Monday, October 31, 2011
But there is one thing birds have in common. Birds are meant to fly free, not be caged in. My Mom Grace always had a Budgie, which she'd train to sit on her shoulder and eat out of her hand. But I always wondered. When you hold a bird in your hand it closes its eyes in resignation. Trust. Or fear?
I've told my readers about a neighbor I had out in the country once who kept a quail in a cage, just so he could hear the "bob white" of it's call. I'd watch the bird in there, reminding me of a prisoner in a small cell in a prison camp, sending out small Morse code signals in hopes of someone hearing him and rescuing him. But no one came to rescue him and I could only think of him growing old and dying there in that tiny cage, his prison cell, his will deflating, his spirit becoming drab as his prison uniform over time. I don't believe the man did it to be cruel, he simply thought like others, that he could take a wild thing in and tame in, that it would only require the creature to make an adjustment in it's lifestyle, to shift the center of its desire from one thing to another.
One day while the neighbor was away, I went over and quietly opened the cage door. The bird was gone in a flash, with the urgency born of prisoned spring and the awakening of burgeoning true; to itself, the sun and the wind, not the man who caged it.
I think about birds as I go to the airport to take a little flight while the air is still and before it gets dark. It's the perfect fall day, the trees not sullied by a breeze, the clouds wispy strands of sea foam against an ocean of sky. As I takeoff, I do a turn over my neighborhood. The pond at the end of the road looks sullen, like a glaring eye, as if it intends to ask a question. With a pull of the stick and a tap on the rudder, I pick up the wing and and move away from the pond, my response to questions that have already been answered.
I climb on up into clearer air, the throttle at full power as the little engine struggles against the decrease in air density. Still pushing on upwards where the air is clearer, and purer still, out of the haze layer of Fall, the smoke, the traffic, clouds at every turn, their dark reflections playing across my wings like shadow puppets. I should probably head back down, to denser air, to the safety of the airstrip. But I like the altitude, the spaces way up here, where up, under the contrail of something much larger than I, order rules.
I think back to a job I had flying when I was young, building time in a small corporate airplane as I waited to go into service for a commitment that would take years of my life, given without regret. I got a lot of hours in that bird, feeling about it like a dear friend. Sometimes, on my day off, I'd come into my hangar, without telling anyone and get a hose and a soft brush and wash it myself til it gleamed, even if that wasn't part of my job. It wasn't mine but I took pride in its care, thinking if I tended to it, giving it care and loyalty, it wouldn't fail me. Then one day I came in and it was gone, the owner having sold it, simply sending me a terse note that he didn't need me any longer, not having the decency to tell me in person. I didn't even get to say goodbye. The last flight in her . . .where was it to? I couldn't even remember. I wished I could have remembered.
If I'd known it was the last flight, I might have paid more attention. I could have pulled the remnants of the flight into my memory before the hangar doors closed so that on late nights in a hotel alone somewhere I could draw them out slowly over a cold beer and the quiet. But, at the time, it was just another happy day flying, another early wake up call, the rush to get the bags loaded up, the weather checked one last time. Just another launch of hope and adrenalin that 10 years from now, will only be remembered by myself.
I think about that little airplane as I soar up with the birds, drinking in deep of the day, quenching a thirst not born of the body, but of the spirit. A single goose flies past me. I pop the window open to catch a scent of the earth and hear the drone of the little engine. Time settles comfortably into itself, resetting my own internal clock with the reassurance of continuity. I wonder how long these birds soar before they are stilled, just a few years perhaps. For us all, time shortens ahead of us, shaping our chances and shortening our hopes, even if we have no more doubt of our flesh and our bones than we do of our will and our courage.
But today is not about the shortening hours, it's not about, even, the airplane. It's about absolution, those things we do that lay bare our humanity and relax our defenses, as we simply slow into the quiet pool of ourselves for a few moments, bagging a little transcendence from the murky waters of an earthbound life. It's about trust, with a little craft that moves in time with the motions of my hand, like geese that fly in formation with nothing but trust, choreographing something that have no experience with, yet is as instinctive to them as life.
I hope to get to fly this little bird another day, but none of us know when our last flight will be. So I take in everything around me, holding in the memory. Taking in one moment that you trust will never be the last, keeping it in, like breath underwater, to sustain me in the airless days ahead.
I bank and turn back home, anxious now to get home and pick up the phone to talk the evening away with the one that always stood by. Trust and hope. The air is smoky this afternoon, corn fields all around me have been brought down and some farmers are burning off a field down to its roots, so it can be planted with something new. From the smoke the birds escape the flames, up from the dense remains of grain, into the veined complexity of sky, where space and freedom interface. From aloft they spot my feeder, simply looking for some shelter from the storms, some sustenance, while keeping the freedom of their wing.
For isn't that what we all desire.
Sunday, October 30, 2011
I am home from the weekend at Midwest Chick's and Mr. B.'s and the Nappanee Gun Show! I forgot my good camera so had to use my glove box point and shoot camera so low light pictures aren't that great, but it WAS a great time.
I arrived on Friday. Most of the gang was meeting us in the morning but that night it was MC and Mr. B's house, with a friend and I both staying there at Rancho de Schmoo. Barkley came up, looking forward to an outing with Schmoo the lab. I brought a few Macaroon cookies (no photo due to unexpected evaporation of product) and Mr. B. gave me a bag of Gummi Soldiers!
Midwest Chick made a dark chocolate pie, which was more than enough to tide some weary travelers over to dinner.
We listened to music and shared funny stories and shared a lot of laughter, especially with this little film I'd sent to Midwest Chick. Women! Know your Limits!.
As the sun set, we curled up with some Yuengling while Mr. B. created in the kitchen. Fajitas! Mr. B. is one of the best cooks I know, so dinner here is always an adventure AND a treat.
With seared beef marinated 24 hours and cooked up with fresh veggies accompanied by spanish rice, beans, beer and an assortment of hot sauces to try ("Heavy Metal Heat" have to get me some of that!), the conversation was lively (Holy *#*@# that's HOT!)
In the morning we were off to the gun show, meeting the Og Family and Speed Racer and his friends.
It's hard to pass on a gun show that is literally across the parking lot from the all you can eat Amish Bacon place.
I've never had bacon this good and I can see why folks were lined up to try it.
I don't have any pictures from the gun show as there was a sign that said "no dogs, no cameras (and no dogs with cameras)" but it was a good show, with only one small table of plastic ware, and LOTS of good condition historical rifles. I drooled on a Swiss K-31 but passed as with Christmas coming up and helping my Dad out a bit, I was not going to spend any money. But boy, it was fun to look!
After the gun show a few of us wandered over to the Amish craft mall.
Og: "I've got a party right in my hands!"
Brigid bags a deer in arts and crafts.
On the way home, a stop at BeefMart for something for supper.
We passed on lunch after the big breakfast. But dinner was thick cut pork chops poked a whole bunch with a fork and then doused with Worcestershire sauce, then rubbed with a mixture of white pepper, sage and rosemary on one side, and applewood smoked salt on the other and then grilled. The spicy side was grilled first, allowing the juices to come up and soak the salt, then a quick flip to finish. They were paired with Grilling Beans laden with ancho chili, onion, cayenne, and a bit of blackstrap molasses, and a potato with all the fixings.
Dinner conversation was interesting. With more than one engineer (aerospace, mechanical, robotic) in our social group, the discussion went to some serious production tooling problems, complete with math, drawings and lively debate. Midwest Chick and I looked at each other and smiled and I said loudly "I just LOVE little kittens, they're so soft and furry" and she collapsed in a fit of giggles whereupon someone said "oh you dear sweet fragile little thing, I adore you" and much laughter ensued.
After dinner, we tromped around in the woods with Schmoo the Lab and Barkley and then played with some antique gas engines in the shop to burn off dinner and then retired to the living room for Mystery Science Theater 3000. Hercules Against the Moon Men. Bad Cinema at it's finest, though every time the pairs of Roman soldiers entered the scene Joel, Crow or Gizmo would go "Pizza Pizza!', just like the Little Caesars commercials.
Earth saved from the Moon Men, one more time, and it was soon time for bed.
Before we knew it, Sunday morning had arrived and we're up early for coffee (and observation of the breakfast being made by Mr. B).
The lighting wasn't conducive for a photo of "this complete breakfast!" but boy, it was all good. There were yummy stuffed baked apples with Cinnamon and candied walnuts and did I mention BACON!
What's this? Soldiers in my Cup!
With a pound of bacon on the griddle morning was off to a good start. Mr. B's friend Mike drove over and joined us and we soon polished off all the bacon and then some, sharing stories of the gun range and planning our next shoot together.
All too soon it was time to hit the road. Midwest Chick made me a cooler with leftovers and I soon waved goodbye with hugs, a wave and a shout of "Pizza! Pizza!".
The cooler had all kinds of good surprises in it, including some leftover pie, a pound of bacon from BeefMart and what appears to be an alien being.
With some MST3K inspired Mars Mud. I may use that to cover up the dial on my bathroom scale after THIS weekend :-)
I didn't buy a new firearm, (though I got some goodies) but I had a weekend with friends I love and I'm home with a lot of good memories.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
The winds still blow from west on the prairies, wailing a hymn of our mortality. Our remoteness stands guard over a vulnerability heightened by solitude. Yet in this season between hope of rain and hard winter, comes peace, even as outside, the air stills, windless cold that only heightens the heart's heat.
The clouds move so quickly you can't catch them with a fast car, grass laid flat in submission. Even the wind turbines seem to lean forward, waving their arms as if losing balance before a fall. A cold front has passed, the wind is howling, isobars dancing cheek to cheek as they move across the map to the northeast
Out west at my family's house, the first snow has piled and drifted, but the sky is clear, a motionless inverted blue bowl, the temperature a balmy 7 degrees. Neighbors emerge from their homes with the postures of survivors having gotten through flood, hostage taking or back to back episodes of Dancing with the Stars. Driveways are shoveled, cars are brushed off, lungs burning with cold, holding in a trace of woodsmoke, that narcotic perfume of impending winter.
I first came to the Midwest as a young bride, to the very edge of the southern plains. My husband considered us Southerners, I considered myself a Midwesterner. Depends on which direction you looked at things I imagine, our individual horizons incised in whetted contrast to the circumference of this flat, harsh landscape.
A lot was new to me, cows, running farm equipment, the weather. I'd never seen a tornado, only hearing that when they are bearing down on you, they sound like a freight train. One night home alone, I saw the portent of danger in a tornado warning on TV. Alone, and not sure of what county was which, having been in the area only days, I felt fear. I felt more than that when I heard, through the sound of the howling wind and thunder, a freight train. I took cover in the bathtub with my black lab and a twin mattress pulled off the guest bed, the husky preferring to be sucked up like a giant fur ball in a vacuum cleaner than leave his warm spot by the fire. It passed, and unharmed I called my neighbor who couldn't stop laughing. For what I'd heard was not a tornado, as there wasn't one just a good storm. It was the train that ran through the 20 acres behind my new home every night a little after 10.
I got better with the weather, learning quickly what was safe to stay out in, and what was not, learning early we are just serfs of the elements, severe weather usually arriving in the late night like a broken king, rushing in, ready to do battle with the sleeping.
We had a few hardscrabble acres on which rocks were the preferred crop, as well as a growing herd of cattle. Ours was but a small farm, which wouldn't have sustained us had we not held other jobs. Friends would tell me how lucky I was to have the land and the freedom and and I was. But I think that in actuality it's like having two full time jobs, 7 days a week. I was playing occasional weekend warrior flying a jet, and holding down a full time job in the aerospace industry. Add to that family, dogs, cats, an old horse named Elmer and a husband on a medical discharge from the military battling his demons, I had my hands full. Family members often pull up songs from those years on the radio and say "remember that one?" I honestly don't. That time to me was sweat and work, the smell of cow manure, JP4, and the salt of tears; moments of roses and moment of thorns being of equal duration, passing too quickly in recollection. I sometimes look back as if that whole 10 years happened to someone else, endless, alternating days and nights like a vacuum in which no air would come.
Yet, given the choice, I would not take that time back. We do not cease from the experiences, in the end of experience we arrive back where we started, seeing them as if for the first time, but at a nice safe distance, with wisdom otherwise not gained. It was a time to grow, to learn, to build. I learned how to fix a furnace, and pull a calf from her mother, how to make supper out of almost nothing, the household money squandered on chasing something no one could provide. I learned how to hold my head up high in a small town buzzing over the gossip that came with that. And I learned when to walk away when the demons finally won.
I remember one of the last nights there, as I pulled on my Carharts and looked for my boots, as the glare of the headlights illuminated the room, It was a cattle truck coming at night so as to reach the stockyards in the morning. I woke alone to the rattle coming up the road, trying to get a little nap before they arrive, springing like a bow from my bed, knowing I had responsibilities. As I donned work clothes and boots, the orange running lights and diesel growl outside my window reminded me of martians landing searching my house for signs of human life.
All they would find is a lone woman, with boots, a shotgun she knew how to use, and a kitchen that still smelled faintly of cinnamon.
Still, most days this life surpassed one spent with business people in starched shirts and hair and shiny shoes, people that appear as if their entire person was dry cleaned and pressed, not just their suit. Monotone people who seldom exceed the speed limit, seldom take risks, their visages as pasty and pale as a pie that's been taken from the oven too soon. Not I. I wanted to move, to fix, to build to solve. I would just rather not do it when it's 10 degrees below zero.
The driver backs around, turning the trailer with a gentle sigh of air brakes, up to the wooden chute there at the barn. Within came the muffled grunt of the cattle that were being sold. Outside of the lumbering truck and its driver and the cattle, we were alone. No cars, no help, the earth hanging suspending in space, cooling, wearing only a thin veil of woodsmoke. The wind cut my face, a blade that only stroked the skin, not cutting it, my hands aching as I stroked my thighs with them, trying to stir warmth back into dormant skin.
Oh, how I longed to just go back to bed, the rustle of cotton, the panting whisper of breath, the predation of the night assuming a hundred avatars of dreams. No cows, no work, simply the house, still and quiet, as if marooned in space by the dwindling of day. The truck long gone, the sounds outside fallen to a low fragmentary pitch. A coyote's howl at the indignation of clouds that cover the moon, no other sound made; prey gone into hiding, insects dead with cold, everything else assuming their own mantle of hibernation or predation.
But there was work to be done.
Hooves rattled in the trailer as it rocked and swayed, cattle moving with the chaos of their own confusion. All that was left was one lone cow, a young one who would go to a neighbor's farm for breeding stock. She stood forlorn in the fog of her own shadow, form turning as insubstantial as mist. She gazed at me as if she knew what was happening, looking at me with that ample, benign abstruseness of cattle or of gods, before turning and vanishing into space.
It's hard to decide which ones to keep and which to let go. Love, life and longing, a helix viewed by eyes that see with hesitant, hungry fire. Decisions. We took from the land that which we needed to survive, giving something back, yet there is still in me that sense of loss, even as I knew it was inevitable, as are so many inevitable things.
The door on the cattle truck closes with a profound finality, isolating them, isolating me, as I watch it drive off. All that is left is to go back into an empty house to curl up in the guest room, the neatly made bed in the master bedroom a paradox within four walls redolent of long abandoned warmth.
That farm is long sold, tools replaced by others which would draw their own blood as I learned to live and work again. The tiny farm house was cleaned and made ready for sale, sun shining in on polished floors as undisturbed as frigid pools, underneath the overhanging branches of shrouded furniture.
But though my only cows now are my neighbor's, little else as changed I think as drive into town for supplies. On the way to the city I pass through small towns that make up a country landscape, tenacious clusters of farms strung along a lonely river, old barns, listing and tumbling down, gone the way of the ancestors who built them long go, going West, to dust.
As I reach the hardware store, I saw one person in a t-shirt with a firearm picture on it, as I looked for what I needed. I looked in his eyes as we passed in the aisle, like mine, with small lines around the corners, from squinting happily into the sun and the wind, sighting something through a small piece of glass. Eyes that do not see themselves as prey, not today, simply happy to be out and about, free to go our own way, unfettered. Noting my Browning ball cap, we nodded at each with a knowing smile and headed out to our trucks.
I still work too often out in the cold, and there are still many nights where I only get only a few hours of sleep before I catch the red eye out for work, or jump on a plane sent to fetch me, watching the world come into a caffeine induced clarity that does not bode well for the sandman. Nights, where I'm not woken by the sound of cattle trucks, but by a phone, a voice on the other end speaking with an impersonal dry cadence I know is more protection than uncaring, and I must quickly pull myself from bed, gathering my things, limbs wooden with the regret of lost slumber.
Sometimes I come home and simply drop my clothes at the door, too exhausted to put them in the laundry, pouring a half inch of whiskey in a glass and flinging it back with a gesture that puts behind me all the suffering I have seen, tossing it back and away, leaving only the taste of smoke on my tongue, a scent that clings to me even after I shed my clothes. Then I pick up the phone and call the one that I can let it all out to. He listens, just as he holds me, without judgement.
It's not always an easy life, yet, like that previous life, I wouldn't change it for the world, whatever the outcome. For with this life has come purpose and hope, solid friendships and the trusting kind of love that watches over me, guarding me, even as I stand alone. Endings are always beginnings, even as the wind blows.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." --JAMES MADISON (Drafted Virginia Constitution, Member of Continental Congress, Virginia delegate to Constitutional Convention, named "Father of the Constitution", author of Federalist Papers, author of the Bill of Rights, Congressman from Virginia, Secretary of State, 4th President)
After a busy month, I finally had a chance to catch up on some of the news, so much of the media spinning darkness into their own version of truth. Yet there are those beacons of light out there, those who are not afraid to speak up as what what is is important about our country, what we can lawfully and with honesty, hopefully get back. It's a country which was once governed for us, by us, with openness and debate.
It was a house in which We The People could speak, not the rampart its become, like one of those fortresses of the Middle Ages, planted with stakes against truth and against the liberty in which to question and be given the answer is the right of man. We need to turn up the light to lay the words bare for examination. Words of the Constitution. Words that could have been scribed in blood, in which you can not just see, you can hear those that fought and died for those freedoms, there in a volley of fire and the diminishing thunder of hooves. Better that, than to be cloistered away in walls of our own making, with only the far away sound of circumvented wind, carrying hollow words that that fly away as dust, without weight.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
He's given me renewed hope in the capacity of a heart, as his ability to love is boundless. He'll stay on alert, face aching with a grimacing growl, keeping that squirrel at bay while I'm at work. He's been the soft nuzzle of concern on my neck, whether it be a bad cold or a broken heart. I know that even when he's old, muzzle flecked with grey, woken by my movement into the family room where he snoozes on my leather couch, he'll move to my side as swift as strong as ever. Looking at me with brown eyes more humorous and honest than many humans, above the blunt black nose, content simply to be by my side because I'm there.
Dogs, will always be my favorites though certainly I've been around other pets, either by association or adoption.
There was the snake. Not mine, but belonging to a coworkers son who had built a herpitorium for his Boa as part of a high school project. They went on vacation and I was asked to (1) water the plants and take in the mail and (2) feed the snake. "Ok, where's the Purina snake chow", I said. Oh uh.
Apparently they like their food still alive, so I took the directions they gave me for a store that, in addition to regular pets, sold feeder rodents. I hated to do it, but I'd given my word. So off I go and bring home a couple mouse-like objects. I felt bad enough as it was. Catching mice in a little mousetrap was necessary in a country home but I was going to feed them live to a snake. I hate snakes. I felt worse and worse as I approached the house. The little carrier the store gave me to house them that was shaped and painted like a little house with the lettering "Thanks for giving me a home", did NOT help.
The snake got part of a Slim Jim, and the mice "accidentally" escaped in the barn.
Somewhere else along the way I inherited a parrot. The sister of a a pilot friend needed a home for the young bird after her divorce. It was just a little Cockatoo. They're like budgies on steroids right? How much trouble could he be? I named him "Beaker". He was a pretty personable little bird and easy for others to care for when I was off playing weekend warrior or attending grad school. They're smart, normally learning to talk. Not this bird. I had inherited mute bird. I tried all the tricks, repeating things over and over, rewards, repetition. Nothing ("No no he's not dead, he's, he's restin'! Remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue, idn'it, ay? Beautiful plumage!")
This bird was not "restin" he just would NOT talk. Not even a "hello".
Then one night I had a get together on my houseboat. Just a few pilot friends, who were as close as brothers though we didn't share the same last name. We grilled, sat out on the deck and had a couple beers. Beaker was in high form, sitting on folks shoulders, walking across the room (he could fly, he just chose NOT to), getting some treats fed to him.
Where I lived was a ways out of town, with a treacherous road so the guys brought sleeping bags as I said I wouldn't serve beer if anyone was going to attempt to drive home. Finally after much food and a few beers, I headed up to my little loft bedroom, pulling up the stairs and saying goodnight to the gang sleeping downstairs with the television. They were still up, surfing with the remote, amazed at the great cable I got and all the channels including, apparently, "naughtyvision", which I was sure they were going to study in great detail, once I was asleep.
I slept like a log, earplugs in and came downstairs in the morning to the sight of three of my best friends snoozing on the floor. Beaker was back in his cage, proudly proclaiming at the top of his little bird lungs "Nice Tits!"
My bird had learned his first (and only) words.
OK, cross off the pastor's wife as a bird sitter in the future.
Now, I just have Barkley, his form of communication with others mostly a version of Doggie Tourettes as the neighbor's mutt goes by - &*@(! you mongrel, you want a (#)@* piece of me?!"
But to me he communicates all I need to hear, trust, love and devotion. To Barkley, I'm not Dr. B, or Brigid or someones Mom or Daughter. I'm not a blogger, a title or a name. To Barkley, I'm just his chosen instrument to love and protect, imperfections and all.
And though he's partial to squeaky little animals, fortunately they're the plastic kind.
Monday, October 24, 2011
Have you ever wanted something so bad you could almost feel it? As a kid, it might have been that first bike, in high school, a car, something, a want so deep and burning it was almost outside your consciousness.
Myself, what comes to mind is not such things, simple trinkets or jewels that glimmer in the light.
It was a Colt Python, and I wanted it so badly I could taste the recoil. It wasn't a feeling I was used to, after years of calm, speculative detachment to choices made, willing myself not to feel for what I would not have again. I had been doing fine, until I saw it, and just that once, ever so briefly, held it.
My non shooty friends said "you could get a huge, new TV for that cost!" My shooty friends said "damn, I want one". Some of both said "but that's old, don't you want something new and high tech?" No, I didn't. I had a little plastic gun with all the personality of a Pez Dispenser. I wanted something that had seen some years, as I had. A firearm that had discharged its duty, the marks of use etched on its frame like forgotten words, an indictment of danger faced. I desired not that which was fresh and unspoiled, but that which had seen those griefs and shames with which hearts much less strong, would have strained and burst into unremembered dust.
Keep your new Glock, I wanted a gun that had seen a battle or two, and won.
The gun store owner let me put it on lay away. I was a regular and they knew I was reliable. I'd come by every couple of weeks with a few hundred more to put down on it, taking it out of the case just briefly to say hello, stroking the dark blueing, the profound dark deep of the sea, a dense darkness in which even the light of the sun could not give color. Just a couple more weeks, and it would be mine.
It sounds silly, doesn't it, in retrospect, to be a slave to an object, something that's purchased with gold, like any other object, something for which your only toil was that toil you give anyway. But at the time, having lost most everything I had, it was a symbol of more than a firearm. It was a symbol of possessing something that no one could take from me, that I alone would be responsible for, not subjugating my responsibilities by default to others that did not care. It was going to be MY Colt, and if it shot every weekend or just stayed in the safe, it was mine to do with as I wanted, knowing in return, with care, I could always rely on it.
After a decade of being directed in almost everything I did, down to what I wore and how I cut my hair, it was beyond liberating. It was freedom with a .357. It was desire with the full capacity one is capable of, a measure of worth far exceeding the coins that enacted its transaction. It was so beyond "worth it", its weight in my hand beyond the proportion of its convertible value. Those that didn't shoot shook their heads at me like I was mad, those that did, only nodded in silent agreement as I waited to pick it up and transport it home, like a new parent.
I still enjoyed my little .22 but like Charlie Brown said "nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter like unrequited love". I could not WAIT to hold that Colt in my hand and squeeze the trigger for the first time. I lay motionless in my bed at night, legs straight and close, thoughts of how it would feel framed there in the rich sprawl of red hair. I started "nesting" a week before I even brought it home, buying the right accessories, making sure it had a safe place to sleep.
And just a few weeks later it was mine. They say with desire, that sometimes when requited, it loses its luster, that once you're held it in your hands, your interest wanes. You hold it a while, you drive it a while, and soon you're looking on to the next great dream. But sometimes once you've held it, everything else pales in comparison.
Finally, I held it, taking in the deep blued finish that seemed to hold all reluctant light and breath, feeling the weight in my hand. Then I simply stepped up and fired it. A single shot, in which a lifetime lay behind me. A single shot, upon the bare and pock marked wall, the shadow of its form shuddered in what was not the wind, but my own trepidations, until holding it steady, I squeezed the trigger with one intake of virgin breath. In that moment, in the rich, trembling roar of its power, the trepidation fell behind and I knew that this would be one desire that would stay with me always. "They" don't' have a clue, I thought, as the sounds of everything I had every shot came in that single converging noise that was the .357, spoiling me for anything else.
It was more than I'd ever operated, but not more than I could handle. A good instructor, some targets and practice to be safe and I felt like I'd owned it for years, even if my shot placement spoke otherwise for a while.
I went back to the .22 for practice and plinking, as always a cheap shot placement tool, but against the Colt, its firing seemed like frail whimperings, and it just didn't seem the same. I was hooked on the recoil, on the bore. I learned about blueing about cleaning, and about gathering brass. I shared it at the range with others that wanted to try it, like a proud parent saying "see, look at the newest member of the family".
But it wasn't the Colt, it was me. I'd gone from a timid beginner playing grown up, picking something up and putting it away, then running on home for someone else to clean up, to being a shooter. One who owned my own equipment and cared for it. One of many that were at the range alone every Saturday morning, come rain or snow. I'd not really grown into the weapon, I'd simply grown into myself.
Months passed, and with career changes and moves, the weekly shooting became a thing of the past, and the Colt was only taken out to play every couple of months. It wasn't that I'd lost interest, there was just so little time, for anything but work and tending to elderly parents, a home and life in a suitcase.
Then the day came when I had a family member in need of money for university. Even with a full time summer job and scholarships, there just wasn't quite enough. The Range already had a large mortgage, I just needed a little cash to help them out.
I sold the Colt. It wasn't much, but it would pay for books for the year or so. A Colt is history, but so are our children.
It wasn't the best decision, but one at the time that felt needed to be made. So I sold it to someone I knew for top dollar, knowing even as I released it that I already regretted it. Already missed the clarity of its touch, the roar of its might, that smell of spent longing that rises like a cloud of signal smoke; that feeling even as I handed it over, that I was letting something good slip out of my hands, not likely to be reclaimed.
Years pass, and then it's there again. A look, a touch.
What is it about desire, that follows us when our guard is down. that longing fire tinged with the sadness of loss. It never really goes away, and I pray it never does
Saturday, October 22, 2011
I remember what it felt like to jump off the ledge. That was the best part, the part where I was just a little afraid. The swimming hole. Out West there were multitudes of rivers and streams in which we could swim, many with ledges that looked down on deep pools in which the braver kids would jump.
First steps, first leaps. Over the years it became a car, then an airplane, then love. All attempted with the luminosity of not knowing any better, each a new journey, some ending better than others.
Such as my first antelope hunt. It's not just a tasty steak on four legs. It's North Americas fastest game animal
Like deer and elk, the rut is the time to go, with the antelope exhibiting behavior much like you'd see with your whitetail. They snort, they grunt, they try and draw the attention of any nubile doe in range. They'll fight with other males for the attention of the female. In a nutshell, during the rut, pronghorn bucks are just as stupid as the males of most species under similar conditions; you don't even have to add alcohol.
But this is the time to go, when there's movement and the animals natural sense of wariness is doused by raging hormones. During spring and early summer, if you live in the area that the antelope play, you might see several bucks hanging out together with the womenfolk long gone. Normally, after breeding is over with, the antelope gather in large herds with a mix of both bucks and does.
Most of the action and the season is over by this time of year. The pre-rut prep in most states starts as early as mid August, as the bucks begin to split up and concentrate their attentions on the females. Most of the action is over by late September, depending on the same factors that affect elk and deer hunting. Weather and temperature. A heavy early snow will damp the ardor of about any pronghorn stud, and cooler weather early can change when the rut begins.
I know the first time I went that I may not take one home that first time. Antelope are a challenge regardless of your skill or the flat shooting rifle that you select. It's not just speed, it's habitat. Antelope love to hide out under vegetative ground if they have the slightest inkling danger is near. If your presence is felt, even a couple hundred yards away, they will disappear as quick as you would expect into the underbrush, not to come out until you're muttering four letter words on the hike back out.
In deer season, we normally scout out our hunting area first. Og and I, with some friends, will go on up to Frank James spread of land ahead of time, watching for ruts and scraps and paths. Like whitetail, antelope will leave a rub, which serves a dual purpose, to mark the area for other antelope and to prep them for the shoving and sparring that occurs between the male fighting for dominance and does. The scout is useful, it helps you gauge where the population groups might be, where their escape routes will likely go, as well as evaluate just what you have in the area (i.e. do you want to take the smaller buck when you know there's a trophy in the corn patch?). Scouting for antelope is much the same though you'll need a good set of binoculars. In this landscape just wandering around a small area is NOT going to be enough,
But we didn't have a chance to do this, though we had an informal guide, a friend from the area who would hopefully lead us to where the antelope were. I had a .270 Winchester with 110 grain bullets on hand, binoculars, and a white hanky. No, I wasn't expecting to wave it like the damsel in distress, but as antelope are by far more curious than the whitetail, waving one from a distance has, for more than one hunter, brought one in for the perfect show though some states don't allow "flagging".
Antelope are typically shot from long range, their bright white rumps making them easy to spot, even as their vision and speed make them a challenge to get close to. I had a rifle for the long range, but this was my first hunt, and to sit and treat them like prairie dog on steroids was not our goal. We were going to try our hand at stalking and getting close in, hopefully for a shot from 100-200 yards (and likely becoming vegetarians).
The landscape was perfect for stalking. Sure they have vision like a fighter pilots times 10, but they don't have superman x Ray vision either. We had rocks, we had brush, We had some camo that perfectly matched the landscape. The countryside may have looked flat when I flew us in, but it was not flat; there were no stairs like that sea cliff in Ireland, and my thighs were telling me that with every step.
If you looked out across the draw you would see them come into view. Not the antelope, but us. A small brace of tall bodies, moving deliberately, guns in hand, sweat evaporating into the high desert air, the movement of the bodies, that of predator stalking, far away from the cities unsleeping and melancholy murmur. In our pockets and bags back in the jeep were ammo and supplies, toilet paper, aluminum foil, duct tape and other things that might be needed. In my pants pockets, string, a compass, paper clips, a bit of dark chocolate, a map. McGyver would have liked pants like these. I was armed, I had duct tape. I was ready to try my hand at stalking an antelope.
What is stalking? It's not getting in your car and driving by the antelope's house 8 times a day, it's not hacking his computer, it's finding him at distance and then using the terrain and the wind to get close. It's hunting at its most elemental, and for me, more exhilarating than any leap off a cliff into the water. Not that many game animals lend themselves to stalking. Most hunting I've done as been from tree stands or blinds, or sitting at the base of the tree, calling in a horny Jake and his buddies during Spring Turkey season.
Antelope, mule deer, and under the right conditions, elk, are best for the "spot and stalk".
We move upslope breath catching on the thin air, staying apart, yet close, there in the resplendent, insulate light that is high country. We fan out as we head uphill, silent with dormant guns, amazed and incredulous that we are here, staying down low and downwind of where antelope have been spotted.
We were miles from any road it seemed, but antelope habitat in North America is generally not near the nearest Quick E Mart and subdivision. So we did some serious driving in with the help of a sturdy four wheel drive to where we could hike in. Not for photos or fun, but for stalking that which could become for me, as elusive as a steelhead trout. The topography, trees and shrubbery in places that would allow for some good cover, but we also knew that after opening day, the antelope were going to prefer the biggest, flattest, most coverless expanse of ground they could find to perch.
This is not a sport for the out of shape. Sure, I carried an additional 20 pounds of padding most guys my height don't have, but I could bench press much of my weight and hike with a backpack for miles. Fourteen years of ballet built up muscles in my legs and thighs that still are there today, even if the only "six pack" you are going to find on me any more is in my cooler. But this isn't pheasant country and some of the antelope like to hang out where the pheasants would get hypoxia and auger in. It's going to require some physical effort.
To get where it was huntable meant not just away from the other hunters, but up through an area where snow will dust this winter, on a south facing slope, up where the wind burns our throats. Sagebrush mixed with green shoots that were shooting up from the continual melt of the last of the winter's snow. There were some trees, just enough for shelter from the elements or the predators, but not enough for real cover. Further up, rock outcroppings form into a maze of paths away from danger, headed down to the south. And cactus, just waiting for some idiot that tries to do this in rubber soled shoes you'd used in Mountain country (check Macgyver pack, tweezers, check!)
I was, for a moment, regretting all the gear, as the terrain rose higher and higher and my breath shallower and more frequent. I had to take just a moment to catch my breath and rest. looking out on a the headwater of a nameless creek, looking down on rivers and land that shaped our Nation. Antelope land runs near the source of waters that feed our history. The Colorado, the Yakima, the Gunnison, the Yellowstone. I stood there, on weathered alien land, rock sentries watching my movements mutely. I stood and looked and it was as if for the moment my life back in the city did not exist. Not gone, merely vanished into the myriad life of sameness and dry dusty hallways, the secret sunless places that herds of people flock to quietly live and die without fighting.
I'd rather be here, overpacked, overweight and free, the footsteps I made as I walk uphill simply part of every leaf and rock, particle of air, rain and dew, dark and dawn and breath and desire. I've got a 1200 foot ascent in 85 degree weather to find a animal that will spot me and run to the next county before I've even raised my weapon. I've got to pee and can't do that while standing up or uphill. But I'm where I want to be, alive and focused. Especially focused, as the high desert is a harsh and unforgiving place and won't hesitate to send me express mail down to flat land in a body bag.
But from up front, our friend, not a guide by profession, but our guide this trip, had spotted some antelope through his Nikon binoculars.
Decoys are popular in archery season, but I didn't really want to be sitting out here on public land behind a decoy that looked like someones prize trophy, even if it was allowed (which I'm not sure it was during firearm season). I checked the terrain, I checked the wind, and noticed a ravine, not a big one, but big enough for me. Perhaps with my smaller size I could sneak in through that to get closer without being noticed. So I concentrated and moved towards it, even though my eyes are stinging with sweat from my forehead, my normally rosy cheeks are the color of fresh lobster, and my lips are so chapped, they bled. As a blister raises itself on top of another blister, I start thinking I could probably trade in this equipment for a Cuisinart, that hunting license for a shopping card at Krogers. But I won't.
I looked around me as I exited the little ravine, noting the availability of any bits of grass, sagebrush or vegetation that would break up my outline. Looking for dry watercourse or depressions that would keep me below their line of sight. I didn't want to stay down on my belly in rattlesnake country any longer than I had to until it was safe to rise up to a crouch and more in slowly, taking advantage of any natural cover I could find.
If this type of movements sounds uncomfortable, rest assured it is. I considered stalking closer in, I had the clothing for it, with dyed knee and elbow pads (not useful against a rattlesnake mind you) but I wasn't sure I was experienced enough to pull it off this time. But I also0 wasn't sure I had any other choice, there not being enough vegetation to walk in further.
It was painful work, but worth it. I'm looking out across terrain few men have crossed, peering out from a slope that is kicking my butt to simply see the world as it is. A world raw, untamed, marked by nature and the years, the wetness and the sheer juice of life bubbling up from what appears to be dry land. My feet crouched proud on rock as strong as God and as fragile as a pheasants egg, steady, yet perilous.
The guys were letting me go in first, as this was my first antelope hunt and as much as my flanks burned, I wasn't going to give up and let them down. . We were in this thing together, because hunting was the heritage of us all, out of the earth and beyond it, the miles of footsteps up a slope simply following where others had gone before. We were simply part of the long chronicle of men and women who share the love of the hunt, of the outdoors, and in that sharing, become one with each other, and the earth. We hunt in the face of darkness and cascading water, gathering around the fire at night, sleeping to dreams of antelope in flight, drawing an invisible firearm from the darkness and thumbing the safety off.
The buck John had spotted wasn't doing so well rounding up his women and so he didn't notice me closing up the distance, though I was still too far away for a shot. I lay flat, watching him for what seemed like an hour. I think the does had spotted something (perhaps my movement) that made them nervous, and in their nervousness they were trying to move out. He was thinking they weren't in the mood and was doing his best to bring them back. All while I continued to stalk from the down wind side as in his hormonal anxiety he wasn't paying as close attention to the surrounding area as he should be. When I got about 275 yards out, I sat still for a long while, while they settled down. Then I took a chance with a little bark from the the primos Antelope call as Pronghorn Romeo moved out from the girls towards me, ready to challenge a rival. At about 250 yards, he decided against it, though not alarmed, simply turning back. Broadside, it was now or never and I jumped of that provebial ledge of first time anything.
The sound of that rifle flew through that ravine I had just left like a gully washer. There was nothing left in the air but the echo of motion and speed. The friction, the form, was gone, the antelope not racing away, but walking as though not quite sure of what had just happened, before he fell, the does already bouncing off to find a new boyfriend.
No one spoke. I stood, and there was only the trickle of sweat on my cheek and the velvet air and the smell of gunpowder in my hair. My flanks still trembled, but not from fatigue, but from the adrenalin.
Yet, like any life that I will take to provide sustenance, I stopped over the form of that worthy adversary and said a silent prayer of thanks. Game animals may not have a name or an individuality, but I admire them. They live in the most complete retreat that exists, the capacity for the life of rugged seclusion in which we all must die, racing off as if they have no interest in their own demise, bursting over the cold form of earth, shrugging off the notion of death, here in the high desert.
The antelope will not be a lot of meat, but enough for nourishment, but that's not why we are here really. It's for a moment of brief unsubstantiated glory, of the sharp, shock of sound that belies the silence of a heart, the crack of decision, the momentary cessation of breath that comes as through willful act you cause another to cease its life. It is life and it is death, sustenance from the land that is earned, not purchased in bulk at a supermarket. It's summer and fall, wet and sporadic springs coming on the conceit of the last days of winter.
As a fleeting white bottomed rocket bursts forth from the remnants of the West, I realize, it's not about the antelope. It's seizing that last brace of freedom for both predator and prey. It's a jump off a ledge, for one of us a moment, the other eternity, that both echo in the places we all remember.