H. Alan Day's Blog
I’ve had a lot of animal friends over the years. Just thinking about them still makes me smile. In honor of National Pet Day, April 11, I thought I’d introduce you to one of my favorites, a little sparrow hawk named Sylvester.
During roundup one spring, I noticed a little bird on the ground flopping this way and that. He looked different from a dove or quail, so I got off my horse to take a closer look. I could tell by the downward curve of the beak that the little fellow was a hawk, a baby hawk. Based on its coloring, it looked to be a sparrow hawk. If it lived, it would grow to be the size of a dove.
I put the little guy in my glove and put the glove in my shirt pocket. By the time I arrived home, he was pretty bedraggled. My wife Barbara took an instant liking to him. She found some raw meat and fed him, and he gobbled it up like there was no tomorrow. Immediately, the two bonded. She named him Sylvester.
Sylvester learned that when he squawked, one of us would come running with food. For days, he ate ravenously. He came to trust both of us and would hop up on our arm or especially a shoulder and ride around like he was king of the house. He grew rapidly and before long, he was trying to fly.
I took over as his flight instructor. We had a big living room, and he would go careening around it and bounce off the walls and the couch. He had more crashes than I ever did. Fortunately, he was never hurt. Soon he was flying around the living room like it was his own private airport. He was ready for his next lesson: outdoor flight.
I took Sylvester outside and let him go. He flew around for a bit, then came screeching back to me. He was a natural. He started taking daily solo flights, some long, some short. After each, he’d land on my shoulder or head and, with much ado, tell me about his adventures of where he’d been and what he’d done. I always knew by the tone of his squawks whether he was happy or unhappy. When he was flying, I could call him, and he’d come to me like a missile. As he grew, he developed the most vivid green and brown feathers around his neck. He was just beautiful.
Sylvester never was house trained, so that was a bit of a problem. When he sat on my shoulder, he messed up the back of my shirt. It was a small price to pay for the love and happiness that he brought with him. I built a perch for him on the outdoor porch, which he used as home base. What he especially liked was to be on top of the huge windmill that was the centerpiece of the ranch. I’d walk out on the porch and call him, and here he’d come. I always had fresh meat in my hand, and he knew what to expect.
When Sylvester was about eight months old, he started leaving for a day or two, then would come back. I knew he was getting ready to shove off for good. I hated the thought. Sure enough, one day he up and left. We were his first family, but the time had come for him to find his second one. I like to think he circled the ranch one last time, raised a wing, and flew away. To this day we still talk about Sylvester and his funny antics and loving personality.
It’s that time of year. Well, in normal times, it would be that time of year. Things are changed up this year. But there are memories of past holidays that still bring a smile to my face.
One that recently popped into my mind was from Lazy B days. My fraternity brother, John, and his wife Candy and their two kids used to visit us for the holidays. In fact, we saw them twice a year. Over Thanksgiving or Christmas, they’d come to Arizona, and in the summer, we’d escape the dry, hot high desert and visit them in Huntington Beach, California.
John and Candy were always enthusiastic when they came to the ranch. They wanted to experience everything. Especially Candy. She had never shot a gun but was determined to give quail hunting a try. So, I got her partnered with a gun and out we all went, away from headquarters to where the quail liked to congregate. John was holding his own, so I helped Candy. I showed her how to shoulder the gun and pointed out the quail running around in the distance.
At first, she didn’t see them. When she did, she wanted to know which ones to shoot. I pointed, advised, instructed, but Candy never got a shot off. Finally, I picked up her up and ran up on those birds. I set her down and pointed. “Shoot ‘em or kick ‘em!” I said. “You’re close enough to kick’em.” She took the shot and hit the target.
Candy also wanted to try rounding up cattle. As ranch host, I always felt responsible for my guests, so I picked a horse for her that happened to be named Candy. I’ve had two horses named Candy. The first one bucked like crazy. (If you’ve read The Horse Lover or Cowboy Up, you might remember that Candy and the cowboy walk of shame.) The second Candy was a delightful little mare who was bred to work cattle. That horse knew what to do. I figured Candy would be safe on Candy.
Our group rode out to the Z-L pasture. When we started rounding up, I kept one eye on team Candy. When rider and horse are in synch, they work together. A rider can anticipate when a horse will turn and can turn with it. A rider who doesn’t understand that will be off balance. I could see Candy the horse doing its job working the cattle. All was going smoothly until a cow took off and raced past team Candy. Right on cue, Candy the horse took off running after it. Suddenly, the cow turned. Candy the horse turned to stay with it, which caught Candy the rider unaware. The four-legged Candy went left, and the two-legged Candy rocketed forward. She went flying through the air and landed spread-eagled, face down, skid marks behind her. She looked like a snow angel in the sand.
I raced over. She had taken a pretty good thumping. “How many fingers do you have?” I asked her. “How many toes?” After a five-minute reorganization, with Candy being brave and trying not to cry, and me catching her horse, Candy got back in the saddle just like a cowgirl. And we all went on our merry way.
Wherever you are holiday season, I hope you see some snow angels. We all need a few of those sightings these days. And even if you don’t see one, have a very happy holiday. Be safe, stay healthy, and don’t let go of the reins.
So here we are still distancing, wearing masks, and wondering when life will return to something resembling “normal.” To shake things up, I decided to make a batch of beef jerky.
I took some to White Stallion Ranch. That’s where we record the Cowboy Up Podcast and I thought I’d see what the production team thought of the finished product. I get a kick out of watching people’s reactions. They take a bite, and pretty soon a curious look crosses their face. That’s about the time the mind is trying to sort out the sweet and the hot. “Well, that’s different,” they might say. Hopefully they’ll end with an “oh boy, is that tasty.”
I’ve been making beef jerky for way too long to admit. Somewhere back in middle school, a cowboy at the Lazy B taught me his rudimentary process. Slice some beef with a sharp knife. Season it with salt and pepper. Loop the long, thin slices over a clothesline to dry in the Arizona sun for three or four days. The flies would find the meat, so when the strips came off the line, you were never sure if you were eating pepper or flyspecks, but no one much cared. The finished product ended up in a pillowcase propped up on a chair in the bunkhouse. The salty, leathery beef tasted especially good on horseback while out on the range driving cattle. If you’re supposed to chew your food thirty times, you had to chew that jerky at least three times longer.
Russell True, my podcast co-host and owner of White Stallion, decided that they better figure out how to make jerky so they can share it with their guests. They made their first batch and we taste-tested it the other day. The results? A resounding, “Oh boy, is that tasty.”
And when you get tired of turkey leftovers, stop on by for some jerky. It might become my version of sourdough. I’ll just keep making it.
Hang in there and Happy Thanksgiving!
Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s passing on September 18th brought the nation’s flags to half-mast. Millions mourned the passing of this great lady, who served on the Supreme Court for 27 years.
The following week marked the anniversary of Sandra Day O’Connor’s swearing in as the 102nd Supreme Court Justice and the first woman to serve on the court.
Talk about memories being triggered.
Sandra’s swearing in was a momentous event for the Day family. One of those you never forget. My family, including my parents, flew to Washington D.C., a city that I had only visited a handful of times. Just setting foot inside the Supreme Court Building was awe-inspiring. The Great Hall with all the busts of the justices quickly became one of my favorites. After a tour, we were ushered into the courtroom and seated in the section reserved for special guests. President Reagan did the swearing in. It all felt a bit surreal.
A reception followed. Though I can’t recall where it took place, two things stand out in my mind. First, is my sister Ann’s husband, Scott Alexander, who at the time was an Arizona state senator. Scott was big on meeting people. As President Reagan walked our table on his way to the reception line, Scott jumped at him to shake his hand. This abrupt action caused the Secret Service agent next to Reagan to draw back, ready to pummel Scott. If Scott had taken one more step, this guy would have laid him down. Scott did get to shake Reagan’s hand in the reception line.
The second event occurred in line. When my mother got to the President, she looked up at him and said, “You have a familiar face. Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” My mother had the start of dementia. I don’t recall what Reagan said, but true to form, he played it cool.
On the flight back to Arizona, the pilot announced that there were dignitaries on the plane. I was surprised that he was referring to our family. Sandra, of course, had remained in D.C. The entire plane applauded. What surprised me even more was that my father, who was such a strong personality, turned bright red when this happened and couldn’t even speak. Sandra may have gotten her strength from him, but I think that she inherited her style and grace from my mother.
Over the years, I visited Sandra and John many times in D.C. Each experience was special, a chance to step into Sandra’s world, which to me was other-worldly. As I’ve said many times, one of my best jobs in life has been being Sandra Day O’Connor’s brother.
If you’re interested in more stories about her years on the Court—stories that she shared with me—tune in to The Cowboy Up Podcast, Episode 8 “The Making of a Supreme Court Justice” and Episode 9 “The Lady Who Led the Way.”
Before the start of this crazy pandemic, my friend Russell True asked me if I would cohost a podcast with him. I wasn’t sure what a podcast was, and I’m not sure if I know what it is now. My background and heritage are all about dirt, sand, rocks, grass and livestock. Podcasting? That almost goes beyond where my imagination can stretch. But then again, so did the pandemic.
Russell suggested the podcast theme be about cowboy and western culture. Rightly so, as Russell is the owner and manager of White Stallion Dude Ranch. Like me, he was raised on the back of a horse. So, we started The Cowboy Up Podcast.
Two other people joined us for the ride. Stan Hustad, Russell’s longtime buddy, is a talented veteran of the radio business. He knows how to translate an idea into action. And like many other endeavors going from idea into action is the critical part. He also knows how to work a soundboard and which mics to use and how to get two cowboys acclimated to using them.
Lynn Wiese Sneyd, who designed our logo, books guests, handles our social media, and keeps our talk on track. You’ll hear her voice at the beginning and end of each episode. I’m thinking pretty soon, she’ll join Russell and me in the recording studio to talk about western books.
To date, we have recorded six episodes. As of the posting of this blog, five are live and ready for you to listen to at your leisure. You can find them on Apple, Spotify, Libsyn and also on the podcast page of my website. A special thanks to author, photographer and TV personality Mark Bedor and Randy Helm, supervisor of the Wild Horse Inmate Program at the Arizona State Prison for joining us. Soon to go live is an interview with Diana Madaras, artist, gallery and horse lover. Such a great conversation we had with her.
Pop some popcorn. Have a listen. Give a critique. Good ideas are always welcome. We live and learn, especially in this time of a virus gone wild.
Speaking of which, please stay safe. Or as we say for The Cowboy Up Podcast, “Stand tall and ride safe.”
Until next time.