provider of the hosting service for the Dove World Outreach website pulled the plug on the site or because of the many death threats made against Jones. Tough to say

We need to pay attention to hate mongering folks like Jones and raise them up as examples of bigotry and hatred and the exclusionary fundamentalists they are. For so publically defining those boundaries early on I guess that we can be grateful but we need to continue our vigilance lest some folks feel those behaviors acceptable. Je me souviens.

We hope that all in the world community recognize Jones as a nut case who speaks only for himself and a relatively few whose opinions surely don’t command respect. Jones has had his few minutes/hours/days of fame and it’s time to put him back in his box.

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. says it all for me with his recent, right-on comments, “As this case makes oppressively clear, the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle have evolved an analog to the terrorist veto. Call it the idiot veto — the ability of a single obscure malcontent, powerless but for his willingness to do some outrageous thing, to make himself heard at the highest level of geopolitics and force his way upon the international stage.”

Lest we forget


Ned Buxton