Range Day

“You should go to the range this week.”

These are words that will always get my attention. When they come from Action Girl, they can almost bring tears to my eyes. This is how I know she loves me.

Things are finally getting warmer here in Maine and the snow banks are slowly creeping back into the woods. All this makes me itch to get my rifles back out after a long winter’s hibernation and spend some quality time making loud noises and punching holes in pieces of paper. Hey… the paper had it coming.

The problem that I’ve encountered lately is defining the time that I should get to go and play. Since I’ve left the Monday through Friday, nine to five world and put most of my energy into caring for the kids and working on the house, it’s been really hard to set aside time to go and do the things that I love. Don’t get me wrong. I love being with my three year old and one year old every day. It’s something that is invaluable and immeasurable and I am unbelievably lucky to have the opportunity. It’s just… sometimes Dad needs some downtime… or rather, Dadtime.

Going off to play does make me feel a little guilty on some level though.

It makes me think of a public service announcement that ran on TV when I was a kid. The ad showed a father going away on yet another golf trip as he left his wife and kids alone and sad looking in the dooryard, one child asking him why he wouldn’t stay. The message was something like, “Did you ever think of having fun with your family instead of being selfish? Dick!” (I’m assuming here that his name was Richard)

I know that I’m hardly in the “absentee dad” category and that I do indeed, get to go have some fun sometimes but it does run through my mind when I’m going off to enjoy myself by myself. Just a few more years of this and maybe I’ll have a little companion who will want to come with me.

Target shooting, one of my very, VERY favorite things to do, has become exceedingly difficult to get around to for several reasons. The first thing that makes it tricky is the fact that I live on an island, and though blasting away with .22’s at the dump might have been perfectly fine a generation ago, those days are most defiantly gone for good. I need to get to the mainland if I’m going to justify owning firearms, and that takes time.

There is no such thing as a “quick trip” to town.

luggage

Pack up your bag, walk to the dock, get on board, find a seat and wait. Dock, disembark, walk to the parking garage, find the car, toss everything in and NOW… you’re ready to start. It takes a long time just to get rolling and if you forgot something back home, say… your car keys, you get to use some very colorful language and toss all your plans out the metaphorical window.

When I worked on the mainland every day, I could decide to go shooting during lunch and simply bring a rifle along with me in the morning. Now if I want to go, it’s a special trip and I have to set aside a big block of time and these days, those are few and far between.

So, with taking care of the kids and desperately trying to get a few things done on the house, I just don’t get to go shooting much. That, and the small fact that winter in Maine will make just about anybody think twice about sitting at an out door bench for an hour while you try to feed frozen ammunition into your frozen rifle with your frozen fingers. Some how, frostbite always seems to suck the fun out of any occasion.

This morning, with the help of Action Girl handling the kid wrangling and the lovely spring weather if not full of the scent of tulips and daffodils, at least holding off the rain, I headed out with a bounce in my step. I’d done the right thing and called several friends to see if they wanted to come along, but being the middle of the week, all replied that they just couldn’t make it. I enjoy taking others out to shoot but this was just fine. Time alone at the shooting bench is a wonderful thing.

As I steamed into town working on the first of my two coffee thermoses, I chatted with a few friends and enjoyed the notion that I would have the whole morning off. A rare and blessed thing. The obligatory stop at the local doughnut shop to pick up provisions and I was ready to start the morning right.

The drive there is an easy one and if not exactly beautiful and pastoral, it is at least quick. By the time the first chocolate glazed was reduced to crumbs on my shirt and lap, I was pulling in and switching off the car. It was still early and all the ranges were silent, but not for long if I had anything to say about it.

I’ve been here many times before, alone and with friends, but it’s always more relaxed when I’m there on my own. No one to wait for when setting up targets. No botching a shot because you flinched when the person on the next bench fired just a half second before you. No worrying if you’re going to bean the guy to your right with a hot and freshly emptied shell casing when you pop the breach open with the enthusiasm that comes over you after a perfect shot. None of that for me today!

The last and best thing about shooting alone is music. I don’t know who invented the “ear bud,” but to them, I shall always be thankful. In addition to looking slick, cool and coiling up in your pocket, the little buggers also nestle beautifully under a set of ear protection, thus saving your hearing from the sudden concussion of rifle fire so you can crush it under the din of your favorite music.

music-protection

It was a Motown morning for me as Dianna Ross and Supremes joined me for a while during target practice.

After an hour and a half, I stood seventy-five yards away from a well holed paper target and just to the left of a sizable pile of empty brass. It was a great morning. Just as I was picking up, our range safety officer happened by to check on things. He’s a nice old gentleman and I’ve been privileged to chat with him on a few occasions. After our initial greeting his eye fell to the bench as his eyebrows arched. “So, what do we have here this morning?” I pulled the bolt open and handing it to him.

“It’s my Grandfather’s Mauser K98k. His brother brought it back from Europe for him and he had it sported into a deer rifle. I don’t usually care for sported combat rifles but this is a top notch job and obviously, it’s got the family history going for it. It’s actually my favorite rifle to shoot. I can’t wait until my kids can come with me to do this.”

He looked on approvingly as I cleaned it in preparation for its ride back home and we talked about shooting. He told me about how he used to go with his son when he was younger and how much fun it was. “He doesn’t like shooting any more though. It’s too bad. I have quite a collection to pass on but no one to pass it on to.”

“Oh…” I groped for a way to ask without being prying. What would cause that? He solved the problem for me and volunteered the answer.

“He joined the Navy and that was fine. He still liked to shoot and we had a lot of fun when he was home, but then he joined the Navy Seals and well… lost his taste for shooting after that.”

I can only imagine what might have happened to cause that change and to be honest, I’d rather not imagine too hard. I’ve never been in the situation where I had to shoot at another human being and I hope to God, I never will. I have the same hope and prayer for my children. I looked down at my rifle and thought about the young German soldier to whom it must have been issued. I wonder what happened to him? I wonder whom he shot at or if he ever even had the chance. Whatever his story, it was lost to time. The rifle was mine now and I was in charge of its use.

As I drove back to my island home and awaiting family, I thought about how enjoyable it was to have some time to practice a hobby that I enjoyed so much and then about my range-friend with his futureless collection. I truly do enjoy the sport but what he told me was sobering.

One of my Grandfathers taught me how to shoot and the other has supplied me with my two favorite guns to take out. I hope that someday I’ll get to take both my children out to enjoy days like this with me but if they don’t, I’ll hang on to my collection for as long as I can. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get the chance, years from now to sit down with a cup of coffee, my Grandfather’s .22 and my own grandchildren. I’ll explain how their Great-Great Grandfather got it for Christmas when he was just eight, and then I’ll show them how to use it. When they’re strong enough, I’ll get out the Mauser too.

Firearms are nothing to be taken lightly and I treat them with the respect they deserve, just like I was taught to. I feel that it’s an important lesson to pass along. Short Stack and Lulu Belle may not want to have anything to do with them, I know, but they will understand how to handle them. I hope they will at least humor their Dad at times and go with him to the range for a sunny morning of shooting.

It’s warm and bright this morning. The wind is barely perceptible and I still haven’t had breakfast. It’s just right for heading back to shoot some more. Not today though. It’s time to work; shooting can come later. Anyway, waiting for it makes it all the more special when I do go.

Maybe next week…

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Movie Night

So, the kids are in bed and Action Girl won’t be coming home tonight due to a late night at work and an early morning shift that precludes getting back to our island home. Lulu Belle’s put me through the ringer this evening and Short Stack is freshly tucked in bed and hopefully drifting off. I’m pooped. It’s been a heck of a day. I should probably go to bed too, but I just can’t. I’ve always been a night owl and need a good distraction before I’m ready to turn in.

Normally, I’d be in the kitchen cleaning up the wreckage that two little kids and a their dad make around the dinner hour and possibly making something chocolaty and gooey for tomorrow, but Lulu’s got me spooked. Her room is right off the kitchen and after the hour and a half of screaming that she put in after I put her down for bed… for the third time… there is NO WAY I’m willing to risk dropping a pot or clanking a plate and reawaken the tiny, pink beastie. No way.

Plan “B” for nocturnal distraction is to head to my basement lair to make ammo for the ridiculously odd and ancient firearms I collect. Many of them require ammunition no longer readily available in commercial hunting supply stores, so I make it my self. It may sound like a lot of tedious work, but just like any other solitary and repetitive task such as knitting, whittling, or fishing, it can be very rewarding and calming. Two problems present them selves tonight. Firstly, I’m out of bullets. I have shells, primers and powder, but without the actual projectile, there’s not a lot of point in starting a new batch this evening. The other issue is that I’ve locked the cat down there after his incessant meowing threatened to wake up the kids. The same kids I just spent the last hour and a half getting to finally drift off to Dream Land. The cat isn’t allowed out side, so to the basement he goes. The second I open the door, he’d blast by me like he was fired from a cannon.

cat-cannon

What to do? I can’t make noise in any way and since we own no TV, I don’t have the option of turning my brain to mush the tried and true American way. I’m feeling lazy. I want to be entertained.

I need a movie.

I truly miss having Action Girl home in the evenings, but her current schedule has her gone about half the week. The one bright spot in being solo for the night is that the viewing choice is mine. ALL MINE! When movies are concerned, my wife and I have limited crossover interests. True, she does have a thing for Chow Yun Fat and that means a lot of good shoot ’em up movies. She’s also is willing to see most of the comic book inspired films that seem to be coming out of Hollywood faster than the actual comics are being drawn. The line is drawn very definitely however, at war movies.

I’m not sure why watching gunplay and explosions interests her so long as uniforms aren’t involved, but there you are. This means that on nights like this, I reach for some old standbys as I warm the couch on my own. Casting around in our disheveled video collection, I paw past the ancient VCR tapes and look longingly at my double tape, directors cut of “Patton.” My VCR has long since died and gone to a better, landfill-ier place and as I said, I have nothing to hook one up to anyway. I wonder sadly if I’ll ever get to watch it again. Then my eyes fall on a DVD, still in it’s cellophane.

“Midway”

midway

Now THAT’S a classic! This was a gift from one guy to another and I, for one, am thrilled to have it. “Midway” was one of those movies that I first saw years and years ago on television. Probably, it was some lazy Sunday afternoon when I should have been out playing in the sun but instead, managed to get some time clicking the dial around and around until I spotted dive bombers making their runs on the Japanese carrier fleet. Being the airplane junkie that I am, I stopped to watch.

Since that day, I’ve caught the movie being rebroadcast at least a half a dozen times. I remember parts of it in perfect detail and love stumbling upon it and I’m always blown away at the cast: Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, Hal Holbrook, Toshiro Minfune, Glenn Ford, Robert Mitchum, James Coburn, Erik Estrada, Tom Selleck, and Pat Morita, just to name a few. It was a bizarre fusing of the old Hollywood and the new and they threw in just about everyone they could get their hands on. The score was by a new and untried composer named John Williams. Perhaps you’ve heard of him?

One night, just before Christmas, we were over visiting my folks for dinner. As I walked through the living room and glanced at the TV, a familiar movie caught my eye. “Midway” was just starting. Frozen in my tracks with a goofy smile on my face, I paused to catch a few minutes of history, Hollywood style. As my Father came over to deliver my drink I commented on how, though I’ve seen this movie so many times before, I seriously doubt that I’ve ever watched it from beginning to end. Whenever it seems to be on, I either come in half way through or get to start it and am then called away. That night was no exception. Dinner was already laid out on the table and the kids needed to go right home afterwards and get tucked into bed. Oh well.

A month or so later on Christmas day, I unwrapped a small rectangular present from Dad and happily thanked him. My copy of the movie has been sitting since then, waiting for the right moment. The house is quiet and mercifully, Lulu Belle has tossed in the towel and seems to be sleeping happily. Short Stack must be snoozing now too. As quietly as I can, I peel off the wrapper and pop the DVD into the laptop and pop in the headphones. The acting is stiff by today’s standards and let us not even talk about the “special effects.” Parts of the film look almost amateurish in their lack of glitz and method acting, but I love it nonetheless. In some ways, it’s almost like watching a play. It isn’t about making the pilots look like they are actually flying a plane or seamlessly cutting in real gun camera footage. It’s about the story, and I find that pretty refreshing.

I like old movies, and old war movies are even better, in my opinion. They may not be Action Girl’s cup of tea, but that’s fine. There are lots of movies that she likes that I wouldn’t go near with a ten foot pole.

I’m looking at you, Romantic Comedy.

I’m looking at the clock now and just realized that there is no way I’ll be able to finish “Midway” before I need to get to bed tonight. At least I can stop it and pick it back up when I want. Action Girl will be home tomorrow night, so it will have to wait a while. If I start watching now, I think I can just make it to the part where the American’s break the Japanese code.

Once again, I’m thwarted at seeing it all the way through in a single sitting.

I’m okay with that, though. Why mess with tradition?

Don’t Step in What the Bear Left. Part V

The day was spent making the cabin and the surrounding area more and more inhabitable. Clearing brush, stacking lumber and clearing more brush. The first real construction job Mountain Man and I had was digging and then installing the outhouse. Since there was only one saw and hammer allotted to the project, I helped with the digging while my friend did the actual building. When the hole was deep enough for me to need help getting out of, I went back to clearing brush as Mountain Man hammered and sawed like a pro. Prior to completing the outhouse, when nature called you ran out of the cabin, grabbing a shovel on your way and headed for the bushes. The real trick was to be fast enough with your digging so that when it came time to do what dragged you out in the first place, the mosquitoes didn’t launch a full scale attack on your backside. It was just as pleasant an experience as you’re thinking it was. When the diminutive shed was up and operational, it was like civilization had found us. We were all elated. It’s amazing how when you have only the barest scraps of convenience, the smallest improvements seem like high technology. Now, we had our own privy!

Later on during one of our breaks, I couldn’t help but ask Mountain Man’s uncle about the rifle I had seen him with that first night.

“Oh yah! I figured that with us way out in the boonies, I should get a couple of guns. You know, for the bears and such.”

I could see the logic. “That makes sense. What did you get?”
I admit, I was fishing. I figured that what ever he had bought to keep uppity bears at bay must be pretty impressive and I was hoping to play with it a bit.

“Well, I got two guns, actually. The first one is a .22 rifle and the other is a 12 gauge shot gun. Here, I’ll go get them!” He seemed proud of his purchases and as I sat there waiting for him to pull them down from the loft, I worked on a good poker face. A .22?! What on earth good would that do? If you ever want to get a bear mad, I mean really, REALLY pissed at you, start shooting it with a .22 rifle. It’s roughly the equivalent of trying to stab a Hell’s Angel to death with a cocktail umbrella. It’s POSSIBLE to do it. You might hit an artery or they may eventually succumb to blood loss, but your personal survivability does not look good. The 12 gauge was more plausible as long as he didn’t just buy…”

“I just got a lot of buck shot for the shotgun, but I wasn’t sure what to get. Do you shoot? How do you think I did?”

I smiled what I hoped was an encouraging smile and told him that they were very nice. “You might,” I added, “want to pick up some slugs for the shotgun though. The buckshot isn’t really likely to stop a bear.” I hoped that he wasn’t offended but I need not have worried. Not only did he take the advice to heart but told Mountain Man and I that we should go shoot the guns for a while. This, for me, is not a hard decision to make. I gathered up everything and headed out back with my friend.

Back then, Mountain Man, was a bit of a bohemian in some ways. He’s an unbelievable outdoorsman and very smart, and tended to sit comfortably in the very left wing of politics and associated schools of thought. One of these views which is common from that vantage point is that guns are bad, bad, BAD. He had never fired a gun before and wasn’t sure that he wanted to start today. He had an Achilles’ heal on this subject, though. He liked cool stuff, and let’s be honest here. Guns are very, very cool. They are also seriously fun to shoot. With some light arm twisting and mostly the prospect of making loud noises in the woods with explosives, he relented and joined me for some entertainment. We took the .22 rifle with us along with a bit of hapless cardboard that would be the object of our attention. After the standard gun use and safety talk, we loaded the rifle and started plinking. After a half hour or so, he was having a blast punching holes in cardboard and any hesitation was long gone.

Anyone who is competent and wants to get people involved with shooting starts off the new shooter with at .22. It fires a very small round, isn’t very noisy, and has virtually no kick. Mountain Man was enjoying his uncle’s rifle as he got the hang of it and improved with each shot. During his focused attentions with this new, noisy past time, I slipped back to the cabin and gathered up the shotgun. Holding it by my side so as to keep it from being conspicuous, I walked back just as he finished off the contents of the magazine. He stood there, hot rifle in hand, looking appraisingly at the job he had done on the cardboard box.

“Nice job” I said.

“Thanks! This really pretty fun to do.” He replied. “You want a turn?”

“Okay!” I blurted out with a big smile on my face and with that, I swung the shotgun up to my shoulder and with a reverberating blast, blew the target right out of the tree.

I know! I know! Not the best way to introduce someone to shotguns. At least I didn’t pull the cruel trick of letting him fire it with out warning of the kick. His eyes were wide open and I sported a huge grin.

“These are the really fun ones!” I said to him through ringing ears. The rest of the day was quite literally, a blast and we burned through a small pile of ammunition. Even the mosquitoes didn’t bother us. Or were they hiding?

A few more days of work and swatting and it was time for me to head home at last. All this time I had spent in the wilds of Minnesota, working in the woods and sleeping under the stars, I had not seen any wildlife bigger than a squirrel. At night as I lay in my tent, I could hear coyote baying in the darkness or the occasional snuffle of a skunk or raccoon and even loons in distant unseen ponds but no bear visits or other large mammals. To be honest, I would have liked to at least gotten a glance of something big.

After a week, early in the morning, I packed up my little cloth dome and other widely dispersed possessions, fastened them again to my pack and with Mountain Man, headed back to the car to be driven to the airport in Minneapolis. As we bumped down the railroad cut one last time, my friend hit the breaks hard. Out of the seemingly impassible woods strode a fully grown bull moose, antlers covered with broken vegetation.

moose

He stopped briefly, taking stock of our little blue car and judging us to be not more a threat than the halo of mosquitoes he no doubt wore, he moved across the track and into the opposing woods, disappearing almost instantly. It was the perfect way to end my trip.

Returning to the civilized world was wonderful and though I missed the rugged beauty of the cabin, the lack of being nibbled to death by a thousand tiny mouths was more than a little relief. That and not having to worry about being devoured by a huge carnivore as you tried to make it to the outhouse at two in the morning. I will never forget my trip and I’m very grateful for the experience. I’m also happy to reflect on it rather than relive it. I doubt that I shall see the cabin again, but that’s all right too. After all, I still see Mountain Man from time to time and I have faith that at some point in the future I will again find my self standing there next to him saying something along the lines of, “Are you sure about this?”

He will, naturally, be completely sure and I, naturally, will go with him. After all, when it comes to finding a unique experience that will stand proud in my memory, he’s never let me down.

Don’t Step in What the Bear Left. Part IV

As we bedded down for the night, I had expected there to be mosquitoes. After all, we were in a place called the “Boundary Waters” and being filled with little bogs and swampy areas, it was also filled with those biting little menaces. It was what I mistakenly thought an unusually hot night and my sleeping bag was hot and sticky almost immediately. As I lay my head down, I heard the unmistakable whine of those little bloodsuckers. It’s been a belief of mine that if you wanted to drive someone not merely to distraction, but to out right insanity, all you needed was a recording of a mosquito on an endless loop, making sure that it sounded closer, then farther, then very close and then… nothing. The victim would be blithering in just a few days. This is what we were dealing with, times a thousand. The cabin seemed to be filled with the little bastards.

After my twenty-third time flailing at my face like a mad man, I retreated into the steamy confines of my mummy bag, pulled the drawstring tight and crammed my pillow in the tiny hole. From a pervious experience, (also with Mountain Man) I knew I would not suffocate. I’d just feel like I was.

Side story:

Years previously, I was sharing a cabin with Mountain Man, The Doctor, and Ioseph. It was late in the year and it got really, really cold that night. We had no fireplace so the only warmth came from what you keep hold of with your sleeping bag. At some point in the night, I must have done this same trick with the drawstring and a pillow to cut off the cold draft.

In the morning, my friends awoke and found my bag closed with my pillow partially sticking out of the head-hole. They watched the bag carefully in an effort to detect any breathing, but the thick down of the lining prevented them from spotting any movement. They could hear no respiration either.

Their line of thinking went like this… “If he’s alive, then we’re just going to wake him up and he might be grumpy. If he’s dead, then there isn’t anything we can do except call the authorities, in which case, we will miss breakfast. Therefore, we should go and eat breakfast and then see if our childhood friend is alive or dead. If he’s dead, he won’t care that he missed breakfast anyway and we’ll be fed and ready to deal with the corpse!”

You gotta love guys.

Back to Minnesota:

As I started my heat induced vision quest, Mountain Man decided to give himself to the mosquitoes. Pushing off his bag, he fell into fitful sleep as he provided fifteen thousand mosquitoes with buffet style dining. Neither of us looked good in the morning.

As we hunched over eggs and biscuits prepared my Mountain Man’s kind and ever upbeat father, we commented on the others appearance. I looked like I had been hit with a fire hose while he looked like a bad case of hives. The mosquitoes, apparently not satisfied with last night’s feast, were ready to tuck in to some breakfast of their own and were already merciless.

“Are the mosquitoes always this bad?” I asked.

Mountain Dad looked our way and enthusiastically nodded. “Oh yah! They’re brutal, aren’t they? We still have some windows to put in and a lot of cracks to seal, so there are probably as many inside as out”

I swatted madly while desperately shoveling the hot eggs into my mouth. These things were unrelenting! As soon as we had finished up and cleared the table, Mountain Man and I started back to the car to get our full packs. In the daylight, things naturally looked very different. The path was, just as he said, easy to follow and not very far at all. When we were just about there, he stopped and looked down at the ground.

“The last time I was here, ” he said, “we found the biggest bear scat right here in the middle of the trail”

“Bear scat?” My eyebrows were racing for my hairline.

“Oh yah. There are bears here for sure. Just keep an eye out and they shouldn’t be a problem.”

Since I didn’t posses laser vision, I wasn’t exactly sure what watching for a bear was going to do to help my life expectancy but still, I was a bit more mindful of the undergrowth as we reached the car and grabbed our gear. The very first thing I did was to put on my wide brimmed hat and pull over my mosquito net. I could see the little bastards immediately trying to get through, but at least my face was safe for the moment.

Mountain Man and his dad are great guys and really dedicated hikers. They are highly skilled, superbly outfitted and made of tougher stuff than the vast majority of men. They are, in short, hiking high priests. They are also used to taking only what is totally necessary and not one item more. I, to be blunt, am a marshmallow of comfort by comparison. I like to have everything I could possibly need in any situation and since I am also a bit of a human mule when it comes to lugging stuff, I happily pack for every possible occasion. What doesn’t fit in the pack goes on it. Because of this, the profile I cut as I wander through the woods is of an old fashioned tinker off to sell his wares. Mountain Man and Mountain Dad have another take on my mobile hardware store. They call me “Clampett”, after the TV show, “The Beverly Hillbillies” I don’t mind in the least.

clampett

I dropped my rattling pack on the floor and immediately got a chuckle from Mountain Dad.

“You forget anything?”

“Nope. I brought it all. Why? You need something”

“No! No! Just curious. How much do you suppose that thing weights?”

The jokes about my pot and pan festooned pack flew almost as heavily as the mosquitoes that day as we worked on the cabin. The heat and humidity was oppressive and the work was energetic, making you desperately want to shed your shirt. The bugs made that thought laughable, though. Instead, I found the only way to stay bite free was to put on my polar fleece shell, zip it up all the way, tuck the mosquito net into the collar, tuck the cuffs into my gloves and my pant legs into my boots. It was the sauna all over again but at least my blood was staying where it would do the most good. By the evening, we returned to the cabin to eat and talk.

“I’m going to go set up my tent out front while there’s still some light” I announced.

“Good idea” Mountain Man replied. “I’ll set up out back”

“You mean your not going to sleep in the cabin?” Mountain Dad looked shocked. “We built all this and you’re going to use your tents?”

“No offence, but my tent has one thing that the cabin doesn’t. Screens. I really need some sleep and this way I know I won’t wake up looking like a raisin.” I hoped he wasn’t hurt, but there was no way I was going to make a repeat of last night if I could help it.

“Well, you boys do as you will, but I’ll sleep in here.” He paused and then added, “Mind you, I do wish I had packed a mosquito net to throw over the cot though.”

I reached back to my open pack, sitting on the floor and pulled something green out. “You mean like this one?” I tossed it to Mountain Dad and smiled. “I’ll be in the tent, so I won’t need it.”

“Hey! Thanks!”

He beamed and unrolled the green netting to inspect it. It was made like a mesh box, just big enough to fit over a camp cot. Four little loops were attached to each corner to suspend it over the sleeper.

“Now all I need to do is find some string and some thumbtacks so I can put it up.”

With a little flourish, I reached back into the pack and produced both, tossing them into his lap. I smiled.

“Pays to camp with a Clampett, doesn’t it?”

“I guess so! What else you got in there?”

We enjoyed a convivial dinner and Mountain Man and I eventually went out to set up our respective camps. I thought of the bears again and hypothesized that they would be more interested in the cabin where all the cooking was taking place than my little nylon dome. I hoped so, anyway.

Back in the cabin, as we enjoyed the last of the conversation over the lantern light, I remembered to ask the uncle about the bears.

“Oh yah. There are a good number out here. That’s why I had the gun last night. I heard the crashing in the bushes before I heard your voices and thought you were a bad bear.”

“Bad bear? What makes a bear bad?”

“Oh,” he continued, “This region is a release area. This is where the state puts trapped bears back into the wild. You know. The ones who get up to no good in suburban areas.”

So that was it. We were camping with exiled bears. This was not quite what I had signed up for. Still, as I later lay in my tent listening to the night noises, the weariness of the previous lost night of sleep and the hard work done that day washed over me like a wave. If anyone came nosing around my tent flap, I didn’t hear it.

Above my nylon castle, mosquitoes cursed in tiny, furious voices.

-Possibly more to come. And it might have to do with guns!

Don’t Step in What the Bear Left. Part III

There was an awful quiet as I slowed and then stopped the car.

“Missed… what, exactly?”

“You know. The landing. I’m pretty sure we missed it back there. This doesn’t look right to me.”

I was having a hard time with this for several reasons. The first and most compelling was the fact that we had been driving in a strait line through a heavily wooded landscape, devoid of any landmarks. The view had been an unending parade of young trees and blackness. How this spot looked any different from any other spot we had seen since starting down the cut was beyond me. The other reason my right eye was starting to twitch lightly was that we were on an elevated road with zero maneuvering room and were towing a trailer. Turning around successfully was going to require concentration, skill, luck and a whole lot of colorful language.

Mountain Man looked around at the darkness again and decided that no, this was not the place. We needed to go back. This was going to either be my finest trailer driving hour or a total debacle. I did have some good experience of driving with a fifth wheel but I knew that driving in reverse for anything more than a few dozen feet was just begging for a spanking. The trailer was going to start to wander and then I’d try to counter it, making the car susceptible to falling off the road. We briefly discussed the possibility of detaching the trailer and then… what? If I did turn the car around, we’d just be facing our own trailer. Nope, there was only one real solution. I was going to have to spin the whole thing.

We drove a bit farther in search of a spot that afforded the lowest banking and the most space. A few minutes later, we came across the best we thought likely to be found. I put the car in reverse and started to crank the wheel, carefully backing up and feeling for the trailer slipping over the edge. There was no talking in the car at all. Mountain Man might be nutty some times, but he knows when you’re concentrating and kept a respectful silence other than air sucked between clenched teeth and occasional profanities from me. In the end, it took roughly seventeen hundred back and forth movements with minute wheel turns but… we did it. With less swearing than I expected and a lot of sweat, I managed to very slowly turn the whole thing around and keep the car on top of the road. The trailer had collected a good bit of brush, but was still intact and attached to the car and that was the important thing. We slowly, oh-so-slowly headed back down the cut in search of the mysterious landing that we’d some how missed on our journey down.

“There! That’s it!” My friend was pointing happily at a bit of blackness that I’d somehow overlooked. All it looked like to me was a spot where the trees weren’t so thick, but he was adamant. “I’m sure of it. Pull off here!”

Thankfully, I did notice that where he was pointing, the side of the railroad bed seemed to be flush with the land and I slowly brought the car to rest in a diminutive clearing. I’m glad that he spotted it because I didn’t until I’d actually parked on it. I grabbed my Colman keychain and we got out of the car and into the silence of the moonless night.

dark-woods

“There’s a path right over here somewhere. The cabin will be just down it. Let’s go!”

“Wait. It’s eleven o’clock, pitch black, we have no flashlights and we can’t even see the path. Why don’t we just put up our tents here and go find it in the morning?” It seemed like a logical decision to me, but I had never been here before either and therefore, no idea what was beyond the blackness of the trees right in front of me. My friend though, had and his explanation that the cabin was a grand total of seventy, maybe a hundred yards away seemed to take the wind out of my plan.

“It’s not hard to find at all. There’s only one path and it takes you right to the cabin. My dad and uncle are waiting there for us and might worry if we don’t show up. You could probably hit it with a stone form here! Hey! I bet they can even hear us!”

With that thought, Mountain Man cupped his hands on either side of his mouth and bellowed, “DAD! WE’RE HERE! CAN YOU HEAR ME” We waited for a reply but heard none. He was nonplussed. It wasn’t far and they were no doubt just sleeping. Yah, that’s it. Sleeping.

I protested a bit more and Mountain Man decided that come hell or high water, he was crashing in the cabin tonight. The prospect of being left behind at the car as the “party pooper” gnawed at me like an old woman’s Pomeranian and so, reluctantly, I grabbed my bedroll and held my little light above my head in an effort to see where the heck we were walking. Within fifty feet of the trailhead, we were lost.

For those of you who live in urban environments, you most likely haven’t experienced what “dark” really looks like all that often. With no moon and zero ambient light, you quite literally can’t see your hand in front of your face. There are no pools of light or sweeping beams from cars heading down the road. It’s just black. The only light comes from the stars and if you throw in a canopy of leaves, you don’t get that either. That’s how dark it was as we stumbled along off the unseen path and into the brush and small trees, my keychain provided just enough illumination for me to spot low branches inches before they gouged my eyes. Mountain Man was still confident though. I was starting to curse. Every few minutes, he’s stop, cup his hands in the guessed direction of the cabin and yell. As time passed and scratches accumulated, the inflection of Mountain Man’s calls started to change.

What had started out as a loud and self assured, “DAD!” started to morph into, “DAD? HEY, DAD?” and finally transformed into it’s final form: “DAAAAD?! DAAAAAAAAAAAD???!”

Sonofabitch! The branches were scratching us like they held a personal grudge, plus we had been discovered by the mosquitoes and they were eating us alive. To add the toping to the situational sundae, our tents had been left back at the car and there was no prospect of finding our way back at this point. Just about the time I was considering using my friend’s lifeless carcass as a shelter half, we heard a faint, “Hey? Is someone out there?”

Then, somewhere off between unseeable branches… a light! In the distance, the pinprick of light shone like a beacon. The two of us whooped and thrashed our way toward salvation. On the porch stood Mountain Man’s uncle, a lantern in one hand and a long gun in the other. We had made it! We were safe! After blundering around in the black woods, the cabin looked like the Four Seasons to us and we happily stepped inside and dropped our bedrolls. It was very late by now and we were scratched up, blinded by the light of one lantern and pooped. After a round of sleepy introductions, we grabbed our sleeping bags and got ready for a restful night’s sleep. A pity that it wasn’t on the menu. We really would have loved that. What we did get was a choice. We could either sweat out fifty percent of our bodily water content in an oven made of nylon and down or bleed to death from a thousand tiny bites, delivered on miniature, whining wings.

I picked the sweat lodge, Mountain Man picked death by bloodletting.

-Next installment soon.

Tomorrow’s History

(Written on the morning of November the 4th 2008)

While I could hardly call this morning an “Indian Summer” day, it is pleasant for November. Mild in temperature with bright sun forcing its way through a thin haze while a chilly, light breeze keeps you aware that winter is not far away. This morning, I have taken the opportunity given me by the warm weather to do some writing out of doors. The shamanism of technology, giving me a wireless connection as I sit on a rock ledge that emerged form the ground, who knows how long ago.

It’s a historical day today. Not just because it’s November 4th and an election year, but I mean that for me, it’s one of those days when I can feel history flow. It’s strong in the air and I feel its weight. The little park I’m sitting in is like so many that you’ll find scattered around the world. It’s pleasantly green, dogs run freely through it, peeing on anything that doesn’t move and the pigeons have designs on the half a doughnut that I’ve set down next to my coffee mug.

As I look up and to my left, a massive piece of steel looms overhead and points out over the shipping channel that leads south, in the direction it came from where it found it’s way, from it’s temporary tomb. It’s a piece of high powered ordinance from a long gone era, now perched atop a cement pedestal, never to fire again. Once, it was the height of war making technology, now it rusts away and collects bird droppings. This is no ordinary piece of artillery, however. This is a naval gun that, though never fired in battle in the heat of battle, set the fire for one of our countries most questionable wars. This is one of the deck guns from the USS Maine.

On the night of February 15, 1898, the USS Maine was sitting quietly at anchor in Havana harbor. She had been sent there to guard U.S. interests during a time of political upheaval in Cuba, as a revolution brewed, threatening the Spanish colonial hold in the Caribbean. The Warship was, in short, there as a show of force.

uss-maine

At 21:40, a massive explosion ripped the ship apart killing much of her crew as they slept in their berths. To this day, and after three different investigations spanning more than a century, no one knows for sure what happened. What we do know is that her destruction was quickly and expertly blamed on Spain and was the match that ignited the Spanish-American war. A piece of mostly forgotten history that only made America the dominant power in the western hemisphere. “Remember the Maine and to Hell with Spain”, was a cry that would resonate with an American public fed on at best, dubious and at worst, out right fabrications of what was happening in the world.

Without descending into a long and detailed history lesson, the destruction of the USS Maine was blamed on a Spanish mine. An “infernal device”, as it was described in the day. The Spanish government denied any doing and rather, blamed it on the ship’s coalbunkers igniting. Not an unheard of occurrence, back then. This possibility didn’t stop the race to battle that was unforgivably whipped along by The Hurst and Pulitzer news services. A massive distortion of the available facts in an effort to boost sales of their papers and extend their circulation would later be graced with a special moniker; yellow journalism.

In the end, the war went well for the U.S. and very badly indeed for Spain. They lost Puerto Rico, their hold on Cuba and all their holdings in the Pacific. In only about a year, America had successfully beaten an aging colonial power and completed a land grab that, for the most part, we still hold a good chunk of to this day. It was a different time. It could never happen again. Well, perhaps it could never end like that again.

As I look over my right shoulder from my quiet, moss-speckled perch, I can see a newer monument. A black and highly polished memorial, wrapped in a stone American Flag. No weaponry is displayed here. It’s more about the lives lost than the moment made in history. “In Memory of those who died in the rescue efforts on September, 11 2001”

As I cast my eyes around the park, I see a World War II memorial looming in the distance, flags lazily sauntering in the early morning breeze and at the top of the hill to my back, two field cannons, engineered in the time of the American Civil War, but just missing their day in the sun by one year, being cast in 1866. These cannons, like the deck gun from the USS Maine, likely never fired a shot in battle.

I am not a pacifist, and do not make the argument that war is unnecessary. The Monuments that are scattered around where I sit are, in my mind, are testament to wars both unavoidable and reprehensible. Causes of righteous indignation and blatant manipulation for alternate goals. Within each war, with its lives lost and deeds done, both good and bad erupted from each tumult. That can not be refuted. There is no black. There is no white. Life, so far as I have been able to discern, doesn’t work that way. We work with what we are dealt and hopefully, work towards the good of all.

Today is a historic day, no matter what the outcome. Every day is. The weight of decisions made now will have ramifications that we cannot accurately guess until we wait to see the cards turned over. Tomorrow’s history is yesterday’s future. I wonder what it will bring.

Guns! When Do We Get Guns?

There are a few things in this world that I will never turn down, regardless of how busy I am or what else I’ve got planned. Drinking coffee, eating doughnuts, Going overseas and playing with my kids comes immediately to mind. One other item on the list is taking people shooting.

(Me) Hi. My name is Turkish Prawn, and I’m a gun nut.
(Crowd replies) Hi, Turkish Prawn.

Actually, the truth of the matter is that I’m an unabashed gun nut. I love shooting, collecting and lusting after the next rifle that I need to add to the collection. Call it an illness or a sport, but I do enjoy time spent with a quality built rifle, a cup of coffee, a stack of clean targets and a small mound of ammunition. Or even, a very large mound of ammunition. That is a morning well spent.

Because I do not tend to fit in with the archetypical image of the gun nut, friends and acquaintances who are, shall we say, left of center are often caught off guard by my participation in the shooting sports. To some, it has been viewed as a betrayal to the cause of striving for a better world. Right of center friends are also often surprised when they find out that love firearms, having long ago taken me, I suppose, as a pinko, commie tree hugger or something. The truth is actually somewhere in the middle. More accurately, I’m somewhere in the middle. Just about dead center I’d say, but that’s a topic for another day.

What I love to do is use this middle position I occupy to introduce the two sides to each other and the things that are important to both. Shooting is the one I think I’ve done the best at.

A friend of ours is getting married soon and mercifully, she excused us from having to drag two small children to the festivities. We’ll be there in spirit but in actuality, well be at the beach with sand in our collective pants. At least Short Stack will, at any rate. She’s a very sweet person for realizing that this will work better for the kiddos and their parents. One evening not too long ago, she and another mutual friend came up with the idea of a bridal shower shootout. She wanted to get some girlfriends together before the wedding and go shooting. Now, all she needed was access to a range, guns and some instruction.

Enter, the gun nut.

While I probably have enough rifles to outfit the average Victorian era expedition to darkest Borneo, I am limited by range rules to bringing only four guests with me, and so, the four were selected: the Bride to be, my wife, our mutual friend, and the bride’s sister-in-law. This was going to be a hoot.

Only one snag was encountered. Action Girl (my wife) works hard hours. She’s a sea captain by trade and the hours that go along with that profession can be a bit harsh. The day before had been a twelve hour shift and most of it had involved fog. The next day, she didn’t have to go in until the afternoon, but the possibility of running in more fog looked likely. That can really take it out of a girl. With much gnashing of teeth and hemming and hawing, she elected to get more sleep in preparation of a long night ahead rather than blowing stuff up with guns. I was sad that she wasn’t going to attend, but I understood as well. There will be another time with just the two of us, coffee mugs, pastries and a couple of Mausers. That’s what I call a romantic date. *sigh*

We picked up the ladies and headed out to the field. In addition to the firearms, I had come prepared with a thermos of freshly perked coffee and about five hundred rounds of ammunition. Come to think of it, it might have been more like eight hundred.

We arrived nice and early and had our pick from the many ranges. I found one of the smaller, fifty yard ones that I knew we would fill with our group. I had visions of shooting at the larger ranges and having other gents on the line seeing me there with three ladies all to my self and wanting to “help me out”. I could imagine that getting… uncomfortable. I’m good friends with at least two of these nice ladies and didn’t think any of them would especially like enthusiastic assistance from just anyone down there toting a rifle and a high caliber smile. Woman at the range are few and far between and I thought that it might be just too tempting for some of the boys. With a range to our selves, the potential problem was averted.

The day was perfect for shooting. The sky was overcast but not gloomy. The temperature was warm, but not hot and the morning dew had almost completely evaporated off the benches. I opened the case and pulled out three .22 rifles. Two of them were mine and one belonged to our friend who cooked this up with the bride. Her rifle had belonged to her grandmother and it’s a beautiful Mossberg 42MB(a) target rifle and it’s in beautiful shape. She actually has a picture of Grandma competing at a shooting match with two other friends. Go Grammie! The other two rifles were my Savage made, single shot .22 that my Father’s dad gave me for my birthday when I was ten and the Springfield .22 single shot that my Mother’s father had been given for Christmas when he was eight.

All three rifles were laid out on a bench and I began the safety talk. Once that was covered and ears were plugged, the first shot was taken by, naturally, the bride to be. I had set an empty paper cup on the berm for zeroing in. I find that if you have folks shoot at an object on a dirt hill, they often have an easier time figuring out what they are doing and how to compensate. The flying dirt is a good indicator where you are hitting versus simply knowing that you misses the paper target on the stand.

CRACK!

The first shot was taken and I heard the unmistakable sound of paper being punched. A quick peek through the spotting scope and a sound that is not often heard at the range broke out. Happy girl squeals. This was the first time that our soon-to-be-married friend had ever fired a rifle and on her initial try, she had hit a paper cup from the standing position at fifty yards . Not too freakin’ bad! She was thrilled!

Soon after, we were all having a great time making little holes in bits of paper. Everyone was having success as well as fun. I didn’t get to shoot much, but that was fine. I get a kick out of introducing shooting to people who normally wouldn’t go near a fire arm and watching the them realize how safe and fun it is. The sister-in-law had never shot before, but was doing fine and having a kick. I knew that she has two young daughters and I brought up the fact that one manufacturer makes a .22 rifle with a chrome barrel and pink stock. She thought that was a great idea and told me how much her older girl would love it.

After a few hours and a lot of ammo, we headed home, happy and black fingered. Each lady kept their targets as souvenirs and the bride had her lucky cup as well. She insisted that it would somehow get worked into the reception. I almost regret not being there, just so I could see that. It was a great morning and I only wish Action Girl could have been there too. Next time, I hope. In the mean time, I have a lot of rifles to clean, but I don’t mind that one bit. It was a blast. Some day, perhaps Lulu Belle can join us shooting, with her little pink rifle slug stylishly on her shoulder. I wonder if Coach makes a sling for that?

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